02/04/2018

Steven Bochco

This entry is bilingual. Please scroll down for the English-language version.

Je me souviendrai avant tout de Steven Bochco comme l'auteur de l'un des meilleurs épisodes de Columbo, "Le Livre témoin" (réalisé par un autre Steven, un certain Spielberg qui a lui aussi fait une petite carrière me dit-on) et le co-créateur de deux séries que j'ai beaucoup aimées dans ma lointaine jeunesse, "La Loi de Los Angeles" - il emporte avec lui le secret du papillon de Vénus, les fans comprendront - et "Docteur Doogie" dont je dois être le seul à me souvenir vu que j'étais déjà pratiquement le seul à regarder à l'époque.
Je suis plus réservé quant à son apport à la fiction policière et, au delà, au développement des séries télévisées depuis une quarantaine d'années. "Hill Street Blues" n'eut d'autre effet sur moi que de me convaincre que le métier de policier est dans la vraie vie d'un ennui mortel, et "NYPD Blue" contribua à démocratiser la figure honnie du "flic à problème" qui a depuis fait les beaux jours de la littérature, du cinéma et de la télévision en panne d'idée. Surtout, je lui reproche ce que dont les autres le félicitent, à savoir d'avoir imposé la série "feuilletonnante". Pour ses laudateurs, il a ainsi apporté plus de profondeur aux intrigues et aux personnages; pour moi il a surtout importé les recettes du soap-opera et du serial dans un format qui s'était construit contre ces derniers.
On l'oublie trop souvent, mais les premières "grandes" séries - grandes en termes de qualité - étaient pour la plupart des anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock Présente, La Quatrième Dimension, Au-delà du réel, Playhouse 90, Thriller et j'en passe. Des histoires bouclées sur elles-mêmes avec des protagonistes différents chaque semaine. Bref, de véritables court-métrages, souvent réalisés comme des longs. Même les séries à personnages récurrents fonctionnaient sur ce mode. Il faut dire au crédit de Bochco que ce format commença de s'essouffler dans les années soixante et soixante-dix, l'écriture et l'esthétique ne suivant plus. Et certaines séries feuilletonnantes sont tout à fait remarquables, je pense notamment à St. Elsewhere que je considère comme la plus grande série de tous les temps (vous ne connaissez pas? remerciez la télévision française) Mais le ver étant dans le fruit, le feuilleton a fini par avaler son hôte de sorte que la grande majorité des séries célébrées aujourd'hui, surtout celles du câbles, sont en fait des feuilletons dont les épisodes n'existent plus individuellement et les intrigues se traînent sur des saisons entières. Je trouve d'ailleurs suprêmement ironique de voir des gens qui trouvent Les Feux de l'Amour ringards s'extasier devant... non, je ne donnerai pas de nom.
Mais bon, ne mégotons pas à Steven Bochco sa place dans l'histoire du Huitième Art. Elle est colossale et incontournable.

I'll remember Steven Bochco first and foremost as the guy who wrote one of the best episodes of Columbo, "Murder by the Book", that also happened to be directed by another Steven, one named Spielberg who went on to enjoy some success too. I'll also remember him as the (co-) creator of two shows that I liked as a teenager, "L.A. Law" (now we'll never know about the Venus Butterfly) and "Doogie Howser M.D.", which I'm sure to be the only one in France to remember, since I was probably the only one watching it. 

This blog, however, is about crime fiction and I have to say I'm more than reserved about Bochco's contribution to the genre, at least in its TV incarnation. The only effect "Hill Street Blues" had on yours truly was to convince me that real-life police is one of the most boring jobs in the world; "NYPD Blue" on the other hand introduced to the small screen one of the most tiresome trends in contemporary crime fiction, The Troubled Cop. My biggest beef, however, is precisely what fans and critics laud him for, the serialization of TV shows. Said fans and critics say by doing that he gave more depth to the form, especially as pertains to characters, whereas I say he basically brought the time-worn recipes of soap-operas and old-time serials to a form that was precisely created as a reaction against them.

People tend to forget that as they think there is only one Golden Age of Television that began with the first episode of The Sopranos, but the first great TV shows - great in terms of quality - were anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Playhouse 90, Thriller... Self-contained stories with a different cast each week. Even shows with recurring characters followed the same model. As years went by, however, the form wore thin as both writing and filmmaking declined, and was certainly in need of a renewal. Also serialization gave us some wonderful shows such as St. Elsewhere which I still regard as the best American TV show ever made. The problem is, the serial element ended phagocytosing the whole so that most of the current "prestige" shows are actually serials with insecable episodes and plots and subplots running over whole seasons. I find extremely ironic that people who laugh at The Bold and The Beautiful's corny long-windedness gush over - no, I won't give any name, there are too many candidates. 

Still, let us no more speaking ill of the dead, especially one with so impressive a resume. Steven Bochco's place in the Television Hall of Fame is well deserved and secure; but a little critical perspective is never useless. 


2 commentaires:

dfordoom a dit…

Self-contained stories with a different cast each week. Even shows with recurring characters followed the same model. As years went by, however, the form wore thin as both writing and filmmaking declined, and was certainly in need of a renewal.

The perennial problem with American TV was that they made way too many episodes of each series. It's almost impossible to maintain quality when you're doing twenty-six episodes a year and in the 50s there were often as many as thirty-two or in extreme cases thirty-nine episodes to a season. Most shows were running desperately short on inspiration after just two seasons.

The British didn't have that problem. Mr Rose (a series I'm inordinately fond of) for example ran for three seasons but they only made 24 episodes in total.

The American system made it impossible to maintain quality. Switching over to a serial format seemed like a great solution - that way you can pad out threadbare plots almost indefinitely.

Xavier a dit…

The American and British systems seem to be converging these days, as American cable shows have less episodes per season and British series are slowly adopting the serial format (which they had carefully eschewed until recently) I'm not sure how much of a progress it is in both cases, though and things are becoming so blurred that you one no longer knows whether some shows are actual series or padded-out miniseries.