|Steven Bochco was known for his risk-taking approach that brought gritty realism and large ensemble casts to the small screen. — AFP Photo|
LOS ANGELES — US television writer and producer Steven Bochco, the creator of iconic shows such as Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and LA Law, has died at the age of 74, his representatives said on Monday.
The veteran creative, who died on Sunday morning surrounded by family and friends, had been battling a rare form of leukemia for several years and had a stem cell transplant in 2014.
"Steven was a giant talent who changed television in a positive way. He was also a mentor to many other talented artists and was loved by many. I am very saddened by his loss," his agent Fred Specktor said.
Bochco, known for his risk-taking approach that brought gritty realism and large ensemble casts to the small screen, was also behind comedy-drama Doogie Howser, M.D starring Neil Patrick Harris.
In a 2002 interview for the Archive of American Television, Bochco described turning around Hill Street Blues, from a show that debuted in last place in January 1981 to the much-loved recipient of 98 Emmy nominations.
He and writing partner Michael Kozoll told NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff they would not join the show unless they were guaranteed complete artistic freedom.
Successes and setbacks
"I began to hear words about myself: He’s arrogant, he’s this, he’s that. My attitude was, call me what you will, but I know I have a great project here," he said.
"I don’t know how many great projects there are going to be in my life, and I’m not going to screw this one up. I’d rather not do it. And they folded. They virtually folded on everything."
There were some failures along the way, including musical police drama Cop Rock and the courtroom drama Murder One, which Bochco eventually resurrected as Murder in the First for TNT.
But even those were shouldered with good humour. When Cop Rock came to an end after just 11 episodes, the final episode featured a musical sequence with a fat lady singing.
Bochco’s numerous accolades include the Humanitas Prize and Peabody Award, and he was nominated for an Emmy 30 times in his capacities as producer and writer, winning 10.
Born in New York to Mimi, a painter, and Rudolph, a concert violinist, Bochco studied theatre at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and began writing for television shows such as detective series Columbo.
He began creating his own police dramas and legal shows, notably Hill Street Blues, which became a ratings juggernaut for NBC, as well as branching out into animated satire with Capitol Critters.
His earlier success eluded him in later years although he remained active, working as the showrunner for ABC’s Commander in Chief -- about America’s first female president -- and FX’s Iraq War drama Over There.
Bochco’s talent extended to writing and his bibliography includes the novel Death by Hollywood and his self-published autobiography, Truth is a Total Defense: My Fifty Years in Television.
He married three times and is survived by his third wife Dayna Kalins, as well children Melissa Bochco, Jesse Bochco and Sean Flanagan, and two grandchildren.
Tributes poured in from across Hollywood including collaborators and fellow producers.
"Today, our industry lost a visionary, a creative force, a risk taker, a witty, urbane story teller with an uncanny ability to know what the world wanted," Disney chief Bob Iger tweeted.
"We were long-term colleagues, and longer term friends, and I am deeply saddened."
Fellow producer and screenwriter Joss Whedon said: "Absolutely one of the biggest influences on Buffy (and me) was HILL STREET BLUES. Complex, unpredictable and unfailingly humane. Steven Bochco changed television, more than once. He’s a legend." — AFP