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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 3, 2006

Gritty 'Hill Street' cops return via DVD box set

By Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press

"Hill Street Blues," which had its television network debut on NBC as a midseason replacement series in January 1981, was not quite as original and innovative as legend would have it.

Its basic premise, of an urban cop station constantly under siege from the criminals and the bureaucrats preoccupied with budgets and public relations, was ordered by network programming wunderkind Fred Silverman.

He thought a drama that combined the style of what was then the most gritty and realistic cop show to date, "Police Story," with the workplace conflict in popular ensemble sitcoms like "Barney Miller" could have potential.

It looked to be a bad call by Silverman. TV critics immediately embraced it and beat the drums loudly, but the public barely bothered. But those who did were hooked.

Revisiting the show in the DVD box set "Hill Street Blues The Complete First Season" (Fox) makes it exceedingly obvious why: Every episode, which began with a trademark roll call by gruff guardian angel Sgt. Phil Eszterhaus (Michael Conrad) that laid out the cases for that day, harbored major surprises.

At the end of episode one, we discovered that the beleaguered but dependable station chief Capt. Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti), who had spent a sizable amount of time arguing with bleeding-heart public defender Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel, my instant fantasy woman), was sleeping with her.

As the show went on the characters became more endearing, and the stories less complex, but that hardly makes me look forward to more season sets with any less anticipation. It remains, as Joyce Carol Oates once wrote, one of the few serious narrative triumphs of network television.