“This is class here, and you don’t ever want to spit on class.”
All this week we’ve been talking about Hill Street Blues. Why? Because Shout Factory has finally given fans what we’ve literally waited decades to have. The entire seven seasons of Hill Street Blues are finally available in one fine collection. I’ve been hard at work on the review, but we’re talking 144 episodes, and I’m eating them as fast as I can. We hoped to have the review up today, but there is still a little more to watch. In the meantime we have another character profile to keep you going until next week.
Norman Buntz was played by Dennis Franz, and it’s hard to imagine he only entered the series for its last two years. In a time when many fans thought that Hill Street Blues was slipping, the Buntz character was a great bit of misdirection, and most of us didn’t notice the slight loss of steam. Buntz was as hard-nosed as they come. He was caustic and didn’t play well with others, preferring to work alone. He followed the book but left it mangled and mutilated almost beyond recognition, and God help anyone who got in his way. Buntz led the way for characters like Vic Mackey and other cops who played footloose with the regulations.
Truth be told, this wasn’t really Franz’s first stint on the series. He showed up earlier as a dirty cop named Sal Benedetto and found himself literally backed into a corner and ended up taking himself out. Critics of the Buntz character have been quick to point out the close resemblance not only in appearance but in mannerisms between the two characters. There’s certainly some validity to the complaint. Still, Buntz wasn’t a dirty cop. He pushed that envelope all the way to the line, to be sure. He had no trouble bashing in a skull to get what he wanted out of a perp. Still, his heart was always in the right place. Sal’s most certainly was not. Some say Bochco insulted our intelligence with the Buntz addition. It’s not the first time a new regular for a series appeared earlier as another character. Buntz soon became my favorite character on television. Teamed up with Peter Jurasik as Sid “The Snitch”, I loved every minute of screen time they had.
I wasn’t alone. Television executives saw the popularity of the team and attempted to capitalize on it when Hill Street Blues ended. The short-lived Beverly Hills Buntz attempted to trade on the characters and their chemistry and ride a little of the momentum from the Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop train from the time. It was an awkward series that never really found an identity. Buntz and Sid moved to L.A. to start a detective agency. It was a half-hour format and more of a sit-com than what we loved so much previously.
That didn’t mean the Buntz character or idea was dead. Bochco’s next hit would feature a return by Franz as Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue. Again he was a slightly tamer version of Buntz. He played yet another cop who was willing to bash a few heads, say exactly what was on his mind, and enjoyed his work. Andy was intended as a sidekick to David Caruso’s Detective John Kelly. But after just one year Caruso thought his future was in feature films. Andy became the central character, and we all got to see “Buntz” grow up.
Relive with me now those wonderful Buntz/Sid moments on Hill Street Blues out now from Shout Factory.