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Controversies That Took NYPD Blue off the Air

Lights, camera, controversy! NYPD Blue was a police procedural drama series that aired from 1993 to 2005 on ABC. Set in New York City, the show followed the personal and professional lives of the detectives of the fictitious 15th precinct of the NYPD, as they investigated various crimes, from petty theft to murder. The show was known for its realistic portrayal of police work, gritty and dark themes, and complex character development. It was also notable for its frank depictions of sex and nudity, which generated controversy and accolades alike.

Over the course of its 12 seasons, NYPD Blue won numerous awards and established itself as one of the most groundbreaking and influential shows in the history of television.  But in the wake of widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice, some viewers have wondered if these issues were what led to the series’ cancellation.

From the streets of New York to the sets of Hollywood, the decision to include so much controversial material in the show sparked heated debates and divided opinions. In this video, we’ll take a closer look at the controversies that led to the NYPD’s downfall and explore the larger issues at play in the world of entertainment and law enforcement. Get ready for a deep dive into the drama behind the drama!

Facts Verse Presents: Controversies That Took NYPD Blue Off the Air

The Death of Austin Majors

Austin Majors rose to fame playing the character Theo Sipowicz, son of Detective Andy Sipowicz, on NYPD Blue. When he joined the cast of the show, he was just three years old. Between 1999 and 2004, Majors appeared in 48 episodes of the ABC drama.

Afterwards, Majors went on to appear in a handful of TV shows that aired throughout the aughts, including on ER and in the 2005 Hercules miniseries voicing the character Hylius. Other series that Majors showed up on included According to Jim, Desperate Housewives, and NCIS.

According to IMDB, Majors’s last professional credit was a guest-starring role in a 2009 episode of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother.

After leaving Hollywood behind, Majors created a YouTube channel that amassed a modest following. In his free time, Majors enjoyed activities like camping and fishing. He also attended the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he studied music production and filmmaking.

At the moment, it’s unclear what Majors died from, as his cause of death is still being actively investigated.

NYPD Blue Caused Controversy Even Before The Pilot Aired

Even though it’s been over a quarter century since it went off the air, many people still look back very fondly at NYPD Blue. It might be difficult to imagine that such a critically acclaimed show had any trouble launching at the beginning, but it did!

NYPD Blue caused controversy even before the pilot aired due to its depictions of nudity and strong language. The show’s creator, David Milch, and producer, Steven Bochco, deliberately pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on network television with scenes that showed partial nudity and contained explicit language.

The network initially balked at the show’s content, and several religious groups, family organizations, and other affiliates threatened to boycott the show if it aired. Eventually, the show was allowed to air, but not without significant controversy and scrutiny from both viewers and regulators. Despite the backlash, NYPD Blue became a ratings success and went on to air for 12 seasons.

It Changed The Face Of Television

NYPD Blue changed television in several significant ways. First, it ushered in a new era of gritty, realistic police dramas that tackled complex and controversial issues, paving the way for shows like The Wire, The Shield, and Law & Order: SVU.

Second, as we already briefly touched on, it broke new ground in terms of the explicitness of its content, with scenes of partial nudity and strong language that had never before been seen on network television. This helped to push the boundaries of what was acceptable on TV, and paved the way for more daring and provocative programming.

Third, it was one of the first shows to feature ongoing storylines and character development, which helped to create a more immersive and engaging viewing experience for audiences.

Finally, it launched the careers of several prominent actors, including Dennis Franz and David Caruso, and helped to solidify the careers of its creators, Steven Bochco and David Milch, as major players in the world of television.

The FCC Wasn’t Happy

These days nudity seems to be a requirement for television shows hoping to find success and critical acclaim. Just try and make it through an episode of modern hit shows like Game of Thrones or Westworld, and you’ll be treated to an endless barrage of bare bottoms and bosoms. But back in 1993, when NYPD Blue made it’s debut on ABC, the world of television was far more modest.

David Milch and the late Steven Bocho changed the television landscape by injecting copious quantities of nudity into their procedural cop drama. The series featured sex and skin scenes so often that it eventually caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, leading to a long drawn-out legal battle that no doubt cost the network a small fortune.

Nudity and sex were incorporated into the show from it’s pilot, which involved two fellow cops, John Kelly and Janice Licalsi, played respectively by David Caruso and Amy Brenneman, stripping down and getting intimate with each other as strategically placed shadows obscured their bare bodies.

Bocho told GQ magazine back in 2014 that the amount of sex and nudity featured in the show was no accident. He told the outlet that he wanted to have adults presented participating in realistic sexual situations. He further added that it was a necessity to see shots of various parts of the human anatomy in as much detail as the network censors would allow.

Bocho and then-president of ABC Bob Iger apparently sat in the network’s office sketching naked men and women at various angles while wondering how much they could get away with before having to face the wrath of the FCC.

The scene that inevitably brought action from the agency, however, wasn’t even explicitly sexual in nature. The offending scene appeared in a 2003 episode fittingly titled “Nude Awakening”. In it was featured a seven-second shot of Detective Connie McDowell, played by Charlotte Ross, just standing there in her birthday suit.

The setup was fairly simple. Ross was standing nude in the bathroom getting ready to take a shower when in walked an eight year old boy who accidentally caught an eyeful of what he probably shouldn’t have, thus prompting an awkward coming-of-age moment. Strategic camera work obscured most of Ross’s nude body. For example, at one point the camera was placed directly behind the young boy’s head so that his silhouette obscured her, but in another quick shot, she was still shown nude from behind, exposing her bare buttocks.

The scene wrapped with the boy having a look of utter shock on his face as he sheepishly apologized for his intrusion. Ross’s character, equally embarrassed, responded by apologizing and telling him that it was all okay.

While Ross might have thought that it was okay, the FCC sure didn’t – not even in the least bit. Content that the FCC deemed to be indecent had to be aired between 10:00pm and 6:00am – hours when they felt that children would be less likely to be watching the ol’ picture tube.

NYPD Blue aired at different times of the evening depending on the time zone, but in many US cities it aired at 9:00pm instead of 10:00pm.

After conducting an investigation that concluded in 2008, the FCC proposed an unprecedented indecency fine against the network of $27,000 for each of it’s 52 affiliates that aired the episode before the 10:00pm time slot. In total, the network was forced to shell out a staggering $1.4 million in fines.

In their findings, the FCC wrote that the scene in question depicted ‘sexual organs and excretory organs – specifically a woman’s buttocks’. ABC rejected this argument, however, by arguing that the buttocks was not a sexual organ due to, and we quote, “common sense”.

The case was eventually tossed out by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York in 2011 on the grounds that the FCC’s policy on indecency was ‘unconstitutionally vague”.

Police Brutality And The Series’ Inevitable End

In modern times, the Black Lives Matter movement in particular has resulted in many television viewers and producers to reevaluate the depictions of policing in fictional media.

Even though NYPD Blue aired in the 90s and early 2000s, it still faced controversy for its depictions of police brutality, particularly during its early seasons. It’s worth noting that the beating of Rodney King at police hands occurred on March 3, 1991, just two years before NYPD Blue premiered. This meant that the public was still very much so concerned about the many abuses of power that law enforcement agencies and individual officers were being accused of at the time.

On the flip side of the coin, the show was also criticized by some law enforcement groups and conservative organizations for what they saw as an overly negative portrayal of police officers, while others praised the show for its realistic portrayal of the complexities and challenges of police work. Despite the controversy, the show continued to address controversial and sensitive topics throughout its run, including police brutality, corruption, and racial tensions.

NYPD Blue wasn’t actually canceled, but rather ended after 12 seasons in 2005. The decision to end the show was a mutual one between the creators and network executives, as they felt the show had reached its natural conclusion. Additionally, declining ratings and high production costs were also factors that contributed to the show’s conclusion.

NYPD Blue may have ended over 25 years ago, but it helped pave the way for many police procedural that have since come and gone following in it’s footsteps. Without it’s influence, series like Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, Chicago PD, and 9-1-1 Lone Star might not have ever had a chance to get off the ground.

Were you a fan of NYPD Blue, and did you find it to be exceptionally provocative during it’s initial run? Let us know in the comments. And as always, thanks for watching.

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