More Than Blue Speech And Bedroom Scenes

Posted: September 21, 1993

Here it is: NYPD Blue, the most controversial - and one of the best - new series of the season.

Executive producer Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law) has been stirring the pot on this program for a couple of years, promising groundbreaking television for adults, and he has delivered.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon and his menagerie of reactionary bozos have risen to the bait like largemouth bass. They placed full-page ads in scores of Sunday newspapers all summer - mostly in the funny papers, where they would attract the right audience - urging a boycott of anybody and anything remotely associated with such a shocking show.

Of course, none of them had seen it.

Normally, you'd expect the Bochco strategy to work like a charm. With all the fuss, the show would draw a big audience.

But in these strange times, you've got to give credit for a partial victory to the Mississippi-based Wildmon, who fights for decency (nothing wrong with that) whenever he gets the inkling that its borders might be breached by demon TV.

What is wrong with Wildmon and his ilk is that they seek to build their borders around all of us. They detest the concept of individual choice. They believe that if they don't approve of something (even though they haven't seen it), then everybody should have the same opinion as they - and also never get to see it.

And, partly because of their pressure, more than 10 percent of the nation's viewers are not going to be allowed to see NYPD Blue. Cowardly station managers at more than 30 of ABC's 225 affiliates - including one big one, in Dallas - have decided not to air the program.

Those viewers will miss a show that is sometimes shocking - for television - in its language; a show whose premiere does include an extremely naked - for television - sex scene that seems a little gratuitous, but whose second episode has no sex at all.

Because of the lack of love that seems to attend the sex, it is a show that I wouldn't want my 15-year-old to watch (if I had a 15-year-old), but one that I will be making appointments not to miss for as long as it stays on the air.

Bochco has brought a new vocabulary to TV. What a pleasant change not to have to listen to supposedly hard-bitten cops use euphemisms that wind up sounding like "golly gee." Nobody but TV people, for instance, says ''freaking" - not that they use the real F-word on NYPD Blue, either. There still are limits.

And what better actor than Dennis Franz - the inimitable Norman Buntz of yesteryear's Hill Street - to spit out lines like "that a-hole Giardella - wig-wearing, scumbag hump"? Or to respond to his concerned (male) partner's inquiry about the last time he tried to go on the wagon: "Hey, when was the last time you tried growin' tits?"

The show airs at 10 p.m., comes with a warning about viewer discretion, and is designed exclusively for an adult audience - unlike this newspaper, which must modify some of Franz's verbiage for its all-day family readership. But NYPD wouldn't get far on nasty talk alone.

It is top TV police drama, vintage Bochco, with credit as well to its other executive producer, David Milch. Complex and compelling characters are placed into plots so surprising and creative that to recount them would spoil the show.

Suffice to say that one cop will be lying almost dead at the end of the premiere and that a second cop will be under orders from the mob to kill a third. All three are among the show's major characters.

Franz is riveting as Detective Andy Sipowicz, a mostly insane, thoroughly alcoholic policeman who is obsessed at this moment with nailing the sleazy Alfonse Giardella. He really hates Giardella's toupee: "What is that, a rat on your head?" he screams.

John Kelly (David Caruso) is a strong antidote to Sipowicz, softer, more boyish, but also as tough as necessary, and sometimes it's very necessary. Kelly's in the midst of a divorce from his lawyer wife, who still loves him but can't live with him and his job. And he seems to be falling in love with a fellow officer, Janice Licalsi.

Their bedroom writhing seems to have caused more controversy than Sipowicz's mouth. And unlike Sipowicz's language, which is as integral to the show as its dark lighting and often jangling camera angles, the sex scene seems grafted on, primarily for sensationalistic value.

But at the movies, it would draw no more than a PG rating.

Amy Brenneman, as Licalsi, is the dark-haired, more visceral contrast to Kelly's wife, Laura, played by Sherry Stringfield. Both women add depth to the drama, as do James McDaniel as the precinct commander, Nicholas Turturro as the new kid in the cop shop and Tom Towles as the guy from the Organized Crime Squad.

The guest stars are great too, especially Robert Costanzo as Giardella, John Stamos as Angelo Marino and David Schwimmer as Josh Goldstein, the nebbish neighbor of the Kellys'.

Some affiliates may be backing out of NYPD Blue, but ABC says advertisers are lining up at the door. The premiere is sold out, reportedly at $230,000 per minute. Contrast that with $190,000 for ABC's new Moon Over Miami or $200,000 for CBS's new Angel Falls, also 10 p.m. programs. TV's top-rated late hour, CBS's Northern Exposure, charges about $420,000.

Money matters in network television, and at the cash register, it looks as if Wildmon's a loser.

Art doesn't stand for much in this arena, and it doesn't rear its pretty head very often - which makes it doubly deplorable that Wildmon has had some success in keeping NYPD Blue, a fine example of TV art, from some viewers.

Rejoice that you're not among them.


Created and executive-produced by Steven Bochco and David Milch for Steven Bochco Productions. Music by Mike Post. Airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC (Channel 6).

The cast:

Andy Sipowicz - Dennis Franz

John Kelly - David Caruso

Lt. Arthur Fancy - James McDaniel

Janice Licalsi - Amy Brenneman

Laura Kelly - Sherry Stringfield

James Martinez - Nicholas Turturro

Inspector Lastarza - Tom Towles

Alfonse Giardella - Robert Costanzo

Josh Goldstein - David Schwimmer

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