Steven Bochco, the strong-willed writer and producer who brought gritty realism and sprawling ensemble casts to the small screen with such iconic series as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, died Sunday morning, a family spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 74.
Suffering with leukemia, Bochco received a stem cell transplant from an anonymous 23-year-old in late 2014.
“Steven fought cancer with strength, courage, grace and his unsurpassed sense of humor,” spokesman Phillip Arnold said. “He died peacefully in his sleep [at home] with his family close by.”
In May 2016, he met the man that prolonged his life.
Bochco, a 10-time Primetime Emmy Award winner, also was behind the Neil Patrick Harris ABC comedy-drama Doogie Howser, M.D. and the TNT drama Murder in the First.
A New York City native who began at Universal Studios in the mid-1960s, Bochco time and time again refused to bend to network chiefs or standards and practices execs, thus earning rare creative control during his five decades of envelope-pushing work.
In a 2002 interview for the Archive of American Television, Bochco explained how he and Michael Kozoll, both working for MTM Enterprises, came to Hill Street Blues, which debuted on last-place NBC in January 1981 and amassed 98 Emmy Awards during its remarkable 146-episode run.
“We agreed that we would do it, on one condition, which we assumed would kill the deal right there,” he said. “I said to [NBC entertainment exec] Brandon [Tartikoff], ‘We’ll do this pilot for you on the condition that you leave us completely alone to do whatever we want.’ And he said OK.
“I began to hear words about myself: He’s arrogant, he’s this, he’s that. My attitude was, call me what you will, but I know I have a great project here. I don’t know how many great projects there are going to be in my life, and I’m not going to screw this one up. I’d rather not do it. And they folded. They virtually folded on everything.”
In 1987, CBS legend William S. Paley offered Bochco, then 44, the job of president of the network’s entertainment division. He turned that down to sign an unprecedented six-year, 10-series deal worth in the neighborhood of $10 million at ABC, which had just ended its contract with another legendary producer, Aaron Spelling. The pact gave Bochco ownership of the series he developed.
As Hill Street was winding down without him after he was fired at MTM, Bochco jumped into the legal world with a new deal at 20th Century Fox and created (with Terry Louise Fisher) the stylish NBC smash L.A. Law, which ran from 1986-94.
And with fellow Hill Street scribe David Milch, he came up with ABC’s controversial NYPD Blue, which aimed to compete with the risque kind of shows that were siphoning audiences from broadcast to cable. That series, the longest-running one-hour drama in ABC history until surpassed by Grey’s Anatony, aired from 1993-2005.
Bochco, though, was not without his misfires. They included NBC’s Bay City Blues, a 1983 drama about a minor-league baseball team that lasted four episodes; CBS’ Public Morals, a vice squad-set comedy that got canned after one episode in October 1996; and ABC’s infamous Cop Rock, which incongruously combined police drama and show-stopping Broadway-style singing and dancing and lasted a scant 11 episodes in 1990.
The best Bochco series included large ensemble casts and parallel storylines that pushed the hot-button social issues of the day. In an interview with Pamela Douglas for the 2007 book Writing the TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV, Bochco explained how he pulled it all together:
“When you end up creating a show with seven, eight, nine characters — ask yourself, how can you appropriately dramatize that many characters within the framework of an hour television show? And the answer is that you can’t. So you say, OK, what we have to do is spill over the sides of our form and start telling multi-plot, more serial kinds of stories.
“Even though any given character may not have but three scenes in an hour, those three scenes are part of a 15-scene storyline that runs over numerous episodes. So that was simply a matter of trying to react to the initial things we did. The show began to dictate what it needed to be. Probably the smartest thing Michael and I did was to let it take us there instead of trying to hack away to get back into the box. We just let it spill over.”
Bochco also created the short-lived CBS police drama Paris, which starred James Earl Jones. And his landmark ABC series Murder One followed a complicated investigation during the course of a 23-episode season — much like The Killing or True Detective would years later.
Bochco was born in New York City on Dec. 16, 1943. His father, Rudolph, was a violinist; his mother, Mimi, a painter and jewelry designer. He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan to pursue singing, attended NYU for a year and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he left with a theater degree in 1966.
(Excerpt) Read More in: The Hollywood Reporter