Steven Bochco left resounding impact on television
The harsh realities associated with police work such as murder, rape, and corruption were all realistically captured in Steven Bochco’s various television dramas. Bochco’s repertoire of television programs includes NYPD Blue, L.A. Law, and most notably, Hill Street Blues which paved the way for a new and unexplored genre of television in the later twentieth century. He also fueled the successful career of now culturally iconic star Neil Patrick Harris who appeared in Bochco’s medical comedy-drama television series Doogie Howser, M.D.
After a hard-fought battle with leukemia, Bochco, the 1966 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama, recently passed away on Sunday, April 1, at the age of 74. He was aided in his fight against a rare form of leukemia called blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm by a man named Jon Kayne who donated his stem cells in a transplant that extended the legendary screenwriter and producer's life for a few years.
The realistic account of the life police officers leads in Bochco’s revolutionary program Hill Street Blues starkly diverged from the conventional formula of television entertainment at the time. He attributed his inspiration for the setting of Hill Street Blues to his impression of the poverty-ridden slums of Pittsburgh’s Hill District further entrenching his work in something reflective of real life.
He created NYPD Blue with the intent of challenging the notion that network one-hour dramas did not belong on the more adult-fare broadcasting typical of cable networks. He pushed for the inclusion of quality prime-time drama in cable television, commenting “the atmosphere is far friendlier and the creative environment more conducive to doing original work”.
“His writing focused on dramatic realism, something that the industry hadn’t seen on the small screen at the time Hill Street Blues premiered in 1981,” says Dean of Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts Dan J. Martin, in a university press release. “He truly led the way for a new genre of innovative television.”
One of the first screenwriters to use an ensemble cast and hand-held cameras in Hill Street Blues, Bochco altered the structure and form of television drama. He further innovated television through his writing in which he implemented multi-episode storylines and a mixture of drama and comedy to bring levity to serious topics. His inventive thinking would influence the next generation of television dramas and numerous accolades including 10 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Throughout his career, Bochco consistently contributed to the livelihood and development of Carnegie Mellon University and its students. His numerous donations and work with students helped Carnegie Mellon’s drama department become what it is today. In 1986, Carnegie Mellon University awarded him an Alumni Achievement/Merit Award for his five decades of groundbreaking work.
Bochco touched the lives of many individuals including Hill Street Blues cast member and close personal friend Charlie Haid. Also an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University, Haid served as the associate producer of the original stage production of Godspell in 1971 at Carnegie Mellon.
“Steven had a profound influence on my life, both personal and professional,” Haid recounts in a press release. “We created magic and madness together, laughed and cried, fought and forgave, for more than 50 years. I’m but one of an amazing family that grew up together with Steven and mourn the loss of our pal.”
Steven Bochco’s legacy as an envelope-pushing producer will live on as television and screenwriting inevitably mutate into something newer and exciting. His ideas and forward-thinking mindset have impacted creatives and will do so for generations to come.