Was Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law Based on Barack Obama?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law was based, at least in part, on a young Barack Obama.

In 1987, the hit television series L.A. Law introduced a brand new character, a brilliant, young and charismatic African-American lawyer named Jonathan Rollins, played by Blair Underwood. The character was created by the show’s co-creator, Stephen Bochco.

The character would become a major part of the series, staying on the show for the rest of the series’ run (all the way to the finale in 1994) and the character would become more and more of a central figure as the show went on (as other stars, like Jimmy Smits and Harry Hamlin, left the series).

An interesting facet of Rollins’ back story on the show was that he was the first African-America President of the Harvard Law Review.

This has led people, looking back, to wonder if the character was based, even in part, on former United States President Barack Obama, who was the ACTUAL first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review.

After all, Obama’s history-making success at Harvard was big news at the time, with the “New York Times” even doing an article on the topic, “First Black Elected to Head Harvard’s Law Review.”

So it is certainly feasible that Bochko would hear about it. And it would be pretty cool if true, right? So IS it true?
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Was an Episode of Hill Street Blues Re-Shot to Bring Officer Joe Coffey Back to Life?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: A Hill Street Blues episode was actually re-shot after airing to show a character who was killed surviving his attack so that they could bring him back.

The first season of Hill Street Blues was meant to only be thirteen episodes, but NBC asked for some more at the end, so Stephen Bochco and company put together two two-hour movies that worked basically like a mini-series within a series, with essentially a four-hour long episode of the show. In the episode, a few new characters debuted who would stick around, including some narcotics cops and Officer Joe Coffey, played by Ed Marinaro.

Coffey was paired with Officer Lucy Bates (played by the great Betty Thomas), and it was clear that he wanted to take their friendship to the next level.

In any event, as a sort of tragic bookend to the first season, the final part of the last episode involves Coffey and Bates pulling over a suspect and the man shooting Coffey when he approaches the driver’s side window.

Originally, as aired, the blast clearly kills Coffey, giving the season a very somber ending.

However, as you might imagine, as the episodes were added very last minute, the producers of Hill Street Blues really didn’t have much time to dwell upon various decisions, and after the season ended, they decided that they would prefer that Coffey remained a character on the show.
Continue reading “Was an Episode of Hill Street Blues Re-Shot to Bring Officer Joe Coffey Back to Life?”

Were Renko and Hill Originally Meant to Die in the First Episode of Hill Street Blues?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Officers Renko and Hill were intended to be killed off at the end of the first episode of Hill Street Blues

Hill Street Blues debuted as a mid-season replacement in the middle of the 1980-81 TV season (January, to be precise). It is about the police department in a gritty town, most likely somewhere in the Midwest or the Northeast.

Each episode (more or less) is a “day in the life” type episode, following around the various officers, detectives, sergeants and captains of the police precinct on Hill Street.

An acclaimed drama, its great critical success (it won six Emmys its first season) and the burgeoning study of “demographics” (Hill Street Blues was watched mostly by more affluent viewers, allowing the show to sell more high end products in its commercials) allowed the show to be renewed for a second season despite terrible ratings (I believe at the time it was the lowest-rated show ever to be renewed for a second season). Eventually its ratings improved (and the critical acclaim remained) and the show ran for seven seasons, six of which were part of amazing 10 O’Clock hour on NBC’s Thursdays, a time slot that had literally three dramas air there regularly over the span of more than twenty-eight years (Hill Street Blues for six, L.A. Law for eight then E.R. for fifteen).

One of the most shocking parts of the first episode of Hill Street Blues is the tragic shooting of partners, Officer Bobby Hill and Officer Andy Renko, played by actors Michael Warren and Charles Haid, respectively.

At the the time of the shooting, it sure looked like both characters had been killed, but later in the episode, they both show up, showing the after-effects of the shooting (they’re both extra tense now that they’ve been shot – their friendship, also, is not as solid as it once was).

A long-lasting legend has sprung up based on behind-the-scenes talk mixed with the fact that they both looked pretty dead when the shooting happened. The legend is that the shooting was originally INTENDED to be fatal, but test audiences liked Hill and Renko so much that NBC told the producers of Hill Street Blues to bring them back.

Is it true?
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