Hill Street Blues is finally out on DVD, and we’re celebrating all week long. Yesterday we shared the various awards that the show has earned in its seven years on television. We’ve also shared a couple of character profiles starting with the Captain and Detective Belker. This time out we’re going to talk about two characters who were patrol officer partners for the entire run of the series. What makes them special is that they were killed off in the pilot. What the heck is that about? Read on, my friend.
When the pilot episode ended, Officers Andy Renko (Charles Haid) and Bobby Hill (Michael Warren) were gunned down in a tenement building and left for dead. In the original cut of the episode, dead is exactly what they were. However Charles Haid, who was expecting to have another pilot picked up, was suddenly without a job and came calling to Hill Street Blues asking to report for duty. The Hill character was never completely decided upon, and Michael Warren was up for a return. The pilot was swiftly rewritten with a few minutes of footage reshot, and the rest is history.
Two men could not have been more unalike than Hill and Renko. Renko was a redneck who started out with a rather thick southern drawl. That part of his character was eventually softened, but not his weakness for country music and cowboy boots. Renko was also somewhat of a lazy cop even though he had his sights on plain clothes. Renko always started his shift on the toilet with the morning paper for a good 15 minutes. He wasn’t always in the mood for police work and might be willing to look the other way if it meant a mountain of paperwork ahead.
Fortunately he was teamed up with Bobby Hill, who was far more dedicated to duty and convinced Renko to do the work. He was a black officer with a redneck partner, but there was never any doubt these guys loved each other like brothers. Several story arcs would deal with serious issues between them that would lead to them breaking up, a condition that was always rectified when they realized what life was like without the other. They had a habit of smashing patrol cars or getting them stolen. The latter condition led to the near-death experience of the pilot. Hill was not perfect either. He had issues with gambling that got him in hot water more than once. Michael Warren, who was bald at the time, had to deal with wearing a wig the entire seven years.
These guys were the heart and soul of the precinct out on the street. The two actors used that popularity to do public service pieces for literacy. They would often appear together on television spots touting the joys and rewards of reading.
Charles Haid would join the many Hill Street actors who went on to do exceptional work behind the character. As a director and producer he was involved in such hit shows as Criminal Minds, ER, Breaking Bad, Nip/Tuck, Third Watch and more recently Grimm.
Michael Warren continued acting in such shows as Lincoln Heights, City Of Angels and Soul Food.
So saddle up and prepare to ride along with America’s first television salt & pepper buddy cop team. Catch the exploits of Hill & Renko on Hill Street Blues, available from Shout Factory now.