Rhapsody in blue: NYPD Blue was greeted with howls of outrage in America. Now it has 26 Emmy nominations. Gerard Gilbert on the making of a cult

NYPD Blue's David Caruso has promised he will now attend tomorrow night's Emmy awards in California. 'I owe it to my character John Kelly,' read a tight-lipped statement from the 38-year-old actor. NYPD Blue? David Caruso? John Kelly? If these names mean nothing to you then stop here. If, however, they do mean something, read on. You're hooked, and you know it.

More on the 'Caruso Crisis' later. First, the good news. NYPD Blue, a drama serial from the same stable as Hill Street Blues and LA Law, and set in a fictional New York police department, is up for 26 Emmy Awards, television's equivalent of the Oscars. That's the second highest ever, only beaten by the 1977 slave drama Roots.

The triumph is all the more sweet because NYPD Blue had such a difficult birth, stirring up America's 'moral majority' with its unusually strong language ('tits', 'dick-head', 'prick' and 'douche bag') and almost unprecedented primetime nudity. Full-page adverts were taken out protesting at the programme's general lewdness, and shots were fired at the production company's premises.

Advertisers took fright, leading to over 40 ABC (the network which makes NYPD Blue) subsidiaries refusing to take the show. None of which has prevented NYPD Blue becoming the most highly rated drama on American television last season. 'The viewers are way ahead of the censors and the advertisers,' says Jeff Kaye of the Hollywood Reporter. 'They really don't care about the strong language or the nudity. In fact they appreciated that here were real, complex human beings.'

Even so, national acclaim has not been enough to reassure some of the more nervous local stations. 'Even now, some ATV affiliated stations will not take NYPD Blue,' explains Kaye. 'ABC executives say that they're not getting anywhere near the advertising rates they'd expect from such a highly rated show.'

In this country, the series has attracted a committed and growing audience. Having run the first series back in January, Channel 4 began repeating the whole thing almost at once 'because so many people came to it late'. Mike Dormer, producer of The Bill, the nearest British equivalent to NYPD Blue, admits to being 'besotted by it - I've watched every episode and every repeat'.

Tony Garnett, creator of the BBC's acclaimed Between the Lines, is another admirer: 'I'm a great fan of Bochco and I've watched his work from way back,' says Garnett, referring to Steven Bochco, founding father of NYPD Blue - not to mention Hill Street Blues and LA Law. 'Bochco really wrote the book on trying to do any serious work in this form. I've been nicking his stuff for years.'

The most oft-noted aspect of NYPD Blue is not the language or the nudity, but the jerky, restless, pseudo-realist camerawork. 'In Los Angeles all my friends in the film and television business watch it purely for the fantastic way that they shoot it,' says the Hollywood Reporter's Jeff Kaye.

'Technically it's a response to all those so- called factual cop things that were made cheaply in America in the 1980s,' says Tony Garnett, who employs lushly cinematic techniques on Between the Lines. 'Audiences now identify wobbly-scope with reality.' Meanwhile the old joke about NYPD Blue is that the only scenes that are shot smoothly and lovingly are the sex scenes (not something you'll see in The Bill).

In the final analysis, however, what makes NYPD Blue so compelling are the characters. Dennis Franz's tubby, street-broiled Andy Sipowicz is a straight transfer from Hill Street Blues, where he went under the name Lieutenant Buntz. Franz is a one-off, and his Sipowicz / Buntz is a fascinating study of bull-necked cynicism almost heroic in its inability to eat bullshit. 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' is Sipowicz's trademark demurral to society's lies, dissembling and self-deception. You can see why Bochco wanted him, to add some darker shade to the show's strawberry blond, morally righteous hero John Kelly.

As played by David Caruso (a piece of casting that has already won an Emmy), who rarely raises his voice beyond a measured Clint Eastwood murmur, Kelly is undeniably a figure from the 1990s, but he also carries old-fashioned moral authority - of the Gary Cooper or Alan Ladd variety. He says 'Hey' instead of 'Hi', and is always urging people to 'reach out' to each other, but it doesn't stop him leaning heavily on suspects, much to the consternation of Martinez, the idealistic Hispanic rookie who adopts him as a father figure, and who, along with the black station boss, Lieutenant Fancy, and Janice Licalsi, Kelly's one-time lover (who killed a Mafia boss in Episode 2), form the core of the team.

The first series ended with all its plotting options open (characters on bail, in turmoil or in soft-focus flagrante). But the action since then has been off screen.

Caruso, who is getting dollars 2m to star in the movie Jade, has developed a taste for Hollywood-scale salaries. His demand for a pay rise, from dollars 40,000 to dollars 100,000 an episode, is not entirely unreasonable: Roseanne Arnold pays herself dollars 500,000 per episode of Roseanne, and Tim Allen gets dollars 250,000 for each painful episode of the sitcom Home Improvement. But NYPD Blue is an ensemble show; paying Caruso more would mean paying the others more. So producer Bochco reluctantly let his star walk after shooting three episodes of the new series, which start showing in Britain next January. Jimmy Smits, formerly of LA Law - and reportedly Bochco's first choice for the Kelly part - has been hired as his replacement.

Of course, if Caruso's movie career were to falter (as did LA Law's Harry Hamlin's) he might yet be tempted back to NYPD Blue, so it's hard to believe that Bochco will allow Kelly to be killed off altogether. The word of mouth is that the detective's career is due for a serious but not necessarily terminal interruption somewhere around Episode 4. An awful lot of people are going to be praying that David Caruso falls flat on his face in Hollywood.

'NYPD Blue' continues its repeat run on Channel 4, Wednesdays at 10pm

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions