Tuesday, February 3, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bochco Hurrying To Save `Brooklyn South'

New York Daily News

LOS ANGELES - Steven Bochco makes no bones about it. His new police drama, "Brooklyn South," he admits, has problems.

"We're not there yet creatively," Bochco said, sipping bottled water in his big, comfy Century City office. "The show's getting better, but it's got a ways to go."

And he knows he doesn't have forever. "It's frustrating," he said. "When you grow a show, by the time you really feel it's firing on all cylinders, very often an audience has lost patience."

"Brooklyn South" ranks 74th for the season to date, averaging 10.5 million viewers. Airing Mondays at 10 p.m., its ratings went south against ABC's "Monday Night Football." With football gone, "Brooklyn South" now has to prove itself. Soon.

Bochco and his dark angel, fellow "South" and "NYPD Blue" exec producer David Milch, acknowledge the show's biggest rap: Too many cops, too tough to tell apart.

"But part of it is that I don't think we'd found, in terms of character, the emotional centers of the show," Bochco said.

Milch had another explanation:

" `NYPD Blue's' crucifixion for a year before it got on the air was, in fact, a kind of blessing. It gave me an extra year to conceive the show. So, what took us 2 1/2 years with `NYPD Blue,' we tried to accomplish with `Brooklyn South' in six weeks. And some of that shows."

Bochco points to "Hill Street Blues," another show with a big ensemble cast, to illustrate his bind. "We painted that world with

hugely broad strokes and ultimately people responded to the reality of the cop experience," he said.

"Today, doing a uniformed-cop show, set in real time, in a real place where you want to be absolutely photo-accurate, you're working with restrictions that make it a little more complicated creatively.

"That's not an excuse, that's the chore. And if we don't pull it off, we fail, we take responsibility for it, we learn something, and we move on."

In its fine-tuning, "Brooklyn South" has gained a new character, an older cop played by John Finn, and is changing the pairings and partnerships of the existing cast, deepening the conflicts of "the job" on the characters.

"It's more an acknowledgment of the way they have sorted themselves out than a change," Milch said.

Bochco, the master of TV dramaturgy, explained that once viewers connect with the characters' private lives, "Brooklyn South" can unfold with the varied pace and rhythms that have characterized his hit shows.

Milch believes the refined "Brooklyn South" has hit its stride.

"It is very much a question - and one I'm not competent to answer - as to whether we have found the different centers of the show quickly enough. We've found them, but are we in time?" Milch said.

" `Hill Street' suffered from exactly the same problem," he recalled. "At the end of its first season, I think it was the lowest-rated show ever to be renewed. So by that timetable, we're early."

Two seasons ago, Bochco's "Murder One" got the bouquets-and-cabbages treatment on ABC. Last season, his broad, bawdy CBS sitcom "Public Morals" was yanked after one episode, and ABC canceled this season's "Total Security."

"It's a failure-dominated environment," he said. "In the best of times you're going to fail more than you succeed.

"The creative Catch-22 is, that to do middle-of-the-road programming in today's environment, you're almost certain to fail. And yet, to do anything that's quirky and sideways is to demand of an audience the thing they don't want to give you - which is time."

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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