Saturday, April 25, 2009

Top TV Pilots of All-Time, #6

We resume the never-ending countdown to the best television pilot of all-time with a show that redefined not only its genre, but essentially the very face of dramatic television, too.

#6 Hill Street Blues (1981)

Watching the pilot for this Steven Bochco-created drama, one would not instantly jump to the conclusion that the show was first filmed a whopping 29 years ago. Yes, the fashions are out of date, and yes, it does show its age in other ways, but the narrative structure and the camera work basically represent television as it remains today. Opting for hand-held cameras, shaky close-ups, quick cuts, intertwining storylines amongst a large, diverse ensemble cast, and using background noise and dialogue to create a constant buzz of activity, the pilot for Hill Street Blues became the Rosetta Stone for making good, contemporary television.

Running for seven seasons, the ratings-challenged Hill Street Blues focused on the professional and private lives of the inhabitants of an urban police station in an unnamed Chicago-like city. It showed the inner city of American life in a gritty way that most shows had previously avoided. From gang violence to domestic abuse, both of which are featured in the shockingly violent pilot, this was not a glamorization of police work. Even the "cool" plain clothes detectives are shown as being alcoholics or ego maniacs. Nothing about the show is "neat". It's a messy world and the cops of Hill Street Station are on the front lines for trying keep the mess from spiraling out of control...sometimes without success. It sounds fairly generic for a 2009 show, but for a 1981 show...hardly.

The debut season of Hill Street Blues was nominated for an insane 21 Emmys (98 during its entire run), ultimately winning 8 of them...four of which were specific to the show's pilot. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for four consecutive seasons from 1981-1985. It is, quite simply, one of the best and one of the most important television shows in history...and it all began with its standout pilot. If you've not had the pleasure of watching Hill Street Blues before, has every episode from the first three seasons online (for free). Some people described Hill Street Blues as "Barney Miller outdoors," and that might be just about right.


Blogger Andy said...

Readers of this excellent review, may be interested to know there is an active fans website and Egroup, both of which can be found from this link

Hill Street Blues still has a huge following today, twenty seven years on from the first show.

Regards Andy

April 26, 2009 at 4:03 AM  

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