'NYPD Blue' Star Sharon Lawrence Recalls How Steven Bochco Championed Women

Sharon Lawrence - 24th Annual SAG Awards - Getty - H 2018
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The actress' role was originally referred to as a "pissy little bastard," but the prolific showrunner, who died Sunday at age 74, made a key change: "When Steven saw that there weren’t enough females in the pilot, he shifted the gender."

The role that I played was written as a man. We know that because in the original script, Sipowicz refers to this character as "a pissy little bastard." What Steven Bochco saw was that the way the pilot was written, there weren't enough females populating that world so he shifted the gender of the role. This was not a mandate, there was no social action around this topic at the time. It was something he saw and was moved to do.

He saw that there needed to be more female professionals in that environment to tell story from a more rich perspective. The duality about that world was it was a boy's club in its way like most all of television was, but there were higher thought processes that inspired them to break through and shift and Sylvia's character who was an important female to be on television at that time. She was mature and still traditional and yet, powerful. That is something that Steven, in particular, respected. I'm so grateful that I happened to be able to help interpret that.

I remember flying with him to NATPE in Las Vegas on a private jet. I got to watch him as a salesman, and I got to watch his skill at understanding the value of the property of not just NYPD Blue, but the Bochco brand. He knew that he had set himself apart. It didn't mean that it was hard to get access to him at all, he always made people feel comfortable talking to him one on one. He had this ability to make you feel as if you're the only person in the room. He didn't do it by intimidation or by wearing a business suit. He would wear a nice sweater and open collar, like an elegant artist rather than a corporate titan. That put everyone else at ease enough to bring out the best in them. But what I really took away was this was a man who was very comfortable with himself.

The last time I saw him was maybe around nine months ago at a fundraiser for a nonprofit that his wife and I work on together for ocean conservation. It was clear that he had been battling this illness but he felt really good about what he had accomplished. He was able to speak to the fact that he did change the way we think about storytelling and the way we see ourselves as a culture. He felt like it was completed.

This was a man who didn't leave situations unfinished. This was true even when he was hosting a party; it was important for him that his gaze and his presence be robust. His skill was seeing people and understanding people and being seen. He had that ability — he was a true impresario. He lived life with a refined sense of excellence and he shared it with the rest of us. That's why there are so few like him.

This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.