Was "Hill Street Blues" really the first prime time drama to serialize?

That is how I remember it, and that is how I see it mentioned, but is it really true?

For the young folks: in the old days, primetime drama was made up of self-contained episodes, meaning you could start watching pretty much anywhere along the line and not have missed anything, because all stories within the drama would be wrapped up inside of one episode, with the occasional two-parter. Characters rarely made permanent changes in their personalities or circumstances

Hill Street Blues broke that mold by having many storylines run through many is episodes, by having characters develop and change…you know, the way pretty much all prime time drama is now. (Some shows, the police procedurals, for instance, still resemble the old style, but also blend in the new.)

So I am just wondering if Hill Street blues gets that credit unfairly or fairly?

I would say that continuity in prime-time drama started much earlier than HSB, unless you’re separating night-time soap operas from prime-time drama. Peyton Place aired in the mid-60s.

All this time I thought “Hill Street Blues” was a sit-com.

Maybe it’s too convoluted, but I’d interpret the OP’s question as “when did serialization start in prime-time shows OTHER than in genres where a continuing storyline was assumed” - which makes it, I guess, something other than soaps of any viewing hour.

What was the first cop show, doctor show, sitcom, western, sf etc. with a strongly continuing storyline?

I think HSB was the first major entry in any of those standard-genre cases.

Okay, given that we’re not counting soaps, how about The Nurses, which was an almost-ERish medical drama for the first two seasons before ABC turned it into a full-blown soap and moved it to daytime in 1965?

ETA: Sorry…it aired on CBS, not ABC.

I don’t know, but it sure sucked when shows had long story arcs and then got canceled. It seems networks are trying to give production teams enough time to throw together a final episode where they can wrap things up a bit and tie off some loose ends.

They started serializing Dallas before Hill Street Blues debuted.

Dallas started in 1978, and HSB started in 1981. The famous Who Shot JR was the 1979-80 season ending cliffhanger.

IIRC, The Mini Series and first season of Dallas was not serialized, but began serializing for the 1979-80 season.

There’s a question of whether or not we’re counting overt soap operas, which is a category that would include Dallas. If so, then Peyton Place beats Dallas by over a decade.

Does the Fugitive count? I realize the main plot of each episode was largely self contained, but there were subplots about the search for the one armed man and Gerard looking for Kimble that built over the course of the series.

Peyton Place ran for 5 seasons in the 1960s. Aired two nights a week. Made stars of Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal.

I am curious how the OP excludes shows like Dallas. Or even* The Waltons*.

ETA: Oops, a few minutes slow.

IIRC, The Waltons was not serialized.

The Waltons? I don’t recall that being serialized at all. I suppose there was a certain amount of character change, and maybe even some background (like an upcoming wedding or a pregnancy) that ran through multiple episodes but you wouldn’t have been lost if you watched a single random episode. And if you watched every episode, missing one wouldn’t have left you lost the next week.

There certainly was serialized drama in prime time shows before Hill Street Blues.

But Hill Street was the first to have story arcs. The difference is that a story arc is a self-contained story that is planned out to have a beginning, middle, and end, with the ending planned from the start. The arcs were short by today’s standards – 4 episodes, usually – but required that the episodes of the show be broadcast in a particular order, something the networks didn’t like to do (since a late episode would ruin the arc).

Soap operas ran multiple plotlines on the basis of “Let’s throw this into the mix.” Plotlines are pretty much made up as they go along, with no real arc, and which change to adapt to how things are working (is the actor popular? keep him in the show!).

that was something the show did well.

the show was a multi-threaded arcing drama with lots of comedy embedded, wasn’t funny except in context.

My memory is the second year they started a policy of each show had one arc end and another begin so it was somewhat self contained

Same Bat-time.

Same Bat-channel.

Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island had some recurring characters in episodes that kept continuity. I Love Lucy had a season long trip to Hollywood with continuity.

As a major television fan from the 1970’s who still remembers watching the first episode of Hill Street Blues with my Mom and both of us being totally blown away, I can say that Hill Street was unlike anything that had come before. There had been soap operas all the way back to radio days, but they had a completely different feel from the type of serialized drama that Hill Street initiated. It wasn’t just the continuing story arcs; it was the multiple storylines running concurrently and intersecting, and the little threads that were started in one episode and picked up many episodes later. Soap operas, including primetime soaps like Dallas, were very stylized and formulaic, while Hill Street felt completely organic, like you’d just dropped into the station on a given day and were experiencing the general chaos. It felt completely new and fresh at the time.

I’m currently working my way through the DVDs, and I’m still amazed at the way everything interlocks and yet still has a documentary feel.

Doctor Who had season-long story arcs back in the 70s.

I remember my brother & parents being surprised that they didn’t tie up all the loose ends by the end of the pilot. Although other series had continuity from episode to episode, police procedurals of the day were very self-contained.