Tag Archives: Hill Street Blues

NBC Spikes The Ball

Back in the 80’s, Thursday Night was “must see TV” on NBC with the comedy block of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court  leading into Hill Street Blues. Later on, Seinfeld and Friends were anchors that bookended a myriad of other followers – some successful (Will and Grace, Frasier), some not (Joey, The Naked Truth). Eventually it seemed like the concept had run its course.

But it’s clear – at least in my house – that the comedy block of 30 Rock, Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office is and has been worthy of the “must see TV” crown. While it’s unclear how The Office will survive the loss of Steve Carrell, the final episodes provided many great options (including a genuine cliffhanger!) and it certainly has more gas in the tank. Ditto 30 Rock, which continues to be consistently well-written, although it’s becoming clear that some storylines are more dependable than others. But with a gaggle of recurring guest stars like Jon Hamm, Matt Damon and Dean Winters dropping by, brilliance is constantly right around the corner.

But this season proved that Community and Parks and Recreation can hang with the big boys. Community’s pop culture parodies are so clever and so deep that it takes multiple viewings to pick up every double-entendre, sight gag and trivial reference they’re layering into each script. And the cast on Parks and Recreation might just be the best comedy ensemble of them all; the show has skyrocketed after the growing pains of their inaugural season. Now we’re adding Whitney Cummings to the mix? Yowsa!

I’m going to have a lot more spare time now that these shows have completed their seasons, but it’s nice to know that among the annoying celebretard reality programs and the absurd elimination contest shows, there’s still room for well-scripted, well-acted prime time comedy. Kudos, NBC.

That's what HE said.

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Catch ‘Em While You Can

Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?

That classic Joni Mitchell line doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but you get my point. Artists come and go, books and albums go out of print, and in the world of television, sometimes that great show just doesn’t catch on with enough viewers fast enough, and…poof.

Some of TV’s most iconic programs were not instant successes. In the early days, frankly there wasn’t enough left to replace them with, so a Twilight Zone could have time to build an audience. And it wasn’t unusual for a show to become a staple over time, whether it was a groundbreaking program like M*A*S*H or All In The Family or a pop culture nugget like The Munsters or Gilligan’s Island.

Star Trek probably came out of the 60’s with the strongest credibility, but that show was a bomb when originally aired. And has the ratings been as nervously distilled for Hill Street Blues as they are today, you wouldn’t even know the name of just another cop show that bit the dust.

The next great epic, Boardwalk Empire

So I’m thrilled that HBO has already renewed Boardwalk Empire after just one episode, even if I haven’t seen it yet. After leaving fans of Carnivale and Deadwood in the lurch, perhaps they have learned from Lost that if you are going to try to bring an ocean liner to a halt, a smooth deceleration works better than a dead stop. If this year is successful and DVD sales are solid, they’ll hopefully give the writers and producers another notice next year so that story arcs can be flexible enough to either ascend or wrap up.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the wonderful Better Off Ted, which got the axe with only two shows left in the can. Eight months later, ABC still hasn’t been able to find a time slot to burn off those two shows – again, already filmed and produced, just sitting there – so those of us who appreciate well-written comedy can have one last hour of enjoyment. The UK picked up the show and those episodes aired in England…yet this week in the States, ABC filled a third of its prime time schedule with four hours of Dancing With The Stars and a new show regurgitating both Jerry O’Connell and Jim Belushi. Thanks a lot.

Thankfully Britain is our friend. Since the DVD of season two might never appear, enjoy those last two episodes here, won’t you?

Episode 12It’s My Party and I’ll Lie If I Want To.

Episode 13Swag The Dog

This intelligent comedy is brought to you by Veridian Dynamics

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Adrian Monk

Bye, Monk...and thanks.

After eight seasons, we bid farewell to Adrian Monk, the obsessive compulsive detective created by Andy Breckman and brilliantly portrayed by Tony Shaloub. Clever plots, great writing, humor and pathos and a strong ensemble cast (especially the great Ted Levine as his captain). The San Francisco locales and wonderful Randy Newman theme were a plus to a show that always entertained and managed the rare feat of going out on top.

I’m sure all those reruns will be welcome channel-surfing accidents many times in the future, though a quality show like this certainly merits a buy. It made me recall a few other television sleuths and cops that I enjoyed for so long that now only live on in reruns and DVDs as well.

TV will always churn out a good cop show, and I’m enjoying a few of them this year. Many of them feature strong ensemble casts with many good characters, as do some of the old favorites below. (Really, was there anyone on Homicide or The Shield that wasn’t great?) But today’s ten-spot pays tribute to Monk and these nine other favorites that I used to set the recorder for, great characters no longer on active duty…

Fox Mulder, The X-Files…unfortunately the series choked on its own logic loopholes, but that was must-watch TV for years and I will still stay up to watch a random rerun.

Frank Pembleton, HomicideAndre Braugher‘s cerebral cop suffered a crisis or conscience as well as a physical disability. No slight to several of the other detectives in that room on one of the best shows television ever aired.

Lenny Briscoe, Law and Order…the quintessential NYC cop on the original version of the franchise. The late great Jerry Orbach was a giant.

Andy Sipowicz, NYPD Blue…originally a second banana to David Caruso‘s John Kelly (and Caruso was good on this show), he became the heart and soul of the program. Dennis Franz was every real life cop’s favorite fictional one.

Mike Torello, Crime StoryDennis Farina was a cop in real life, and although this glossy show only lasted two seasons it boasted an amazing cast and an exciting storyline. Tons of guest stars and ensemble players including a very credible turn from Andrew Dice Clay.

John LaRue, Hill Street BluesKiel Martin’s character always had some get-rich-quick scheme going and often fell prey to his weaknesses, but redemption is always a good theme in a police drama and he nailed it… twice.

Arthur Dietrich, Barney Miller…sure, the show was primarily a comedy and Steve Landesberg did more riffing of one liners than actual detective work. But anyone whose dry wit and droll delivery is that perfect is OK by me.

Vinnie Terranova, Wiseguy…Undercover cop, mobster, record label mogul, gun runner; didn’t matter. Ken Wahl brought a strong series to life and was blessed by breakout performances by guest villains Ray Sharkey and Kevin Spacey, among others.

Holland Wagenbach, The Shield…in a precinct full of corrupt cops (most of whom you rooted for), The Dutchman was often the butt of the joke and the target of abuse. But he was the moral center of the unit and a brilliant detective, and once he started to assert himself the character arc got that much more fascinating. Great work by Jay Karnes.

Two reasons I watch The Closer.

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Life On Mars: Dead On Earth

Apparently there's no intelligent life here on Earth...at least at ABC-TV.

Apparently there's no intelligent life here on Earth...at least at ABC-TV.

I knew it was too good to be true. Great cast, good remake of an outstanding Brit series, an oasis of good television (and phenomenal music) in an ocean of reality dreck. Line Life On Mars up alongside E Z Streets, Thief, The Riches and several other solid shows nipped way, way too early. What has happened to a broad spectrum of entertainment when a show this good gets clipped and According To Jim lives on? Thankfully Homicide and Hill Street Blues ran in a different era; had these shows begun today they never would have seen season two.

I thought the lead-in from Lost would have helped, but even that show is struggling this year. But it’s hard to believe that with the DVR market penetration, this wasn’t at least an burn-and-watch program. And sure, it’s a frightening economy with bailing sponsors, but if shows like this can’t make it, why should we even bother getting invested in the next one they hype? Many people have already bailed on TV, and I’m beginning to wonder why I bother. If it wasn’t for basic cable (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the majority of the fX lineup) I probably would.

The ABC network statement claims that they will air the final few episodes and add a wrap-up episode to bring the show to a logical conclusion. Right…and I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.  I now fear for Fringe…

So here’s to Jason O’Mara, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, Harvey Keitel, Jonathan Murphy, Dominick Mancino, John Cenatiempo, Chris Miskiewicz, Tom Stratford, Matthew Cowles, and Tanya Fischer. Good show, mates!

***

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