Hill Street Blues

Season 1 Episode 1

Hill Street Station

Aired Thursday 10:00 PM Jan 15, 1981 on NBC

Episode Recap

This episode was the original pilot, only slightly modified, and established the sequencing of plot advancement that would be maintained (with only subtle, if any, variation) throughout the entire series.

Roll Call: 6:53 am

The daily Situation Report is given by Sergeant Phil Esterhaus to the assembled Day Shift partol officers, detectives, and support staff. Some of these elements might be dealt with in that particular episode, or in subsequent story arcs; others might deal with a noisome example of 'police bureaucracy,' in the form of a memo or directive from "Division Commander Swanson" (never seen), which would always be greeted with unanimous derision. Then would follow one of the series' instant Hallmarks: Michael Conrad's always-different-but-never-insincere "Alright, let's roll. And -- Hey -- Let's be careful out there."

After the Main Introductory Credits and Theme, a series of small vignettes introduce most of the key characters: a 'missing' suspect is angrily sought for a court appearance by Public Defender Joyce Davenport (who threatens the Precinct Captain, Frank Furillo, with court charges); a suspected Angel Dust abuser awaiting questioning in the holding area goes berserk, requiring most o fthe duty staff to restore order; the 'womanizing' Vice Squad Detective John LaRue tries some 'moves' on Ms Davenport; Officers Bobby Hill and Andy Renko begin their motor patrol and observe the beginning of an armed robbery of a small liquor store, with hostages, being perpetrated by "...two Puerto Rican teenagers..."; and Furillo's ex-wife, Fay, quite literally storms into his crowded office demanding that he drop everything in order immediately to resolve her crisis (the "...alimony check bounced higher than a hand ball..." son Frank, Jr, is ill, and Harvey [the shrink Fay now is dating] claims Frank Jr is starting fights at school because of a 'gender identy problem' based on his father being a cop). Furillo then commisserates briefly with his second-in-command, Lieutenant Ray Calletano.

The hostage-holding teens have been connected by telephone with Sergeant Henry Goldblume, the Precinct's Community Affairs Officer, and want to talk with Jesus Martinez (the 'warlord' of the 'Los Diablos' street gang), whose subsequent 'arrival' in the Squad Room becomes Frank's "... eleven o'clock..." as a negotiated resolution to the situation is attempted, much to the dismay and disagreement of Sgt Howard Hunter, the officer-in-charge of the Precinct's "Emergency Action Team" (thus nick-named 'Eaters,' also to Howard's dislike), who elegantly and voluably decries the 'environmentally handicapped' people with 'third-world mentalities' who're trying to ruin the American Way of Life for the rest of us. Howard's well-trained team is primed and ready for action, which won't happen if Frank opts for negotiation: "My men need the validation," he argues. "It's a gut-check, Frank -- and you wouldn't want to be accused of having a bunch of daisies where your cinch-belt ought to be."

A large crowd of on-lookers has gathered at the liquor store, and our man Detective Mick Belker is on patrol, observes a pick-pocket doing his thing with a lady's bright red change-purse/wallet, and growls into cigar-crushing action. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, the apprehended suspect is brought back to the station and invited -- then 'invited' again -- to sit at Mick's desk so questioning can begin. The suspect gives his name: Wilson, Richard T. and Mick begins his right-index-fingered slow hunt-and-peck routine on the ol' Underwood, which is promptly interrupted by the telephone. It's his mother, upset about his father wanting to go to Florida, because he might want to have an affair. The suspect, who can't avoid laughing at what he's overhearing, is twice intimidated by Mick's guard-dog routine. By the end of the scene, if you're so inclined, you'll count a total of only twenty key strokes.

Meanwhile, the negotiations have wound all the way through lunch (try not to miss the deal-sealing handshake between Jesus and Frank), enabling news film crews, reporters, many more gawkers, and a pair of amazingly low-flying TV News helicopters to coverge on the scene of the crime, and Sgt Hunter's team is nearly finished wiring explosives to the store's back door.

Henry and Frank (now on-scene) have very nearly succeeded in talking the teens out into the street when one of the helicopters flies so close to the store's roof that everything inside starts shaking from the prop wash. Some champaigne bottles start wobbling on their store-room shelves, just above the bound-and-gagged hostages; eventually, they succumb to gravity, and their crashes sound like gun shots to those outside. The crowd gasps, then scrambles away, while Frank races around the cars over to the boys, then scrambles prone atop them in cover; Hunter's team blows-away the back door, immediately opening automatic weapons fire on the sparkling wine stock in a vengeful 'validation,' killing most of the bottles several times over.

In the aftermath, as the shop keeper is being assisted to a patrol car for the necessary processing of charges against the teens, he encounters and angrily accuses Howard of ruining his store: "It would've been better if the kids had stayed!" After he leaves, Howard tells his aide to "...check that man's immigration status," then taps his pipe bowl a couple of times to empty it lightly on the main display window's frame -- the entirety of which instantly and completely collapses to the ground.

In the meantime, JD LaRue has hatched and launched a plan to trick Joyce into a dinner date. Soon thereafter, she quietly declines the obvious innuendo by emptying her mug of hot coffee into JD's groin, then calmly saying "No hard feelings -- send me the cleaning bill" as she exits the Squad Room. Sgt Esterhaus has pulled Hill and Renko off the Liquor Store situation with orders to respond to a domestic disturbance well accross the precinct. After Bobby lays down 'the law for this house,' the pair unexpectedly must deal with the theft of their patrol car (thus also their radio), the absence of non-vandalized pay phones, and the response to their arrival of some very surprised druggies.

Back in his Station House office, at the end of a long day, Frank is obviously tired; Ray and Phil gently reprove him for not being 'safe out there,' and suggest he go home. Phil promises he'll 'shop-keep' a bit longer, as he's sent Milk Belker and Officer Lamonica out in search of Hill and Renko, from whom nothing's been heard. Frank decides to accept his proposal, and grabs his coat.

Next, we see Joyce Davenport agressively brushing her teeth while simultaneously decrying "...reactionary, fascistic, high-handed, uncaring animals..." Concluding her solo diatribe against the "...Nazi occupation force..." that has caused "...all the problems for the people in this ghetto," she completes her nightly ablutions by shucking her hair-wrapping towel, loosening her bath robe, and relaxing in her bed with -- -- -- Frank.

Sometime later, she awakens him because his beeper is chirping; answering his call, Esterhaus tells Frank that Hill and Renko are in intensive care, it doesn't look good, and no one knows what happened. Joyce, quietly listening-in, begins hugging him in loving support.

While watching Phil Esterhaus' portion of that telephone conversation, you'll notice the one-sentence scene that was re-shot after the pilot's original screening. The screening audiences had warmed to Hill and Renko as the episode progressed, and when they were shot, the audiences' responses consistently were instantaneously and completely negative. In the original, Phil tells Frank that Hill and Renko had been found, both dead. The screening audiences again were just as suddenly and completely negative about the death as they'd been about the shooting.

Despite the low screening audience ratings, NBC picked-up the show, and one of the first 'eliminate the negatives' decisions made was to 'unkill' Hill and Renko, and then to make them regulars. The scenes covering Belker and Lamonica's discovery of the pair, as well as the just-discussed telephone call between Frank and Phil, were reshot.

Thanks -- and be careful out there.