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‘Holby’ cops an attitude

Police drama borrows from best U.S. series

LONDON — Cop shows have always been a staple of TV schedules, so when a new one arrives it’s is guaranteed to generate a fair amount of discussion.

In Blighty, the fanfare accompanying the emergence of “Holby Blue,” which bowed Tuesday on BBC1, was even louder than usual. There were several reasons why.

For one thing, “Holby Blue” purports to be a spinoff from long-running U.K. hospital saga, “Holby City,” although apart from both being set in the same fictional town, the similarities look minimal. But for many, the real reason the new arrival garnered such keen interest was down to its classy credentials.

Hot British scriptwriter Tony Jordan, co-creator of the widely acclaimed “Life on Mars,” pens “Holby Blue.”

“Life on Mars” is an innovative show by virtue of its central conceit that has a politically correct 21st-century detective time-warped back to the hard-boiled 1970s. “Holby City’s” co-producer is Kudos Prods., makers of “Life on Mars”; the other producer is Jordan’s own combo, Red Planet.

Kudos’s Midas touch in U.K. series drama is probably unequaled in Blighty in recent times. Its fast-paced U.S- influenced crime skeins, “Spooks” and “Hustle,” have raised the bar in terms of what British TV auds expect from contemporary, peak-time action series.

So did the opening episode of “Holby Blue” live up to Kudos’ reputation for high production values, credible characterization and entertaining storylines, not forgetting Jordan’s knack for gritty writing?

Frankly, not all the critics were impressed, but the Guardian’s seasoned reviewer, Nancy Banks Smith, described it as “fast and funny and punctuated with poignancy.”

Quirky camera angles have proliferated early on, as does clipped shots of cops marching along corridors half lit by Venetian blinds. Think “Hill Street Blues” or “NYPD Blue” but with more sex and a post-9/11 attitude to police work.

The latter comes into play when main character Det. Inspector John Keenan complains that the strain of fighting the war on terror is diverting resources away from the ordinary work of everyday policing. As for the U.S. influence, Jordan explained: “I have long admired the American approach to cop shows, the wonderful ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘NYPD Blue” — and it occurred to me that these shows, too, were defined by their flawed characters, who still managed to be heroes.

“They, too, sometimes had to battle procedure to get the job done: those shows seemed slicker, better paced than their U.K. counterparts. I wanted my show to emulate this: to accurately reflect society, to be of its time and, yes, to be as sexy as hell.”

So sexy that much of the sex reportedly ended up on the cutting room floor.

Even in liberal Blighty, channel controllers still worry about the amount of sex they can get away with on a mainstream channel at 8 p.m. Ultimately, though, on the basis of one episode, “Holby Blue” looks to be struggling to free itself from under the weight of its obvious U.S. antecedents.

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