RIP Steven Bochco

If you’re a TV writer, odds are that you know who Steven Bochco was and are aware of his death from leukemia April 1st. The New York Times, which in many ways might be regarded as the Supreme Obituary Publisher in the United States has the complete story HERE

Bochco’s importance as a television writer and producer cannot be exaggerated. In the words of TVWriter™’s Larry Brody, “He was the most innovative and successful overall TV storyteller of his lifetime.” The following write-up in The Guardian shows that his influence on the medium we love to hate is worldwide. We at TVWriter™ hope you’ll read it:

Steven Bochco obituary
by Michael Carlson

“Armed robbery in progress, see Surplus Store corner of People’s Drive and 124th street.” It is hard to overstate the excitement in viewers when those words opened each episode of Hill Street Blues. Its creator, Steven Bochco, who has died of cancer aged 73, was arguably the most influential producer of television drama of the past half-century. Hill Street Blues, his first major success, changed the very nature of cop shows.

It influenced all episodic drama; in its wake came St Elsewhere, which was conceived as Hill Street Blues in a hospital and spawned Casualty in Britain. Among Bochco’s later hits were LA Law, Doogie Howser, MD, and most notably NYPD Blue, which marked an effort by network television to capture the more adult territory being claimed by cable’s episodic drama.

Bochco was notable not only for his creativity as a writer and producer, but for his ability to navigate the ruthless business side of Hollywood. “In the end, it’s not about writing or producing,” he said. “It’s about selling.” Working with Bochco was the spur to many careers in television for writer-producers, notably David Milch (Deadwood) and David E Kelley (Ally McBeal).

Bochco was born in New York, where his father, Rudolph, a Russian immigrant, was a concert violinist. His mother, Mimi (nee Nathanson), emigrated from Lithuania when she was 14; her son described her as “an artist, designer and hustler”. Steven specialised in singing at the High School of Music and Art, then after a year at New York University transferred to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie-Mellon University) where he studied theatre. Among his classmates were Charles Haid, Bruce Weitz, Michael Tucker and Barbara Bosson, all of whom would act in his shows; Bosson would become his second wife.

In the summers he worked at Universal in Hollywood. He was promised a job after graduation, and the day after he graduated in 1966, he and Tucker drove to Los Angeles. His first credit came on The Movie Maker (1967), when he added an hour of backstory to Rod Serling’s 1964 teleplay A Slow Fade to Black. He co-wrote the film The Counterfeit Killer (1968); its production manager Abby Singer would be the head of production for Hill Street Blues.

In 1969 he co-created and wrote episodes of The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, and co-wrote Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 sci-fi cult classic Silent Running. But he was busiest on television, writing and producing a TV film, Lieutenant Schuster’s Wife (1972), and writing a TV adaptation of Double Indemnity (1973). He scripted for series including McMillan and Wife and Columbo, for which he became story editor, and received his first Emmy nomination for the episode Murder By the Book (1971), directed by a young Steven Spielberg.

In 1978 he moved to MTM (Mary Tyler Moore) Enterprises, where he was promised more scope for producing. And when the NBC television president Fred Silverman asked MTM for a gritty crime drama like Paul Newman’s 1981 film Fort Apache: The Bronx, Bochco and Michael Kozoll came up with Hill Street Blues.

Set in a nameless rust-belt city, it was seen by Bochco as a mix of “intensely powerful melodrama and slapstick farcical clowning”. It broke ground in the size of its ensemble cast, which was based firmly on a family structure. Sgt Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) presided like a grandparent over a precinct where Capt Frank Furillo (Daniel J Travanti) was the father and the prosecutor Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel), his girlfriend, the mother figure for a group of unruly children. Bosson, by now married to Bochco, played Furillo’s angry ex-wife.

The multiplicity of personal storylines meant that episodes were open-ended; the beauty of the writing was that audiences cared for such a large cast. And with its use of handheld cameras, off-camera sound and fast-paced editing, Hill Street Blues set the look for dozens of shows which followed.

It was not a ratings hit, becoming the lowest-rated programme ever renewed for a second year, which was because it was a critical smash. In its first season it was nominated for 21 Emmys, winning eight, including best series. It would win best series in each of its first five seasons….

Read it all at The Guardian

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.