It’s April 1987, six months before Steven Bochco will be offered the presidency of CBS Entertainment, almost seven before he’ll conclude the deal likely to make him one of the most powerful and wealthy TV producers in history and a healthy eight before his partner Terry Louis Fisher will name him as a codefendant in a $50 million lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox Television. He’s in his office. For some reason Bochco — the cocreator of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and Hooperman, the winner of six Emmys and the man who’s changed the face of television drama — has filled a condom with water. He is standing in his doorway, right in front of the electric chair he has placed, for some other reason, at the end of the hall, below a sign that reads, “Last Chance Motel.” He is holding the makeshift water balloon up to the light. Cradling the wobbling condom in his palm, he looks like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull. His executive assistant, Marylyn Fiebelkorn, has just gone to a pharmacy and bought a stack of prophylactics as a birthday present for an L.A. Law staffer who has just turned forty.
“Boy,” Bochco says finally. “These things are big.”
“I guess,” Ms. Fiebelkorn replies, looking up from her typewriter. A lanky woman with reddish-blond hair, Ms. Fiebelkorn has had a long day. “I felt sort of foolish going in and asking for three dozen Trojans.”
“You’ll survive,” Bochco says, a smile tipping up one side of his mouth. It is late afternoon, time to relax. “Marilyn, tell me,” he says. “In your experience — I don’t want to get personal or anything — but in your experience, Marilyn, has anyone you have known, or like known of, has anyone been like, you know, equipped for a condom of this size?”
Ms. Fiebelkorn takes a deep breath. “Actually, from what I’ve known — or should I say known of — I would say that condom is about average.”
Bochco gives her a look.
“Steven,” Ms. Fiebelkorn says, her voice abruptly all sympathy. “That seems big to you? You mean, you’re not … Oh, my.” Her gaze falls to her keyboard. “I’m sorry.”
“Shit,” Bochco says, and strides across the hall and into a bathroom, where he drops the rubber into the sink.
Oh, well. All in all, this has been a lovely week. The end of an excellent season. A year ago, Steve Bochco, the golden boy of prime-time television, was in trouble. Big trouble. He’d been canned from Hill Street Blues, a show he had helped invent and had helmed through five seasons on the air, a show that had won twenty-six Emmy Awards and just about every other honor you could name. Bochco was out — purportedly because he had failed to cap production costs but actually for reasons that went far deeper than that, reasons that had much more to do with Bochco himself than any particular set of dollar figures on a balance sheet.
But now it’s a whole new ball game. Bochco’s series L.A. Law, which he created after his ejection as executive producer of Hill Street, has proved both a critical and popular success, having already jumped briefly into the top ten — a feat Hill Street never managed. Further, he has made major stars of the show’s leading men and women practically overnight. (In the fall, the series will earn Bochco his seventh Emmy.)
In addition, Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, the cocreator and supervising producer of L.A. Law, are hard at work on Hooperman, a half-hour dramedy starring John Ritter that is scheduled to debut on ABC in the fall. “Hooperman just popped out of my face,” he says. The tall, slender forty-three-year-old, dressed down in a golf shirt, jeans and running shoes, has the moves, mannerisms and energy of a nineteen-year-old. In fact, ink in his graying hair and put him in dim light, and he could still pass for nineteen. At first glance, it’s hard to figure how Bochco could have become such a terror to so many studio and network execs.
“It’s gonna be a cop show,” he says enthusiastically. “The most unoriginal idea in the world. The whole thing came to me in five minutes. I’m very, very juiced about this. I think John Ritter is one of those people who radiates so much talent that if you just put his name in the phone book someplace, it would jump right out at you. And I think we’ve been able to bring some really great new characters to life.” Like most television producers, Bochco works long hours. During the regular season he’s up at dawn to read scripts or look at tape for ninety minutes or so. Then he arrives at his office, where he’ll spend most of his day plotting future episodes of L.A. Law with Fisher and the series’ half dozen staff writers. Meanwhile, he’ll meet with studio execs and deal with a multitude of problems on the set of the episode being shot For these chores, Bochco is paid upwards of $1,200 an hour. And soon he’ll stand to be making a whole lot more.
Bochco came to Los Angeles, to television land, right out of Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon), in Pittsburgh. He had few expectations and fewer presumptions. What he found, like many before him, was an Oz that was real. From an area smaller than a good-sized Texas ranch came most of the TV shows America provided for itself and the world. Here was a magic land where the Munchkins worried about which color Caddy to drive on Monday and which to drive on Tuesday, a land where the tin men, the straw men and the cowardly lions could land on their butts nine tries out of ten and still end up richer than the best thieves. Straight out of college, Bochco arrived in L.A. wide-eyed, eager and, in his words, “seriously unformed.”
Bochco was born on December 16th, 1943, in New York City. His father, the late Rudolph Bochco, was a concert violinist; his mother, Mimi, was, Bochco says, “an artist, designer and hustler.” He remembers being scrawny as a boy, with an aptitude for sports but little else. He attended the High School of Music and Art, in Manhattan, but was a terrible student. “Any course that allowed you to bullshit I was fairly good at,” he says. “But I think I failed every math and science course I ever took. I graduated with a seventy-one-percent average. I was fucking unconscious. All I cared about was music — I was very serious about chorale singing — pussy and sports. My adviser informed me that I was not college material.”
Lucking into a scholarship based on raw aptitude, he got into NYU but transferred to Carnegie Tech the next year. “The penny finally dropped,” he says. “I got in as a playwright I’d always written stuff. And even in high school, teachers had told me I was talented, encouraged me. Now, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by people with whom I shared common interests.” It was there that he met Charles Haid and Bruce Weitz, who would become celebrated almost twenty years later for their portrayals of Andy Renko and Mick Belker on Hill Street Blues; Michael Tucker, who would become an unlikely sex symbol on L.A. Law as tax lawyer Stuart Markowitz; and his future wife, Barbara Bosson, who would play Fay Furillo on Hill Street and would end up on Hooperman as Captain C.Z. Stern. (Bochco and Bosson now have two teenage children.)
Bochco started to ignite. He won fellowships from both the William Morris Agency and MCA and parlayed the latter into a summer internship at MCA/Universal Studios, in Los Angeles. He found himself standing in front of Michael Ludmer, head of the feature-story department. Ludmer told him, “We’re gonna put you in maintenance.”
“Moving stuff around. Furniture and things.” When Bochco expressed his disappointment, Ludmer explained that MCA had guys with master’s degrees working in its mail room. “All that’s fine and dandy,” Bochco said, “and I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I’m not going to learn anything dragging typewriters around. I mean, I’ll go sell shoes.”
Ludmer decided he could use another gofer; by the end of the summer, Ludmer had promised Bochco a full-time job after he graduated. “The minute I finished my last final,” says Bochco, “I was outta there. I didn’t wait for my grades, my diploma, anything. Michael Tucker and I piled into my car and drove fifty-two hours from Pittsburgh to L.A. We were going to make our fortunes. It was wonderful. I started writing, fixing up scripts, and I ended up pulling down $15,000 my very first year. My father was so happy, excited and nervous that I was going to fuck it up. Because I don’t think he’d ever made $15,000 a year in his whole life.”
He found himself sitting in a sort of bargain-basement catbird seat. “On a project-by-project basis, I was so inexpensive, so they could afford to cock around. For less than $1,000 you could stick me on a project for two months and see if it had anything. I wasn’t very good, but at least I could put something up on its feet well enough so that you could get some sense of it.”
Bochco’s first actual screen credit came courtesy of Rod Serling, mastermind behind The Twilight Zone. He and Bochco “co-wrote” a screenplay titled A Slow Fade to Black. “The thing was,” says Bochco, “I never even met the guy. Not then. Not ever.” Serling had written the original draft for Chrysler Theater. Bochco was hired to “fatten” the script so A Slow Fade to Black could be released as a full-length film in Europe. Did monkeying with Serling’s work bother him? “Didn’t bother me at all. I was twenty-four years old. They’re paying me! Sure, I’ll do it. What do I know?”
Shortly after this episode, great good fortune befell him. Richard Levinson and William Link appointed Bochco story editor of Columbo, for which he won his first Emmy nomination, in 1971, for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama. “Levinson and Link,” he says, “put me on the map.”
In the meantime, Bochco had written his first and only feature-film script, Silent Running (a minor sci-fi classic, starring Bruce Dern), for which he was paid $900. Then he wrote an ABC Movie of the Week titled Lieutenant Schuster’s Wife. A nightmare. “ABC wanted, I think, Elizabeth Montgomery for the part,” says Bochco. “I held out for Lee Grant. Really fought for her. Finally they relented. Lee Grant did a wonderful job, but she turned out to be the meanest person I’ve ever worked with. One look at me, and she saw lunch.” The experience soured him on one-shot TV productions, and he returned to series work, acting as writer, producer or story editor for shows ranging from the long-running McMillan and Wife to Richie Brockelman, Private Eye. Brockelman was offbeat, hip and funny. It was pulled off the air after six episodes.
Looking for a change, Bochco bolted Universal for MTM. Founded by Mary Tyler Moore, her then husband, Grant Tinker, and Arthur Price, MTM had, by 1978, scored a string of successes, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and Lou Grant. In his first year there. Bochco wrote and produced a string of pilots. It was then that Fred Silverman, president of NBC Entertainment came up with the idea that grew into Hill Street Blues.
By 1982, Bochco was already emerging as the prototypical Eighties TV producer, a schizophrenic combination or writer and businessman, equal parts sensitive soul and mako shark. “I’m a realist,” he says. “I know that I function in a medium that is not an art medium. It’s not even fundamentally an entertainment medium. It’s basically a selling medium.” But even though he can come across like Mr. Hollywood, behind the hail-fellow-well-met front lies a sensibility that has a lot more in common with Nelson Algren or Joseph Heller than Wink Martindale or Sammy Glick.
Already, his battles with NBC’s standards-and-practices department were legendary. “We are equal-opportunity offenders,’ ” says Bochco. “We’re as apt to take a shot at homosexuals as we are at blacks, Hispanics or Bible belters…. I don’t feel I have a responsibility to present a balanced point of view. That’s propaganda, not entertainment.”
There was more sex per square inch on Hill Street than on any show in TV history. But Bochco’s idea of television sex was light-years from standard Seventies network jiggle. On one episode, for example, a man was found dead in a hotel room. There was a live sheep standing by the bed. It was clear from the context that man and sheep had enjoyed a meaningful relationship. “Standards and practices went bullshit,” Bochco says. “It finally narrowed down to a couple key lines of dialogue, where we made an absolute distinction in no uncertain terms that the sheep was female as opposed to … I mean, we didn’t want to imply that the guy was having a homosexual relationship with a sheep. So we made it very clear that at least he had the good taste to be involved with a very attractive female creature.” Bochco won the battle.
The show was an immediate critical success. Bochco and his coproducers, Michael Kozoll and Greg Hoblit, were making each episode a “little movie.” They brought, for the first time, feature-film production values to prime time, at a sliver of feature-film cost. In its first season Hill Street won an astonishing eight Emmy Awards. But it took the show a while to attract an audience. In fact, Hill Street was the lowest-rated series ever to be renewed at the end of its first season. Meanwhile, Bochco was already earning a reputation as a bullheaded perfectionist who put the quality of his show ahead of everything, including schedules and budgets. Hill Street was reportedly running into budget deficits of $200,000 per show.
“I’m thirty-nine, I’m immortal, It’s never going to end,” Bochco says, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair. It’s spring 1983, and he’s seated in his rather modest second-floor office at MTM, in Studio City. A red brick building with shade trees around it, the facility has more the feeling of a Midwestern college administration building than of a television production company called “a kind of Camelot” by The New York Times. “Its knights,” the Times said, “are called executive producers, who are granted a status and independence unrivaled in Hollywood.”
Bochco, knight of knights, is about to launch a new series, Bay City Blues, the story of a minor-league baseball team; it’s the most expensive show NBC has ever commissioned. Bochco has pretty much just gone out and built his own little stadium and is hiring crowds to watch the Bay City games at the rate of $85 per fan per day. Still, he is on a roll. Though Hill Street cocreator Michael Kozoll left the show near the end of the second season, two lifesaving writers practically dropped out of the sky soon after. One was Jeff Lewis, a lawyer whose experience trying cases for the New York district attorney’s office would provide invaluable grist for Bochco’s mill. The other was a Yale classmate of Lewis’s, David Milch, whose first script, “Trial by Fury,” was Hill Street‘s most celebrated episode ever and won Milch enough awards to open a trophy shop.
Nonetheless, Bochco was running into problems. “The deficits continued,” he says, “and one day I had a meeting with Arthur Price. He told me the company could no longer sustain the losses, that we had to roll Hill Street back.” Specifically, that meant two things: cutting the numbers of actors and stories and moving Hill Street “off the street” (shooting more at the studio and less on location).
“I told Arthur that those were certainly viable alternatives,” Bochco says, “and that I realized the money problem was serious but that if we did those things, Hill Street would no longer be Hill Street. I said, ‘Look, from my point of view you can honor the monster or you can kill the monster but, corporate logo notwithstanding, you can’t turn the monster into a pussycat. If you want to do those things, fine, go ahead, but you’ll do them without me. Call my lawyer if you’d like, and we can arrange my separation from the show.’
“We left it at that. The next morning, though, he told me, ‘Steve, you cost me a night’s sleep.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘I’ve decided to take you up on your offer.’ I was a little shocked at this, but I told him, ‘Arthur, you can do that, but I want to suggest a couple things: if I go and the show is gelded, you are going to have to take the public responsibility.’ This was not long after Grant had left MTM, and I think, from Arthur’s point of view, such a move would have potentially put him in a very bad public light. So nothing happened.” At least not right away. But the problem was still there, festering.
“Look,” says David Milch. “We are pimples on the ass of these guys’ destinies in terms of finance. These guys are high fucking rollers. I’ve got a horse running for a $70,000 purse today, and I’m nervous. These guys are rolling for a hundred times that. They’re not scared of cost overruns.”
What Milch, who resembles a cross between a well-dressed bookie and a landed college professor, is talking about is the pot of gold at the end of the TV rainbow. Reruns. In syndication, each episode of a show like Hill Street can be worth up to $1 million.
“MTM knew from the first approximately what Hill Street stood to make,” says Milch. “The only thing that could crush that is that they had to have a syndication package of 100 episodes. If they don’t have that, then they’re dead. Then they’ve blown 100 million bucks! How in God’s name are they gonna release the guy on whom they had to depend to deliver that package?”
It’s 8:00 a.m., and Milch, who is about to launch his own TV series, Beverly Hills Buntz, is having breakfast at the Polo Lounge, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ex-academic, ex-outlaw, David Milch is an odd item even for Hollywood. He left Yale Law School when drugs became more interesting than torts. Once, when he was staying at a friend’s house while the friend was gone, Milch got “stoned for days, weeks,” found a sword and began hacking the place up, then loaded up a shotgun and headed off to shoot out street lamps. His rampage ended when he blew the cherry top off a cop car. Milch escaped heaven by a hair and eventually ended up in television after teaching English for ten years at Yale and spending time in a Mexican jail for drugs.
“Bochco is a genius,” he says, dipping his spoon into his oatmeal. “What’s been missed in all the Sturm und Drang involving Steven are the two gifts he has: an extraordinary sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as a tremendous administrative ability. He is also an extraordinary discoverer of ability — once he’s discovered it, he enjoys seeing it develop independently.”
In the Hill Street debacle, Milch says, Bochco’s problem came down to hubris. “There was a tremendous amount of adulation because Steven was a Wunderkind, and the temptation was, I suspect, to think that he could do anything.” Anything in this case was Bay City Blues, which NBC yanked in the fall of 1983 after only four episodes. “Steven tried to create it with no writers, no staff,” says Milch. Two writers from M*A*S*H were hired; they soon left the show, leaving Bochco, Milch and Lewis to work on both Bay City Blues and Hill Street Blues. “Whatever darkness or sense of pressure came to Steven,” says Milch, “came from having to present a face to the world of success when, in fact, a disaster had occurred. I mean, Bay City Blues was one of the most expensive fiascos in television history.” And at least by Milch’s lights, what happened next had very little to do with money. “I could see it coming,” he says. “Steven was always a very confrontational producer; he was always willing to take a day off to threaten to leave. He would not come in until he got his way. That sort of confrontational carriage only works if you are the irreplaceable man.” By Bochco’s fourth year, Milch says, “he did not have the kind of hand that would allow him that kind of dictatorial presence.”
“But for me,” Bochco says, “our fourth season was our best. We really got deep, deep into the limits of love, the limits of power. We took the situation between Furillo [Daniel J. Travanti] and Davenport [Veronica Hamel] from a fairy-tale romance to a complex failing marriage. We put Furillo up against the powers that be in the city and whatnot. And, yeah, it was some dark, hard stuff but some of the best work we did.” Not everyone agreed. “I suddenly had a whole series of actors getting real nervous,” Bochco says, “because they weren’t perceived as nice or likable. They started paying attention to their mail.” And there was speculation that Bochco was beginning to transfer the pressures he was feeling onto the screen, through the increasingly beleaguered Furillo character.
Bochco shrugs this view off. “I use whatever I pick up around me,” he says. “But in that way I’m kind of like the guy who owns the hot-dog factory. I throw in all the guts and skin and terrible crap you’d never think to eat, grind it up, mix it together, and with luck, it comes out yummy.”
Usually, anyway. In 1985, for the fourth year in a row. Hill Street was given the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. But for Bochco, the show was drawing to a close. “By year 5, I felt it was time to spin Belker [Bruce Weitz] off on a show of his own. Belker had become a very popular character, and when I went to Arthur to suggest it, I was totally surprised when he showed no interest at all. He didn’t even want to bring it up with the network. It really set me thinking. So I called up my attorney and said, ‘Do me a favor, will you? Call up Arthur and ask him what his plans for me are.’ My attorney called back and said, ‘Arthur would be very happy if you’d shop your services elsewhere.’ In effect, I was fired.”
“Joel, I’ll tell you what I want,” Bochco says, his feet up on his coffee table in his brand-new office at the Old Writers’ Building, at Twentieth Century Fox. He is on the phone to Joel Thurm, NBC’s head of casting. They are discussing L.A. Law and the part of Arnold Becker. It is spring 1986. “I want to draw the women with this guy. A lotta women, Joel. When a woman is watching Arnold Becker on the screen, I want her to be seeing a guy so sexy that when she gets up, she leaves a puddle on the floor.”
Back in the saddle. A shot at vindication, if not revenge. Gone are the days when Bochco was the poster boy for the entire network, the days when his face was flashed on a screen four stories high at a meeting of NBC’s advertisers. His discharge from Hill Street came shortly after the hundredth episode, the magic moment when a fortune in syndication is assured.
“I can honestly tell you,” he says, “that I feel I’ve got absolutely nothing to prove to MTM. In saying that, however, I feel that I have a lot to prove to the people I’m working for here now at Fox.” Was he concerned that his reputation had preceded him? “You mean, did they ask me if I was uncontrollable, a wild man?” he asks. “No, in that context, those questions would be sort of like asking me if I beat my wife. What would you say? ‘Yes, I spend like crazy.’ No. I had lunch with Barry Diller [the CEO of Fox], and that wasn’t really an issue. Because he knows what values Greg Hoblit and I can bring to the screen, and he knows that I’m a total product of the studio system, that I’ve worked within it now for over twenty years. The only thing I said was, ‘Look, if you’d like me to build you a Rolls-Royce, I’ll build you a Rolls-Royce. If you’d like me to build you a Chevrolet, I’ll build you a Chevrolet. But please do not ask me to build you a Rolls for the price of a Chevy.’ “
He had, however, crossed swords with Fox over his prospective budget. “It didn’t bother me,” he says. “I’m used to going to war with studio people over money. They’re not doing their jobs unless they complain about how much you plan to spend. Having said that, however, I’ll submit to you that there were about eleven budgets drawn up after mine, and if there was twenty-five cents’ worth of difference between my first and their last, I’d be very surprised.”
Bochco spent two months at Fox before he went on the payroll. He then formed a writing partnership with Terry Louise Fisher. The first episode of L.A. Law proved as fresh, aggressive and wicked as anything he had ever produced. Except this time it was lawyers instead of cops, words instead of guns.
“Your honor,” Steve Bochco is saying, “no disrespect to the dead intended; quite honestly I think this is absolutely the most respectful way to deal with the dead and dying — to respect those last wishes. The man wants to be out there on his beautiful three-and-a-half-acre backyard. There is nothing cleaner or more pastoral or more natural than really being at one this way with nature. It’s just perfect.”
Bochco is presiding over an L.A. Law story conference, walking a writer through a scene in which an elderly man has gone to court to fight for his right to be freeze-dried instead of cremated or buried.
“What you’ve got here,” he says to the writer, a young woman, “and this is how you play the scene, dearest, is this guy’s fundamental inability to close with being nonexistent.”
Bochco then plays it from the other side. “The judge says, ‘I need to understand from you, because I’m going to die too, we’re all gonna die, and that’s a simple fact of life. We’re born, we live, we die. Some of us believe in God; that’s what you’re looking for in the absence of a belief in a greater being or spirit.’
“That’s what this story is about, this guy realizing that he is losing control of the most precious thing he owns: his life. He is realizing he is nothing more than a temporary caretaker for this failing shell. What he’s afraid of is that if he gives up this battle, he will die.”
The writer says, “I fight, therefore I am.”
“Yes. That’s heartbreaking, that’s touching, that’s what this scene has to be.”
Now in its second season, L.A. Law is a solid hit. NBC bumped Hill Street out of its prime Thursday time slot and gave L.A. Law its berth before canceling Hill Street entirely. Bochco sued MTM over his share of Hill Street profits (“just your routine $20 million error in bookkeeping”). His new show, Hooperman, is a success. He has been offered the presidency of CBS Entertainment, cut a phenomenal exclusive production contract with ABC and been named in a $50 million lawsuit by his former partner Terry Louise Fisher.
The ABC deal rose out of Bochco’s involvement with Hooperman. “Brandon Stoddard [the president of ABC Entertainment] expressed interest in my doing other things for the network,” Bochco says. “That started the ball rolling.” It rolled all the way to a ten-series commitment. Since a highly successful prime-time series can be ultimately worth up to $25 million to its producer, Bochco found himself at the receiving end of one of the best deals ever made in television.
But then William S. Paley, the chairman of CBS, offered him the presidency of CBS Entertainment “I was very enamored of the opportunity,” says Bochco. “I’ve always harbored the fantasy of running a network. I’d say, ‘Shit I could do that better than this bozo,’ and I really thought about it a lot. Under the right circumstances one person can have tremendous impact. Part of it’s luck; part of it’s timing. And it had been a long time — at least in my work life — since I’d been kind of frightened, where I’d had to face a new challenge where I didn’t have a particular template for solving them. That’s what made it exciting.” It took him almost a week to say no. “I didn’t do it because it’s a massive job, at a time in my life when I don’t want to do that — twelve to fourteen hours a day, six to seven days a week. Even your nights are not your own. I don’t like that. I have a family life, and I have to keep that separate. There were also realistic economic considerations. No network-TV exec is going to get paid as well as I’m being paid to do what I do now. I would’ve had to have totally divested myself of L.A. Law and Hooperman. And you can’t commit to doing a job like that unless you’re prepared to give it a minimum of four years.”
So he signed up with ABC to create ten series. “The number ten was sort of arbitrary,” he says. But it was substantial enough to make him want to loose the reins on L.A. Law and give the show over to his partner. But Bochco has said that when Terry Louise Fisher made her demands for salary and control, his “feathers got ruffled,” and he booted her off the show. She, in turn, sued Fox for $50 million, naming Bochco as a codefendant and claiming that, after the show’s initial success, he had lost interest in the series and had told her that “all he had ever wanted to do was ‘shove an Emmy up MTM’s corporate ass.’ “
But to Barney Rosenzweig. who had employed Fisher as a producer on his CBS show Cagney & Lacey, the issue was simple. “She may have been his partner,” Rosenzweig says, “but L.A. Law was his commitment. He’s the guy NBC wanted to be in business with. He could have been partners with a bug for all they cared. Terry’s great. She’s talented. She’s fast. But Bochco’s a superheavyweight, and it’s ludicrous to fault him for wanting to keep a hand in his own series. This guy’s the Washington Redskins, and she’s Notre Dame.”
Fisher settled out of court. Bochco says, “I have no regrets.”
Meanwhile, he has signed a deal with his current employer, Twentieth Century Fox. It is a buy-in arrangement said to have put another $43 million in his pocket. “We have a partnership agreement — primarily a facilities and distribution arrangement. I use their facilities, and they get exclusive worldwide distribution.” Otherwise he would have had to create his own studio. “Buy my own trucks, editing rooms, all my own equipment, all the enormous overhead involved in running a facility for a thousand or two thousand employees. I’m staying at Fox. It’s an ideal location. They’ve been very fair with me. I wanted complete creative control, complete business control — in terms of being able to deal directly with anybody I want to deal with through me, through my company. But I don’t want to end up some supermogul — or an administrator.”
His deal with ABC is to create seven shows within six years and another three any time after that. Some shows might merely be under his imprimatur. “There’s a difference between shows you would personally want to do and the kind of shows you appreciate. I couldn’t do Cheers. An even better example is Thirtysomething, a show I like a great deal but that I wouldn’t know how to do. It has a style uniquely its own, both visually and in terms of the stories. Their security in the smallness of moments which cumulatively have real dramatic impact — that’s the kind of delicate stitching that I don’t do. I tend to do things with a broader brush.”
The prospect of a fleet of new shows from one of television’s most acclaimed producers would seem to be good news for the medium. But it doesn’t thrill everyone. Martha Bayles, television critic of The Wall Street Journal, decries the “black-comic vignettes that are now a Bochco trademark” and submits that “Mr. Bochco pitches his shows at the smug yuppie ethos that dwells on its own petty dramas to the near-total exclusion of other people. But his sensibility … is a form of paranoia, this attitude that the world is so irrelevant and threatening that the only way to regard it is as a joke, a mock-nightmarish backdrop good only for a few yuks.” She also predicts that “his puerile imprint on the medium promises to become indelible.”
Bochco shrugs off this analysis. “There’s other things she can watch,” he says. “I’m just one item on the menu. Get another entree.” His own new entrees are forthcoming, the first already in development. Asked to predict a success rate, he says, “Assuming this is the major leagues, I’d like to bat at least .300. Five hundred would be extraordinary.” And who will finally end up producing L.A. Law? “We’ll drive off that bridge when we get to it,” he says.
Bochco isn’t worried about the future. “My challenge three years ago was to prove that I’d gotten a bad rap from MTM. I wanted to prove that I could make another hit show; I wanted to prove that MTM had made a mistake in getting rid of me. I wanted to prove that Hill Street Blues wasn’t a fluke. But I think the most amazing thing about my career is that I’ve never had any specific goals and ambitions. I like the process. I like the work. I have no idea what I’ll do next.”