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Arts & Life

Steven Bochco, Groundbreaking TV Producer, Dies at 74

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This is what TV crime drama sounded like before "Hill Street Blues."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DRAGNET")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

KELLY: Shows like "Dragnet" followed a simple formula - a crime, a detective or a cop solves the crime, end of story. Then in 1981, a man named Steven Bochco rewrote that formula. "Hill Street Blues" showed us the inner lives of the cops and detectives, the mundane activities of the squad room as cops prepared to go out and face the day's work.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HILL STREET BLUES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) We have a 9-11. Armed robbery in progress. See surplus store, corner Peebles Drive (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) All right. That it. Let's roll. Hey, let's be careful out there.

KELLY: Over his career, Bochco was nominated for dozens of Emmys. He won 10. Bochco died yesterday of cancer. He was 74. To talk about the mark he's left, let's turn to another producer of TV drama, David Nevins. He produced "Friday Night Lights," "24." He's now CEO of Showtime. David Nevins, welcome.

DAVID NEVINS: Nice to meet you.

KELLY: Why was Steven Bochco such a big deal in TV history?

NEVINS: Steven was the first one to make the show about the cops themselves, you know, that clip that you played from "Dragnet" or "Kojak." The dramas were largely mystery driven, and the cops were the facilitators of the stories about catching criminals and putting them in jail and making sure that justice was done. And that was a lot less interesting to Bochco. He made the cops the story - the stories of their lives and the decisions that they had to make every day both in their personal lives and in their professional lives.

KELLY: And he also was changing the protagonist - didn't have to be a good guy, could be a bad guy, could be super complicated, which is more interesting.

NEVINS: Right - could be messy, could be dirty, could be conflicted. He proved with characters like Mick Belker that you could have a character that is just plain weird, cops that were just plain weird. Mick Belker, who ate onion sandwiches, I thought was a revelation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HILL STREET BLUES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Put me down.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Not until you stop growling.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Can't you see that I stopped growling?

KELLY: You know, I'm listening to you speak about these messy characters and thinking you were involved in the very early days of "Homeland," which has a very messy character at the heart of it.

NEVINS: The whole conversation that we had in the early days was how to make Carrie Mathison a more complicated, interesting, messed up character. I mean, that character is a direct descendant of the kind of characters that Bochco did really throughout his career. It wasn't just "Hill Street Blues." It's also "L.A. Law" and certainly "NYPD Blue."

KELLY: Another thing I want to ask you though is this. Steven Bochco also pushed boundaries in terms of what he was willing to show.

NEVINS: Yeah. Bochco was always really interested in pushing the limits. He pushed the limits in everything he did. He pushed the limits obviously in terms of storytelling. That's what we're talking about. But he also pushed the limits in terms of content. And he wanted to show the messy side of life. Partly, I think he had a sort of - my sense is he had a personality that liked to push the limits but also - but there was definitely a strong artistic point behind it. He wanted to be able to talk about the unmentionables. And obviously, that legacy is felt today in the best of cable dramas.

KELLY: That's David Nevins, the CEO of "Showtime" remembering fellow TV crime producer Steven Bochco. He died yesterday at 74. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.