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Distinguished Buffalonian Weekly

Entertainment, politics, sports, literature, and more.  Our city has and will continue to produce people who have made significant contributions to these forums, which is why we’ve decided to highlight these individuals and celebrate their lives every week.

This week:  David Milch

You just asked; “Why David Milch?” and maybe even “WHO is David Milch?”  The answer to the first question is, “I have no idea,” other than the fact that he’s from Buffalo, is successful, and has led a very interesting life.  As for WHO he is…well, he’s the co-creator of NYPD Blue, among other popular and critically acclaimed television shows. Ever heard of it? 

Milch was born in Buffalo on March 23, 1945.  His father was a gastrointestinal surgeon with family ties to the mob.  Many of Milch’s family members were bootleggers or bookies, several of whom received hernia operations appropriately given in time to prevent them from testifying in the Kefauver Hearings, which were conducted by several US Senators in order to better understand and combat organized crime in the United States.

From Nichols School in the 1962 Verdian (yearbook): “Dave has approached many aspects of Nichols life with characteristic aggressiveness. His considerable creative talent and ambitious nature made him the logical choice for Gleaner Editor and Literary Editor of the Verdian. In the fall Dave was a dynamic, though slightly frenetic, manager of the soccer team. Dave’s exuberance was displayed in the leading role in the school play last year. His diabolical ‘Are you mad?’ was the epitome of consummate histrionic skill. Dave has always been appreciated by the faculty for his readiness to pick up an intellectual challenge and by his classmates for his acute perception in discerning the flaws in the masters’ arguments. In his four years at Nichols, Dave has grown into one of our most conspicuous and effective
classmates.”

His early years included gambling with his father at horse races, which eventually gave way to a full-blown gambling addiction that would take a good portion of his life to overcome.  Not only did the gambling addiction affect Milch, but a traumatic encounter with a pedophile at a summer camp would become a personal tragedy leading to years of drug abuse.  Despite these problems, Milch’s intelligence led him to Yale University where he received the Tinker Award for outstanding achievement in English.

After receiving his MFA from the University of Iowa, Milch enrolled in Yale Law School, but was expelled for an LSD fueled romp through the streets during which he blasted several street lights and even a police car siren with a shotgun.  The event led to his expulsion from Yale, marked his return to Iowa, and then back to Yale to teach, give lectures, and finish a literature anthology with two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Penn Warren.

During these successful years, Milch was addicted to heroin, which was a demon he claimed allowed him release from his other demons.  In 1982, he wrote an episode of Hill Street Blues at the urging of his roommate, despite having never written a script before.  Regardless, his obvious talent led to Steven Bochco offering Milch a job.  His tenure as a writer netted Milch a Humanitas Prize for excellence in writing an hour episode for television.  He also received an Emmy Award in 1993 for Outstanding Writing in a drama series. 

After a few short-lived projects, Milch teamed up with Steven Bochco to create NYPD Blue, a show lauded by viewers and critics alike for its gritty portrayal of police officers, many of which forced to battle personal demons themselves while holding to their crime-fighting principles.  In 1994 and 1995 he received an Edgar Award for Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay, and a 1995 Emmy for Best Drama Series.  Despite the show’s success, Milch’s lifestyle eventually deteriorated his health so much that doctors performed several angioplasties to repair blockages around his heart.  Soon, Milch acknowledged that it was time to fight back against the dark forces plaguing him in order to repair his health.  Despite his healthy lifestyle, he couldn’t beat his addictions to heroin, alcohol, and Vicodin.  He left the show in 2000, vowing to kick his heroin habit, which he did with success.

After a few more short-lived but critically acclaimed projects, Milch was approached by HBO for a series.  His original vision depicted the police force in Rome during Nero’s tenure as ruler, but HBO had another similarly themed show in the works. They liked the idea enough to ask Milch to make some small changes. He did, and the incredibly popular Deadwood was born. The show received eight Emmy awards, including a 2005 nomination for Best Drama Series, but the award went to Lost.  Praised for it’s unique use of language, Deadwood fans were militant against its cancellation.  Nonetheless, the show was finished. 

Today, Milch is developing a 1970s cop series for HBO.

It’s pretty great that one of TV’s most esteemed minds is from Buffalo, and his interesting young life certainly has influenced his later success, and despite the problems that plagued him, he managed to reach an incredible level of success.

See you next week!  

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