1 August 2010 | Cheyenne-Bodie
A follow-up to "The Law" and a precursor to "Hill Street Blues"
Thirty-nine year old Judd Hirsch was a total unknown (except for stage work) before he starred in the fine TV movie "The Law" (1974). Hirsch sent in a commercial he had done as an audition tape for "The Law" so NBC executives could see what he looked like. The network would have preferred George Segal for the apparently Jewish hero, but producer William Sackheim held out for Hirsch. It must have been a hard sell. When have you ever seen an unknown star in a TV movie, before or since? The entire cast of "The Law" were unknowns at the time, including Gary Busey, Bonnie Franklin, and John Hillerman.
"The Law" was an incredible break for Judd Hirsch, but he was still a little irritated that John Beck received more money for playing a prosecutor.
"The Law" was a major critical success. Director Johm Badham and writer Joel Oliansky received Emmy nominations. The two and a half hour movie won the Emmy as outstanding special of the year. John Badham, Joel Oliansky, and William Sackheim had previously worked together on "The Senator" (1970) with Hal Holbrook, which was also remarkable.
Hirsch played public defender Murray Stone in "The Law". The movie was a Fredrick Wiseman like view of the legal system. A three episode trial run series followed the movie. Murray Stone now worked for a fancy law firm. The hour long series didn't catch on. Hirsch said that if Murray had remained a public defender representing life's losers the show would have run forever.
"Delvecchio" (1976) was an attempt by producer Sackheim to redo "The Law" but to have a hit. Dominick Delvecchio was a young detective sergeant who had gone to law school at night. But he has flunked the bar exam - several times. But he keeps taking the exam. Maybe "Delvecchio" would have eventually become a lawyer show.
Back in 1954 Sackheim had written and produced a movie called "The Human Jungle". Gary Merrill was excellent as a police captain who has passed the bar exam and plans to quit the force and start a law practice. But his boss talks him into to taking command of a brutally lawless precinct instead. Sackheim had also written a "Playhouse 90" called "Before I Die" where the hero's name was Dr. Del Vecchio. These previous projects might have provided a little of the inspiration for "Delvecchio" (and perhaps also for "Hill Street Blues").
Fifty-six year old Sackheim was the executive producer of "Delvecchio" and thirty-two year old Steven Bochco was one of the producers. Bochco was a contract writer at Universal. It's hard to see any trace of greatness in Bochco's work before "Delvecchio". In Bochco's own opinion, he was a studio hack doing whatever he was asked to do. When Bochco saw the early scripts coming in for "Delvecchio", he thought they were pretty good. Sackheim said they were junk and had to be rewritten. Bochco says his year on "Delvecchio" was key in his writing life. Bochco's work after "Delvecchio" is of a different order.
Michael Kozoll was story editor of "Delvecchio" and wrote six episodes. Kozoll was later executive producer of "Hill Street Blues" along with Bochco. Kozoll wrote an episode of "Kojak" the next season where Kojak is offered a high paying job as chief investigator for a big law firm by managing partner Charles Aidman. Aidman turns out to be dirty and is trying to compromise Kojak. I always thought this was a planned second season episode of "Delvecchio" that was recycled when "Delvecchio" didn't come back.
William Sackheim was a tough curmudgeon who seemed to get the best out of talented young writers. David Chase ("The Sopranos") did a series early in his career with Sackheim called "Almost Grown" with Tim Daly.
The most charismatic performance in "Delvecchio" was given by Michael Conrad as Lieutenant Macavan, the boss of the precinct squad room. Charles Haid played detective sergeant Shonski, Delvecchio's overweight but tough partner. Shonski was one of the few TV cops to wear glasses. Sackheim wasn't interested in pretty boy cops.
"Delvecchio" wasn't as stylishly filmed as "The Senator", "The Law", or "Hill Street Blues". The writing also wasn't as breath taking. Judd Hirsh was later a little dismissive of "Delvecchio". He thought the only distinctive part of the show were the character interactions in the squad room.
But "Delvecchio" was a fine, very entertaining effort. It was one of the few cop shows I have ever watched regularly. I loved the opening credits with Billy Goldenberg's theme music. I wish "Delvecchio" had lasted longer than one season.
It would have been cool if Steven Bochco had brought back Dominick Delvecchio as an attorney on "L.A. Law" (1986). Delvecchio definitely would have been a loose cannon at Mackenzie, Brackman.