Monday, April 02, 2018

The Master Was a Mensch

I knew what Steven Bochco could accomplish, long before I knew who Steven Bochco was. The New York City-born screenwriter-producer—who died from leukemia on Sunday at age 74—was behind many of the television presentations I watched during the 1970s and ’80s, my formative years as a boob-tube viewer.

According to his extensive list of credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Bochco helped create The New Doctors, one of the rotating segments of NBC’s The Bold Ones, and then scripted 45 episodes of that influential series. He developed stories for the science-fiction drama The Invisible Man, the underappreciated cop show Delvecchio, the NBC Mystery Movie cornerstones Columbo and McMillan & Wife, the Rockford Files spinoff Richie Brockelman, Private Eye, and Lorne Greene’s ill-fated Griff. He also wrote one of the Robert Stack episodes I remember best from The Name of the Game: 1970’s “So Long, Baby, and Amen,” starring Sal Mineo.

Bochco went on to still greater fame creating (or co-creating) shows that ranged from James Earl Jones’ Paris and John Ritter’s Hooperman to landmark dramas such as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and the initially controversial police procedural NYPD Blue. He also gave us the medical comedy-drama Doogie Howser, M.D. Although Bochco was a 10-time Primetime Emmy Award winner, he didn’t always have a magical touch; some of his creations died an early—if not always justified—death, such as Murder One, Brooklyn South, Philly, and the odd musical police drama Cop Rock. In more recent years, Bochco’s influence lessened significantly, though he continued to turn out high-quality programs such as Raising the Bar and Murder in the First (the latter a reworking of Murder One). Amid all of this, in 2003 he somehow found time enough to pen a crime novel titled Death by Hollywood, which Kirkus Reviews called “a vulgar, sex-filled romp—in the best sense: good, nasty fun.”

The Web is filled today with tributes to Bochco, but what they say is fairly well summed up in TV writer Ken Levine’s new post:
Television has lost a GIANT. There’s just no way to overstate the impact Steven Bochco had on the medium. All the David Chase’s and Matthew Weiner’s and Vince Gilligan’s and other masterful storytellers who created series that elevated the TV drama to an art owe a huge debt to Steven Bochco. And I bet each and every one would be the first to agree.
Hill Street Blues was revolutionary. Viewers had never seen a TV drama that complex, that gripping, that real. To be honest, most viewers didn’t know what to make of it at the start. It took the unflagging support of Grant Tinker, who presided over NBC, to keep the show on the air despite it’s paltry initial ratings. … More groundbreaking shows like NYPD Blue and L.A. Law followed. Bochco also discovered and nurtured some pretty astounding writers like David Milch and David E. Kelley. Bochco pushed envelopes, he challenged networks, and he challenged audiences.

And all the while, he was a mensch.

That’s an important key. Without naming names, there are a number of these brilliant show creators that followed who were horrible to work for. They’d pummel their writers, take all the credit they could, and create a toxic atmosphere. Not Steven Bochco. He supported writers, protected writers, and allowed them to blossom.
READ MORE:Steven Bochco, Producer of Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, Dies at 74,” by Matthew Haag and Christopher Mele (The New York Times); “Steven Bochco, Innovative Co-Creator of NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Dies at 74,” by Brian Lowry (Variety); “Steven Bochco, Creative Force Behind Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue, Dies at 74,” by Mike Barnes (The Hollywood Reporter); “Iconic Producer Steven Bochco Has Died at 74. These 5 Shows Explain How He Changed TV,” by Todd VanDerWerff (Vox); “R.I.P., Steven Bochco, Who Willed Broadcast TV Into Adulthood,” by Ed Bark (TV Worth Watching); “Godspeed Steven Bochco,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts); “A Word on Steven Bochco, Columbo Contributor Par Excellence” (The Columbophile).

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