From the moment the great Mike Post theme song came on, you knew you were going to see a different kind of show. Hill Street Blues wasn’t just a great cop show, it created the template for ensemble dramas to come. So N.Y.P.D. Blue, E.R., L.A. Law, St. Elsewhere – the least you can do is send Hill Street Blues a Christmas card each year.
HSB ran on NBC from 1981 to 1987. Most episodes began at roll call, when Sgt. Phil Esterhaus would admonish his team, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” The show usually went through a day in the lives of officers at a single precinct in an unnamed Midwest city. The language was gritty, as realistic as TV would allow at the time. And like most successful shows, the casting was outstanding, no small feat considering that the cast consisted of 15 or 16 regulars each season.
This is one of those times when network executives rewarded quality in spite of low ratings. The show’s first season would normally have let to cancellation, but NBC renewed it for a second season. Or at least, for 10 episodes of a second season. One factor that may have rescued the run is that it dominated the Emmy Awards. People wanted to know what was this program that got a record 21 Emmy nominations, and won eight. They tuned in, the ratings rose, and we got to have 132 episodes of the Blues.