As it turns out, I’ve spent 15,840 minutes over the past 12 years watching “NYPD Blue.”
It was time probably better spent bonding with the family, or maybe even cleaning around the house — as I’m sure my wife would attest — but I’m not so sure.
I have the Rev. Donald Wildmon to thank. When “Blue” launched, Wildmon — speaking on behalf of those around the country who supposedly weren’t prepared to hear some of the coarsest language on broadcast TV at that time or view David Caruso’s backside — said it was the beginning of the end of television. Which immediately attracted me to the show, just like millions of others.
But, truth be told, I was tuning in on Sept. 21, 1993, no matter who was telling me what I should or shouldn’t watch. Like a moviegoer who’ll see a Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese movie no matter the reviews, I’ve always been a dedicated Steven Bochco viewer and there was no way I’d miss out on “Blue” — especially as a follow-up to the Emmy-winning “Hill Street Blues.”
Thursdays was “Hill Street” night (the beginning of NBC’s Must See TV era) and I was riveted every week. Maybe it was the mixed-race pairing and offbeat conversations between Michael Warren and Charles Haid that engaged me, or possibly Bruce Weitz’s Mick Belker, who would suddenly tune out his job at hand as a perp would wait at his desk while Belker would tell Mom on the phone that, yes, it was important that she make her doctor’s appointment even though she was feeling better now.
And it was on “Hill Street” where we met Dennis Franz as slimy Lt. Norman Buntz, cantering around the precinct as though he owned the joint.
Even the Bochco failures intrigued me. The ill-fated “Beverly Hills Buntz” and minor league baseball saga “Bay City Blues” both tried to use “Hill Street” as a template — complex ensembles where characters were flawed and morally strong men and women had their weaknesses. Few watched besides me, but even catching a handful of those episodes was worth much more than a whole season spent with “Remington Steele” or “Jake and the Fatman.”
There was one minor aspect about “Hill Street” that bothered me, though. It was purposely never set in a real-life city. Certain scenes were reminiscent of L.A., others Chicago and New York but Bochco specifically wanted the show to be more about the people and not the place. In this case, location was not a defining character.
Maybe that’s what intrigued me so much about “Blue.” It was all about New York, my hometown. Growing up in suburban Long Island, I rarely headed to the city — except maybe to catch a Rangers game at the Garden or spend a day with Dad at the office — but venturing on the Long Island Rail Road and being deposited at Penn Station was always a treat.
Never mind the good guys, I wanted to see the dark side of Gotham. Staying out of trouble and being a straight-laced kid throughout my teen years — my parents would say my darkest moment was playing football on Yom Kippur — I was always intrigued by the hoods, felons and good cops gone bad, all people who never crossed my path.
So right from the start of “NYPD Blue,” I knew I’d be sticking around a long time.
That first episode was a doozy. Det. Andy Sipowicz was a drunken, womanizing mess on the edge of self-destruction who gets himself shot point blank (good thing his heart was as resolute as his stubbornness) and then, slowly over the 261 episodes, realizes he had more reasons to live than he could ever imagined at that point.
At a recent Q&A with the cast, Franz said the high point for him in the series was the five-episode arc that painstakingly drew out the tragic end of Jimmy Smits’ Bobby Simone. I realize he’s right, not only through recalling that remarkable “Hearts and Souls” episode and remembering those fateful last hours of Simone, but by seeing Smits back in the 15th Precinct again this season in a dream sequence that immediately brought chills to any serious “Blue” watcher.
Not that I need to watch any more TV than I already am, but there’s certainly enough storylines for season 13. Currie Graham’s Lt. Thomas Bale may be short on words but his mysterious personal side — which the writers hinted at halfway through this year — seems ripe for exploration.
But, understandably, it might be time to move on. If that’s true, however, how come every time I have nearly a dozen items to choose from in my Now Showing menu on Tivo, the first program I consistently find myself wanting to watch first is “Blue.”
Not sure what I’ll do with that extra hour every week. Figure out better ways to save for my daughter’s college education, perhaps. Maybe even take a few handyman lessons at Home Depot.
Whatever it is, I’m not sure it’ll be as fulfilling.
Stuart Levine, a senior editor of Special Reports at Variety, watched every episode of “NYPD Blue” over its 12-season run.