Long before he won 10 Emmys for three of the most iconic shows of all time, Steven Bochco, who died Sunday at 74 after a long battle with leukemia, received his first nomination for penning a 1971 episode of “Columbo” — and was “conned” into believing he would win.
Besides Bochco, “Murder by the Book,” the Season 1 premiere, boasted another burgeoning titan, Steven Spielberg, who directed it. The episode was up for Best Drama Writing in a three-nominee field against two other “Columbo” hours: “Suitable for Framing” by Jackson Gillis, and “Death Lends a Hand” by creators Richard Levinson and William Link. It was Levinson who kept reassuring Bochco that he would win, Bochco told the Archive of American Television in 2012.
“He kept saying to me, ‘You’re going to win. Yours is the best one. Yours is the best, you’re going to win, there’s no question you’re going to win,’” Bochco said. “And actually I think it was the best one; it just happened to have my name on it.”
Splurging on a blue denim tuxedo, Bochco walked into the ceremony expecting his name to be called, but he lost to Levinson and Link. “They won, as they should. It was their show, they created it. Nobody was going to give some little pisher like me an Emmy. And I was devastated,” he recalled, laughing. “That son of a bitch. He conned me into thinking I was going to win.”
Bochco was nominated the following year for writing another “Columbo” episode, but he wouldn’t win his first two Emmys until 1981, for writing and Best Drama Series, for his seminal “Hill Street Blues.” He took home another writing Emmy for the cop drama the following year, along with three more consecutive Best Drama Series awards. His collection also includes three trophies for “L.A. Law” (Best Drama Series 1987, 1989; Best Drama Writing 1987) and a Best Drama Series win for “NYPD Blue” in 1995.