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‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘NYPD Blue’ creator Steven Bochco dies at 74

Steven Bochco in 2007. | Nick Ut/AP

Steven Bochco, the creator behind gritty, acclaimed legal series such as “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “NYPD Blue,” has died at 74.

A family spokesman told the Associated Press that Bochco died in his sleep Sunday after a battle with cancer.

The writer/producer, diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, underwent a stem cell transplant, receiving bone marrow from an anonymous 23-year-old donor.

The 10-time Emmy Award winner’s credits also included “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” which launched the career of star Neil Patrick Harris, and 1990’s much-maligned “Cop Rock,” a musical police drama.

“It’s a bolt out of the blue, and completely unexpected,” Bochco said four years ago in a report about his treatment at cancer center City of Hope, posted on the facility’s web site. “It’s the last thing in the world you expect when you spend your whole adult life basically working out to be healthy.”

In his 2016 memoir “Truth is a Total Defense: My Fifty Years in Television,” he wrote, “I think about life and death differently than before. I treasure life more, and fear death less. Life and its complications are simpler for me, now. I don’t sweat the small stuff, as they say.”

Bochco, whose early writing jobs included the detective series “Columbo,” was an influential writer/producer of TV staples, police and legal dramas, especially in the 1980s and ’90s.

His “Hill Street,” which ran from 1981 to 1987, reinvented contemporary ensemble drama, with its handheld cameras, serialized storytelling and richly developed characters. Though the show took place in an unnamed city, it often alluded to Chicago traditions, and a Chicago station house at Maxwell and Morgan was presented in the opening credits as the show’s setting.

Daniel J. Travanti starred as the compassionate captain Frank Furillo and Bochco’s then-wife, actress Barbara Bosson, played Furillo’s ex-wife Fay. Though the NBC show’s ratings were initially weak, it was critically acclaimed, and its style was mimicked a year later with hospital drama “St. Elsewhere.”

Bochco bombed with his next series, “Bay City Blues,” about a minor-league baseball team, which led to a falling out with his production company. But he went on to create the hit legal drama “L.A. Law,” which ran from 1986 to 1994, and hired David E. Kelley, then a lawyer, as his protege.

Steven Bochco and “NYPD Blue” star Dennis Franz celebrate the show’s 200th episode in 2002. | Vince Bucci/Getty Images

After “Cop Rock” proved an embarrassing debacle in 1990, he rebounded with “NYPD Blue,” with collaborator David Milch, which aired on ABC from 1993 to 2005. The police drama, which featured Dennis Franz, Jimmy Smits and Kim Delaney, sparked battles with ABC advertisers, affiliates and censors over its adult content, and a FCC fine for showing a woman’s bare bottom. But strong ratings and critical praise won the show staying power and freedom.

Bochco’s other series included “Philly,” which starred Delaney as a young lawyer; “Brooklyn South,” another cop series; “Murder One,” a serialized ABC murder mystery; and his final series, TNT’s legal dramas “Raising the Bar” and “Murder in the First.”

His colleagues remembered him fondly.

“It was his vision, style, taste and tenacity that made me love watching TV,” Bochco’s star Sharon Lawrence wrote on Twitter. “It was being on #NYPDBlue that made me love working on TV.”

His fellow writer/producer Judd Apatow recalls pumping Bochco for advice while developing “Freaks and Greeks.” “We used all of it,” Apatow tweeted. “He was a great man and will forever be an inspiration.”