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Hill Street Blues was a serial police drama that was first aired on NBC and ran for 146 episodes from 1981-1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a police precinct in an unnamed American city, the show received high critical acclaim and its innovations proved highly influential on serious dramatic television series produced in North America. Its debut season was honored with eight Emmy awards, a debut season record surpassed only by The West Wing, and the show received a total of 98 Emmy Award nominations during its run.

The series was unique at the time for being the first to bring together several ideas in TV drama:

  • Each episode featured a number of intertwined storylines, some of which were resolved within the episode, while others carried over multiple episodes during a season.
  • The conflict between work life and home life is explored, as well as the conflict between doing what is right and doing what works.
  • Many camera techniques, such as tight closeups, use of offscreen dialogue, rapid cuts between stories, and use of handheld cameras rather than floor cameras, gave the series a "documentary" feel.
  • Almost every episode started with "roll-call", and many episodes were written to take place over the course of a single day (a technique later used by LA Law).

The whole series can now be viewed on YouTube here.


This series contains examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: Joyce Davenport is a very nuanced version; while her liberal ideology drives her to fight to get her guilty clients off and deride the police as the neighborhood's "Nazi occupation force," over the course of the series she seems to come to appreciate that the police are the good guys.
  • Buddy Cops: Though not a Buddy Cop Show in the traditional sense, it featured several more or less permanent pairings: Hill & Renko, Bates & Coffey, La Rue & Washington, Flaherty & Russo.
  • Bungled Suicide: Howard Hunter
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Belker and Hunter
  • Butt Monkey: Henry Goldblume
  • But We Used a Condom: The failure led to Renko's "shotgun" wedding.

 Renko: But we took every conceivable precaution!

Hill: Conceiveable is right.

 Esterhaus: "Let's be careful out there."

Jablonski: "Let's do it to them before they do it to us."

Hunter: "Judas Priest, Frank!"

    • Belker's colorful terms for suspects: "dirtbag" and "hairball."
    • Davenport's nickname for Furillo: "Pizza-Man."
  • The Character Died with Him: Michael Conrad/Sgt. Esterhaus
  • Cop Show
  • Crapsack World: The cops of the Hill Street precinct fight the good fight, but it's at best a holding action against the insurmountable problems of the inner city and the corrupt politics of Chicago whatever nondescript city it was set in.
  • Dirty Business: Many instances, including the memorable "Trial By Fury"
  • Don't Tell Mama: When the minor crook that Belker is constantly booking dies in an unrelated gunfight, he finally tells Belker his real name so Belker can at least let his mother know about his death. When Belker talks to her, he tells her about what a fine citizen her son had been.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Poor Renko...
  • Dramedy
  • Final Speech: Poor Captain Freedom...
  • From the Ashes: Was followed by a short-lived Spin-Off called Beverly Hills Buntz which followed Det. Norman Buntz and Sid the Snitch as private investigators in Beverly Hills, California.
  • The Good, the Bad, and The Evil: In "The World According to Freedom," Furillo enlists the help of the street gangs to find the perpetrators of a gruesome night club murder.
  • Gang of Hats: Several of the gangs, since this trope was popular at the time.
  • Heroic Wannabe: Captain Freedom! (POW! ZAP!) When he walks down the street, buildings shake and bad guys wet their pants.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Mike Post. It was released as a single and hit #10 on the Billboard chart in 1981.
  • Internal Affairs: In one episode, an IA officer is sent to work undercover in the Hill Street station. The cops uncover her identity and are severely annoyed.
  • Jittercam: Came into wide US use through this series.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: Now averted.
  • Killed Off for Real: many, many characters, including Officer Joe Coffey, Officer Virgil Brooks, Gina Srignoli, Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, Detective Harry Garibaldi, and saddest of all, Captain Freedom
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Logo Joke: The MTM kitten sports a cop hat.
  • The Mad Hatter: Mick Belker.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Fay Furillo and Joyce Davenport
  • Network to the Rescue: Thank you, NBC!
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Det. Norman Buntz. Lt. Hunter has his moments as well.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The setting was never explicitly named, though it resembles Chicago more than anything else, and Chicago stock footage was used extensively.
    • Bobby Hill takes the Amtrak day train to St. Louis; something easily done if you live in Chicago.
    • The names of some of police precincts (Hill Street, South Ferry, Jefferson Heights) were taken from neighborhoods in Buffalo, and Steven Bochco modeled the Hill Street precinct on Pittsburgh's troubled Hill District.
    • Philadelphia City Hall was seen in several episodes.
    • The marked police cars' graphics resemble those of Chicago, and rumor at the time was that the Chicago PD did not allow the producers to use "CHICAGO POLICE" logos and graphics after the experience of The Blues Brothers.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Furillo bends the rules to carry a psychologically disabled officer on the station roster, even though the man is no longer able to function, so the poor guy can get enough time in service to retire with full pension. He finds himself hauled in front of a grand jury investigating corruption in the department and grilled about it.
  • No Name Given: Recurring characters Rico the Junkie and "Buck Naked" the flasher
    • Buck Naked *is* the character's name according to the closing credits of the episodes he appears in
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Chief Fletcher P. Daniels, also arguably a Corrupt Bureaucrat with a touch of Magnificent Bastard
  • Once an Episode: The Cold Opening morning roll call.
  • Only Sane Man: Captain Francis Xavier (Frank) Furillo. At least it seems that way at times.
  • Out with a Bang: Poor Sgt. Esterhaus...
  • The Place
  • Police Procedural
  • Rabid Cop: Mick Belker, who even barked and growled at times.
  • The Reveal:
    • One of the last scenes in the pilot reveals that Furillo and Davenport are lovers.
    • After getting into difficulties because of his drinking, J.D. La Rue is ordered by Captain Furillo to join AA as a condition of keeping his job. He goes to his first AA meeting and sees recovering alcoholic Captain Furillo there.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Poor Renko...
  • Salt and Pepper: Hill and Renko. Also La Rue and Washington.
  • Secret Relationship: Captain Frank Furillo and Public Defender Joyce Davenport. In the pilot episode, she spends all day sparring with him. In one of the last scenes, she's seen in the bedroom, complaining to her paramour about how the police are Hill Street's "Nazi occupation force." Then comes The Reveal: her paramour is none other than Police Captain Furillo, the commander of Hill Street precinct! Over the course of the series, the relationship comes out into the open and they eventually marry.
  • Shared Universe: With NYPD Blue. The two show's shared a minor character named Buck Naked.
  • Something Blues
  • Stalker with a Crush
  • Story Arc: Hill Street Blues was the first U.S. drama series (other than a Soap Opera) to rely on this technique.
  • Suicide by Cop
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Michael Conrad died early in Season 4, his Sgt. Esterhaus was replaced with Robert Prosky's Sgt. Jablonski (who was even given a similar catchphrase to close out the briefing at the top of each episode).
  • Two Words: Obvious Trope: One detective to another, discussing why the latter should stay away from a flirty high-school student:

 Washington: Three words, JD: Statue. Tory. Rape.

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