"Let's be careful out there…"
Those five words were a staple of Hill Street Blues, the classic '80s cop series that changed the way dramatic television was filmed and set the bar for small-screen characterization and episodic storytelling. The entire season is out today on DVD for the first time ever, courtesy of Shout! Factory, and two of the show's stars --Charles Haid and James B. Sikking – happily reminisce about the show and its impact for ETonline.
"We changed television -- the way it was done, the way the camera was moved, the way it was gritty," says Sikking, who played pretentious, uptight S.W.A.T. leader Lt. Howard Hunter. "It was a show about not just policemen, but that the police experience was a human experience."
"The show had universal themes," adds Haid, who played the contentious, loyal, often-complaining street cop Renko. "It was a miracle at the time, just the synergy of the right people at the right time at the right place, it created and started a whole [movement] in [the television] business, so it has its place in history and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Created by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll, Hill Street Blues ran on NBC for seven seasons between 1981-1987 and featured a large ensemble cast of characters inhabiting a Chicago police station in the worst part of town. From the street gangs, junkies and prostitutes to the beat cops, undercover detectives and administrators of Hill Street Station, the show's myriad storylines deftly balanced the crime, power-struggles and politics of the setting with the very human emotions that were affected by the ebb and flow of circumstance.
"If you look at the style of that show – play it forward to NYPD Blue, play it forward to ER – it came from [director Robert] Altman, it came from Marty [Scorsese], all of those guys. … [it was about] pace, form, making choices, breaking rules," recalls Haid, who went on to become a very established director himself. "We had great love and affection for one another, we were very creative, it was often bedlam, and it was more serious than a heart attack, which was great."
Asked if he has fond memories from the set, Sikking replies with a laugh, "A truckload. I mean, it was so much fun. It changed my life, once the audience found it. … I think it represents a major part of my career. It changed my position in show business. I'm happy that it was as joyous and as much fun and well-received, because I know people who have a career based on something that they thought was terrible, and have tried to live down, and that’s not my case; I wish every actor had the joy I had by having a Hill Street in their life."
Haid concurs, revealing that decades after the curtain closed on the series, the cast still comes together to celebrate: "We had a cool party about a year ago, and we all showed up, and it was wonderful to see everybody," he says, adding that, among the entire cast, he maintains the closest relationship with his onscreen partner, Michael Warren.