Call It ‘City of Arch Angels’


High drama was never in short supply on “City of Angels,” CBS’ freshman series about a struggling inner-city hospital.

A patient walked around the medical center with an ax lodged in his skull. A convicted murderer’s liver transplant jeopardized the welfare of another transplant candidate. A black doctor reluctantly operated on a racist police officer who arrested him that morning on a traffic violation.

However, those fictional plots can’t rival the real-life turmoil that has erupted in recent weeks on the set of “City of Angels” as it prepares to go into production for its second season. Sparking the fireworks is a surprise rift between the show’s key forces--two of television’s high-profile players whose personal and professional partnership on “NYPD Blue” reaped numerous awards.


Those days are over.

Acclaimed veteran producer Steven Bochco and Emmy-winning director Paris Barclay are incommunicado. They speak to each other only through attorneys and agents.

Creative “divorces” between established artists are certainly not uncommon in Hollywood, but seldom is there a chance to look at such a split up-close--unless it lands in court with legal papers detailing the dirty laundry. Often it’s about money, sometimes it’s about power. Neither had anything to do with the Barclay-Bochco rift.

There was no single issue at the center of the disagreement. On the one hand, the men disagreed over what role race should play in a drama about African Americans. Barclay, who is African American, felt “City of Angels” was too black. Bochco, who is white, felt that a black-themed drama should be just that. Then there was the issue of what Barclay wanted to do with his life, and if that included “City of Angels.”

“City of Angels” has never had it easy. Its first season was marked by high expectations as the first black drama on prime-time, lackluster ratings, heated internal debates over its substance and style, and the loss of female lead Vivica A. Fox. In May, it was given a cautious renewal by CBS President Leslie Moonves.

Until a few weeks ago, Bochco and Barclay, co-creators of the series, were working together, trying to inject “City of Angels” with fresh ideas and a new attitude.

Then the real drama kicked in.

After taking a few weeks off, Barclay, and his attorneys, e-mailed Bochco he was bowing out. Kevin Hooks, who directed two episodes of the series but has never produced or written on a weekly drama, was almost immediately appointed by Bochco as an executive producer.


Comic Relief Was Missing

And then the industry analysis set in. Sources close to the show claimed that Bochco imposed too much control over story lines and characters, even as others felt the concepts were culturally unrealistic. There was also frustration that the series lacked the quirky characters that provided comic relief on other Bochco dramatic shows such as “NYPD Blue” and “Hill Street Blues.”

Bochco, though, had his supporters. They argued that Bochco’s dramatic expertise--drawn from both his successes and failures--was substantial and maintained that Barclay’s inexperience in development became obvious during the ongoing discussions on how to retool “City of Angels.” Barclay’s push to bring on more white cast members was seen by many close to the show as damaging the series’ intent.

Barclay reached his decision to leave, he says, in “an epiphany” during his participation at a directors lab at Sundance in June. The sessions there gave him clarity on his growing frustration over the direction he felt the show was moving.

“I have very mixed feelings,” he said about his departure. “On one hand, it was a good thing that we were doing on ‘City of Angels’, but I just started to feel queasy in my stomach. I’ve worked on developing shows before, and I knew where this was going . . . this wasn’t the show I wanted to do.”

Bochco, on the other hand, said he wasn’t aware of Barclay’s disenchantment: “This stuff about irreconcilable differences, I don’t get. If we had those differences, it’s new to me. There were a thousand opportunities to raise those issues. They never got raised.”

He added, “When it came out, he communicated that his decision was irrevocable. It was a complete disregard of his relationship to me and this company over the last five years.”


The sudden departure of Barclay came as a shock, particularly since he had been one of the high-profile faces behind “City of Angels,” regularly juggling his series duties with media interviews. Bochco would often appear with Barclay, and they would play off each other’s comments. They seemed, certainly in public, to be a team with a single mission--save “City of Angels.”

That has now changed. Barclay says that Bochco will not return his phone calls. Bochco says that the time to talk should have been before his office received an e-mail saying Barclay had quit.

“This isn’t just about ‘City of Angels.’ It’s about what I want to do with my life,” Barclay said. “I want to be emotionally involved with something that will make a difference.”

Bochco is also looking to the future: “I’m thrilled that we were able to find a replacement for Paris. Many of the changes and adjustments we had made in the show and agreed to make and are continuing to make will be implemented by Kevin Hooks.”

As for a professional reconciliation with Barclay, Bochco said: “I don’t know if it’s fixable.”

First of all, if I were doing a new show, I wouldn’t try to break through with an all-black cast. Every hospital I’ve researched in the inner-city has a mixed staff--blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos.


--Paris Barclay

Just a few days after his resignation--and only a few miles from where his newly estranged writing and producing colleagues grappled with the future of the show--Barclay worked alone in his offices at the Culver Studios, packing boxes, answering calls. The atmosphere was mostly relaxed, although a bit of tension hung in the air.

He spoke affectionately of his former partner: “Steven is a terrific producer. He always made me feel like I was part of the family. He taught me what I needed to know to be a producer. I thought of him as my mentor.”

But Barclay’s participation at Sundance gave him a different view of his profession and life. The three-week workshop provides emerging filmmakers with an opportunity to rehearse, shoot and edit scenes away from the glare of Hollywood. Participating along with Barclay were Sally Field and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia”).

“It was such a spiritual experience,” said Barclay. “I had just planned to chill out, but it was truly life-changing. I saw how minorities working in film were respected and empowered. It was then that I felt I was in the wrong place in my life. With ‘City of Angels,’ I kept chipping, but I couldn’t get the statue out of the rock.”

Reaching his decision on June 8, Barclay asked his agents to notify Bochco the following day. The two sides never had a conversation about the resignation, he said, and before he knew it, Hooks had been named to replace him.

Although most affiliated with the production were stunned, Barclay said they were not totally surprised: “In fact, no one said they were surprised but Steven.”


That includes former “City of Angels” star Fox.

“I knew Paris wasn’t happy,” said Fox. “Steven thinks he totally understands the black community, and he does not. I think Paris felt his opinions weren’t valued. He got frustrated and got sick of it.”

Barclay is now concentrating on his new projects. He’s writing a romantic comedy for Edmonds Entertainment, which features “black and white people” and addresses how spirituality can heal. He’s also polishing one of his dream projects--a musical based on “Letters From ‘Nam” that will be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington at the end of July. And he’s considering becoming involved with a new TV series.

“I have no shortage of job offers,” he said.

To quit a show, and to quit on a show when it’s struggling to find itself and has an opportunity to find itself when there are so many changes that you yourself instigated is surprising. And to quit the way he did without sitting down to discuss it so there would be an amicable parting of the ways is surprising.

--Steven Bochco

A few weeks after Barclay’s departure, Bochco sat in his office on the 20th Century Fox lot, explaining his side of the split.

Both men knew there were problems with the series, but nothing that couldn’t be worked on, improved.

“Even before the end of last season, we talked that the basic look of the show was not where we hoped it would be,” Bochco said. “We had already implemented the beginning of certain changes--brightening the sets, changing the lighting, making various personnel changes. When we got renewed, we knew it would make a better product.”


Bochco said he had always been open to discussing changes about the show’s direction with Barclay and the writing staff.

“I maintained from the beginning that I wanted to do a show primarily populated with black characters, but not specifically about race or the black experience, whatever that is,” he said. “I wanted to do a medical drama that just happened to have as its focus a group of black professionals. Paris and I were on the same page on that score. The question is, ‘How do you get there?’

“On one hand, Paris and I never set out to do a racially themed show, but it was inevitable we would have to deal with that,” he continued, saying that he, along with the producers and writers, would spend “hours and hours in story meetings. We really hashed out stuff, more than most shows I’ve been involved with.”

However, Bochco said he had a real problem with Barclay’s insistence that more white actors be cast.

“That was an ongoing debate because it was something that Paris was really lobbying for,” said Bochco. “I felt that yes, we could expand on the people who came in the door, but ‘City of Angels’ is fundamentally a black drama. If I start adding a bunch of white people, then it starts to look like the other medical shows that have racially diverse cast. The things that distinguished us was our cast photo--predominantly African American. That’s by design.”

‘It Came as Quite a Shock’

Despite the differences, Bochco said he never felt Barclay was unhappy enough to quit.

Said the producer: “It came as quite a shock. If he had another job, or a great opportunity to do something else, or was just not happy, it would have been one thing. But he never said anything. He never said, ‘I’ve had an epiphany, I quit.’ Or ‘I’ve had an epiphany, can we talk about it?’ ”


He said Barclay should have also taken into account the other production members who would be “severely distressed . . . by his arbitrary sudden decision.”

Although Bochco said he has grounds to take legal action against Barclay because of the breach of contract, the producer said such a move is unlikely.

“The truth is, no one wants to sue anyone,” he said. “It detracts attention from what’s most important. It would be a distraction from what the main objective should be, which is strengthening ‘City of Angels’ so it can be a successful show. The less time spent on this other stuff, the better.”