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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK
TV writer scripts classes in crime
David Milch
Milch took the gritty New York street action to Cardiff
During a script-writing masterclass, BBC News Online's Nick Dermody discovers that a bit of 'inside' information can only help with the portrayal of life on the precinct.

As the creator of the cops 'n robbers television shows Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, the American writer David Milch has developed a formula that has been imitated on both sides of the Atlantic.


I spent some time in jail in Mexico, for the usual sort of thing you spend time in jail for in Mexico

David Milch on doing time
Featuring trademark jerky camera work and pacy storylines, his small-screen dramas have won just about every award possible, Emmies included, for their interweaving tales of the lives and loves of the men and women with the job of policing a crime-filled metropolis such as San Francisco or New York.

Now, Milch, 56, has been visiting Cardiff at the invitation of award-winning film-maker Karl Francis.

He has been commissioned by BBC Wales to give a masterclass at the Welsh College of Music and Drama for writers hoping to pick up tips on scripting characters and scenes which will win both critics and viewers.

Doing time

But what his aspiring students might not know is that Milch's creativity is not just based on his understanding of the men and women in uniform - it includes knowing the police from the wrong side of the law.

For, in his more troubled younger years, the Los Angeles-based writer spent time in jail and, once, even had a shoot-out with the kind of officers portrayed in his television dramas.

It is not a part of his life he talks much about, nor does he believe it should colour his image as a writer of the some of the most successful television cops series of the 1980's and 1990's.

Karl Francis
Director Karl Francis helped bring Milch to Wales
He has already spoken about how many of his television characters are based on people he knew while growing up in Buffalo, a city on the border with Canada better known as the destination for visitors from New York making the trip to Niagara Falls.

But, in addition to its tourist hat, Buffalo is also a steel town which, like the metal and coal towns of Wales, has had to deal with economic decline and reconstruction since the good years immediately following World War II.

The people of his home town, like those of Wales, have a fiery pride in themselves, according to Milch, especially when dealing with metropolitan neighbours who may not always share their trait for common sense.

Common sense

But Milch admits to showing little common sense himself as a young man in his early 20s, getting into scrapes with the law in the US and in Mexico, and hinting that the latter case may have been linked to drugs in an era - the late 1960's - when smoking pot was a symbol of rebellion for many young people.

"I have been in jail," he says. "I have been interrogated.

"The only difference was that I confessed right away. I showed no resistance.


The underlying characteristic of Milch's writing remains the way he portrays the humanity of the people in uniform

"I spent some time in jail in Mexico, for the usual sort of thing you spend time in jail for in Mexico."

Back home in the US, his run-in with the men and women in blue - which he said stretched over a 15-year period - extended to a shoot-out while at university.

No doubt, these experiences, and the banality of the circumstances which created them, have found their way in to his scripts for Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.

City slicker

But the underlying characteristic of Milch's writing remains the way he portrays the humanity of the people in uniform and the way they interact with the people they deal with during the course of their day.

Although he now lives in Los Angeles, he still has more affinity with the officers dealing with America's older and more cosmopolitan cities, New York and San Francisco.

New York police are far more laid-back their the LA counterparts, he said; they are more willing to trust their instincts in a situation rather than stick to the rulebook, as they do in the home of Hollywood.

It is that humanity and understanding of people - in and out of uniform - which he said he tries to create in his characters.

What remains to be seen is whether his students at the Welsh College of Music and Drama - just a drive-by shooting's distance from Cardiff Central police station - will adopt similar research techniques for their homely tales of Bobbies on the beat.

See also:

14 Jun 00 | Entertainment
28 Jan 00 | Entertainment
16 Apr 01 | Entertainment
14 Sep 98 | Entertainment
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