On a brilliant afternoon at a busy corner in lower Manhattan, NYPD Blue‘s Detective John Kelly puts the squeeze on a young woman who knows more about a murder than she is willing to let on. Will she cooperate? Not yet she won’t: Director Brad Silberling calls for a cut in the action. As cars screech past and technicians adjust the smoke machine that belches out enhanced urban atmosphere, David Caruso, who plays Kelly, lounges at ease. His hands tunnel in his trench-coat pockets. His flame-red hair blazes in the sun. In the pause, a stranger approaches—not one of the extras assigned to populate the background, just a New York guy who, like all New Yorkers, thinks he owns the turf, camera crews be damned. ”Yo, Caruso!” he says, pumping out an arm. ”My wife is crazy abow-chooo!”
Caruso, 37, is a guy many wives are crazy about: With his soulful eyes and ability to convey intensity in repose, the New York-born actor has become an instant sex symbol, the break-out star of this non-star-driven new hit, and he’s in demand on the street. He has already signed autographs (”I love you” and ”You’re beautiful”) for two teenage girls on pages ripped out of their school notebooks, and he waves happily when a cruising cabbie honks and shouts ”Hey, Kelly!” like he’s spotted a long-lost buddy. Only a few weeks into the broadcast of the hard-boiled, rough-edged, controversial new cop drama from Hill Street Blues creators Steven Bochco and David Milch, it’s clear that New York City has adopted the cops of NYPD Blue as its own.
Not everybody has, of course. But, affiliate brouhaha aside, critics love NYPD Blue and so, more to the point, do viewers. Caught up in the compelling drama of Detective Kelly and his partner, the volatile, self-destructive veteran detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), the public has made the series Bochco’s biggest hit since L.A. Law. And it’s the closest thing to Hill Street, which broke new dramatic ground in 1981.
The similarity is not lost on Bochco, 49, the smooth, silver-haired, swaggeringly confident producer with a flair for generating headlines. Since Hill Street, Bochco has experimented with series about a minor-league baseball team (Bay City Blues), cops who burst into song (Cop Rock), a child-prodigy doctor (Doogie Howser, M.D.), divorce lawyers (Civil Wars), and animated mice and rats (Capitol Critters). Plus the seven-year-old L.A. Law, which continues to hang on like a tenacious legal suit that won’t go away. But Blue is Bochco’s first creation since Hill Street with the kind of fire, energy, and dramatic power to stoke audience passion.
In the end, the new Blue is something borrowed—a ’90s version of his original ’80s hit.
It’s as if Steven Bochco were saying, ”You want your **!#!!# cop show, I’ll give you your **!#!!# cop show!” In his Los Angeles office (where he is currently developing a new family drama, The Byrds of Paradise, set in Hawaii and starring thirtysomething‘s Timothy Busfield), he laughs at the notion. ”What you’re suggesting is there is a sort of belligerence in giving (the network) a cop show. And there wasn’t. I love cop shows. The only hesitancy I had was that I didn’t want to revisit an arena that I’d been enormously successful in without finding some approach to the material that made it fresh.”