Hill Street Blues (tv)

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Frank Furillo

REVIEWED: 12-01-97

Hill Street Blues permanently transformed the prime-time drama. Before it premiered, most crime dramas were slow-moving and underwritten, and they suffered from comparisons to theatrical films with similar themes. Hill Street Blues took elements from several other TV genres to create a police drama unlike anything that could be done in film. Like a soap opera, it featured a large cast and multiple continuing storylines. Reversing the formula on M*A*S*H, it mixed darkly comic scenes into a generally dramatic tone, and it echoed that sit-com's theme of heroes focusing on one crisis at a time even as they felt powerless to stop the larger war (on crime, not Korea). And imitating news documentaries, it often utilized hand-held cameras, which added to the realistic feel of the series but also helped speed up production. The Hill Street formula produced few clunkers; if one storyline or guest star was weak, there were separate plots in the same episode to compensate. As a result, viewer loyalty was exceptionally high. Eventually, Hill Street became a model for almost all crime dramas, and continuing storylines became the norm on prime-time shows.

Taken from The Boston Phoenix's "50 Years and Counting," a retrospective of the most influential programs from television's first half-century. Click here for the full article.

--Robert David Sullivan

Film Vault Suggested Links
The Practice
Dragnet (tv)
Law and Order (tv)

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