THERE is a trend in the American TV and music industries towards a more cynical, realistic portrayal of the violence that eats at the country's heart. The crazy thing is that the self-elected guardians of the nation's morals, like Vice-president Al Gore's wife, Tipper, are more concerned about the portrayal of this violence than they are about the violence itself. They rail against rap music's offensive lyrics and they rant about the supposed corruption of youth by TV. Congress is even toying with half a dozen proposals to curb violence on the small screen, ranging from a government-printed blacklist of companies that sponsor the most violent TV programmes to a microchip that can be programmed to block 'violent' broadcasts. There appear to be no serious proposals to curb violence in real life (notwithstanding the weak Brady Bill, which is unlikely to have much effect on America's hoodlums). That is the only reason I can think of for the outcry about NYPD Blues. But full credit to producer Steven Bochco for hyping the series into orbit before it was even released. He must have smelt the climate of urban disintegration and moral backlash. And he must have smelt a PR coup in the process. Feed the press phrases like 'things . . . that have never been seen or heard on TV before' and keywords like 'violence' and they work themselves into a frenzy. It's the least we could expect from the savvy director who was, after all, co-producer of the multi Emmy Award-winning cop show, Hill Street Blues. The irony of all this is that what Bochco has really done is to take the winning formula from Hill Street, lose the '80s optimism and inject a '90s dose of cynicism and amphetamines. He even kept the 'Blues' perhaps partly because the word is so full of meaning. Slang for cops, slang for depression, slang for stuff that the censor loves. What an appropriate word. That's just what NYPD Blues is about - cops going about a depressed, disintegrating world, sustained only by sex and expletives. The storylines are nothing special: the pilot has a cop-takes-on-mob-to-revenge-his-partner theme, spiced with cop-going-through-divorce-but-still-sleeping-with-ex-wife. David Caruso plays the lead, John Kelly, a wise and weary, tough detective with a heart (very similar to the role he played in Mad Dog And Glory). He steals the show with cynical understatement, and is so impressive you get the feeling Bochco builtthe show around him. But to be honest, Caruso is really the only thing that makes this show anything more than a Hill Street Blues-print. After all, Kelly's alcoholic, burnt-out partner, Detective Andy Sipowicz, is played by Dennis Franz, who played a similar street-wise character in the last two years of Hill Street (worse, he played a parody of the character in the ill-fated spin-off, Beverly Hills Buntz). Even the rather irritating camera-jiggling (presumably a shot at handycam-realism) is masterminded by a Hill Street graduate, director Gregory Hoblit. So don't be surprised if you wonder what all the hype is about when you see the show - it's been done before. NYPD Blues did no more than shock the shockable in America by bringing a few bare bums (I counted four bums, total half a second, one episode) and some imaginative expletives to primitive TV there. Pearl is to be congratulated on bringing a good show over, but, please, bravery doesn't come in to it. For some tips on real shockability, Bochco might have taken his cue from the latest generation in realism - reality. Maybe it started with America's Most Wanted or Dial 911, but the latest incarnation is Cops. The name says it all. No beating around the bush, no slang, no triple entendres. Like the ads say, 'Real People, Real Crimes'. The viewer is unceremoniously dumped in the back seat of the police car as the officers go about their business in a blurof surveillance-camera activity. This is tabloid reality in your living room and you can smell the action. In NYPD Blues you feel comfortable in the viewer/viewed relationship. Like a guest house, it has the right sense of collusion in your presence. Realism is just another effect to engage your participation. With Cops, however, you feel disturbingly aware of your role as voyeur. The officers make embarrassing mistakes, look genuinely scared, talk like, well, like everyday people doing a normal job. And the camerawork is just too much like someone using a handycam in bad lighting conditions to be a device. Some of the time you can't even see what's going on - because, I suppose, dark suburban alleys aren't normally lit up by stage lighting. And the scary thing is that the criminals (innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, we are duly reminded at thebeginning of the show) do the kind of desperate things that come from having a life, not a changeable role - one bangs his head against the inside of an officer's door continuously until the officer has to open it. Another wrestles with and then runs away from an officer holding a gun, confident he won't shoot. And of course he doesn't. This is real life. I think Cops should do well here. It has the violence and the physical contact that Hong Kong seems addicted to, without any of that sex-stuff that just gets in the way. Who knows, given that the show produces some of its episodes in other countries (the next episode is a rather depressing one shot in Russia) we may see a Cops filmed on location in Hong Kong. That would be interesting. NYPD Blues will also gain a loyal audience, but I suspect the show will start to look positively anaemic once the censors have their way with it - even if there really isn't that much flesh to begin with. NYPD Blues begins on Pearl at 8.30pm on April 12. Cops is on Star Plus at 8.30pm on Saturdays.