Homicide: Life on the Street was a highly acclaimed American television police procedural series chronicling the work of a fictional Baltimore Police Department homicide unit. It ran for seven seasons on the NBC network from 1993 to 1999, plus a 2000 TV-movie. The series was based on David Simon's nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, and many characters and stories used throughout the series are directly based on individuals and events depicted in the book.
The show aired on Fridays at 9 PM on NBC in the United States. It is currently shown in the United Kingdom on ITV4 on Fridays and Sundays at 9 PM.
Homicide was developed by Paul Attanasio and included film director Barry Levinson as an executive producer, but writer-director Tom Fontana is largely recognized as the guiding hand behind the series.
Homicide featured a no-nonsense police procedural-type look at the workings of a homicide unit. As perhaps the first cop show in television history to audaciously portray the life of an inner-city detective as it is—repetitive, spiritually draining, an existential threat to one's psyche, completely without glamor, but a social necessity—Homicide developed a trademark feel and look that distinguished itself from its contemporaries. For example, the series was filmed (using hand-held 16mm cameras) almost entirely on location in Baltimore. As such, the idiosyncratic city became something of a character, itself. Homicide was responsible for several television innovations, including being among the first shows, along with Miami Vice, to regularly use the technique of playing musical numbers over a montage of scenes.
Despite premiering in the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot, the show opened to lackluster ratings, and cancellation was a near-constant threat. However, the show's winning of two Emmy Awards (for Levinson's direction and Fontana's writing) and the success of another police drama, the much soapier NYPD Blue, helped convince NBC to give it another chance beyond the truncated, nine-episode-long first season. (Homicide's four-episode second season renewal ties it with Seinfeld as the lowest number of episodes ordered in network history.)
Hoping to improve ratings, NBC insisted on a number of changes, both cosmetic and thematic. Talented but unphotogenic veteran actor Jon Polito was ordered dropped from the cast as the network clamored for more on-screen romance and violence. In order to have episodes the network considered more sensationalistic air during "sweeps" periods, NBC sometimes aired episodes out of order, often to the detriment of story arcs that had developed over several episodes or even entire seasons. Probably the most infamous of such gaffes was NBC's decision to broadcast an episode featuring the program's first sex scene ("A Model Citizen") prior to the airing of the much acclaimed episode, "Crosetti"; it was in this latter hour that the death of Detective Steve Crosetti, Jon Polito's character, was revealed and explained. (The detective had been in Atlantic City on vacation since the end of the second season's four episodes; for reasons never fully explained7mdash;but perhaps not difficult to surmise—he returns to Baltimore and drowns himself rather than return to his job.) As a result of this deviation from the producers' intended order, viewers of "A Model Citizen" found out from a comment made by his ex-partner, Dtc. Meldrick Lewis, merely that Crosetti had died but not how or when.
Hailed by many critics as the best, most authentic cop show of all time and one of the very finest dramas ever produced—propelled by perhaps the most talented emsemble cast in the history of the small screen—Homicide garnered three straight Television Critic's Awards for outstanding drama from 1996 to 1998 and was the first drama ever to win three of the prestigious Peabody Awards for best drama (1993, 1995, 1997).
Obviously, then, the critics loved Homicide, but the reality of its negligible Nielsen ratings hovered above all things. To NBC's credit, though, the network managed to keep what TV Guide referred to as "The Best Show You're Not Watching" on the air for five full seasons and seven seasons in all.
Homicide was at one time syndicated on Lifetime and Court TV. While these networks no longer air the program, it is now on the all-crime televison cable station Sleuth. Also, all seven seasons are available on DVD. One DVD set combines the first two seasons. Additional sets contain the complete third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons. Significantly, the DVDs contain the episodes in the producers' intended order, not the order in which NBC aired them. TNT has aired some of the episodes which crossover with Law & Order. These were aired immediately following the relevant L&O episode.