The Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises production of 'Hill Street Blues' which ran for 7 seasons between January 1981 and May 1987 was regarded one of the "true chroniclers of their times (the 1980s)." Veronica Hamel played public defender Joyce Davenport. Occasionally being called Victoria "because it has 4 vowels and a V," Veronica told Harry Harris of the 'Philadelphia Inquirer', "I miss soft pretzels with mustard, cheese sticks and – a big favorite where I lived (grew up in Kensington, Philadelphia) – veal loaf." 

Veronica's story: "I modeled for more than 10 years (since 1960). I was among the top earners right from the beginning: high fashion, commercials, 'Vogue', 'Harpers Bazaar'. I'm 5 foot 8. At first I posed for 'Inquirer' and 'Bulletin' fashion ads. I also did some runway work at Bonwit's and John Wanamaker. I wasn't good at it, but it was at Wanamaker's, after another New York agency had made an offer, that Eileen Ford saw me selling cosmetics. 

"I think I was always interested in acting. I was in plays in elementary school. When I went to my first acting class in New York, I loved it. If I was going to be an actress, I felt it should be before the rose faded (Veronica was 36 in March 1981) and I had to leave. It's not easy to walk away from security, but I did – cutting off the modeling completely – eight years ago (around 1972). 

"I did off-Broadway shows, I was really an apprentice. Not only were apprentices not paid, but you'd be expected to bring in props. You'd drag it all in – your own clothes, the carpet from your own house, even the cat and dog! … I came out to the West Coast five years ago (around 1975), because my agent felt that was where I should be if I wanted things to happen. He thought it would happen faster for me on film because I was a film type. 

"My first job here was with Telly Savalas in a 'Kojak' episode. After that, I was a series guest. In 'Dallas' I was an ex-prostitute trying to go straight as a model. I became a victim of J.R. – aren't we all? I was a daughter-in-law in 'The Gathering' and David Duke's wife in '79 Park Avenue'. But the most impact for me was in the Irwin Allen films. It all sort of snowballs. People see more and more of you; they get more familiar with your work. 

"I never considered myself sexy. I've always been very, very thin. You have to stay slim for modeling, and unless you're a character actress you have to stay slim to pay the rent. When I was offered 'Charlie's Angels' I had just come to California. Being in demand happened very quickly. I auditioned for 'Charlie's Angels' at my agent's request. He was hoping I'd find it hard to turn down a solid contract. I did get a firm offer, but I couldn't see accepting it. It was not something I could grow with.

"I thought 'Charlie's Angels' would be a successful series, but that was the trouble. I like to honor contracts. In exchange for celebrity and money, you owe it to your employers to believe in their show. Celebrity can be a very frightening thing … When it's celebrity as an actor, everything is blown out of proportion. So why go into acting at all? I love it. It's something I have to do. If you don't have to do it, it's not an easy life.

"Only 1% of all actors earn more than $20,000 a year (in those days). I'm one of the privileged few. I've been in the position of waiting for months for something worthwhile to come along, then having to compromise in order to pay the rent, but now (in March 1981) I'm blessed. I never thought when I was doing bits and pieces in elementary school and junior high that I'd get to this point. 'Hill Street Blues' is my moment of glory."

Daniel J. Travanti played police captain Frank Furillo, "I will always be the son of practical farmers from the hills of eastern Italy who knocked their brains out for a buck." At the time of 'Hill Street Blues', Daniel confessed to being a recovering alcoholic who before 1973, drank a bottle of vodka a day "by the tumberfull". By 1981, Daniel had made commercials for Almadén wine and told 'People Weekly', "I can still smell drinks across the room. Margaritas make me salivate. But sobriety is the keystone of who I am now."

Daniel's story: "It was 1972 and I was in Los Angeles when the earthquake hit. I slept throught it. I was so drunk. In 1972, I was on tour. We had been on the road for a year when I cracked up. It was horrible. I began trembling on stage, and I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't. My knees buckled. I turned pale and almost collapsed. They had to bring the curtain down. After that crack-up on stage I went to get medical help. The doctors said it was all 'mental', because I was under pressure.

"I didn't know I was an alcoholic at the time. I thought we all just drank and got drunk and had fun. I used pills for the next 60 shows. It didn't stop me shaking, but I got through my performance every night. I finally admitted I had a drinking problem and went to Alcoholics Anonymous (around August 1973). They help in a practical way, a day at a time. I would not have been able to remember the lines, let alone land the part.

"I still attend AA meetings. I'm a sober alcoholic but sometimes I still want a drink. There's the danger – nobody's ever cured of alcoholism. It's not a thing you ever lose. You're living in recovery. I hope I never fall back to my bad old ways, and with a bit of luck and help from my friends, I won't." In 1979, Daniel won a role in the daytime soap opera, 'General Hospital' before playing Frank Furillo in 'Hill Street Blues'.

'Hill Street Blues' won in total 26 Emmy Awards. Diana Muldaur made the point, "The Emmy doesn't produce fame, nor does it provide a salary boost. It's not a popularity contest. It's a very honored award bestowed by people's peers for what they think are the best achievements of the year. That means a lot to careers. One thing the Emmy can do is to save a show from being canceled. The network may take a second look at a low-rated show that is so honored."

Michael Warren played officer Bobby Hill told 'Gannett News Service' in July 1981, "We're the lowest-rated show in the history of television to be renewed for another season (1981-82). I think the critics saved the show. We've got a strong cult following of viewers, and we're picking up new viewers every week. It's almost been a comedy of errors." When 'Hill Street Blues' went on air in February 1981, NBC "plugged" the first 5 episodes into the 10:00pm time slot on Saturday with no promotion. Michael Warren remembered the 'Hill Street Blues' episodes "weren’t even being listed in 'TV Guide.'"

The network then changed its time slot to Tuesday at 9:00pm but "with large newspaper ads and promotion commercials on NBC" before moving 'Hill Street Blues' to its 3rd time slot on Thursday at 10:00pm. Michael Warren believed, "I think if they put us on a night, keep it there and promote us," 'Hill Street Blues' may attract better ratings.

'Hill Street Blues' was described as a gritty comedy drama or "dromedy". The program sought to explore "the day-to-day activities of the cops working out of a squalid inner-city police station." 'Hill Street Blues' featured multiple storylines often continuing into the following episodes. Michael Warren offered, "Daytime soap operas do this all the time. But nighttime audieces are so locked into sitting down for one hour and watching the beginning, middle and end of a show, that when you continue (the storyline to next week) they seem to be offended.

"A lot of thinking people are turned off by it (TV). But this show ('Hill Street Blues') causes them to think and feel, it's not the pablum normally on TV. I think there's a lot of interest in giving the audience more than T&A shows." Michael Warren argued, "TV is making a mistake of not trying to educate through TV, it can entertain and educate. If people had a better idea of the stress and problems police go through every day, maybe there would be more respect for law enforcement."

"I've always said that the (audience's) lowest common denominator is not so low, its attention span not so short. Maybe I'm just an optimist," Grant Tinker told Associated Press of the first season of 'Hill Street Blues'. "We all know that Saturday night is an unlikely night for a cop show … It's yet to be shown that a cop show can succeed on Saturday night and we're yet to get our heads above water with this one ('Hill Street Blues').

"But if we're right, that is, if this is really a good show, then the audiences will find it and they'll be back. We had the same problem with 'Lou Grant' at first. But we're giving the audience a little bit of a hard job. It isn't done episode by episode, with everything wrapped up by the end of the hour. That's something we're looking at. And, maybe inner city problems represent a threat to the audiences. I don't know. Those elements may be making our climb more of an uphill one, but those are the elements that I happen to like about the show."

Blog Archive