Two shows made me want to write for television: “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere.” I studied them talmudically, ever since my college days. I’ve got every episode on tape.
With those drama series, I also started paying attention to the writing credits. And I became aware that “Hill Street Blues” drew its storytellers from the wider world of letters: Novelist Robert Crais, movie writer Walon Green, literature professor John Romano, magazine journalists Robert Ward and David Black, newspapermen Christian Williams and Terry Curtis Fox...
In my mind, the “Hill Street” offices must’ve been like a literary salon, with people sitting around discussing nuances of language and narrative.
Came to find out, the “Hill Street” writing offices were chaotic. The scripts were always behind schedule. Sometimes it got so bad that a boss would gather all the writers and say, “Okay, you write Act One, you write Act Two, you write Act Three, you write Act Four.”
Speaking of chaos... the chaos of the modern American city was one of the great narrative themes of “Hill Street Blues.”
I’m streaming a 2-minute audio clip from the very first scene of the very first episode. This kind of “roll call” scene would become a hallmark of the show, even after the passing of Michael Conrad, who portrayed Sgt. Phil Esterhaus.
But listen to this first one. Study how, in just a couple of pages of dialogue, Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll set a tone for the entire series, including its acidic sense of humor and its racial frankness.
Click here to hear it. As I said before, I’m streaming audio (not video) for a purpose: to put extra focus on the words. And on the writers who put them to paper.
This pilot episode – titled “Hill Street Station” – was originally broadcast on January 15, 1981. Bochco and Kozoll won an Emmy award for the script.