A Tribute to Hill Street Blues: How one influential cop show changed the face of television dramas forever.

Cast of Hill Street Blues

Before we get into this you need to watch and listen to this amazing and iconic theme song perfectly composed and written by Mike Post and Larry Carlton:

And a perfect drum cover by James Alderman:

Now, let’s begin shall we? Before there was The Sopranos, before there was Homicide Life on the street, before there was The Shield, before there was Breaking Bad, before there was The Wire and Law & Order there was Hill Street Blues as the original top tier television drama and perhaps the most seminal cop show in history that led to the flurry of cop shows we’ve seen since, but most of those are just cheap imitations to the real thing. If you haven’t seen or heard of this show get your butt over to Hulu or Dailymotion and Youtube, or just buy the DVDs, that’s always the best solution, and give it a watch.

Bruce Weitz as Sgt Mick Belker.

The premise is simple: It’s a show chronicling the lives of the staff of a single police station located on Hill Street in an unnamed large city. The “blues” are the police officers in their blue uniforms. That’s it. The lives of Captain Francis Xavier “Frank” Furillo played by Daniel J. Travanti and his detectives and officers at Hill Street precinct are messy both professionally and personally:

The Main Characters:

Captain Francis Xavier “Frank” Furillo:

Sgt. Phil Freemason Esterhaus:

Public Defender Joyce Davenport:

Sgt. Michael “Mick” Belker:

Sgt. Howard Hunter:

Officer Bobby Hill:

Officer Andy Renko:

Lt. Henry Goldblume:

Officer Lucy Bates:

Officer Joe Coffey:

Detective JD Larue:

Detective Neal Washington:

Lt. Ray Calletano:

Fay Furillo:

Impact on television:

It all started with the pilot episode Hill Street Station. The first scene starting at the usual early morning roll call gave the audience a glimpse of something totally new that would change television drama forever:

The grimy look, the camera movement, hand held and sporadic like a documentary, the fast and overlapping dialouge and the unique and odd characters, none of these elements had been seen on any cop show before which was the whole point by creators Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll. The stylistic choices weren’t the only thing the 1981 television audience had never seen before. The ending of the pilot where Hill and Renko are shot and are assumed by us to be dead was a truly groundbreaking moment in television drama:

But the great thing about the show is it’s balance between comedy and drama and how unlike most cop shows like the ones we have today, was adept at blending both so organically and eloquently.

There were plenty of wacky and hilarious scenes in Hill Street that could give some of the funniest sitcoms a run for their money:

But the wacky comedy was always balanced out by some genuinely distressing and highly emotional dramatic scenes that put the “Blues” in Hill Street Blues:

And then there are scenes that put both outrageous comedy and raw, honest drama in one scene:

Hill Street was just a great cop drama that didn’t focus on the procedural elements like every other cop show, but focused on the characters and their every day lives in a tough city that was filled with crime and despair. As quoted by Joel Fields, executive producer of the FX drama “The Americans” in a article written up about the show on Huffpost back in 2014:

“What was so remarkable was that Steven Bochco created a cop drama that was about characters instead of police work, about the human condition instead of the procedural elements that had been the hallmarks of television police shows up to that point. Essentially, the great accomplishment of ‘Hill Street’ in my view was not about elevating a genre, but about forging a new one.”

That says it all right there. So now I must leave you with parting words that became so famous by this show and words that are even more relevant now than ever by the immortal Phil Esterhaus…. “Let’s be careful out there.”



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kendall Rivers

Kendall is a screenwriter who’s a huge fan of classic tv and movies. He enjoys creating good stories and characters. https://www.facebook.com/kendall.rivers.3