Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hill Street Blues: The Importance of Conservative Art

By Michael P. Tremoglie
Tremoglie's Tea Time Blog

Hill Street Blues was one of my favorite television programs. I watched it religiously each week.

Moreover, it was a favorite of my Philadelphia Police Department colleagues. The characters, the chaos of the district headquarters (called precincts in other cities); the challenges of the bureaucracy and the politicos, all of these resonated with cops. Not since Wambaugh had there been such realism.

Yet, there existed in the plots certain themes that were disconcerting. There was a subliminal promotion of a certain philosophy.

The most obvious example was that of Lt. Howard Hunter, the commander of the SWAT team (called EATERS in the show). Hunter was the civil libertarians caricature of someone who believed in law and order. He possessed the “let’s-kill-them-all-and-let-God-sort-them-out-I-love-the-smell-of-napalm-in-the-morning” qualities that liberals associate with anyone who believes in strict law enforcement.

Now Hunter did have his counterpart, Det. Goldbloom(?). He was the bleeding heart liberal. However, of the two, Goldbloom’s character was seen as more serious, while Hunter was a comic character to be ridiculed.

There was also Joyce Davenport, public defender extraordinaire. She was the advocate for the poor and the powerless. She cast a pall over those who wanted to see criminals in jail or who wanted to protect themselves. She talked derisively about “street justice” and “vigilantism.” Her disapproving looks were a staple of the show.

Then there was Capt. Furillo. He would take extraordinary measures to mollify the street gangs. He would be engaged in constant negotiations to have them tone down their violent ways.

Yet, he once threatened a group of neighborhood merchants. What was their crime? They caught a thief who was victimizing a store owner. Tired of being targets of criminals they organized into a protective group.

Hill Street Blues, absolutely presented the liberal construct of criminal justice. These are concepts are manifest in America everyday:

· The New York City DA who arrests the man using a gun to protect his house and kid against a burglar.
· The absurd headline in the New York Times wondering why prison rates are increasing if crime rates are decreasing.
· The fawning reportage of a violent murder just before his execution
· The idea that prison does not work only rehabilitation will.
· The increase uses of probation and parole
· Millions spent on “midnight basketball” to control violent crime

All of these were themes of Hill Street Blues. Now one can say this was art imitating life, instead of life imitating art.

This is true.

However, when a show as entertaining as Hill Street Blues was, proffers these ideas, they become validated. The public perceives Hunter as a real depiction of a strict law enforcement officer, that society does make criminals, etc. These become accepted truths.

There is no reason why a show, just as entertaining as Hill Street Blues, could not be made that showed Goldbloom as the caricature of the “let-them-all-out-of-jail” type and Hunter, the strict law enforcer, as the more serious minded.

That Joyce Davenport is a DA who routinely sees the same defendants in court time and again, because the judges keep letting them loose; all the while she watches the bodies pile up.

That shows Capt. Furillo threatening to throw the gang members in jail and negotiates with the vigilante merchants instead.

This is the importance of conservative art. It is why I wrote my novel “A Sense of Duty.” It is why I promote the novels of W.E.B. Griffin, as well as others. It is why I mention films by James Carabatsos and others.

It is why I founded the facebook forum of Creative Conservatives Corner.

Anyone who thinks art (novels, movies, television shows, music, etc.) doesn’t influence the popular culture is not being realistic.


  1. Such messages are incredibly powerful over a long period of time - they sink in

  2. I too watched "Hill Street Blues" each week.

    I both loved and hated the show for the reasons you mentioned.

    I recall a cop who also watched the show. He told me that he loved the Sgt, who used to yell at his cops after roll call, "Hey, let's be careful out there!"

    The cop told me that he wished he had a Sgt like that in his district.

    "Hill Street Blues" was kinda a rip-off of Ed McBain's 87th series of novels.

    McBain, who changed his name from Salvatore Lombino to Evan Hunter, also had a liberal outlook, but I still liked the novels.

    But Joseph Wambaugh is the best novelist covering the police beat, in my view. He was also the creator of TV's "Police Story," which was one of the best cop shows on TV.

    Wambaugh, a former LAPD Sgt, has the third novel in his "Hollywood Station" trilogy coming out this month.

    "Hollywood Moon" follows "Hollywood Crows" and "Hollywood Station."

    The novels are about the cops that work out of LA's Hollywood Station and the crooks and crazy people that ahve to deal with. I recommend them.