Pushing theEnvelope

Steven Bochco on NYPD’s finale, his new shows and reality TV

If his only claim to fame were co-creating, producing and writing the then-revolutionary Hill Street Blues, Steven Bochco would have earned his place in TV history. Instead, he has spent 37 successful years in television, an impressive record by any standard. From his first writing credit, a segment of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater to producing the 12th and final season of NYPD Blue, the eight-time Emmy winner has been busy. Even his flops, like the 1990 cop musical Cop Rock, illustrate the legendary Bochco flair for experimentation. Responsible for, among others, LA Law and Doogie Howser, M.D., Bochco is readying his new ABC drama Blind Justice for air and producing the pilot Over There, an FX show about the lives of soldiers in Iraq and their families.

How closely are you working on each of the three shows?

I’m totally involved in all. You just jump from one to the next, but I’m not doing day-to-day writing at the moment.

What can we expect in NYPD Blue’s last season?

I can tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to kill anybody, we’re not going to blow up the building. Nothing melodramatic. We owe it to the show and the audience to end organically and logically.

What will distinguish Blind Justice from other crime dramas?

The lead character is blind, which instantly makes it not business as usual. You’re dealing with a cop who is challenged to “see” in nontraditional ways. He’s his own guy. He’s young. He’s handsome. He was a Persian Gulf War veteran married to a beautiful woman, and a really good, smart, tough cop who was on top of the world. Suddenly, he loses his eyesight in a shootout, and it completely redefines his life. What the series really is about is the leap of courage it takes to not let the loss of sight become a debilitating handicap.

Will Blind Justice be as controversial as NYPD Blue?

NYPD Blue was designed to be controversial, to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, so we could be seen in network drama as being more viable to an audience deserting network drama in favor of cable. We felt the way to draw them back was by being a little more language-specific and a little sexier. We were trying to rattle the cage. In Blind Justice, that’s not at the core of what we’re trying to do. I might argue over content issues. But I will never refuse to make the show if I lose an argument, which is what I did with NYPD Blue. The whole point of NYPD Blue was not to lose the argument.

What can you do at FX with Over There that you couldn’t if it were on a broadcast network?

That remains to be seen. You still can’t say “fuck”—that remains off-limits. But beyond that, you can pretty much say anything. Also with sexuality, we’ll be able to do more than with NYPD Blue.

Will there be graphic violence?

I’m not a big fan of film violence. But any time you’re doing a show about war, you’re married to violence. It’s our responsibility as writers and producers to make sure we frame the consequence of those events, so they don’t simply exist to either glorify violence or simply shock the audience. When you are in a war, your life can change in a split second. The consequence is the rest of your life. In a series like this, you never know. If you’re going to communicate the intense sacrifice that fighting men and women and their families make, you have to let your audience know that characters they become attached to are at risk.

Can the show be real and also sensitive to the families and friends of the soldiers? Will it be supportive of the troops?

The short answer is yes. When FX talked to me about this project, I said I didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t in the military. It’s not a subject I’m drawn to. I’m not a fan of war movies. I wouldn’t want to do a show that presented so many opportunities to make political commentary on the war. I like to think I’ve never injected politics into my work. It’s inappropriate. But I saw a way to do this show in an apolitical way: Simply dramatize the fact that, for every man and woman in Iraq, there’s a family at home who are terrified for them. That’s not political, that’s personal and emotional. That’s the drama of over there.

Will it generate controversy?

I hope not. It’s only controversial if you stake out political territory. If you tell strong compelling stories populated with terrific and compelling characters, controversy has no place. What I hope it inspires is some keen interest and identification with the characters. If we do that, we’ve got a terrific show on our hands.

You plan to do any shooting in the Middle East?

No. We have lots of sand in California.

You donated money to John Kerry and Wesley Clark. At what point did you become unhappy with Bush’s handling of the war?

I’m not going to answer that question. Your assumption that I am unhappy isn’t necessarily correct.

What are you watching these days?

My back. I’m not a big TV watcher. Not out of snobbery, it’s just allocation of time. I spend all day working on TV. I go home, and I don’t generally tend to plop down for a night of TV watching. I go home. I have a family and dinner. Sometimes, I have a script I have to read or do some homework. Or I might watch a ballgame. I’m a bit of a sports fanatic. I’ll usually catch up with entertainment programming at the pilot stage. I like to look at all the new pilots.

Are you a fan of reality TV?

None of it is terribly real. It’s all very contrived, so it’s sort of a misnomer. I prefer thinking of it as relatively unscripted, as opposed to reality.

Would you want to build a franchise like CSI or Law & Order? Might NYPD Blue one day be followed up with an LAPD Blue?

I wish I could. I just have no enthusiasm for it. To me, it’s not artistry, that’s manufacturing. I have nothing against manufacturing. It’s just not anything I find particularly challenging.