In my never-to-be-quenched thirst for anything and everything 'period' New York, I came across a deeply obscure item that I thought worth sharing. It's the pilot episode of a New York police drama called "Joe Bash" which aired on ABC in 1986 and was almost instantly cancelled. Starring Peter Boyle as an everyday workmanlike patrolman, tired and embittered by what he saw as an increasing worthlessness in his life's work, it was the creation of "Barney Miller" auteur Danny Arnold, one of 1970's television's biggest creative forces. I remember seeing this the night it aired and thinking it very strange and quite quirkily wonderful. Having rewatched it for the first time in almost thirty years, I now simply find it very strange.
It presents nothing in the way of a true New York feel. The portraits of urban lowlifes (aka hookers and crazies) are unconvincing. And the music pretty much kills every scene--it's wallpapered with dreadful 80's soulful/sax stuff. So why post it? Primarily because it feels to me like a very early demonstration of where filmed TV drama was headed in the still quite distant "quality cable programming" future. The show is character, not plot, based. The characters are not made out to be "sympathetic" or "lovable". The view of the world inhabited by the characters is dark, nihilistic, perversely dour and joyless. There is no laugh track--there is that music however and one wonders how much better the whole thing would have come off without it. The show doesn't really make it clear what genre it belongs too--comedy? drama?--which was most unusual at the time.
In a sense, "Joe Bash" may well have inadvertently led the way for what was to come in the nineites. TV auteurists like David Milch, David Chase, Aaron Sorkin and the like may or may not have seen the five episodes that ran. But it certainly feels like the hybrid comedy/drama/dark-night-of-the-soul boogie that they all eventually perfected. And the best work of the above mentioned writer/creators similarly defies simple genre descriptions. Arnold (along with Norman Lear) certainly took sit-coms to much more sophisticated level in the 70's. Perhaps he was simply ahead of his time in this case. Perhaps even profoundly so.
Here's an audio interview with Danny Arnold (pictured left) that aired on Bob Claster's excellent KCRW show "Funny Stuff." Per Mr. Clasters request I've linked to his homepage so that you can see what else he has on there--and quite a few nice things there are, too. (A very British construction to that last sentence, no?) In the interview, a very weary sounding Arnold bemoans the future of dramatic television, seeing no hope in the networks ability to give original work time to develop and seemingly not anticipating anything remotely like the dramatic cable world that was still a distance away. He specifically discusses "Joe Bash" and his disappointment in its cancellation but he also admits that he wasn't surprised. When Clasters presses him on how interested people might get to see the five episodes, Arnold laughingly suggests they come to his house, assuring him that the case is hopeless. In addition to not anticipating cable, he also apparently didn't anticipate Youtube. But how could he have? How could anyone have?
While the show presented below is incomplete--the last two minutes seem to have been shorn off--it's a valuable record of a piece of dramatic television history. And the Ted Kopple news update at the top (the episode begins close to three minutes in) and the commercials which segment the show neatly in half are, as always, a period delight--especially to those of us who remember the 1980's as being not nearly half so bad as some might have you believe.
Subscribe in a reader