It’s not a coincidence this extraordinary writer David Mamet wrote the 1987 episode “A Wasted Weekend” (Season 7 episode 12). Mamet came up with the idea of an episode due to the fact his (now former) wife Lindsay Crouse, had been a guest star on the series as Kate McBride, a gay female police officer. He loved the show and had been hanging around the set. When he pitched his idea to the production team they were delighted, this was a real coup d'état. Naturally Crouse went on to play a strong role in the episode he wrote.
As a writer, taking over story arcs that have already been developed can be very restricting, and so he takes us as the viewer out of our comfort zone, the script out of the station and the actors into an outdoors and unfamiliar environment. The episode centres around a group of police buddies going off on a hunting trip. Robert Prosky, who plays Sergeant Jablonski, was no stranger to Mamet. The pair had also worked together on the Pulitzer winning play Glengarry Glen Ross (1984). Previously Prosky had only quite short story lines on the show, but now he had been handed a real chance to shine again.
As far back as season 5 the writing was on the wall for Hill Street Blues. It’s creator Bochco and MTM (the production company) had already parted ways. This was a result of a huge dispute centred around leadership changes and fierce budget cuts that seriously had affected the scripts. Every single one of the five seasons Bochco was to work on had won an Emmy, but after Bochco left, it would never win again. One of the ways in which Mamet did please MTM was by reducing the cast numbers in the episode, something Bochco didn’t really want to compromise on, and to be frank (as in open - not as in Furillo) whilst it worked for this practically stand-alone episode, it would have changed into a completely different show entirely if the studios had got their way.
By season 7 the network, NBC, yet again, moved the Hill to a different slot. This time it stood no chance, it was up against the wildly popular series ''Moonlighting''. This was to be the final nail for our beloved show and guaranteed that this would be the last ever season.
On a personal level, having watched the show over and over again obsessively, I wasn’t a fan of this episode. As a writer myself, I feel awkward saying this but I missed the focus being on the hustle and bustle of the station, as well as some of my favourite lead characters such as Frank and Joyce. In fact, Daniel J. Travanti's Captain Furillo is now only given a walk-on.
Taking the story outdoors did add something to the performances. If this had been a play or a short film not related to the Hill, I would probably have loved it, because there is no denying the writing is bold and intelligent. It just didn’t give me that Hill Street high hit. However, as a writer, I did revel in some of the dialogue. You might know this would be where many of the diamonds would be:
McBride wonders if she has the right to kill another person: Buntz snarls, ''What you did last night, it wasn't your right, it was your duty - we've all been there together, pal.'' As well as “You did something that few people in this world do... You stood up to another human being in combat where it was his life or yours, and you're the one who walked away. The guilty secret is it is the greatest exhilaration that it is possible to know. Society says 'you go and feel contrite'... but deep down inside you say this, 'My God, I'm afraid I liked it.'
When someone asks Jablonski what he does all day now he is retired and the sergeant replies, ''Eat bonbons and buff my nails.''
One writer who loved the show - especially this episode was Rick Cleveland ("House of Cards," "Nurse Jackie," "Six Feet Under") "It was the first dramatic series that I remember watching because I loved the writing… "'Hill Street Blues' felt more real, and grittier than any cop show that came before it”. "For me personally, when I heard that David Mamet was writing an episode, I really started paying attention to the writing. At the time I was a young playwright living in Chicago, and anything David wrote was kind of a bible."
Born: November 30, 1947 (age 74). Chicago, Illinois. Mamet both wrote and directed several feature films including House of Games and Heist. His screen-writing credits include The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Verdict, The Untouchables, Hoffa, Wag the Dog and Hannibal.
Mamet not only wrote the screenplay for his stage play Glengarry Glen Ross; he also wrote and directed the adaptation of his play Oleanna. Mamet was the executive producer and a frequent writer for the TV show The Unit (2006–2009). He’s won just about every award going at some time including Academy Awards, Tony’s, Pulitzers, BAFTA and Golden Globes.
Mamet has also written several books on a variety of subjects, including some extraordinary works regarding his Jewish heritage. Today he is married to his second wife actress, singer, song-writer Rebecca Pidgeon. And just to add a cherry? He’s also a poet. What an incredible talent. I totally enjoyed researching for this article!
Copyright Charlie Daniels, award winning, Sunday Times, best-selling author. All rights reserved. .