Wednesday, January 13, 2016

1/13/1987 David Mamet wastes a weekend on Hill Street

January 13, 1987.  I thought this was going to be a fairly straightforward entry.  Ha.  I spent more time researching this entry than I spent on the whole month of December, I think.

Imagine you are the producer of a TV show.  Now imagine a Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright offers to write an episode for you.  What do you do?

If you aren't an idiot you say, hell yes.  That's what the producers of Hill Street Blues did when David Mamet made his pitch.  At the time he was married to Lindsay Crouse who occasionally appeared on the show as Officer Kate McBride.

Naturally, "A Wasted Weekend," which premiered on this date, was not a typical episode.  Instead of showing the fifteen or more regulars on a day's patrol, it offered three incidents of cops coming face to face with issues of life, death, and duty.

One story involves Officers Hill, Renko and retired Sergeant Jablonski (played by Robert Prosky, a favorite Mamet actor) on a hunting trip.   "They're going to kill Bambi," says Sergeant Bates in disgust.  

Henry Goldblume, expert hostage negotiator, finds himself bargaining for his own life when he is kidnapped by a fugitive who demands he dig his own grave.

The most important story, naturally, is about Kate McBride...

Let's pause there for a moment.  In 1990 David Mamet published the book 5 Television Plays, which included "A Wasted Weekend," the only script in the set which actually got filmed.  ("Television executives are the worst people I have ever met in my life," Mamet explains.)  But this version of the script leaves out the entire Kate McBride story.  Scholar Steve Ryan asked him about the gap and the author replied "Beats the heck out of me."  I don't know the reason either, but I will point out that 5 Televison Plays was published the same year Mamet and Crouse divorced.
 In the filmed version, Officer McBride receives a medal for killing an armed robber, and, not surprisingly, she feels conflicted about it.  The only cop from the Hill who shows up at the awards ceremony is Norm Buntz, played by the magnificent Dennis Franz, who gives her about five years of therapy in one boozy night in a barroom.

Buntz: You did something that few people in this world do... You stood up to another human being in combat where it was his life or yours, and you're the one who walked away.  The guilty secret is it is the greatest exhilaration that it is possible to know.   Society says 'you go and feel contrite'... but deep down inside you say  this, 'My God, I'm afraid I liked it.'

McBride (eventually): Norm, I liked it.

Buntz: That's what you think, you dumb fool.

"A Wasted Weekend" is credited with boosting Hill Street Blues popularity and critical cred in its last season. You can find a version of the episode on Youtube, but don't bother. It has part of the McBride sequence, but the recording is missing about ten crucial minutes.  Very weird...

Some of this came from: Ryan, Steve.  "David Mamet's 'A Wasted Weekend,'" American Drama. 2001.

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