Following the phenomenal success of MIAMI VICE, Executive Producer Michael Mann returned to television with a new kind of gritty crime drama, one that talked tougher and hit harder than anything the small screen had ever seen before. For two explosive seasons, CRIME STORY told the hard-boiled saga of hair-trigger cop Lieutenant Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his obsessive pursuit of ruthless gangster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) from the mean streets of early '60s Chicago to the neon nights of mob-run Las Vegas. Today, CRIME STORY is considered a true cult classic as well as one of the most startling series in television history. featuring a stellar supporting cast that includes Stephen Lang, Bill Campbell, Ted Levine, Darlanne Fluegel and Joseph Wiseman, and such guest stars as David Caruso, Michael Madsen, Pam Grier, Ving Rhames, Lorraine Bracco, Gary Sinise, Deborah Harry, Vincent Gallo and Julia Roberts.
Conceived as a "22-hour movie for television," the incendiary first season of Crime Story (1986-87, on NBC) marked a controversial milestone in TV history, and its lasting influence can be seen in such better-known series and films as The Sopranos, Homicide: Life on the Street, Donnie Brasco, Casino and elsewhere. The season-long story arc followed Chicago Police detective Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his tireless pursuit of fast-rising mob boss Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) from Chicago to Las Vegas, circa 1963-64. Heading the Major Crimes Unit (MCU) with his hand-picked team of detectives (including fresh-faced Bill Campbell, long before Once and Again) and passionate public defender David Abrams (Stephen Lang), Torello moves from city to federal jurisdiction as Crime Story unfolds its post-Kennedy scenario with stark, often brutal authenticity, pausing for stand-alone episodes that propelled the Torello/Luca rivalry while showcasing such up-and-coming guest stars as David Caruso (in the electrifying pilot), Gary Sinise (who also directed two episodes), Ving Rhames, Lorraine Bracco, and 19-year-old Julia Roberts, who shows early promise as a sexually abused teenager in "The Survivor," a typical example of the show's emphasis on character depth and gritty, hard-hitting plotlines.
Riding high on the success of Miami Vice, executive producer Michael Mann (who helmed the penultimate episode "Top of the World") had several aces up his sleeve: Cocreator Chuck Adamson had been a legendary Chicago detective; Farina was an 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police before he switched to acting; and Luca's dim-witted Mafia sidekick, Pauli Taglia, was played by John Santucci, who had been one of Chicago's most notorious criminals in the 1960s. All of this--along with James A. Contner's color-saturated, mostly nocturnal cinematography--guaranteed that Crime Story would be unique for its time, earning controversy (over its rugged depiction of violent cops) and just enough ratings against ABC's Moonlighting to win a second-season reprieve. Unfortunately, Anchor Bay's budget-conscious DVDs represent a missed opportunity: Crammed onto four discs with five episodes each (with the pilot on a separate disc), the transfers barely rival VHS quality, and costly music rights resulted in song replacements that loyal viewers will regret. Lack of chapter indexing and a perfunctory background essay do little justice to a landmark TV series that deserved a full-featured release on DVD. Those caveats aside, Crime Story can be appreciated as an ambitious American epic that still packs a wallop. --Jeff Shannon