controversy about Steven Bochco's intent to produce network television's
first "R-rated" series, NYPD Blue premiered on ABC in September
1993. The innovative police drama survived a serious onslaught of
protest to emerge as a popular and critically acclaimed series.
Blue (as it was sometimes promoted) deliberately tested the
boundaries of broadcast restrictions on partial nudity and adult
language. Praise for the show's finely crafted storytelling and
engaging style soon overtook initial condemnations of its occasional
flashes of skin and salty dialogue. By the end of its first season,
NYPD Blue had revived Bochco's reputation as a risk-taking
producer of "quality television."
a gritty, downbeat cop drama filmed against a backdrop of urban
decay, the program was seen as a return to form for Bochco, who
had co-created the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues and L.A.
Law. Attempts to repeat the success of his law and order shows
faltered (Bay City Blues, Cop Rock, Civil Wars) until Hill
Street writer-producer David Milch teamed with Bochco to revitalize
the genre once again. Arguing that the networks had to compete with
cable TV for the adult audience, the producers persuaded ABC to
approve content previously forbidden. The pilot episode concluded
with a dimly-lit lovemaking scene. While mild by motion-picture
standards, its partial male and female nudity stirred controversy.
months before the debut of such "blue" material, ABC screened the
pilot for affiliates and advertisers. Although Bochco agreed to
trim fifteen seconds from the sex scene, adverse reactions threatened
the show's broadcast run. Conservative watchdog the Rev. Donald
Wildmon and his American Family Association (AFA) led a national
campaign against NYPD Blue, calling on affiliates not to
air the program and on citizens to boycott products advertised during
the show. A quarter of ABC's 225 member stations preempted the first
Despite the unprecedented number of defections, Blue scored well
in the ratings. Most blackouts had been in small markets (representing
only 10-15% of potential viewers); Wildmon's campaign provided extra
publicity in larger ones. Furthermore, NYPD Blue maintained
its large audience, leading most advertisers and affiliates to cease
their opposition. By the end of its first season, ABC's new hit
drama survived a second round of attacks from the AFA and won endorsements
from Viewers for Quality Television, the People's Choice and Emmy
awards, and most reviewers.
all the hype about sex, violence, and profanity, what viewers and
critics discovered was a compelling series that was "adult" in the
best rather than worst sense. It was mature and sophisticated, not
libertine. Instead of inserting racy language and showy sex for
the sake of sensation, this story of career cops featured complicated
human characters. Charges of excessive violence also proved unfounded.
As a new round of protests against TV violence circulated in 1993,
critics tagged this latest bęte noire of television as a prime offender.
Yet, particularly for a realistic police show, NYPD Blue seldom
depicted violent acts. When it did, it tended to dramatize the terrible
consequences of such actions. (Eventually, ABC responded to public
and congressional pressures by adding an advisory announcement,
though it did not mention violence: "This police drama contains
adult language and scenes with partial nudity. Viewer discretion
like Hill Street, NYPD Blue excelled with a potent combination
of writing, acting, and directing. The look of the show was both
realistic and stylized. New York City location shooting made the
show's feel for big-city street life palpable, while the jumpy editing
and nervous, hand-held camera movement (already a convention of
the genre) heightened the dramatic tension of scenes in the precinct
offices, the place where an ensemble of characters' lives intertwined.
Unlike the innovative police drama to which it is often compared,
Barry Levinson's Homicide, NYPD Blue kept its stylistic flourishes
in check, letting actors control scenes. In fact, actors familiar
from past Bochco productions, Charles Haid, Eric Laneauville, Dennis
Dugan, Jesus S. Trevińo, often directed episodes.
But it was another set of alumni from the Bochco stock company who
stood out above the ensemble cast. Dennis Franz emerged as the scenery-chewing
mainstay of the show, reinventing his seedy, sharp-tongued Norman
Buntz character from Hill Street Blues as Detective Andy
Sipowicz. The lesser known David Caruso quickly became a star and
sex symbol playing Sipowicz's partner, John Kelly, a throwback,
red-headed Irish cop. Early in the show's run Caruso received more
publicity, largely because he was the first of the male leads to
do a nude scene. However he left NYPD Blue at the start of
the second season to pursue a movie career. L.A. Law star
Jimmy Smits replaced Caruso as Sipowicz's new partner, Bobby Simone.
The series' smooth transition into a successful new phase testified
to the storytelling skills of Milch, Bochco, and their collaborators.
Individual episodes introduced new cases for the detectives of New
York's 15th precinct and blended them with ongoing melodramatic
storylines about personal relationships. Entanglements of professional
and personal affairs were always imminent as every detective in
the precinct became romantically involved with a co-worker (usually
during a divorce): Sipowicz with assistant D.A. Sylvia Costas, Kelly
with Detective Janice Licalsi, Gregory Medavoy with office secretary
Abandando, and detectives Martinez and Lesniak with each other.
with so many couples, male characters dominated NYPD Blue.
Their tough-guy machismo, however, was always tempered by a caring
side. Rather than playing to good cop/bad cop stereotypes, Sipowicz,
Kelly, Simone, and their fraternal colleagues exemplified that emerging
archetype of nineties television: the sensitive man. Like TV cops
of the past they were moral, yet hard enough to crack down on criminals.
To this "guy" image the men of NYPD Blue added a dimension
of sensitivity. Here were sentient cops. The replacement of the
Cagneyesque John Kelly with empathetic widower Simone heightened
this aspect. These were working men concerned with emotion. The
boys in Blue had feelings and discussed them, with both their
professional and romantic partners. Women's roles, even nominally
feminist ones, tended only to be supportive of men's and lacked
with other Bochco productions, NYPD Blue leavened its mixture
of police drama and soap opera with comic relief, often interjecting
moments of irreverent, even scatological, humor. The show's controversial
uses of nudity and language often played at this level. Naked bodies
appeared in awkward, comic scenes as well as erotic ones. And writers
seemed self-conscious in inventing colorful, funny curse words for
Sipowicz to spew at criminals.
the length of its run, NYPD Blue made history with its breakthrough
first season. While not a model for commercial imitation, the series
proved that risky, adult material could be successfully integrated
into network television programming.
John Kelly (1993-1994)................ David Caruso Detective
Andy Sipowicz ............................Dennis Franz Lieutenant
Arthur Fancy ........................James McDaniel Laura
Hughes Kelly (1993-1994).............Sherry Stringfield Officer
Janice Licalsi (1993-1994).......... Amy Brenneman Officer/Detective
James Martinez ..........Nicholas Turturro Assistant District
Attorney Sylvia Costas (1994-)
Lawrence Detective Greg Medavoy (1994- )................
Gordon Clapp Donna Abandando (1994-1996)...................
Gail O'Grady Detective Bobby Simone (1994- )...............
Steven Bochco, David Milch
September 1993-August 1994
Tuesday 10:00-11:00 October 1994- Tuesday
"Alan Brydon Reveals Why His Video is Set to Record Every NYPD Blue
Episode." Campaign-London (London), 10 March 1995.
John. "ABC Affils Ponder: How Blue is Blue?" Variety (Los
Angeles), 21 June 1993.
Coe, Steven. "Wildmon Targets NYPD Blue." Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 28 March 1994.
Lewis. "NYPD Blue." The Nation (New York), 25 October 1993.
Stuart. "Controversy May Sell, But Only a Few Marketers Took a Chance
With NYPD Blue." New York Times, 23 September 1993.
Joe. "NYPD: Clearance Blues." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington,
D.C.), 23 August 1993.
Walter. "Good Cop, Bad Cop: Which is Real?" New York Times,
23 February 1995.
Gene F. "Something to Lose." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington,
D.C.), 13 September 1993.
Elizabeth. "Crusade Against ABC's NYPD Blue Goes Local." Wall
Street Journal (New York), 6 October 1993.
John. NYPD Blue. New York, 13 September 1993.
Frank D. "NYPD Blue." Commonweal (New York), 8 October 1993.
Andy. "A Writer Moves Beyond the Notion of Demons." New York
Times, 26 October 1993.
Cyndee. "Advertisers in Middle of the Battle Over Blue." Marketing
News (Chicago), 9 May 1994.
O'Connor, John J. "NYPD Blue." New York Times, 21 September
Elayne. "Cops, Crime, and TV." The Progressive (Madison,
Wisconsin), April 1994.
David. "Steven Bochco." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania) 14-20
Eric. "Bochco Speaks: The Creator of NYPD BLUE Talks About Why He
Made the Show So Racy, and Why He is Unwilling to Make Major Content
Changes." MediaWeek (Brewster, New York), 2 August 1993.
Scully, Matthew. "NYPD Blue." National Review (Washington,
D.C.), 20 September 1993.
Deborah Starr. "Jimmy Smits Hits the Streets Of NYPD Blue." TV
Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 12-18 November 1994.
James. "Untrue Grit." The New Yorker (New York), 4 October
Street Blues; Police