"NYPD Blue" has ABC, Steven Bochco and David Milch feeling anything but blue these days.
The network and the creators of "NYPD Blue" are ecstatic that the controversial police series has emerged as the top-rated drama of the new season after weathering months of pre-premiere affiliate nervousness, angry protests, refusals to carry the series and mixed reviews.
ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert said that he was not surprised by the strong showing of "NYPD Blue": "I don't want to sound coy about this, but I really did have an inner confidence about the show succeeding."
Not Milch, who is also an executive producer and the show's head writer.
"Neither Steven nor I had any idea where the cards were going to fall," he said. "We always thought the show would get a sampling. Now it's deep enough into the season that it's obvious that people are watching for the reasons that we wanted them to watch the show."
Since its Sept. 21 premiere, "NYPD Blue" has ranked among each week's top 15 shows, and has regularly beaten its normal network competition at 10 p.m. Tuesday--"Dateline NBC" and TV movies on CBS.
And that has happened despite the fact that 45 of ABC's affiliated stations, mostly in small and medium-sized markets, still refuse to air the series, citing concerns over its use of nudity and coarse language. Fifty-seven stations, covering 11% of the country, preempted the first episode.
"It upsets me and saddens me that all these stations still can't take part in the celebration," Harbert said. "The real sad thing is, all of these station managers and general managers like the show. But they made the decision that it's not appropriate for their community."
ABC has fought the preemptions in an unusual fashion. Starting with tonight's sixth episode, independent stations and Fox affiliates in eight areas where ABC affiliates have declined to carry "NYPD Blue" will begin showing the series in its regular time period. The network gave these non-ABC stations permission to run the first five episodes before tonight so that viewers in those regions would be caught up with the drama, which stars David Caruso and Dennis Franz as New York police detectives.
"We went to the affiliates in those areas and offered them the show one last time," said ABC spokeswoman Janice Gretemeyer. "With these eight stations, 'NYPD Blue' will now be seen in 96% of the country."
Despite the success of "NYPD Blue," fundamentalist minister Donald Wildmon, who led a protest campaign against the show months before its premiere on the grounds that it was soft-core pornography, said he is continuing to pressure ABC affiliates and advertisers.
"This battle is not by any means over," Wildmon said.
Gretemeyer said that all advertising on the show has been sold out to date and that the network is not having any apparent difficulty selling commercial time to major advertisers for future episodes.
The series carries advisories warning viewers of sexual content and raw language.
Harbert said he is glad the network and the show's creators did not cave in to the outside pressure.
"It's the same way it was when we showed that movie 'The Day After' (in 1983) about the nuclear bombing," he said. "Before people saw it, they heard about what it would be like, and they went crazy. They got prematurely excited. Then when they watched it, it was 'I didn't know it was going to be like that. That show's for me.' It was the same way with 'NYPD Blue.' We're glad we stayed the course."
Bochco has apparently grown weary of the furor. Though he gave several interviews before the show's debut and talked freely about the controversial content, he has of late largely shied away from discussing the show's more notorious elements. He recently declined to appear on the "Donahue" talk show when Phil Donahue insisted that he be questioned about the show's sexy content.
"Steven just felt that the time has come for the show to stand or fall on its own merits," Milch said. "One thing I resent is that we're being held responsible for the misconception of others that we put this nudity and language in as a tactic to attract viewers."
Last week's episode featured a fair amount of raw language, but there was no nudity or sexual situations. Milch bristled at the suggestion that the sexual content was being toned down.
"When the story calls for it and when it is warranted, the characters will be seen naked," he said. "There is nudity (in tonight's episode). In a few weeks, there will be a show that takes place largely in a topless bar, so there will be a lot of nudity in that. We're not pulling back."