Fox released Season One of Hill Street Blues in 2005; Season Two came out in 2006, but then nothing. For years, fans wondered if the rest of the series would ever make it to DVD. As they’ve done so many times before, Shout! Factory has come to the rescue and released the entire series, all seven seasons and 144 episodes, in a 34-disc collection including a disc exclusively devoted to extras.
Created by Steven Bochco (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) and Michael Kozoll, Hill Street Blues was one of the most groundbreaking and critically acclaimed series in television history. The recipient of 98 Emmy nominations during its seven year run 1981-87 Hill Street Blues established a reputation for smart, timely scripts and fine acting from the entire ensemble. Not afraid to take on adult themes right from the start, the show followed the day-to-day lives of cops working out of Hill Street station. This wasn’t like the rather calm and collected police stations depicted in earlier favorites like Dragnet and Adam-12. Hill Street station was barely controlled chaos; a powder keg with the potential to burst at any second. These were cops working in a crime-infested, racially divided city.
The pilot, “Hill Street Station,” sets the tone for the series. Captain Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) a dedicated, pragmatic officer does his best to handle the myriad of issues that come up during the day, even as he is regularly pestered by his ex-wife Fay (Barbara Bosson) over child support, etc. He must also deal with public defender Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel), who hounds him about a client. It’s only at the end of the episode that we learn that Furillo and Davenport are lovers. We are introduced to an interesting array of cops:undercover detective Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz), is a bit of an odd bird, given his penchant for barking, but he’s one of the best detectives around; beat cops Andy Renko (Charles Haid) and Bobby Hill (Michael Warren) find themselves in the line of fire as the “Pilot” comes to a close; the sensitive Henry Goldblume (Joe Spano), the ‘intense’ head of the SWAT team, Lt. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking), the womanizing detective J.D. LaRue (Kiel Martin) and his suave partner Neal Washington (Taurean Blacque), along with the staff including the spunky Sgt. Lucille Bates (Betty Thomas), and Lt. Ray Calletano (Rene Enriquez).
Characters would come and go through the years, including favorites Officer Joe Coffey (Ed Marinaro) who was partnered with Bates, and the experienced, tough as nails Lt. Norm Buntz (Dennis Franz).
Each episode began with an early morning “roll call,” conducted by the desk sergeant—most memorably Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad from 1981 until his death in 1984), who always closed with the trademark line: “Let’s be careful out there.” The roll call usually served to let the viewer know not only what case that episode was going to focus on, but if any of the principal characters had professional or personal issues that might affect their day.
Despite the large cast, each character was given a distinct personality and place in the Hill Street family. The series interwoven plot lines, fast pace, and ‘nervous’ camera adds to the sense of crisis that pervades each episode. The series tackled a range of social issues including alcoholism, child abuse, rape, and infertility. At the time, the show’s use of language and frank sexuality set a new bar for cable television.
The cast is excellent from top to bottom. Several actors, including Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Bruce Weitz and James B. Sikking who are nothing short of brilliant in their roles. Sikking, who used his military experience in the shaping of his character, manages to make the ultra serious Howard Hunter a source of comedy without making him a buffoon.
Like most series, Hill Street Blues had its ups and downs as the years wore on. Generally speaking though, the show remained intellectually challenging throughout its run. Hill Street Blues is one of those shows that changed the face of television. Without it, NYPD Blue, Homicide, Law & Order (created by Dick Wolf, Hill Street Blues staff writer) and more couldn’t have existed.
Hill Street Blues was one of the finest dramas ever to air on television, and it’s a pleasure to finally have the entire series available on DVD.
All seven seasons, 144 episodes in total, arrive in a massive 34-disc boxed set. It appears that these are the uncut, original episodes and not syndication prints. Each season gets its own single-width keepcase which holds the four or five discs that hold the episodes. The seven cases are housed in a sturdy, attractive slipcase.
Framed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the image looks okay, but not great. Things look like what you’d expect from an unrestored 1980’s TV show. Colors are particularly vivid, though fading isn’t a big issue. Night scenes are occasionally on the dark side, but the detail is acceptable. There are no major defects to report.
Presented in the original stereo soundtrack, dialogue is clean and there are no real amomalies. The track doesn’t offer much in the way of separation, but music, dialogue and effects sound find together. While this mix is nothing special, it does the job.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentaries: Four in all (the same ones included on the Fox releases), two episodes of season one (The Pilot and I Never Promised You a Rose, Marvin) and a pair of shows from season two (The World According to Freedom and Freedom’s Last Stand).
- The History of Hill Street(1:01:56) A new documentary, it focuses on the work that went into the creation of the show, with creator Steven Bochco providing lots of details. Denis Franz and James B. Sikking discuss the show in its later years.
- Writers on the Hill (20:34) In this new piece, writers Steven Bochco, Jeffrey Lewis, Robert Crais and Alan Rachins duscuss coming up with ideas, and working as a group.
Interviews with the Officers:
- Lt. Howard Hunter (18:48) In this new interview, James B. Sikking discusses his portrayal of EAT leader Lt. Howard Hunter.
- Belker Unleashed (5:59) Conducted in 2005, Bruce Weitz discusses portraying Detective Belker.
- Cowboy on the Hill (6:26) Conducted in 2005, Charles Haid discusses his character Andy Renko.
- Confessions of Captain Freedom (5:51) In this 2005 interview, Dennis Dugan discusses his character ‘Captain Freedom.’
- Roll Call: Looking Back on Hill Street Blues: (51:22) Conducted in 2005, Charles Haid, Ed Marinaro, Bruce Weitz, Barbara Bosson, Veronica Hamel and Joe Spano reunite to discuss the show.
- Gag Reel (0:38) An extra from the Fox Season Two DVD release, a very short, typical gag reel.
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