has become a brand name for American quality television in the 1980s
and 1990s. With a reputation for not contenting himself with given
formats or standard practices, Bochco has developed a unique "style,"
perhaps several unique styles for his work. His firm's logo--a concert
violinist playing a short section of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"--constantly
reminds us of Bochco's creative intentions and artistic "higher
aims" while at the same time indicating his roots in a more traditional
humanistic education. Bochco's father Rudolph was a concert violinist,
and his mother, Mimi Bochco, a painter.
He began writing
for television after graduating from college. He always considered
himself to be a writer, and when, in the 1960s, MCA gave writing
grants to theater departments around the country, he jumped at the
occasion. As he puts it in a 1988 interview with Michael Winship:
"I had an MCA writing fellowship when I was in college, and I used
that to sort of con my way into a summer job at Universal Studios
between my junior and senior years. They put me in the story department
as an assistant to its head, and at the end of that summer, they
invited me to come back permanently when I graduated." Mike Ludmer,
then head of Universal's story department, made sure everyone on
the lot got to know the talented young man with no writing experience
at all. Bochco's first writing credit (with Harry Tatelman) came
with a segment of the Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater
called "A Slow Fade to Black", starring Rod Serling.
stayed twelve years with Universal, working his way up from writer
to story editor (for the Robert Stack segments in the adventure
drama series The Name of the Game, which aired from 1968
to 1971, and later for Columbo). He went on to produce, starting
with "Lt. Shuster's Wife", a Movie of the Week for ABC, starring
Lee Grant. He also had to learn how to handle flops: Griff,
made for ABC (1973), was supposed to become a post-Bonanza vehicle
for Lorne Greene. The series lasted a only few days into 1974. The
same experience occurred with his next series, The Invisible Man,
an update of the classical H.G. Wells story for NBC (1975-76). Delvecchio,
made for CBS in 1976, bloomed one full season before being canceled
in June 1977. Bochco was co-producer and wrote eight of the twenty
scripts eventually broadcast. On Delvecchio he met Michael Kozoll,
with whom he later co-created and co-wrote Hill Street Blues.
Both Charles Haid and Michael Conrad were regulars of the show,
and both would later find themselves among the regular cast of Hill
While at Universal,
Steven Bochco wrote episodes for McMillan and Wife and Ironside
as well as other series. He was involved in different movie-projects,
such as The Counterfeit Killings (1968) and Silent Running
(1972), both for theatrical release, and Double Indemnity
for ABC (1973). His last project for Universal was Richie Brockelman,
Private Eye (NBC, 1978), starring Dennis Dugan, Robert Hogan
and Barbara Bosson, Steven Bochco's wife, a short-lived spin-off
to Stephen J. Cannell's and Roy Huggins' successful detective drama
The Rockford Files.
Universal in 1978 for MTM Enterprises. One of the reasons to leave
was his apparent wish to break new ground, in and outside the confined
world of action-adventure drama series. He also felt there was more
to learn about producing than what Universal had to offer. His first
venture in the name of the meowing kitten was a Movie of the Week
called Vampire, co-written with Michael Kozoll. Then came
Paris, a police drama series (for CBS, 1979) which lasted,
again, just a few days into 1980. Paris was interesting in terms
of quality writing. There were unusual stories, focused on a black
police captain moonlighting as a criminology-teacher at a nearby
university. The impressive cast was headed by James Earl Jones as
Woody Paris. But there was, or so it seemed, just not enough old-fashioned
"spice" to attract a larger audience.
In January 1980,
NBC asked MTM if Bochco and Kozoll could come up with something
for them. Vague ideas about an ensemble piece set in a hotel lobby
led nowhere. (The concept would later be developed by Aaron Spelling
to become Hotel.) What NBC wanted was a cop melodrama, a
cop ensemble piece. Bochco and Kozoll agreed under two conditions:
total creative control and a meeting about network standards. The
result of that meeting was Hill Street Blues, a cop show
setting new rules for almost every aspect of the action-adventure
formula. As David Marc and Robert J. Thompson put it, Hill Street
Blues set standards for "... multiple centers of audience identification;
complicated personal lives; overlapping dialogue; hand-held camera
shots; busy, crowded mise-en-scènes." The show also established
its own realistic, "dirty" look and defined a fictional world, "the
Hill," that could be understood as a metaphorical melting pot, a
community (or family) consisting of members of almost any nation
and race that had ever set foot in America. These elements could
later be recognized, in a more accented and refined matter, in many
drama series developed in the 1990s, set in police precincts (NYPD
Blue, by Bochco and Hill Street Blues co-writer David
Milch) or hospitals or courtrooms.
Blues earned its creators several Emmies (for "Outstanding Drama
Series" and "Outstanding Writing", among others) and a Golden Globe
for "Best Television Drama Series". Still, MTM remained somewhat
unhappy about its prestige object, which was very expensive and
never made able to pay off financially. Hill Street Blues
lasted from 1981 well into 1987; Bochco was fired in 1985, after
the disastrous short run of another of his (and MTM's) high-brow
series projects, The Bay City Blues (NBC, 1983). Later, for
20th Century Fox, Bochco developed another long-running hit, a legal
drama called L.A. Law (NBC, 1986-94). On this project he
served as co-producer with Terry Louise Fischer. As often noted,
L.A. Law looked very similar to Hill Street Blues set
in a fancy law office, with many characters and stories intertwined
in each episode. Bochco himself pointed out the differences between
the two shows, however, describing L.A. Law as "... populated
by people who are infinitely more successful. They make more money,
they drive nicer cars, they have prettier girlfriends, they're possibly
smarter, and they win more." But the series maintained its "bluesy"
feeling, a certain notion of the world being a much too complicated
and absurd place to live in, with rules no one would ever really
and courtroom dramas (Civil Wars, dealing with divorce cases
lasted from 1991 to 1993) Bochco developed one quite successful
half-hour comedy drama, together with David Kelley. Doogie Howser,
M.D. (ABC, 1989-93) told the improbable story of perhaps the youngest
doctor ever to do medical examinations on-screen. The mild-mannered
youngster was only sixteen when his professional career began. Bochco
wouldn't be Bochco without at least one taboo being broken: Here,
Neil Patrick Harris hit the news when his character lost his virginity,
in one of the later episodes of the series.
Photo courtesy of Steven Bochco
wish to break new ground on prime time, in terms of content as
well as in aesthetic matters, has become even more apparent in
Bochco's television productions for the 1990s. Some of these attempts
were flops. The infamous experiment attempting to combine the
cop show with a musical in Cop Rock (ABC, 1990) lasted
for only a few weeks.
Blue (ABC 1993--), however, earned its cast and crew six Emmies
in 1994 alone. It was basically another ensemble piece, set in
a police precinct right in Bochco's childhood home, New York.
With NYPD Blue Bochco tried to expand the limits of network
standards even further, experimenting with gritty realism, or
documentarism, filmed in a highly stylized, self-reflexive manner.
The show was controversial even before its appearance on the schedule
because Bochco had announced that he would include far coarser
language and some nudity in his move toward realism.
Bochco has earned himself a reputation for re-inventing the formula
of the cop-show with Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.
He certainly has introduced a new understanding of television
realism, complete with partial nudity and four-letter words, into
prime time--despite network Standards and Practices and actual
boycotts of advertisers and network affiliates around the country
in the case of NYPD Blue. Thanks to him the term "teamwork"
has taken on new meaning in television producing: It means quality
writing, and it means intriguing, interesting stories of human
bonding and struggle which drive the actors, individually and
again collectively, to give their best. Bochco has thus succeeded
in integrating different aspects and perspectives into what seems
(or seemed) to be one and the same story.
projects in the post-O.J.Simpson-era continue his tendency toward
innovation in the area of narrative structure. A new courtroom
drama, Murder One (1995-1997), followed a single murder
trial for an entire season, interweaving personal and professional
lives of a large cast of characters.
BOCHCO. Born in New York City, New York, U.S., 16 December
1943. Attended High School of Music and Art, Manhattan, New York;
New York University, Manhattan; Carnegie Institute of Technology
(now Carnegie-Mellon University), B.F.A. in Theater 1966. Married
Barbara Bosson, 1969; children: Jeffrey and Melissa. Assistant
to head of story department, Universal Television, 1966; and subsequent
writer of various other Universal television series; joined MTM
Enterprises as writer-producer, 1978; formed Steven Bochco Productions
and entered into production deal with Twentieth-Century Fox and
ABC, 1987. Awards: Emmy Awards: 1971, 1972, 1981, 1982, 1983,
1984, 1987, 1989.
1968-72 The Name of the Game (writer)
1971 Columbo (story editor)
1971-76 McMillan and Wife (writer)
1974 Griff (writer-producer)
1976-77 Delvecchio (writer)
1978 Richie Brockelman (writer)
1979 Turnabout (writer)
1979-80 Paris (executive-producer, writer)
1981 Hill Street Blues (executive-producer, writer)
1983 Bay City Blues (executive-producer, writer)
1986 L.A. Law (executive-producer, writer)
1987 Hooperman (executive-producer, writer)
1989 Doogie Howser, M.D. (executive-producer, writer)
1990 Cop Rock (executive-producer, writer)
1991 Civil Wars (executive-producer, writer)
1993 N.Y.P.D. Blue (executive-producer, writer)
1995- Murder One (executive-producer, writer)
Bochco." (interview), American Film (Washington, D.C.),
Bochco: Taking Risks with Television." (interview), Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 6 May 1991.
Mark. "Bochco's Law." Rolling Stone (New York), 21 April
Steve, and Harry A. Jessel. "'NYPD Blue': Rocky Start, On a Roll."
(includes interview with Steven Bochco), Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 1 November 1993.
Jane, Paul Kerr, and Tise Vahimagi, editors. MTM. Quality Television.
London: British Film Institute, 1984.
Todd. Inside Prime-Time. New York: Pantheon, 1983.
Richard, and William Link. Off Camera. Conversations with the
Makers of Prime-Time Television. New York: New American Library,
David, and Robert Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From
I Love Lucy to L.A. Law--America's Greatest TV Shows and The People
Who Create Them. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, 1992.
David. "Hitmaker Steven Bochco Defends Adult Drama." TV Guide
(Radnor, Pennsylvania), 14-20 April 1993.
Gary W., and Richard R. Gilbert. Society's Impact on Television.
How the Viewing Public Shapes Television Programming. London:
Paula. "Bochco On the Edge." Esquire (New York), May 1990.
Tom. Storytellers to the Nation. A History of American Television
Writing. New York: Continuum 1992.
Bochco." Esquire (New York), June 1988.
Century's Bochco: Selling the Cerebral." Broadcasting (Washington,
D.C.), 30 May 1988.
Richard. "Changing the Face of Prime Time: Trendsetting Producer
Steven Bochco Turns Out Hits by Rocking the Boat." Time
(New York), 2 May 1988.
"Bochco Under Fire." Time (New York), 27 September 1993.
Street Blues, NYPD