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NBC’s ‘Hill Street Blues’ Reaches the End of the Road

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

NBC’s “Hill Street Blues,” television’s most honored dramatic series, will leave the air for good after seven seasons, it was announced Monday. The hard-edged police drama’s final original episode, entitled “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” will air May 12 at 10 p.m.

The series’ cancellation, which had been expected for weeks, was announced by Arthur Price, president of MTM Enterprises, which produces the show.

“We have enjoyed seven very satisfying years making ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ” Price said in a prepared statement. “It seems appropriate to close this happy venture on a high note and to permit the show’s vastly talented staff of writers and actors to pursue other projects.”

With its debut in January, 1981, the police show set a precedent for gritty reality, dark humor, ensemble casting and complex plot lines, a style that later was emulated by such series as “St. Elsewhere” and “L.A. Law.” NBC renewed it despite low ratings, and the show went on to win eight Emmy Awards that September, which helped alert viewers to its existence.

The show has captured a total of 26 Emmys, including being named outstanding dramatic series for four years straight, starting in 1981. Only the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” with 29, has won more Emmys.

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“ ‘Hill Street Blues’ is the series that signaled a new NBC when it premiered back in 1981,” NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff said Monday. “Its talented team has consistently hit and bettered the standard of excellence the series established for dramatic television. I am proud of our association with this gifted group of people.”

Although the popularity of the show has declined in recent years--it currently ranks 44th among the 102 network series that have aired this season--ratings were not the primary reason for the end of “Hill Street.”

Jeffrey Lewis, co-executive producer of the show (with David Milch), said Monday that the show’s ending was as much the result of the desire of some producers, writers and cast members to move on to new projects as its slide in the ratings, which may have been influenced by the show’s move to a time slot opposite the popular “Moonlighting.”

“I don’t think the ratings are at all unsatisfactory,” Lewis said. “It (the end of the series) is a result of a complex set of financial and artistic considerations. I personally did not want to work on the show any more, and it is my understanding that a handful of the producers, writers and cast members are anxious to move on to new projects.

“I wanted to leave a year ago, and David Milch was in the same position,” he continued. “But let’s say I was encouraged and rewarded for doing it for another year. I’m gratified that the show is ending on a high note, and I’m gratified if my participation had any part in that.”

One member of the cast, Dennis Franz, began shooting Monday on an NBC pilot for a spin-off series, in which his screen character, Lt. Norman Buntz, moves to the West Coast from the unnamed Eastern city where “Hill Street” is set to work as a private investigator. The series would be called “Beverly Hills Buntz.”

Steven Bochco, who created “Hill Street Blues” with Michael Kozoll and was its executive producer until being fired in 1985, said of the cancellation: “It was a wonderful seven years, and it’s time.” Asked if he had any regrets, Bochco said: “No, it was a wonderful series, and it’s time to move along for everybody.”

The final installment of “Hill Street Blues,” unlike the final “MASH” episode, will not be a goodby show, but will be “an episode very much like the others in ‘Hill Street,’ ” said NBC spokesman Brian Robinette. Part of the plot: Detective Johnny LaRue tries to expose an unscrupulous investigative TV reporter; a fire at Hill Street Station requires some clean-up, and Buntz, who has been set up in a cocaine theft, is dismissed from the force and punches the chief in the nose.


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