Any doubts that after three decades as a TV writer and producer Steven Bochco remains a hands-on guy are instantly put to rest when you knock on the door of his Twentieth Century Fox office in Beverly Hills — home of Steven Bochco Productions. ”Come on in,” he says. ”I was just scribbling dialogue changes for Anthony LaPaglia to do on Murder One. He was having trouble with a speech, so I just rewrote it and sent it back to him.”
Bochco has a new lead actor for his highly praised, lowly rated ABC drama, which began its second season last week, and the big boss is doing everything he can to give Murder One a boost, including polishing scripts. In addition to that tinkering and to overseeing the fourth season of NYPD Blue, he’s also launching a sitcom later this month, Public Morals, set in the vice squad of a New York City police precinct. Bochco had to put out a small public relations fire over the blazingly risque language in the pilot, hosing a vulgar term for vice squad — ”pussy posse” — even before its debut. Bochco calls this controversy ”bulls—. Unlike NYPD Blue, for which I made [strong] language an essential, bottom- line, I’ll-walk-if-we-can’t-say-this issue, language [for Morals] was never an issue. We put that phrase into it because that’s exactly what New York cops have always called that unit. Every cop in the world knows that expression.” He says that CBS (with whom he has a lucrative, four-year production deal) ”loved” the original script, and that objections came only from two camps: advertisers — ”who said, Oh gee, we’re gonna have trouble selling a show this raunchy, that says pussy posse, penis, poo-poo, whatever” — and TV critics, who saw an advance pilot and also objected to its saltiness. About the critics, Bochco says cheerfully, ”the overwhelming majority of those folks are dopes.”
Since Bochco was in such a happily blunt mood, and since this year marks his 30th in the business (”My first writing credit was a 1966 coauthorship with Rod Serling, who wouldn’t have known who I was if he’d knocked me down with his car”), it seemed like a good time to have him take us on a quick tour of his career. He’s created some of the most acclaimed television ever, including Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue. He’s also asked us to sit through experiments like the musical drama Cop Rock (1990), the cartoon satire Capitol Critters (1992), and the baseball drama Bay City Blues (1983), but we, united as a nation, said, ”No thanks, Steve.”
Skinny and silver-haired, the 52-year-old Bochco is hard to get a fix on. The man who brought poignant humanity to the cop genre casually refers to police departments as ”traditionally…racist paramilitary organization[s].” One of TV’s few undeniable innovators, he’s a soft-spoken, seemingly laid-back guy who keeps a stuffed collie lying around his office — ”It’s a real Lassie stunt double, no kidding” — and who admits he’s ”thrown that thing against the wall a few times” in a rage.