Today, we look at how the series finale of Hill Street Blues launched a sitcom, of all things.
This is Back Door Blues, a feature about “backdoor pilots.” Backdoor pilots are episodes of regular TV series that are intended to also work as pilots for a new series. Sometimes these pilots get picked up, but a lot of times they did not get picked up. I’ll spotlight examples of both successful and failed backdoor pilots.
December is a month of Back Door Blues! Following our look at how The Facts of Life‘s series finale tried to set up a new series, we’ll look at a week’s worth of series finales serving as backdoor pilots!
CONCEPT: Beverly Hills Buntz – Norman Buntz (Dennis Franz) quits the police force and becomes a private detective.
SERIES IT AIRED ON Hill Street Blues
While it was obviously very famously an ensemble series, Hill Street Blues naturally DID have a lead character, and it was Captain Frank Furillo (Daniel Travanti), the wise, compassionate leader of the offbeat cops of Hill Street Station. Well, in Season 6, David Milch, who had been writing for the series for a few years at this point, took over showrunner duties on the series. Upon taking over, Milch brought back Dennis Franz, who had a memorable arc in Season 3 as a crooked cop. This time, Franz would play Lt. Norman Buntz, a cop who was not crooked, but not exactly PURE, either.
Very quickly, Buntz became the new lead of the series. He developed a friendship with a criminal informant (also introduced in Season 3) named Sid the Snitch (Peter Jurasik). It was an unlikely friendship, but it was oddly sweet.
In any event, Season 7 was the last season of Hill Street Blues, and Buntz was being framed for some shady stuff. His name was nominally cleared, but Chief Daniels (Jon Cypher) was clearly planning on still making Buntz a scapegoat. So Buntz decides to punch him on live television…
The final scene of the series shows Buntz walking out…
That led directly into, of all things, a David Milch SITCOM, where Buntz and Sid move to Beverly Hills, where Buntz becomes a private invesigator. Obviously, it was more of a dramedy than a sitcom (I actually JUST discussed this on my recent appearance on the great podcast, Gayest Episode Ever, where we discussed another dramedy from 1987).
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? It did.
SHOULD IT HAVE? It was a weird concept, but it was Milch, and he’s great (Jeffrey Lewis co-created it with him), so I think it was a good enough idea.
Okay, that’s it for this installment of Back Door Blues! I KNOW the rest of you have suggestions for other interesting backdoor pilots, so drop me a line at email@example.com (don’t suggest in the comments, as this way, it’ll be a surprise!).