In a project for 20th Century Fox spanning nine months, Roundabout Entertainment restored and remastered the first eight seasons of the classic procedural police drama NYPD Blue. More than 170 1-hour episodes were scanned and finished in 2K.
Created by David Milch and Steven Bochco, NYPD Blue debuted in 1993 and presented a street-level view of big city cops. Its ensemble cast, including Dennis Franz, Jimmy Smits and David Caruso. The show won nine Emmys, four Golden Globes and three Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The new restoration was created from 35mm cut negative—the first eight seasons were shot on film—and other original elements. 2K scanning was performed by Roundabout colorist Juan Zorn using Lasergraphics’ archive scanning system, The Director.
Reassembling episodes to conform to the series’ original broadcasts proved complicated as the cut negative often did not entirely match videotape reference copies of what actually aired. Senior colorist Michael Smollin, who led the restoration project and worked on the original series in the 1990s as a young assistant, explains that the discrepancies were the result of last minute editorial changes.
“The producers often brought in alternate takes to be inserted during post-production finishing,” recalled Smollin. “We’d put the new material on a telecine and color correct it so that it could be integrated into the video master, but those scenes were not cut back into the negative.”
Smollin and his crew found missing scenes by combing through original production dailies. They used a Steenbeck flatbed film editing system to view 20-year old film elements and match them against video reference. When missing scenes were located, they were scanned at 2K, restored, color graded and integrated into the new masters. Similarly, camera moves, resizing and repositioning originally applied to stock images had to be recreated during the remastering process.
All of the material underwent a digital process of removing dust, scratches and other artifacts conducted by Roundabout’s restoration experts using MTI Film’s DRS Nova. During the color grading process that followed, particular attention was given to replicating the gritty, cinema-verite look of the series—one of its signature elements.
“Keeping the look consistent and faithful to the original was a significant challenge,” said Zorn. “The show was meant to look run-and-gun and some scenes were quite dark. We wanted to preserve those moments while keeping it all in a flow and without sharp changes that might be shocking to the eye.”
“They took a lot of risks,” agreed Smollin. “They did a lot of exterior shooting with Steadicam. Many of the police station environments were low light. The cinematographer was going for a natural lighting environment. We worked hard to match that look, and once we had it, we carried it through all eight seasons.”
Smollin said it was fun and fascinating to revisit the show 20-plus years after its debut. “Our restoration process was essentially the reverse of what was done back then in post-production,” he said. “They started with dailies, went to offline, then cut the negative, color corrected it on a telecine, and finally mastered to video. We scanned first, then color corrected, and then sent it to editorial.”
Roundabout also restored the series’ soundtrack. The original stereo surround stems were remixed in 5.1 surround.
Both the sound and picture crews operated under a tight timeframe. “We established an aggressive schedule in order to meet a domestic television airdate, completing eight seasons in less than nine months,” said Roundabout executive director mastering and restoration Ron Smith.
“It was a very collaborative project,” added Zorn. “Our whole team worked together and gave maximum effort to get the look right and deliver on time.”