'NYPD': ABC's four-letter pilot is TV violence test case, but is as good as grit gets TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Fall Preview

July 26, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

LOS ANGELES -- Coming this fall from ABC, one of the networks that says it plans to clean up its act on TV violence, is Steven Bochco's "NYPD Blue." The show includes scenes such as this:

A man and a woman are on a bed in a hotel room starting to have intercourse. The man is a cop, the woman a prostitute.

Another man walks into the room, points a gun, and suddenly everything starts to look like a Sam Peckinpah movie with slow motion and silence as the shooter pumps five slugs into the cop.

The scene ends with the cop lying face down on the bed in his underwear, blood running down his legs.

"NYPD Blue" doesn't debut until September, but no TV series that's on the air is being talked about as much.

The controversy started in June when ABC showed the pilot to its affiliates in Los Angeles and several said they would not air the show unless changes were made or some kind of advisory was attached.

Earlier this month, when the networks r,5p6,11l unveiled their tepid plan to put warning labels on shows containing violence, "NYPD Blue" was the only series they considered violent enough to warrant such a warning.

The pilot episode is a near-perfect test case for the issue of TV violence.

The show has the potential to be used by both sides in the debate. Overall, it is an outstanding hour of drama, with a sensibility that will remind some viewers so much of "Hill Street Blues" that it could have been a spinoff. But the level of violence, sex and harsh language is surely going to test the limits of what's acceptable this fall.

The pilot episode of the ensemble drama about the life of big city cops features "Hill Street Blues" alum Dennis Franz in a detective's role similar to the one he played on "Hill Street." He and his partner, played by David Caruso, are at the center of most of the violence in the pilot. Franz's character, Detective Andy Sipowicz, is the cop who gets shot in the hotel room.

Sipowicz is a troubled cop with a drinking problem and an obsession with busting a certain Mafia wise guy. Sipowicz's rage and impotence are the stuff of fine drama, and Franz's work makes it all the finer.

But the argument will surely be made that Bochco and co-creator David Milch rely on violence and harsh language too much in showing us Sipowicz and his world.

One scene, which shows Sipowicz rousting the wise guy at a restaurant, does overdose on violence. Sipowicz kicks the guy down a steep flight of stairs and then takes off one of his socks and attempts to stuff it down the man's throat, screamming, "Here, eat it. Eat these socks I can't afford to change." Sipowicz ++ also attempts to make the man eat his own wig and a hundred dollar bill while banging the man's head against a pole and slapping him repeatedly.

Another scene that will offend some viewers features a different kind of violence.

After charges brought by the district attorney against the wise guy are dropped in court because the judge believes Sipowicz acted illegally in obtaining evidence, Sipowicz confronts the assistant district attorney on the courthouse steps.

He asks her angrily if she thinks he violated the wise guy's rights.

"I'd say res ipsa loquitur [the thing speaks for itself], if I thought you knew what it meant," she says disgustedly as she starts to walk away.

Sipowicz responds by thrusting out his hips, grabbing his crotch and yelling, "Hey, ipsa this, you p ."

Call me the PC police, but that's gratuitous and offensive.

Barry Levinson managed to make the gritty, urban lives of his detectives in "Homicide" just as involving as Bochco's, but with virtually no violence or anything remotely celebrating sexual harassment the way the sequence between Sipowicz and the assistant district attorney does. And that sequence is the kicker to the first scene of the pilot, which means it's supposed to set the tone for the entire series.

Bochco says that only one scene in the pilot will be changed before the show airs Sept. 21. That change involves deleting 15 seconds from a sex scene with male and female nudity.

Furthermore, he says he does not think the show even needs a violence warning, and that he and ABC are discussing having it )) run without one.

If Bochco has his way and no further changes are made, ABC and "NYPD Blue" are the ones who are likely to get ipsa'd by advertisers, reform groups and the network's own affiliates.

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