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September 2, 2015

'Hill Street Blues' Fun Facts

by Jane Murphy, posted Jan 15th 2011 10:00AM
In 1981, Britney Spears and Natalie Portman were born, and NBC, a network known for popularity if not quality ('Diff'rent Strokes', 'CHiPs'), was about to become an awards juggernaut.

NBC's cop drama 'Hill Street Blues' debuted on Jan. 15, 1981. With a huge cast of character actors darting about Capt. Francis Xavier Furillo's Hill Street station, the hour-long drama with a documentary look was an evolutionary leap in broadcast television.

The show might've been a one-season wonder if not for a boatload of Emmy nominations and wins, right from the start (including one for the late, great actor Michael Conrad, whose "Let's be careful out there" became an 80's catchphrase). Cancellation staved off, NBC's Thursday night anchor went on to collect nearly 100 Emmy nods before it ended after 146 episodes on May 12, 1987

"Hill Street' gave perennial police procedural guest stars like Daniel J. Travanti (as Furillo) and James B. Sikking a chance to shine, and launched the careers of Dennis Franz, David Caruso, Lynn Whitfield and 'Thirtysomething's' Ken Olin.

If you're too young to remember, or have simply blocked the '80s from your mind, start at the very start. Here, courtesy of Hulu, is the pilot episode. Marvel at how lived-in the show already looks and feels.

Let's celebrate the birth of the 'Blues' with some fun factoids:

Where was 'Hill Street' anyway? The conventional wisdom placed Furillo's precinct in Chicago, but no one among 'Hill Street's cast or crew ever confirmed where their story was set. Similar questions did not arise when 'Hill Street's ill-fated spin-off aired in 1987. The title of the Dennis Franz vehicle? 'Beverly Hills Buntz.'

Whatever Happened to Captain Freedom? One of the most memorable story arcs on 'Hill Street Blues' was the strange case of Captain Freedom, the wannabe urban superhero decked out in red tights and a parka. Captain Freedom formed a perhaps inevitable bond with one of the stationhouse's resident eccentrics, the growling Belker (Bruce Weitz). The actor who played Captain Freedom, Dennis Dugan, has gone on to direct some of Adam Sandler's biggest hits, including 'Grown Ups' and 'Happy Gilmore'. His latest with Sandler, 'Just Go With It', opens this Feb. 11. In this episode, Belker, and 'the Hill Street' faithful, bid adieu to Captain Freedom.

...and Where's Daniel J. Travanti? The Emmy-winning 'Hill Street' captain was back in charge in 2005, playing the President of the United States in 'Prison Break'. Always one to make interesting career choices (you may remember Travanti posing for People Magazine in very tighty briefs), he's been concetrating on theater of late. Below you'll find a clip from one of Travanti's other TV triumphs, the NBC movie 'Adam', in which he played crime victims' advocate John Walsh.

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'Hill Street's Athetic Hall of Fame. In 1971, Ed Marinaro (who played Ofc. Joe Coffey) almost won the Heisman Trophy as Cornell's record setting running back. He eventually made two Super Bowl appearances with the Minnesota Vikings. A few seasons before Marinaro's Ivy League All-American exploits, actor Michael Warren (Ofc. Bobby Hill), won two consecutive NCAA basketball titles with coach John Wooden's UCLA. Warrren was the starting point guard on teams anchored by center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor). Here's a clip from '09 of Warren reminiscing about his days playing hoops at Pauley Pavillion.

The 'Hill Street/NYPD Blue' connection. 'Hill Street' writer/producer David Milch went on to co-create 'NYPD Blue' with Steven Bochco. But that wasn't the only connection between the two shows. Before they were partners on the streets of Manhattan on 'NYPD', David Caruso (at left) and Dennis Franz were on opposite sides of the law. Franz was 'Hill Street's hothead Detective Buntz, while Caruso played Tommy, leader of the Shamrock street gang. In this season three episode below, Caruso-as-Tommy is among the punks in one of Furillo's patented hooligan summits.

'Hill Street's Impressive Extended Family. During the show's run, it was well-known that Barbara Bosson, who played Frank Furillo's ex-wife, was married to 'Hill Street' Executive Prodcer Steven Bochco. But did you know co-star Kiel Martin was briefly married to Claudia Martin, a daughter of Rat Packer Dean Martin? Screen star Jessica Alba (at left) is married to Cash Warren, son of Michael Warren. And it has been widely reported that 'Hill Street's Andy Renko, actor Charles Haid (now a TV director himself), is the cousin of late talk show titan Merv Griffin.

Betty Thomas gets punk'd at the Emmys. Betty Thomas earned a long overdue Emmy in 1985 for her portrayal of Ofc. Lucy Bates. But the moment became memorable for all the wrong reasons. Self-styled 'Great Impostor' Barry Bremen picked up Thomas's Emmy, claiming she was a no-show. We are happy to report that Thomas has since gone on to win Emmy and DGA Awards -- without an impostor in sight -- for directing (like Dennis Dugan, she's become a go-to director for comedy). Witness Bremen's exploits below.

Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Veronica Hamel? Last seen on 'Lost', Hamel claimed to People Magazine in 1982 that she turned down the Jaclyn Smith role on the original 'Charlie's Angels'. A former Ford model, Hamel said she wanted meatier roles to come her way. The role of Joyce Davenport was one of the most vital female TV characters of all time, but shockingly, Hamel never won an Emmy, despite five nominations.

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GREAT show my favorite of all time. Profound and thought provoking. Each character made you want to tune in each week. The calm and coolness of Capt. Furillo is what you try to model your life after. Always tough with the right words, yet so very vulnerable at love on the human side. Its what made the show tops.

February 09 2011 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was just a rookie cop when "Hill Street Blues " came on T.V. I watched it with great interest. There were many things that occurred on that program that paralleled real life. How the politics played out with people being promoted to positions for which they were not suited. The conflict between the police, the prosecutor and the courts. The program covered personal stiuations of the officers, the scum bags and the civilians. Much of it was very realistic. Nine years into my career, I became a supervisory sergeant. At roll calls after we finished reveiwing cases and beat assignments, I would say Conrad's line, "lets be careful out there". There was times when I was busy and almost didn't get to deliver the blessing, "lets be careful out there". Some officers would not leave the roll call room until the blessing was given. NYPD BLUE is sorely missed as well. MAYBE some day there will be some more great programs. The human side (off duty personal life) of the characters were very much like those in my department. "One Adam 12" and "Dragnet" were good programs but not realist. I am retired now and watching cop programs are like a postman taking a walk on his day off. Be safe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

January 21 2011 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sue Booth

Years (decades) ago, remember seeing previous photo of Capt. Furillo's ex-wife (Barbara Bosson) as Playboy hostess or waitress. Do not believe she'd modeled for them (though I wouldn't know). Also, recall seeing Michael Conrad (who died during "HiIl Street Blues") in fun series, "Soap", though cannot recall which character he played.

Wasn't "L.A. Law" another of Steven Bocho's productions?

Pity those shows ("Hill Street Blues", "NYPD Blue", "L.A. Law" and even "Boston Legal") went by the way. Thinking of shows of that quality being replaced by tripe like "Dallas", "Dynasty" and all other night time soaps, followed by so-called 'reality' shows, gives one an excellent reason to no longer watch television!

January 16 2011 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sue Booth's comment

On "Soap", Conrad played the father of Carol, the girl Jodie (the gay character portrayed by Billy Chystal) has gotten pregnant and plans to marry. Conrad also played Mike "Meathead" Stivic's Uncle Casimir on an early episode of "All in the Family".

Yes, Bochco began producing LA Law in 1986 after being fired from Hill Street Blues the year before.

January 16 2011 at 8:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought Steve Bochco had a Pittsburgh connection. There is a neighborhood near Pittsburgh's downtown called the Hill District which I I was told was the orogin of the setting. Anybody else heard that?

January 16 2011 at 2:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

PLEASE COME OUT WITH SEASON #3 of " HILL STREET BLUES " !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

January 16 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The show was the best, and it is just to bad that they cant make something that deep today!

January 15 2011 at 10:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This was one of the few show that I would not miss for anything. It was on Thursday night, a true "must see" TV show. I loved it so much that my supervisor in my office bought me a Hill Street Blues mug from NBC. I still have it. HSB helped to improve the writing on TV and was one of the greatest influences on the medium. It certainly deserved those Emmys.

January 15 2011 at 9:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I will start of by saying my dad passed in May 2010. I started the video and as soon as the music started, I started bawlling! I was a little kid sitting on the floor of my parents livingroom floor hoping they had forgotten I was woke. I saw the majority of that episode! Shows like that are definitely not made anymore. Sad.

January 15 2011 at 9:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wasn't Veronica Hamel on that show?

January 15 2011 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mr. Golf

Hill Street Blues was not about a street in Chicago, it was about an area in Pittsburgh called the "Hill District". Long riddled with crime and poverty. Also many of the main characters of HSB were graduates of Carnegie-Mellon Universtiy's school of drama.

January 15 2011 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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