NYPD Blue, the no-holds-barred cop show that took America by a storm when it first aired in 1993, changed television forever. The show is centered around the detectives of the fictional 15th precinct in New York City, and their struggle to keep the city safe.
The show was produced by Steven Bochco, along with co-creator David Milch. They were inspired to create the show because of David’s friendship with Bill Clark, a retired policeman who served for many years as a detective in the New York City Police Department.
A Real Detective as a Producer
Bill Clark, who at first served only as a technical consultant on the incredibly popular show, eventually joined Bochco and Milch as a co-writer. After 25 years in the NYPD’s undercover and homicide units, and with a B.A in Criminal Justice, his experience was formidable.
Together, Bochco, Milch and Clark aimed to write a resolutely and unflinchingly accurate portrayal of the NYPD’s detective force. The show is known for its grittiness, honesty, and realistic film techniques; the show won many awards, as well as an exceptional number of nominations.
Balancing the Personal and the Professional
NYPD Blue mainly focuses on the challenges of the rough job detectives have, as they face the ugl side of the city in their pursuit of justice. It also conveys the detectives’ difficulties in not letting the daily heartbreak and loss affect their personal lives.
On the other hand, the series also delves into the personal lives of the squad as they do their best not to allow their personal struggles spill into their professional lives. The show is both poignant and real, and the characters are portrayed as deeply human.
Scandalous From the Start
Though NYPD Blue received critical acclaim from all sides, the show is well known for its controversial depiction of alcoholism and nudity. Nothing like NYPD Blue had ever been shown on popular networks previously, and many ABC affiliates did not air the show at first.
Another famous aspect of the show’s controversy was the strong language used in its scripts. The detectives (and other characters) use profanity freely, and as the writers were concerned with accuracy in order to honestly depict the NYPD, they did not shy away from graphic language.
Bochco Refused to Back Down
In his memoir, Bochco recounts his war against broadcasting standards, and how he essentially refused to “make their watered-down version.” He stuck to his original vision; as he puts it, “I was adamant. Essentially, it was going to be my way or the highway.”
“We’re not doing anything that’s going to bring down the fall of the Republic,” Bochco said in an interview. This may have been true, but by winning the battle against ABC, Bochco and Milch revolutionized television. Now other producers could potentially compete with networks like HBO.
ABC Changes Its Mind Due to High Ratings
NYPD Blue broke so many barriers that it led to the establishment of the Parents Television Council, a Christian-based organization which advocates for more responsible and family-friendly TV. However, the show simply would not be the same without its determination to accurately represent the NYPD.
The popularity of NYPD Blue is what persuaded networks to reconsider. The show’s ratings were high enough that 29 out of 30 ABC affiliates who had originally refused, were hosting the show by Season Three, which is incredibly significant, considering the perceived vulgarity and violence of the series.
Controversial and Character Driven
Undoubtedly, the controversy surrounding NYPD Blue drew in many viewers. However, they stayed for the brilliance of the show itself. The series is not only a masterpiece in screenwriting; credit must also be given to the amazing all-star cast who brought the characters to life.
Many fans love the show, not for its nail-biting plotlines which center around crime, but for the personal growth and lovability of its multi-layered characters. Famous characters from the show, most notably Detective Sipowicz (who stayed on for all 12 seasons), undergo major character arcs.
A Short-Lived Partnership
Dennis Franz, the actor who plays gruff-but-lovable Detective Andy Sipowicz, was NYPD’s only constant through years of filming. In the first season, Andy Sipowicz is a disgruntled and harsh character, who suffers from alcoholism. His partner John Kelly attempts to help him recover.
Although the show began partly as a vehicle for actor David Caruso, who plays Detective John Kelly in the first season, Caruso ended up leaving the show quickly and unexpectedly. He clashed with the staff and his fellow actors, most particularly with writer David Milch.
Caruso’s Delusions of Grandeur?
According to Steven Bochco’s memoir, Caruso felt too big for the small screen; he wanted to try his hand at films, as opposed to TV. He did everything to leave his contract, including making outrageous demands like $100,000 an episode and a 38 ft. trailer.
Bochco recounts how Caruso was creating an unpleasant atmosphere on set. “Every time I’d call Caruso into my office for a conversation about his problems, he’d shut down like a sullen teenager,” he reminisces. Eventually Caruso got his wish and was written out of the show.
A Blessing in Disguise
This change set the precedent for how the show’s storyline evolved over time to include many leads, with main characters continuously changing; there were at least 24 leads over the years. Bobby Simone (played by actor Jimmy Smits) replaced John Kelly, and audiences loved him.
Caruso’s exit also forced the directors to reorient their perspective on Sipowicz. Though he was excellent in the context of his relationship with young and sharp John Kelly, on his own Andy Sipowicz was too rough around the edges, even alongside the new Detective Simone.
Sipowicz as the Unexpected (Anti) Hero
Though Dennis Franz (Andy Sipowicz) was no fresh-faced Caruso, he captured the hearts of NYPD Blue’s audience, and the show focused on him as the main character. Short, overweight and definitely an unpleasant character in the beginning, Sipowicz undergoes many changes over the seasons.
Detective Sipowicz’s character arc is considered one of the best in television. From a racist, homophobic, and generally disagreeable character in the first season, Sipowicz grows and changes for the better, as a husband and a policeman; in the final season, he achieves command of the 15th precinct.
New York City in the 90’s Was Rough
Though NYPD Blue is generally considered a character-driven show, many of the storylines revolve around fighting the criminal underbelly of the city. The plotlines include all the usual hallmarks of a cop show: interrogation scenes, drug cases, sting or undercover operations, and solving murders.
The series was incredibly popular due to the director’s commitment to accuracy, and many policemen who have served in the NYPD confirm and commend the show’s truthfulness. However, the style of policing (which does include much police brutality and intimidation) is now, we hope, outdated.
The Legal Aspects of NYPD Blue
The show also follows a side of law-enforcement that is perhaps less well-known; much of the series revolves around scenes in the courtroom. After arrests are made, cops are called upon in court as witnesses to attest to certain facts of the case.
A good many of the characters that appear regularly on the show, therefore, are lawyers. Indeed, Detective Sipowicz’s first love interest is an ADA (Assistant District Attorney) named Sylvia Costas (played by Sharon Lawrence). The two eventually get married, though Syliva dies in a later season.
Racism in the NYPD
Throughout its incredible 12 season run, NYPD Blue hosted a number of phenomenal actors. Besides Sipowicz, Kelly and Simone (played by Dennis Franz, David Caruso, and Jimmy Smits respectively), other characters include Lieutenant Arthur Fancy, played by James McDaniel.
Though the atmosphere of the NYPD was considerably more racist in the ‘90’s, Lieutenant Fancy (an African American) held a position of command. The show brings up many inherent issues with racism in the police force, using Fancy’s character as a vehicle to discuss these problems.
Gordon Clapp as Greg Medavoy
Another long-term character in the show was Detective Greg Medavoy. Actor Gordon Clapp who played Medavoy was perfect for the role, as Medavoy was often used to provide comic relief in the intense drama of the show. Despite this, Medavoy was actually a competent detective.
Gordon Clapp is the longest running actor after Dennis Franz; he acted for all 12 seasons (though he was not a lead character until Season Two). Though Medavoy was often portrayed as bumbling and eager to be liked, he was skillful at times, particularly in interrogations.
The Women of the 15th Precinct
The famous women of NYPD Blue include the aforementioned Sylvia Costas (Sharon Lawrence), as well as many strong female leads as detectives. They include Janice Lecalsi (Amy Brenneman) and Diane Russell (Kim Delaney). The two appear in the early-to-midway seasons of the show.
Another female detective, Connie McDowell, appears from Seasons Eight to Eleven. She was played by actress Charlotte Ross, who was well known for her role as Eve Donovan on Days of Our Lives, the NBC soap opera. McDowell eventually partners with Delaney’s character, Diane Russell.
Early Latino Representation in NYPD Blue
Besides Jimmy Smits who plays Detective Simone and is of Puerto Rican descent, another main character who was portrayed as having Latin heritage was Detective James Martinez. Martinez is played by actor Nicholas Turturro. Turturro, however, is not actually Latino, as he was born to Italian parents.
Both actors, Smits and Turturro were born in Brooklyn, New York, and both won Emmy Awards for their roles on NYPD Blue. Smits’ character, Bobby Simone, partners with Andy Sipowicz, while James Martinez as Turturro partnered with Greg Medavoy.
Moving on to the Big Screen After NYPD Blue
These actors and actresses brought the world of NYPD Blue to life and are well remembered for their roles on the show. After their stint on the acclaimed series, some moved on to the big screen, and some didn’t, staying in roles created for television.
Let’s take a look at the lives of these actors, their other roles, their experiences on NYPD Blue, and their various awards and accolades for their performances. Some, like Caruso, weren’t so successful, while others, like Jimmy Smits, starred in the Star Wars franchise.
David Caruso Before He Was John Kelly
David Caruso was born in Queens, New York and, like many New Yorkers, is of Irish and Italian descent. His father left the family when Caruso was a child. As a teen, Caruso worked as a cinema usher, viewing up to 80 movies a week.
Before playing John Kelly, his breakout role, Caruso had gained experience in supporting roles on Rambo: First Blood, an American film featuring Sylvester Stallone, and on Steven Bochco’s first series, Hill Street Blues, also a police procedural show, but which takes place in an unknown city.
Bochco Thought He Was the Perfect Fit
Caruso seems to have had an affinity for playing a police officer. Besides Hill Street Blues, he played supporting roles as a cop in King of New York (1990), and Mad Dog Glory (1993). He also played a mute character in Hudson Hawk (1991).
Steven Bochco and David Milch were looking for a partner for Dennis Franz’s character (Sipowicz) in NYPD Blue, and Bochco thought Caruso would be a perfect counterpoint to the gruff detective as his partner. Milch was wary, however, because of Caruso’s reputation as a malcontent.
Failing to Break Into the Film Industry
Milch was right; Caruso left the cast of NYPD Blue after his performance in Season One had earned him offers for larger roles on the silver screen. His conduct on set was infamous, and eventually led the producers to let him out of his contract.
Caruso played in a few films after NYPD Blue, one of which was Kiss of Death where he played alongside Nicolas Cage. The movie was not well received, receiving only two out of four stars by critics. Cage was remembered well; Caruso was unfortunately not.
Making a Comeback With One-Liners and Sunglasses on CSI
Jade, Caruso’s second movie after NYPD Blue, did even worse than Kiss of Death. Michael Biehn, who played the antagonist in the film, blamed it on a bad script; he is forgiving of Caruso, stating that he is “…a brilliant actor when given the right material.”
Caruso returned to television successfully in 2002, landing the role of Lieutenant Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami. His critical acclaim, however, was all for NYPD Blue. He received a Golden Globe Award for his role as John Kelly and was also nominated for an Emmy.
Once a Cop, Always a Cop?
In contrast to the short-lived Caruso, Dennis Franz was immediately on board for the role of Andy Sipowicz and stayed with the series for its entire runtime. Franz had worked with Bochco previously on Hill Street Blues, where he played, funnily enough, a corrupt detective.
Dennis Franz is reportedly personable and friendly, the very opposite of his character, Andy Sipowitcz in Season One of NYPD Blue. He jumped at the opportunity to work with Bochco again, and won four Emmys, a Golden Globe, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards for his performance.
Sipowicz Becomes the Main Story in NYPD Blue
Though Sipowicz started out as a bigot and a racist, he develops over the series to become an all-around better person and detective. Though he struggles with alcoholism, he joins the AA program to save his career and helps Diane Russell (Delaney) do the same.
Andy Sipowicz became a fan favorite after Franz stepped into the main role and the show recentered around his character. He plays the intense role with gusto, and his chemistry with Jimmy Smits was electric. Over the years, he became a mentor to the younger detectives.
Drawing on Real Experience for the Role
Dennis Franz was born in Maywood, Illinois, and though his character is portrayed as coming from Polish descent, in reality his parents were German immigrants. On the other hand, he also served in the military after college and fought in Vietnam, just like Sipowicz.
He started his acting career in Chicago’s Organic Theater Company and was around 50 years of age when he starred in NYPD Blue. By Franz’s own count, Sipowicz was his 28th role as a police officer! He retired from acting when the show ended in 2005.
Andy’s New Partner
After John Kelly was written out of the show, Jimmy Smits joined the squad as Bobby Simone, playing alongside Franz as his partner. Sipowicz was reluctant to accept Simone as a partner, but Simone proves himself and their relationship becomes a selling point for the series.
Continuing the trend, Smits had worked with Bochco previously; starting in 1986, he starred in Bochco’s legal drama called L.A. Law, for which he was nominated no less than six times for the Emmys Outstanding Supporting Actor Award, finally winning it in 1990.
Partners for Life…
Simone and Sipowicz are a classic detective duo and work well together. When Simone died from heart complications in Season Six, fans (as well as Sipowicz) were heartbroken. He appears later as a guest star in a heart wrenching scene to say goodbye to Sipowicz.
Smits speaks fondly of his time in NYPD Blue in an interview with Access Hollywood, saying “We had a fun time working on that show.” After he left in 1998, he went on to appear in a number of other shows, as well as films.
Jimmy Smits’ Later Career
If you’re a Star Wars junkie, you may remember Smits as Senator Bail Organa in Star Wars: Episode II and III (2002 and 2005). Fans were thrilled when he returned to reprise his role on the more recent spin-off, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
As for the small screen, Smits played in the final seasons of NBC’s West Wing as a congressman who eventually becomes President. He was nominated for an Emmy yet again for his supporting role as Miguel Prado in the fictional drama about a serial killer, Dexter.
Learning to Work Together
The influence of James McDaniel’s character, Arthur Fancy, was part of what turned Detective Sipowicz into a more relatable character. Lieutenant Fancy led the squad of the 15th precinct for eight seasons, during which the two, Sipowicz and Fancy, gained a mutual respect for one another.
In 1995, James McDaniel won the Screen Actors Guild Award for his legendary performance, receiving two Emmy nominations as well. He won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2006 for his work on Edge of America and has appeared in over 30 different shows over the years.
Diane’s Heartbreaking Storyline on NYPD Blue
Kim Delaney, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, played Detective Diane Russell on NYPD Blue. She won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress. Her time on the show was tragic, including an abusive father and a miscarriage. She marries Detective Simone, but as we know, he passes away.
Before NYPD Blue, Delaney moved to NYC and found work as a model. She played Jenny Gardner Nelson on the soap opera All My Children’ and is fondly remembered. After Diane Russell, Delaney was cast in various roles, many of which were not to her liking.
A Struggle With Addiction Both on and off Screen
Like Caruso, Delaney did a short stint on CSI: Miami but apparently clashed with Caruso. Her film career was unusual, with roles in different genres ranging from action movies to horror films. Delaney resignedly comments that she took many of these roles “to pay the mortgage.”
Delaney has been married twice and has one son. In a strange twist, Delaney has suffered from a drinking problem, just like Russell. In 2003, she checked herself into a rehab center. In 2005, she sadly lost custody of her son, then 15.
An Unexpected Love Story
In another odd twist of fate, Sharon Lawrence, the actress who plays Sylvia Costas, got married in the same Greek Church in which her character marries Andy Sipowicz. Their relationship was abrasive at first. (She is the lawyer to whom Sipowicz famously shouts “Ipso this!”)
The characters eventually overcome their differences, fall in love, and have a son together. Her supportive relationship with the cantankerous detective is cut short in Season Six however, when she is unfortunately shot and killed in a courtroom shoot-out, leaving Sipowicz to raise their son alone.
Starting on the Stage, Ending on the Screen
Lawrence received three Emmy Award nominations for for her performance as Costas. Lawrence is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, and received a BA in journalism in 1983 before moving on to acting. She is also an enthusiastic scuba diver.
Before starting in television, Lawrence was a stage actor. She played in Cabaret as well as Fiddler on the Roof, before being cast in the TV roles on Cheers, and Star Trek: Voyager. Lawrence has had a rich career, including filming her own comedy show.
Continuing Careers on Other Popular Shows
Nicholas Turturro, who plays Detective James Martinez, was also very successful in both television and film, both before and after his time in NYPD Blue. After leaving the show in Season Seven, he appeared in shows such as CSI, Blue Bloods, Burn Notice, and White Collar.
Only appearing for one season, Sherry Springfield played Assistant DA and ex-wife of John Kelly. Their turbulent relationship was gripping, but Springfield is better known for her role as Dr. Susan Lewis on the hit show ER, for which she garnered three Emmy nominations (and others).
Amy Brenneman as Janice Licalsi
Janice Licalsi was a slightly controversial character on NYPD Blue: a uniformed officer played by Amy Brenneman. Her character was a dirty cop who was on the mob’s payroll. She was also John Kelly’s love interest, falling for him after being assigned to kill him.
Amy Brenneman’s character left the show for a few reasons, one of which was that former police consultant (and later producer) Bill Clark was uncomfortable portraying a murderous cop. Also, as Caruso left the show, there was no real point in Brenneman continuing with the show.
Love at First Take
The good news is that Amy Brenneman met producer Brad Sterling on the set of NYPD Blue, and the two eventually got married. They have two children together, and Brenneman continued on after the show to an extremely successful career in both TV and film.
You may recognize Brenneman from the critically acclaimed film Heat, but many will know her as the main character of Judging Amy, a show which Brenneman created and produced herself. It’s based on the life of her mother, a divorced single mother and family court judge.
Donna and Greg, Before and After the Show
Gordon Clapp, who played Greg Medavoy for all 12 seasons of NYPD Blue, is responsible for bringing some lightness to the intensity and drama of the show. He won an Emmy for his performance, and has continued acting, appearing most recently in Mare of Easttown (2021).
Detective Medavoy’s love interest for the first few seasons of the show, Donna Abandando, was played by Gail O’Grady. O’Grady, originally from Michigan, appeared in commercials before landing her breakout role as the precinct’s sharp-witted secretary. O’Grady has been married six times and has one son.
Connie McDowell’s Infamous Shower Scene
Charlotte Ross may be remembered for her time on NBC’s Days of Our Lives, but no one will forget how her character caused quite a scandal by appearing nude on NYPD Blue. The FCC fined ABC stations a collective $1,430,000, for broadcasting “indecent material.”
The scene was supposed to be humorous, however, and the fine was eventually revoked, as the U.S. Second Court of Appeals deemed the FCC’s insistence on enforcing their regulations of indecent material between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. unconstitutional and chilling
Carrying On the Legacy
Connie McDowell appeared during the later seasons of NYPD Blue, from 2001 to 2004. More recently, Ross has taken roles on popular shows such as Glee and the superhero drama Arrow. She earned a Gold Record for her vocals on the soundtrack album for The Heights.
Ross was born in Illinois, but she moved to LA after high school, and lives there still. She married Michael Goldman, and they had a son together but have since separated. In the spirit of Connie, Ross had appeared nude in PETA’s anti-fur campaign.
The star-studded cast of NYPD Blue goes on and on, but here are some of the actors and actresses we haven’t yet mentioned. Appearing mostly in the later seasons (Seven through Twelve), they continued the legacy of NYPD Blue and most definitely deserve recognition.
Tony Rodriguez, played by Esai Morales, commanded the squad after Lt. Fancy left, and his replacement had been outed. He gets shot, but his shooter is acquitted; he leaves the force after that. Morales, of Puerto Rican Descent, won the Rita Moreno HOLA Award for Excellence.
From the Disney Channel to Dark and Dramatic NYPD Blue
Another recognizable character is the great Zack Morris, i.e., Mark-Paul Gosselaar, from the hit Disney TV series Saved by the Bell. Gosselaar plays John Clark Jr., a young detective in the squad whom Sipowicz begins to mentor. He eventually becomes the squad’s lead detective.
Gosselaar began acting at five, but after Saved by the Bell and NYPD Blue, he did not appear for any significant length of time in any new television series. He has dated many co-stars and was married twice. He has five children from his two marriages.
Other Interesting Facts
20th Century Fox and Steven Bochco Productions produced NYPD Blue. Film production took place mainly in Los Angeles; the show did film in New York, but only for exterior shots that used New York landmarks. To save money, the show was filmed only in Los Angeles in the final season.
Mike Post wrote the musical theme for the show, which did not change for all 12 seasons. The theme begins with an arrangement which sounds like a train departing a station, as well as elements of the music played at NYPD ceremonies,
Pushing the Envelope Might Be a Good Thing
People still think fondly of NYPD Blue, even after 25 years. It may be hard to imagine that the show had any trouble in the beginning, as it is now so well-known and so critically acclaimed. Steven Bochco was definitely vindicated in the end.
“It was just going to be a disaster that was going to turn television around,” Dennis Franz said in an interview. “I’m happy to say, it did have an impact on TV, for better or for worse… It was condemned in so many cities. They refused to show it.”
References in Popular Culture
NYPD Blue is now referenced in many different cop shows, most notably the super popular comedy Brooklyn 99. The similarities between the shows are abundant; Brooklyn 99 is also about a detective squad, it’s also character driven, and they nod to NYPD Blue throughout the series.
Brooklyn 99 even features Jimmy Smits as a guest star in one of the episodes. He plays the father of Amy Santiago and is a retired detective. In one episode, the writers poke fun at Caruso’s character on CSI by imitating his crime-scene one-liners.
Refusing to Compromise on NYPD Blue
In 1993, audiences were captivated by a most arresting and original spin on the classic TV staple, the police drama, NYPD Blue. So much so, that producers refused to make a remake. “The main problem was that the bar was so high,” ABC’s entertainment president, Karey Burke, stated.
Due to the experienced team of producers, the determination to tell the story their way, unflinching honesty, the innovative storytelling devices, and the talented cast who brought it to life, NYPD Blue remains one of the most popular detectives shows of all time.