The “24/7” documentary series that began with Johns Hopkins Hospital (think “the real ‘ER’ “) and proceeded to the city of Boston finds its next logical permutation with the New York Police Dept. More than anything, this seven-week summer replacement validates the underlying truths of the show whose beat it’s occupying, “NYPD Blue.” An intriguing look at New York cops culled from 16 months of access to their daunting world, “NYPD 24/7” provides an array of personalities that feel familiar — thanks in no small part to narrator Dennis Franz’s day job playing “Blue’s” Andy Sipowicz.
Most of the hours focus on at least two cops in disparate settings, from a toughened detective investigating the grisly murder of an African-American girl — and grappling with charges of “police indifference” — to a female officer going undercover as a prostitute. And like the fictional drama for which it’s substituting, there are even moments of dark humor, such as detectives finding an abandoned car and laughing explosively when feral cats stream out of it in every direction.
“You want to be a hero? Go join the fire department,” one of the detectives says early on, summing up the cops’ view of theirs as a thankless but necessary task.
Nor does the series shy away from the harsh realities of big-city police work, from the fractious relationship with minorities to the personal toll the job exacts. At various points, detectives marvel at the level of gore they can witness unflinchingly, with one wryly observing he’s a bad candidate for Take Your Daughter to Work Day.
“If it doesn’t bother you, then there’s something wrong with you. You don’t belong doin’ this stuff,” says Mike Hinrichs, billed as “the NYPD’s most-decorated cop,” who seems to be channeling Sipowicz, or vice versa.
Unlike some liberties taken with recent docs, “24/7” is remarkably spare in its approach, allowing the players to tell their own stories — often in language that necessitates enough bleeping to sound like a heart monitor gone haywire.
The most interesting thread that emerges is the clear blue-collar sensibility, including the exultation of a female cop when she arrests a couple of wealthy Wall Street types — two young men looking for a “party” in their car. All speak of “the job” as if it were a mission, yet realize they’ll never be truly appreciated by those they’re sworn to protect — looked down upon by the well-heeled and feared by the downtrodden.
These themes have been well ventilated over the years on “Blue” (where producer Bill Clark is an NYPD alum) and elsewhere. And if having Franz narrate somewhat blurs the line between fiction and reality, at least it’s an understated presence.
Producer Terence Wrong has spent the last four years with the “24/7” series, which represents a logical deployment of the news division to augment its entertainment brethren — a pleasant contrast to the adoption and wedding ceremony fluff in which ABC News has recently indulged.
Perhaps the most poignant segment in “24/7” involves Lt. Vic Hollifield, the bearish leader of a police rescue unit, who survived Sept. 11 and ultimately decides to retire. “I’ve seen too much,” he says, wearily. “I don’t want to do it anymore. Let someone else do it.”
In a script, that line might sound hackneyed. As delivered here, it’s as powerful as a punch to the gut.