Pilot Script Review of NYPD Blue (2019)
For the unitiated, the original NYPD Blue first aired in 1993 and is considered by many to be one of best television shows of all time. It was never a ratings juggernaut for ABC but it was a stable player and a critical darling. It won 20 Emmy Awards and 84 nominations over its 12-year run, including best drama series, and was lauded for its realistic portrayal of cops’ lives. It also generated controversy for its use of foul language, partial nudity, and its raw depiction of alcoholism, among other things.
Until Grey’s Anatomy broke the record recently, it had been the longest-running ABC prime-time drama. Longevity isn't the only thing the two series have in common: they're both soap-like, revolving around the characters’ professional lives intertwined with their personal ones, although Grey’s is lighter in tone where NYPD Blue was grittier and darker -- especially compared to other TV series at the time. Both series also survived multiple cast changes with actors leaving and characters dying, although like Meredith Grey, Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) stayed central from start to finish, proving to be the glue that held the show together.
NYPD Blue was co-created by Steven Bochco, one of the most important and prolific series creators ever, whose credits include Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Doogie Howser MD, Murder One and the short-lived but infamous Cop Rock, a musical cop show. In 1987, he struck a $15M deal with ABC to create 10 series pilots over 10 years, which was unheard of at the time. Before he died last April at the age of 74, Bochco met with the co-writer of this new iteration and gave it his blessing. It stays in the family since Bochco’s son, Jesse (who directed 10 episodes of the original series) is executive producing and directing the pilot. Matt Olmstead and Nick Wootton, the co-creators of the new show, also worked on the original NYPD Blue at the start of their careers, reteaming with Bochco on two of his later series, Brooklyn South and Blind Justice.
Fun fact: this is not the first reboot ordered for NYPD Blue: In 2004, ABC picked-up to pilot NYPD 2069, a futuristic spin-off about an NYPD detective named Alex Franco who is declared brain-dead after an “accident”. Taken off life support, his heart continues beating, and he is cryogenically frozen for 66 years. Awakened in the year 2069 to find his wife dead, his son an aging vegetable, and his grandson a cop, Franco pleads for the right to do what he does best: police work. The pilot starred Josh Hopkins, Anna Gunn, Danny Pino, Kevin Dunn and Giancarlo Esposito, but it failed to win a series order. Go figure.
WRITTEN BY: Matt Olmstead & Nick Wootton
DRAFT DATE: Revised network draft 9/18/18
PAGE COUNT: 56 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: After 26-year-old police officer THEO SIPOWICZ mishandles an undercover case, he’s kicked off the 30th District’s Narcotics squad. Theo is one of the best detectives on the force, but he drinks a bit too much and can be reckless on the job. He's also mourning the death of his father ANDY SIPOWICZ of the 15th Precinct, who was murdered in a brothel 2 years ago under mysterious circumstances. After new details surface about Andy’s murder, Theo talks his way into helping the detectives of the 15th: NICOLE LAZARUS, CHRIS GAMBLE and CRAIG PETTIBONE. Ultimately, Theo’s work on his father’s case leads CHIEF ARTHUR FANCY to transfer Theo to the 15th Precinct as a squad detective, where he’s under the supervision of LIEUTENANT DIANE RUSSELL, who made a promise to her dear friend Andy to help Theo get his gold shield when he’s ready. And now he is.
COMMENTS: This new series' link to the original NYPD Blue is both a blessing and a curse. For those who watched the original series, there's an instant familiarity (and the opportunity for characters from the original series to return). For new viewers, it's more challenging, as the writers have to bring them up to speed on who Andy Sipowicz was and what he represented for his colleagues, without being too obvious and boring for those of us who already know. I’m sorry to report that this pilot script struggles to find the right balance. With so much time spent on backstory, there's simply not enough left to properly introduce most of the new characters. Theo is everywhere, but his co-lead Lazarus stays in his shadow. And the others are in the shadow of his shadow. What this means is Theo had better win the viewer’s hearts from the get-go if ABC wants them to stick around. On the bright side, the producers of the new series seem to understand this, having performed an exhaustive three month casting process before selecting Fabien Frankel for the role.
Here’s the thing with Theo Sipowicz: the creators of this reboot want him to be so much like his father -- the same temper, the same struggles -- that it can feel at bit insincere. I didn’t feel like he was his own character, but rather a character playing the part of another one. Perhaps that's his actual psychological state, but it feels risky. The two would have been compared to one another anyway, so why force it? To be fair, the pilot is all about Andy's murder, so it makes sense that he would be at the center of it. And to the producers credit, his death will not be the core mystery of the series or even the season -- it's solved by the end of the 42-minute episode. Along the way, we're introduced to Theo and his soon-to-be colleagues in the 15th precinct, who will presumably be more at the heart of subsequent episodes. A little advice to ABC: launch the show with a two-hour premiere so people can have a better taste of what's to come.
The highlight of the pilot for me is Kim Delaney’s character, Lieutenant Diane Russell. She had a complicated history with the original show: she joined NYPD Blue as a recurring in Season 2 and was a series regular from seasons 3 to 8 before leaving to topline another series for Steven Bochco, Philly, which didn’t last. She then returned as a recurring in the final two seasons. In any case, as one of the original series' most beloved characters, it’s great to have her here as a mother/mentor figure for Theo. She has the power in the precinct, and having a woman in this position in the reboot makes total sense. Same goes with Bill Brochtrup’s PPA John Irvin. The actor recurred on- and off- during Seasons 2 to 4 before becoming a series regular in Season 5 for the rest of the show’s run. He’s one of those characters who became essential over time. He’s gay, which was quite something in the original show, especially since Andy was initially homophobic but they became friends to the point where he babysat Theo. John can definitely add something to the reboot, although it's not clear exactly what that will be just yet.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The original NYPD Blue owes its success to its writers ability to portray the show's characters as humans who happen to be cops, and the whole gamut of emotions that come with that. That's a tall order, and the pilot script for this reboot doesn't quite get there. The question is: can it/will it ever? Unlike some of the more cynical projects to crop up in recent years, this project is more than just a reboot, it’s a family affair. That should help.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND
BEST FIT: Tuesday at 10, of course: the iconic timeslot on ABC where the original series aired from the first episode to the last.