In the ’80s and ’90s, producer Steven Bochco—the creator of critically acclaimed hit shows like Hill Street Blues, and L.A. Law—was just about the king of TV. But even his clout wasn’t enough in 1996, when ABC (network home to Bochco’s NYPD Blue) passed on a pilot for a show he’d created called Public Morals, which concerned an NYPD vice squad.
CBS jumped at the chance to get into the Bochco business, and committed Public Morals to its fall 1996 schedule. Ratings and reviews for its debut on October 30 were dismal, and the show also suffered from bad timing: it premiered in an election year that included a debate over whether TV was growing too vulgar…because of shows like Public Morals.
While a TV ratings system had just been rolled out and watchdog groups called for a TV-implanted device called the “V-chip” to regulate what kids could and couldn’t watch, Bill Cosby, star of CBS’s Cosby, lamented the TV landscape and its “irreverent” shows that “pushed the envelope.” CBS canceled Public Morals after one controversial airing. Curiously, the series shared a universe with NYPD Blue—and one of the characters, John Irvin, played by Bill Brochtrup. Irvin (and Brochtrup) returned to Blue.