The Best Star Trek Show Inspired By Forgotten Police Series

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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Aside from having the occasional charismatic security officers, Star Trek is a franchise that has rarely had anything in common with police shows. However, an early episode of Deep Space Nine was heavily inspired by a largely forgotten police series. Specifically, the season one episode “A Man Alone” was inspired by Hill Street Blues, and some of the ideas behind that cop show would arguably inspire DS9 for the rest of the series.

Taking A Trip To The Grand Hotel

How did a sci-fi show like Deep Space Nine take its inspiration from a police procedural like Hill Street Blues? It all began with writer Gerald Sanford pitching seven or eight different ideas for Star Trek stories. Like most writers, he assumed the writing staff would pick just one of the ideas to flesh out into a full episode.

What he didn’t expect was for the writing staff to dig into several of his ideas. They weren’t interested in transforming these different ideas into three or four different Deep Space Nine episodes, though. Instead, they first had an idea based on The Grand Hotel, a 1932 film about as different from Hill Street Blues as it possibly could be.

The Hill Street Blues Connection

Hill Street Blues

That Academy Award-winning film (it won Best Picture) didn’t follow a single character or story, instead following the individual dramas of several characters staying in the titular hotel. Deep Space Nine’s then-showrunner Michael Piller liked the idea of an episode that would have upwards of five different concurrent stories, very different from the usual two stories (Star Trek’s famous A plot/B plot structure). This was eventually whittled down to three stories, and by then, Piller wanted the episode to be less like The Grand Hotel and more like Hill Street Blues

What does that mean in practical terms? Hill Street Blues premiered in 1981 and employed some storytelling techniques that were very unique to television at the time, including juggling multiple story lines in almost every episode. Rather than being completely separate, the story lines would often intersect, which is what you’d expect from a TV show set in a relatively small police station.

Multiple Stories In “A Man Alone”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Eventually, Piller’s vision for the Deep Space Nine episode “A Man Alone” was that the space station would have the same kinds of intertwining stories as the police station in Hill Street Blues. “I wanted to show that within the building structure of DS9, there were lots of different stories that are crossing paths,” he said. “I wanted to do an A-B-C story and see if we could keep them all going at one time, interacting and intersecting.”

While the Deep Space Nine showrunner’s overall goal was creating a great story, he also saw this episode as a chance to demonstrate how different this show was from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He described his spinoff as “one of those shakedown cruise kind of shows” where the writers explored what they could and couldn’t make work. In this case, the writers found themselves asking “Why can’t you do three stories at the same time, intercutting between them, with people passing in the hallways?”

Setting DS9 Apart From TNG

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that Deep Space Nine was even more influenced by Hill Street Blues than even Piller imagined. In an old interview, he mentioned that while he liked the idea of imitating the police procedural’s interconnecting stories, “I wasn’t interested in doing continuing stories,” something this cop show was famous for. As for DS9, it would eventually become famous for telling stories that continued throughout seasons and even throughout the series, which was notably different from the typical Next Generation episode where almost every story (outside of the occasional two-parter) was contained to a single episode.

Hill Street Blues Belongs In Trek Canon

Hill Street Blues

These days, it’s fair to say that most Deep Space Nine fans haven’t watched much Hill Street Blues, and many newer Star Trek fans may have never even heard of it. Nonetheless, this forgotten police series inspired a great episode of DS9 that proved how effectively the writers could juggle interconnecting stories. Without its influence, Deep Space Nine may have never reached its full potential as the best Star Trek series ever made.