Early episodes of the gritty, groundbreaking series Hill Street Blues opened with Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, played by Michael Conrad, holding a morning briefing for a bunch of rowdy Hill Street cops. He'd end his roll call with the signature line, "Let's be careful out there."
Unlike the procedurals of the time, Hill Street Blues featured a huge cast with interlocking story lines that unfolded over multiple episodes.
While not an instant ratings hit, Hill Street Blues helped reverse the fortunes of NBC, then in last place among the major networks, and became part of its formidable Thursday-night must-see-TV line-up. In its first year, the series received an historic 21 Emmy nominations and won eight. Our guest today, Hill Street Blues co-creator Steven Bochco, picked up two of those, for outstanding drama and outstanding writing for the 1981 pilot episode.
Following his time on Hill Street, Bochco produced dozens of shows, including LA Law, Doogie Howser MD, and NYPD Blue, which was a signature hit for ABC and ended up breaking the Emmy record set by Hill Street.
Bochco recounts his decades in television in a new memoir called Truth is a Total Defense. We recently sat down with him in his office in Santa Monica and talked about battles with actors, dealing with a writing partner addicted to gambling, fighting broadcast standards departments, why his deal with Les Moonves didn't work out, and the possibility of an LA Law reboot.