Steven Bochco, one of the most prolific and legendary writer/producers to have ever worked in the television industry, died yesterday due to complications from leukemia, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 74 years old.
There aren’t nearly enough words to describe how influential and successful Bochco was with the work he did and the television shows he worked on and helped create. Shows such as Hill Street Blues, which was one of the very first police procedurals to humanize the police officers and detectives featured in the stories being told about them and the crimes they would investigate.
Shows such as L.A. Law, which dealt with the attorneys at a high-powered law firm, the cases they would handle in court, and how their personal lives were affected as well. It used its episodes to tackle many social issues such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots, capital punishment, and the rights of the LGBTQIA community, while also being very influential in affecting how the country viewed lawyers. How influential? According to one attorney who was interviewed for a New York Times article published back in 1990: “Any lawyer who doesn’t watch ‘L.A. Law’ the night before he’s going to trial is a fool.”
Doogie Howser, M.D., which was not the first medical drama or even the most groundbreaking medical drama to appear on television, but it was definitely the first medical drama to focus on a doctor who used his incredible genius and intellect to practice medicine at only 16 years old (played by Neil Patrick Harris in the role that made him famous), and also show us that despite his intelligence, he was still a kid and everything he saw and did as part of his career affected him greatly and taught him lessons that were impossible to forget, many of which Doogie would type into his computer diary at the end of every episode.
Despite the much-deserved acclaim and attention it got, 24 was not the first television series to tell one complete story from beginning to end over the course of an entire season. One of the first shows to do that was Murder One, which followed a high-profile murder case throughout the season, and attorney Theodore “Ted” Hoffman (played by Daniel Benzali) defending a young and famous Hollywood actor (played by Jason Gedrick) accused of committing the murder.
And then there was NYPD Blue, which (thanks to Bochco and co-creator David Milch, who would go on to create Deadwood) broke plenty of ground on television in plenty of ways and caused plenty of controversy because of them. Because of the incredibly harsh language used by the detectives that would earn most feature films an R-rating. Because of the nudity displayed onscreen during one of the show’s many sex scenes between characters. Because it was an unflinching look at what it was like to be a detective with the New York Police Department and how much of a personal and professional toll it could be on the detectives who were on “the job.” And its influence can be felt in almost every other police procedural that followed, from Homicide: Life On The Street to The Shield to The Wire. (You can now watch NYPD Blue on Hulu, which was announced one day before Bochco’s passing)
Bochco’s work on Columbo, in which he wrote the script for the pilot episode “Murder By The Book” to be directed by a young up-and-coming director named Steven Spielberg, is definitely nothing to scoff at either, as both of them ended up getting noticed by Hollywood thanks to the quality of the episode.
Once news broke that Steven Bochco had died, many people who had either worked with him, wrote about him and his shows, or were just inspired by him and shows took to Twitter to express their thoughts:
I was 28, married, & the father of a baby boy when the creator of ‘Hill St. Blues’ came to NYC to cast a show about minor league baseball. Steven Bochco gave me my first break on ‘Bay City Blues’ and brought me to Hollywood. I’m eternally grateful to him for my career. RIP boss.— Ken Olin (@kenolin1) April 2, 2018
#StevenBochco gave me my first series regular role on City of Angels. It's where I met my husband Julius. He was a fearless pioneer. A risk taker. A rule breaker. A visionary. He saw me. Rest in peace. Well done sir❤ pic.twitter.com/s9cg3Q0GkJ— Viola Davis (@violadavis) April 2, 2018
Absolutely one of the biggest influences on Buffy (and me) was HILL STREET BLUES. Complex,unpredictable and unfailingly humane. Steven Bochco changed television, more than once. He’s a legend. All love to his family, R.I.P., and thank you.#LetsBeSafeOutThere— Joss Whedon (@joss) April 2, 2018
Steven Bochco Dies at 74 https://t.co/4L1lFXhIJF via @thr This man meant the world to me. Mentor is not a strong enough word. Nor is friend. He taught me so much about the business, and life, and always had my back. I'm so sad.— Reginald Hudlin (@reghud) April 2, 2018
VERY SAD to hear that Steven Bochco passed away on Sunday. Steven hired me on LA LAW and changed the trajectory of my life and career. There are opportunities available to me today because he took a chance on a kid like me, long ago. I’ll forever be grateful to him. RIP Steven. pic.twitter.com/8jMvxoenAq— Blair Underwood (@BlairUnderwood) April 2, 2018
I grew up on sitcoms and variety shows. The first TV drama I remember watching was Hill Street Blues. I loved it so much and only later realized it set the standard. Thank you, Steven Bochco.— Nell Scovell (@NellSco) April 2, 2018
Steven Bochco sat with Jake Kasdan and myself before we started Freaks and Geeks and let us grill him for advice. We used all of it. He was a great man and will forever be an inspiration. https://t.co/IWT2Zfr3Nf— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) April 2, 2018
I will be forever grateful to Steven Bochco for the key to the lock that opened the door to a career. At the same time he taught me more about our humanity; our faults and strengths, how they survive side by side, despite our human insistence on seeing them as opposing forces.— Corbin Bernsen (@corbinbernsen) April 2, 2018
So sad to hear of Steven Bochco’s passing. He was a pioneer, a gentleman, and gave me my first job in prime time tv. Rest well, sir. You will be missed. #RIP— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) April 2, 2018
It was his vision, style, taste and tenacity that made me love watching TV. It was being on #NYPDBlue that made me love working on TV. Thank you and rest well Steven Bochco. You were one of a kind. https://t.co/jTqhyAuO0k— Sharon Lawrence (@sharonlawrence) April 2, 2018
Just heard Legendary tv producer Steven Bochco passed away. His groundbreaking storytelling was a big influence on me pursuing a career as a professional actor. Was blessed to get to direct one of his shows and tell him in person. RIP Mr. Television— Eriq La Salle (@EriqLaSalle23) April 2, 2018
I was a guy that never directed television. Until Steven Bochco gave me a shot. I am forever in his debt. One of the all time greatest to work with. One of the all time greatest to know. He was one of a kind. RIP Steven.— Bill D'Elia (@billdelia) April 2, 2018
Almost every working actor has at least one “Steven Bochco credit” on the resume. I am grateful to have several. Thoughts & prayers to his family and friends.— Adina Porter (@AdinaPorter) April 2, 2018
In 2003, I saw Steven Bochco at a restaurant in NY. I had just been fired from The Bernie Mac Show and was really down. To my surprise, he came over, gave me a hug, said how much he loved me and to remember that what i did was special. Wow!— Larry Wilmore (@larrywilmore) April 2, 2018
Steven Bochco was a pioneering giant in television. He was also a generous & thoughtful freind to me & my son. My heart aches for Dayna, Sean, Jessie, Melissa, & the entire family. Rest in peace Steven. You are greatly missed.— Marg Helgenberger (@MargHelgen) April 2, 2018
My very 1st job in Hollywood was as a assistant with #stevenbochco productions. He was a TV giant. A great talent. He opened so many doors. For me. For others. I am so sad. #RIP pic.twitter.com/rhcjq46MCs— Ayanna Floyd Davis (@qu33nofdrama) April 2, 2018
Steven cast me in my very first job right out of school. The show was called: Murder One. He was so kind & brilliant. He took a chance on an unknown black kid who had never before acted professionally. Thank you for this life Steven. 🙏🏾#StevenBochco #RIPStevenBochco 💔— DB Woodside (@dbwofficial) April 2, 2018
Oh my god, no!!! #StevenBochco broke open the one hour drama, liberated it from formula and predictability, made it audacious and, finally, relevant . We owe him, big time. So much of what you love on TV comes from him and the artists he mentored. Thanks for the gig and #RIP https://t.co/PUjzzJe6Fv— Bradley Whitford (@WhitfordBradley) April 2, 2018
RIP, #StevenBochco. My first boss, who gave me my first job after moving from Ohio to LA at 22. Working for him/his show runners gave me the blueprint for how to run a show. Strength & peace to his family. And if you like tv dramas, he is the reason why.— Eric Rogers (@EricRogersLA) April 2, 2018
My first job in television was with Steven Bocho Productions. You don't get luckier than that. He set my entire production/post production career in motion by giving PAs opportunities to learn and move up. Nothing but thanks to #StevenBochco and love to his family. https://t.co/HfSB5kKRCD— lainie (@lainie610) April 2, 2018
Well, damn. Doogie Howser, LA Law, NYPD Blues twice, Murder One and a whole season on Murder In The First among others. Steven kick started my career and is one of the finest people in the business. A class by himself. Will miss you, Steven! #stevenbochco https://t.co/gHqign9mLz— Richard Schiff (@Richard_Schiff) April 2, 2018
So heartbroken to learn of the passing of our dear friend #StevenBochco our prayers with Dayna and the family that they be comforted R.I.P 🙏— Roma Downey (@RealRomaDowney) April 2, 2018
#StevenBochco was not only a great creative influence in my life, I only heard great things about him as an employer and friend. He once called me, out of the blue, to offer support when I broke ties with ABC. A class act. https://t.co/hML5Ed9MVn— marti fucking noxon (@martinoxon) April 2, 2018
#RIP #StevenBochco My heart hurts…Thank you for believing in me & changing the the trajectory of my career… You were more than just a boss- a true father figure who's opinions & advice meant everything to me…I'm blessed to have known you.. Love & prayers to your family 🙏— Charlotte Ross (@charlotteross) April 2, 2018
RIP Steven Bochco. Television is what it is today because of him — and it will not be the same without him.— David Slack (@slack2thefuture) April 2, 2018
Really very sad to hear about my old boss Steven bochco passing away today!!A complete class act as a person and somebody who put me on the map!!— Nick Turturro (@NickTurturro1) April 2, 2018
This is maybe my third ever tweet. It just don't appeal to me. But when I see the outpouring of love for Steven Bochco, I have to step up. His gift to me was his affection for misfit characters.. Sorry for our loss.— Gordon Clapp (@gordonaclapp) April 2, 2018
#StevenBochco took over my show #CommanderinChief when I was fired from it. Painful at the time, but at least a Rockefeller was adopting my child. Greatest showrunner in history. RIP. https://t.co/MXuPEjaYCV— Rod Lurie (@RodLurie) April 2, 2018
I had the honor & privilege to work for Steven Bochco on the final season of NYPD Blue. It was a favorite show of my Grandfathers- a veteran of the NYPD, so it meant the world to me. Steven was a genius, & a true gentleman. He changed TV Drama forever RIP. #stevenbochco— Bonnie Somerville (@BonSomerville) April 2, 2018
So sorry to hear of Steven’s passing. He was an early believer in me and was very kind way back when. A true television giant. Rest In Peace #stevenbochco— Michael Chiklis (@MichaelChiklis) April 2, 2018
My favorite Steven Bochco moment was on "Politically Incorrect" when he defended "NYPD Blue" against, of all people, Chevy Chase.— Shawn Levy (@shawnlevy) April 2, 2018
Chase: "I do movies that the everyone can watch and enjoy."
Bochco: "Since when? Most of your movies are crap.”#Hero
That encounter between Steven Bochco and Chevy Chase occurred on an episode of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher back in 1997, which you can view below at the 16:19 mark:
Wishing Steven Bochco's passing was an April Fool's joke. We lost a titan.— Marc Guggenheim (@mguggenheim) April 2, 2018
RIP Steven Bochco. In 2014, I talked to a number of TV writers about the legacy of #HillStreetBlues, just one part of his varied career. HSB's influence & legacy can't be overstated https://t.co/fu33rEaEot— Mo Ryan (@moryan) April 2, 2018
Steven Bochco was Peak TV before it existed. In drama, all roads lead back to him. Writer, producer, innovator, elevator of the form. RIP.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) April 2, 2018
Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and NYPD Blue secure his place in history. (Hell, Hill Street alone.) But even some of his failures—like the remarkable, ripe-for-rediscovery Murder One—were just a little too early. One crime story throughout a whole season? Nah, it'll never work!— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) April 2, 2018
I interviewed Bochco in 1990, as he was embarking on a 10-series (!) ABC deal with the demented Cop Rock. He chattered madly and knowledgeably about scene structure, songs, censors—and bowel health. He made me eat a prune in front of him. It was worth it.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) April 2, 2018
Last thing: Bochco was a straight white guy, and wrote like one. Not all he did has aged well; he wouldn't be the model of a 2018 TV creator (and those creators look different). But he did his part in casting and storytelling to push the medium a bit toward diversity. It helped.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) April 2, 2018
Steven Spielberg also had this to say about Steven Bochco upon hearing of his passing, according to Deadline Hollywood:
“Steve was a friend and a colleague starting with the first episode of Columbo in 1971 that he wrote and I directed. We have supported and inspired each other ever since and through many deep mutual friendships we have stayed connected for 47 years. I will miss Steve terribly.”
Not every show that Bochco worked on was a success, and some of them made people doubt him and what he was capable of bringing to the table as newer and younger writers came up and made their presence felt (Hooperman, Capitol Critters, Total Security, and of course, Cop Rock). But many of the things that we loved about television then and many of the things we love about television now are because of him and his work. And how they inspired others and made both the people who create television and the people who watch television recognize and respect what television is capable of as an art form. And that same recognition and respect came long before cable television convinced many of us that it was their shows (and not the shows airing on network television) responsible for that recognition and respect.
And for that, we should be eternally grateful.
May he rest in peace.