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Whatever Happened to ‘Hill Street’s’ Charles Haid? He’s a Director

March 28, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Charles Haid, who played Officer Andy Renko in the breakthrough police drama ``Hill Street Blues″ in the 1980s, is still part of outstanding television.

``Murder One″ and ``ER″ are on his resume, along with TV movies including TNT’s recent ``Riders of the Purple Sage.″ And he’s working on the first DreamWorks production company drama, ``High Incident.″

Don’t look for the beefy actor with the broad grin in the acting credits; Haid is calling the shots as a director.

And no cracks, please, about how every actor is a wannabe director. Haid, it turns out, never really envisioned himself as a star; directing _ in the theatuh, yet _ was his goal.

He stumbled into acting, Haid says, because theater wasn’t paying enough to support his family and because his agent told him ``you’re a good type; do some character roles.″

Acting gigs, in ``Hill Street″ and in movies like ``Altered States,″ came easily. So why, ever since his drama student days at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, did Haid want to be the one yelling ``action″?

``Ultimately, it’s really a cool job,″ he offers. ``You can turn to anybody and say `Do this,′ and they’ll do it. `Put this enormous truck in the middle of the road, light an enormous fire and have a car drive straight at it.′

``And they go `OK! Where do you want the truck?′ ″ he concludes.

Haid, who can lay down a line of fast patter with the best of them, is playing a bit loose with the respect he has for directing _ and for TV directing in particular.

While actors like Mel Gibson scoop up the glory and the Oscars when they venture behind the movie camera, Haid contends the relative obscurity of most TV directors does not diminish the work they do.

What is traditionally a writer and producer’s medium has increasingly reflected the director’s touch, he says. Haid proceeds to pick apart some shows as evidence _ giving a bit of insight into what makes them unique.

``If you look at the style of `NYPD Blue,′ no one else has that. ... The camera is an eye. The way the camera moves, it’s the way people look at things.

``It’s also very intimately shot. They use a lot of long lenses (and) they’re able to focus people’s attention on what’s happening by focusing on the actors,″ Haid said.

He describes his own approach to the ``Murder One″ pilot episode as more sedate: ``I did that almost because of all of the styles of the other shows, moving around with steady cams (cameras) and all that. I thought it was a very formal subject, so I tried to make a formal show.″

For ``High Incident,″ an ABC Monday night series about suburban police officers, Haid is ``documenting the event. I’m very loose, with much wider lenses. ... We’re using very much of a documentary style.″

(He says of ``Homicide’s″ herky-jerky film technique, repeating a shot twice in quick succession: ``Whatever that is.″)

He breaks off his analysis. ``This is all director’s talk. We call it the gospel according to Bob Butler,″ the director of the first five episodes of ``Hill Street Blues.″

It was his alma mater series, Haid says, that really helped energize TV direction, setting the camera in motion and crafting a documentary style. Gregory Hoblit picked up Butler’s creative baton and went on to shape shows like ``NYPD Blue.″

``He has constantly broken the mold,″ Haid said of Hoblit. Both men are favorites of Steven Bochco, producer of ``NYPD Blue,″ ``Murder One″ and ``Hill Street Blues.″

(``Hill Street″ spawned yet another actor-turned-director: Betty Thomas, who played Officer Lucille Bates, directed HBO’s ``Late Shift″ and is set for shock jock Howard Stern’s upcoming movie.)

Does Haid, who started out in local theater and produced ``Godspell″ off Broadway, regret trading the stage for TV? Or, after directing ``Iron Will″ for Disney, would he rather spend more time on movie projects?

Sure, he says, he looks forward to working in other arenas. But he refuses to dismiss television.

``TV, whatever they want to say about it, if you work it right gives you an enormous chance to put out product and ideas that reach tens of millions of people more than motion pictures do, in one night.

``And, if you’re at the top of your game like `NYPD Blue,′ you’re doing what ultimately a storyteller and creative person is doing, which is reaching people and mirroring the times they live in and human emotions.″

___

Elsewhere in television ...

ELEPHANT PALS: An American couple who have dedicated nearly two decades to wildlife study in Africa, and are credited with saving a Zambian elephant population from poachers, are the subject of an ABC ``Turning Point″ news special (9 p.m. EST Saturday). ``Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story″ promises an intimate look at the Owens’ crusade, along with spectacular wildlife footage. Meredith Vieira reports.

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