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'NYPD' Figure Tries to Clarify Race Remarks : Television: Series co-creator Milch says his comments were meant to 'describe the process of writing and not a statement of political or social values.'

November 10, 1994|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"NYPD Blue" has often been praised for its bluntness and honesty in dealing with racial issues, and the show's co-creator, David Milch, has earned several awards for writing that has been described as enlightened, entertaining and thought-provoking.

However, racially tinged comments that Milch made at a recent writers' workshop have caused him and the ABC show's other creator and executive producer, Steven Bochco, to issue statements in an effort to clarify Milch's remarks and, perhaps, to ward off any possible protests.

Speaking Oct. 15 at a seminar titled "Human Values in Entertainment Writing: The Challenges and the Pitfalls," Milch said that he was able to write about the racism of one of the show's main characters because "I'm racist." Speaking of his empathy for Dennis Franz's character, he said "(Det. Andy) Sipowicz is a character for whom I feel an emotional affinity."

Milch also said that he held a seminar for 30 writers some years ago, and while some of them were successful in the industry, "none of them were black. None of the black writing was any good." He added that he didn't believe in affirmative action for writers.

He also said, "Jews tend to do very well in this business . . . because Jews experience a typical emotional doubleness in relation to the dominant culture, which is that they are both inside and outside it . . . A black has to experience more anger and self-division in order to achieve the kind of emotional neutrality that you need to write about the culture."

The seminar, held at a church in Westwood, was sponsored by the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute, which bestows the coveted Humanitas Award, given annually for television writing "that enriches and enlightens." Milch has won the award three times, including once for his writing of an "NYPD Blue" episode.

Milch's workshop comments were reported Friday in the Washington Post, which was provided a tape of the daylong seminar. Although there was no immediate uproar over the comments after the meeting or after publication of the article, Milch and Bochco both issued statements stressing their commitment to diversity and apologizing to those who may have been offended by the remarks. Milch said his quotes were misunderstood.

"The seminar I gave was an attempt to describe the process of writing and not a statement of political or social values," said Milch in his statement. "Even though my comments were distorted and taken out of context, I apologize to anyone who now interprets them as offensive or hurtful. I have never conducted business in a racist manner, and Steven Bochco and I remain committed to finding qualified writers, minority or otherwise."

Milch declined further comment on Wednesday, but told Newsday one day prior: "There's an awful lot I'd like to say, but the most prudent thing is to let it die off."

Milch's comments initially drew an angry response from series co-star Jim McDaniel, according to Newsday's Wednesday article. McDaniel, who is black, plays Lt. Arthur Fancy in the popular drama.

The actor said he confronted Milch after he read the article, and the two held lengthy meetings over the weekend. McDaniel said after the meetings that he believed Milch was quoted out of context. Also, McDaniel said that Milch has agreed to look at the work of several of McDaniel's friends who are black writers.

Franklyn Ajaye, a veteran writer and comedian who attended the seminar, said that he was not offended by Milch's statements: "There was not a whole lot of fury in the room. I'm all for candor, not for this political correctness B.S. Plus I know David and his work on that show. They have done good work on racial issues on that drama. They've handled those issues with integrity. I wish some liberal writers could write that well."

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