Singing Blues’ Praises: How Hill Street Changed TV

In Flashbacks on January 15, 2011 at 12:00 am

Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) in “Hill Street Station,” the first episode of “Hill Street Blues.” (Screen cap)

On January 15, 1981, NBC introduced Hill Street Blues, the influential police drama that set new standards in ensemble television.

Before Blues, cop shows tended to be episodic dramas with clear-cut heroes and villains.

Blues, which chronicled life in a gritty precinct in an unnamed city, rebooted the genre by infusing its characters with humanity, stretching storylines over multiple episodes and pioneering the use of overlapping dialogue and handheld cameras.

The show, which received 98 Emmy nominations during its seven-season run, became shorthand for a new style of drama: L.A. Law was essentially Hill Street Pinstripes; St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Hospital.

Blues’s emphasis on biting humor also inspired a wave of comedies that eschew canned laugh, such as Scrubs.

See for yourself: Hill Street Blues’ first three seasons can be streamed at Hulu and purchased through iTunes and video on demand; seasons one and two are on DVD.


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