Today's cop-drama genre owes everything to 'Hill Street Blues'


HILL STREET BLUES: SEASON ONE / / Fox Home Entertainment / $39.98

Outside of Dragnet, the 1952 series starring Jack Webb that gave birth to the genre, there is not another TV cop drama equal in stature to Hill Street Blues. The watershed production that made its debut on NBC in 1981 arrives on DVD Tuesday with all 17 episodes from Season 1 -- and commentary on three of them by co-creator Steven Bochco.

This is the series for which the term "gritty cop drama" -- used to describe virtually every urban crime show, from NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street to ABC's NYPD Blue -- was invented. "Landmark" barely starts to describe it. The extensive use of hand-held cameras to give viewers the feeling of being in the middle of a messy, dangerous, often chaotic, big-city landscape began here. Ditto for the template of opening each episode in the morning at the precinct house during roll call, and ending at night in the apartments and homes of the cops and lawyers.

The cautionary words with which Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) closed every roll call -- "Remember, let's be careful out there" -- became such a catchphrase that they can still be heard from time to time in the workplace 25 years later. The midnight scenes with Capt. Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) and Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel) trying to find comfort in each other's arms as a hard rain often rattles against their windowpane have been imitated too many times to count, but never surpassed in existential eloquence.

Special features: There are few Hollywood producers more articulate about their work than Bochco, and hearing him explain an episode as seminal as the pilot ("Hill Street Station") is a rare treat. From his revealing remarks about the use of hand-held cameras as Hill Street's first raucous roll call unfolds, to his frank explanation of how he came to cast Hamel (as Davenport enters the precinct station), Bochco is in top form.

The collection closes with a roundtable featuring eight original cast members: Hamel, Michael Warren, Charles Haid, Bruce Weitz, Barbara Bosson, Joe Spano, James B. Sikking and Ed Marinaro. While such sessions can often leave one amazed at the superficiality of some actors, that is not the case here. Almost everyone has entertaining anecdotes and on-the-money memories. They range from how close the show came to cancellation in its first low-rated season, to the exhilaration of their stunning victory on Emmy night when the series came out of nowhere to win the award for best drama. Hill Street Blues would win 26 Emmys before leaving the airwaves in 1987.


THE X-FILES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON / / Fox Home Entertainment / $49.98

Few do conspiracy and paranoia like Chris Carter -- even Oliver Stone never created as fascinating a couple as Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). Relive the moment they met -- and the start of their journey to the dark side of the American psyche. All aboard for Roswell, Langley, Dealy Plaza and the Grassy Knoll.




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