Steven Bochco, a celebrated television writer and producer whose sophisticated prime-time portrayals of gritty courtrooms and police station houses redefined television dramas and pushed the boundaries of onscreen vulgarity and nudity, died on Sunday in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. He was 74.
The cause was complications of cancer, a family spokesman said. He had received a stem cell transplant October 2014 for leukemia.
Over three decades starting in the early 1980s, Mr. Bochco, whose earlier shows “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law” upended the traditional hourlong drama, was one of Hollywood’s most prolific and sought-after producers. He mixed elements of daytime soap operas — like story lines that stretch over multiple episodes and feature a rich ensemble of characters — with a true-to-life visual style and colorful language.
On “Hill Street Blues” in the 1980s and on “NYPD Blue” a decade later, Mr. Bochco lent a realism to police dramas and introduced twisting, sophisticated story lines and subplots.
But “Hill Street Blues” was not an overnight success. After its first season, in 1981, the show ranked 87th out of 96 television series in the ratings. But a few months later, it won eight Emmy Awards, including for best drama, giving “Hill Street Blues” momentum that carried the series another six seasons on NBC. It also propelled Mr. Bochco’s career.
In 1986, he applied his trademark method to courtrooms, creating “L.A. Law” on NBC. It was no “Perry Mason.” The show brought a realism to lawyers and law firms and accurately portrayed legal issues, all while tackling tough and sensitive subjects like capital punishment and AIDS.
By the late 1980s, Mr. Bochco was in high demand. In 1987, ABC lured him away from NBC with a first-of-its-kind network exclusive: a $50 million deal to create 10 series over eight years. Two shows were hits, “NYPD Blue” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.”