NYPD Blue enjoyed a solid 12-season run throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. While the length of the series is impressive, it received a lot of attention and critical acclaim not for its run-time, but for its rather questionable content.
NYPD Blue pushed the envelope for what was possible to show on regulated broadcast networks and changed the game when it comes to realism, language, substance abuse, and other adult situations on television.
From behind-the-scenes information to battles with the network, take a look at the history and the legacy of NYPD Blue.
Casting Franz and Caruso
When it came to casting for the first season of NYPD Blue, the producers had actor Dennis Franz’s commitment right away. However, they had a hard time finding the correct person to play his partner John Kelly. Then, the casting director brought up David Caruso as a possibility. Writer and Producer Steven Bochco had worked with him before on Hill Street Blues. Carusonailed the audition and Bochco was eager to hire him for the job.
Yet, David Milch, another writer, and producer of the show, was hesitant and asked Bochco to reconsider hiring him for the position. Milch had heard from others in the industry that Caruso caused trouble, and he wanted to avoid that at all costs.
David Caruso Was Impossible To Work With
Apparently, although he was only on the series for one season, David Caruso was not easy to get along with. Writer and producer of the show David Milch described Caruso as being hard to work with and having a pattern of bad behavior.
He wrote: “If David didn’t like the emotional line of the scene, David hadn’t gotten the satisfaction of having it changed, so David threw a tantrum.” The show’s production team also coined the phrase “The Caruso Hour” which was the estimated amount of extra time that it took to complete each day’s schedule because of David’s childish antics.
The Battle With ABC Network
Steven Bochco said the fight to have the show on ABC was no easy victory. Although ABC originally wanted the show, they were having second doubts when they read the original scripts that contained foul language and other adult scenes. The network agreed to air the show, but only after changes were made to comply with the network’s broadcast standards.
However, Bochco wasn’t going to let the network water down his show, so a year and a half battle ensued until ABC finally gave up. After numerous failed meetings and a few missed deadlines, they finally saw eye-to-eye. Bochco made it clear that he wasn’t trying to make a risque show but a realistic one. So, ABC ran the show and they were more than happy that they did.
An Awkward Decision Over Clothing… Or Rather The Lack Of Clothing
Although the debate over the type of language that could be used on the show was rough, it was a lot easier to solve than the issue of actors in their birthday suits. Bochco wanted his show to depict the reality of adult relationships, and in order to do that, they needed to be able to show some skin. This would have also helped to categorize the show as a strictly adult program and also as something that hadn’t been done before.
So, Bochco and ABC Network President Bob Iger had a meeting in Iger’s office. There, the two spent hours with sketch pads and pencils drawing “dirty” pictures, what they describe as “like 9-year-old boys”. This is how they came to an agreement on how much ABC would be willing to tolerate.
Pushing the Limits on Prime-Time Television
Starting the show off with a bang, the pilot episode of NYPD Blue included body parts that prime-time television had never shown before. In a sensual scene between John Kelly and Officer Janice Licalsi, the audience was shocked when the clothes started to come off and people saw a lot more than they were anticipating.
Although at the time it wasn’t well-known, the actors and actresses were required to sign clauses in their contracts for such type of clothing removed scenes. This helped guarantee that there would be no disputes over the actors being asked to appear in their birthday suits on the show. These were the first of their kind clauses necessary for a commercial network prime-time program.
The Content Ruffled the Feathers of the Public
Due to the show’s approach regarding language, the depiction of alcoholism, and its overall content, the show received some harsh criticism. Although they had won the battle with ABC and fans of the shows loved the uninhibited nature of the show, not everyone was thrilled.
The American Family Organization went so far as to take out a full-page ad in major newspapers to condemn the show and ask the public to boycott it. The show even managed to influence L. Brent Bozell III to create the Parents Television Council, which is now a United States censorship advisory group.
There Was Never A Stable Cast
When it came to actors and actresses, the show was always adding characters, cutting them out, and then sometimes even adding them back in again. Some major departures included David Caruso, due to his ego, and Jimmy Smits, who left after disagreements and clashing with writer David Milch.
Actress Andrea Thompson also left because of issues with Milch, and Sharon Lawrence left more than once because she wasn’t happy with her character’s development or screen time. Aside from those characters, there are numerous others that left for their own particular reasons. By the end of the show, fans were used to seeing characters come and go, except for Dennis Franz, who was on the show for the entire time.
Sharon Lawrence’s Role Was Written for a Man
In the DVD commentary for Season 1, actress Sharon Lawrence noted that her role was originally written for a man named simply A.D.A. It’s hard to imagine the show without Assistant District Attorney Sylvia Costas, who appeared in 99 episodes.
Lawrence received many awards recognizing her performance in NYPD Blue. Her role earned her three Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and four Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, including Best Actress in a Television Series Drama and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
David Milch’s Writing
Even on the episodes in which he isn’t credited, David Milch played a massive role in just about every episode that aired while he worked on the show. He had a reputation for throwing out the script and making up the new dialogue on the spot while filming. Milch’s favorite character to write for was Andy Sipowizc because of his brash and unforgiving sense of humor.
When Milch eventually left the show in the ninth season, the other writers were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to do the character justice and uphold his dialogue to Milch’s high expectations because Milch had essentially built his entire character himself. But, it all worked out in the end.
David Milch’s Connection With Sipowizc
Over time, it became clear why David Milch had such a connection with the character of Andy Sipowizc. Although Milch is described as a genius by his fellow co-creator Steven Bochco, on set, he could be difficult to work with. He was known to procrastinate, and his last-minute script direction changes began to take its toll on the cast.
However, he later revealed that he was struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction much like the character of Andy Sipowizc. He was able to write for him so well because he was personally experiencing it himself. Thankfully, Milch was eventually able to get clean and went on to create Deadwood, yet another critically acclaimed series.
The 15th Precinct Doesn’t Really Exist
Although the show may have tried to be as realistic as possible by taking place in New York City, using correct police terms, and showing adult content, not everything about it was as real as it may seem. As it turns out, there is no such thing as the 15th precinct, the division that the characters in the show worked for.
The building featured in the show is an actual precinct house, they just had the numbers changed on the front. Today, in other police series or Netflix Marvel shows, you may hear references to a 15th precinct. This is believed to be a subtle nod to NYPD Blue and the imaginary precinct in the show.
David Caruso Wanted Too Much Money
Playing the character of Detective John Kelly was Caruso’s first major shot at acting. As it turns out, he was pretty good and went on to win a Golden Globe Award for his performance. TV Guide even named him as one of the six new upcoming stars to watch during his time on the show.
However, Caruso shocked everyone when he announced he was leaving NYPD Blue after just one season because nobody was willing to fulfill his absurd payment demands. He went on to reach little success after leaving NYPD Blue. He starred in the underwhelming films Kiss of Death and Jade. However, by the 2000s, he returned to television for the short-lived series Michael Hayes and finally ended up playing Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami.
What Happened to Dennis Franz?
Dennis Franz played Detective Andy Sipowicz, a central character on the show. He was the only cast member to appear in every episode. His character was described as being a “drunken, racist goon with a heart of gold that was the moral code of the NYPD Blue.” Sipowicz was also known for taking a more old-school approach when it came to police work.
However, since the show ended in 2005, Franz has stayed out of the spotlight to focus on his personal life. Although he told the New York Post that he would be interested in returning if given the right opportunity, it doesn’t seem likely. Now, Franz spends his summers with his wife in their lake home in northern Idaho. He was last seen at the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Actor Dennis Franz Is A Veteran
Dennis Franz, the actor who played NYPD Detective Andy Sipowicz, is the son of German immigrants. After graduating from college at Southern Illinois University Carbondale he was drafted into the United States Army. While serving, he was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division in the Vietnam War. His unit saw a lot of combat, and his wartime experiences left a permanent mark on him.
Speaking about his time in the military, he noted that “[It] was a very traumatic, life-changing experience… I’m not as frivolous as I once was. I experienced death over there, and losing friends. I got as close to being shot as I care to. I could feel and hear bullets whizzing over my head, and that shakes you up quite a bit.” It also helped him with his acting when he was cast as a police officer since he had a military background.
Jimmy Smits (Bobby Simone)
Actor Jimmy Smits came on the show to play Detective Bobby Simone. He was introduced to the team after Andy Spowicz’s former partner, John Kelly had to leave the NYPD. Bobby and Andy became great friends and developed a deep relationship while Smits was on the show from the second until the sixth season.
During his time on the show, Smits earned numerous Emmy nominations for his performance. In his personal life, Smits is a proud Puerto Rican and activist and works with charities. He helped found the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, and was arrested when he protested against the U.S. Navy bombing practices off of Puerto Rico.
James McDaniel (Capt. Arthur Fancy)
For eight seasons, actor James McDaniel played Capt. Arthur Fancy. His character rose through the ranks quickly and became one of the newer African American commanders among the many Irish American officers. He was a well-liked character that deeply influenced Detective Andy Sipowicz throughout the series.
During his time on the show, McDaniel won a 1995 Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series and was nominated for two Primetime Emmy’s for his performance on the show. After NYPD Blue, McDaniel continued to act in various films as well as guest-starred on television shows periodically throughout the years with his biggest role being Sergeant Jesse Longford in Detroit 1-8-7.
Gordon Clapp (Greg Medavoy)
Gordon Clapp played the character of Greg Medavoy, a man that provided much of the comic relief throughout the series. Although he was usually the butt of the jokes among the detectives, he was a skilled and persuasive officer. Medavoy appeared on the show starting from the third episode of Season 1 to the last episode of the entire series, making him the second longest-running character of the series.
Before NYPD Blue, Clapp appeared in TV shows Check It Out! and Night Court, as well as numerous other stage plays. He was also in movies like Run and Termini Sation.
Kim Delaney (Dianne Russel)
Kim Delaney played Dianne Russel as a recurring character in Season 2, a primary character in Seasons 3 to 8, and a recurring character in Seasons 10 and 11. In the show, she eventually came to marry Bobby Simone, who passed away from heart transplant complications.
Her work on NYPD Blue earned Delaney an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. After the show, producer Steve Bochco selected her for the lead role in the television series Philly. From there, she played a few recurring television roles and eventually played a lead role for the series Army Wives and is expected to be in the upcoming miniseries Appomatix.
Sharon Lawrence (Sylvia Costas)
Sharon Lawrence plays the character of Sylvia Costa-Sipowicz, the sophisticated Assistant District Attorney. She begins a relationship with Andy Sipowicz which develops throughout the show and the two eventually get married. The couple ends up having a son together but she is unfortunately killed in a courthouse shooting incident.
While on NYPD Blue, Lawrence earned Emmy Award nominations and a Screen Actors Guild Award. After she left the show, she had a booming acting career. Lawrence went on to act in Ladies Man, Chicago, and Wolf Lake, Greys Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Rizzoli & Isles, The After, and numerous others.Currently, she is one of the stars on the CBS sitcom Me, Myself, and I.
NYPD Blue: A Smashing Success
After its premiere, NYPD Blue was met with critical acclaim. Since its first episode, the show’s production and cast pushed the limits as to what was appropriate to be shown on television. It had offensive language, violence, nudity, and paved the way for more adult-oriented programming in the future. The show had 84 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won 20 of them.
The series also won the Award for Outstanding Drama Series with numerous cast members winning awards of their own. It also went on to receive 13 Golden Globe nominations, 23 Screen Actors Guild nominations and an Outstanding Achievement in Drama. All in all, it had a successful run while on air, with Variety saying that broadcast television lost its edge when the show ended.