Hill Street Blues was really a show about despair and keeping it at arm’s length. L.A. Low is similar on the surface but much brighter—it’s about people who win. We always felt Hill Street was about beleaguered men and women with a great deal of responsibility and very little authority, trying to keep a lid on the garbage pail. Over the years those of us who have written cop shows pretty much exhausted the genre, and suddenly we thought that you could intensify the personal cop stories profoundly by reducing the crimes.
We came to our way of telling the stories out of necessity—we had too many characters to adequately service in any one episode. We had eight or nine regulars, and there is no way you can tell eight or nine stories in an hour. That’s when we realized that if you take eight good stories and spread them over two or three episodes, they’ll really be meaningful. Sometimes we didn’t quite know how we were going to get from A to Z, but we’d just sort of plunge ahead. In the beginning we had one of those school blackboards on rollers, but the characters in the stories just came alive, and we gave that up during the first season. We kept chewing up more story lines in a season than most shows do in five years. Sometimes we would tell very, very competent stories in three or four scenes where most shows would have made a meal on it. It was very exciting. And in the midst of murders and rapes, this woman Faye Furillo would come in haranguing Frank Furillo about a bounced alimony check or that he brought Frank Jr. home from the hockey game with a cold. Real life. When you play to win as opposed to playing not to lose, you can really take some chances, and NBC was playing to win. It was amazing.