HOLLYWOOD -- Cops in TV series are most often presented as real sweethearts, public spirited angels of the streets serving and protecting citizens from the bad guys.
Their image is part of a great American tradition which reflects the constabulary as knights in black and white cruisers, a thin blue line between anarchy and civilization.
Kids are told to find a policeman when they are in trouble. There's the tradition of New YorkF Hthe bluff Irish cop pinching an apple from the neighborhood fruit vendor?
The cops in 'T.J. Hooker,' 'Cagney & Lacey' and other weekly shows are pillars of rectitude and virtue.
Then there's Lt. Norman Buntz of 'Hill Street Blues,' the archetypal macho, swaggering, chauvinistic bully.
Buntz is the sort of cop law-abiding citizens fear will pull them over to the curb for a traffic violation. No mercy from this mean-faced, power-crazed minion of the law.
There's a latent brutality about Buntz that suggests most citizens might be more safe in the hands of a mugger.
On the other hand, those of a felonious persuasion would think first of Buntz when it comes to proposing a bribe.
Until Buntz came along, 'Hill Street's' nearest thing to a crooked cop was Johnny LaRue, played by Kiel Martin.
Actor Dennis Franz plays Buntz with uninhibited delight. He's known cops like Buntz and isn't too fond of the bull-necked, heavily muscled stereotype, one of whom can be found in almost every police department.
Balding, barrel-chested and mustachioed, Franz, even out of character, is a menacing sight.
A Chicago native who served 11 months in Vietnam, Franz has appeared in such movies as 'Body Double,' 'The Fury,' 'Remember My Name,' 'Dressed to Kill,' 'Blowout' and 'Psycho II,' mostly in villainous roles.
'I've met many cops like Buntz in Chicago,' Franz said during a recent lunch break at the studio. 'They have an attitude that I try to convey based on intimidation when need be. (They're) confrontational.
'I suppose a lot of people's hearts sink when a guy like Buntz flashes his badge.
'The producers brought him into the series for his abrasiveness that contrasts with the smooth-running system in the precinct. There's a tendency among the other cops not to like him because he's fairly bigoted and a womanizer.
'But he's a tough guy physically and the other cops respect him.'
Buntz is actually a resurrection of sorts for 'Hill Street.' Franz first appeared on the show in 1982 as Bad Sal Benedetto, a vicious narcotics cop who eventually committed suicide.
'Benedetto lasted five episodes,' Franz said with a grin. 'He didn't endear himself when he punched out one of Hill Street's favorite cops, Andy Renko. Benedetto was really bad news. He was mixed up in a drug scam and killed people. The writers really had to kill him off.
'I'm surprised how few viewers have complained about or even reacted to the fact that Sal Benedetto has been revived in another character. I guess enough years have passed that most people have forgotten about Benedetto. Those who remember are probably glad Benedetto is back in another role.
'To be honest, I couldn't believe they killed him off in the first place because he was such a fascinating character.'
Last year, when the producers felt the show needed some new directions, 'they brought me back as Buntz,' said Franz. 'He's the last cop a criminal would like to encounter and maybe the first one a person in trouble would want to see.
'But in the context of the precinct, Buntz represents some bad blood who gives the other characters an opportunity to play off.
'The series had been criticized in the past for the buddy-buddy relationships among the policemen on the show. The group needed an odd nickel, and Buntz is that guy. It's forced me to go to some dislikable extremes as a lout and a brute,' Franz said.
'The rest of the cast has been together for six years, but I am happy that they've made me feel welcome and at home as a permanent fixture. That's a big change from just being a guest star or recurring character.
'Not that friendship and warmth would mean all that much to Buntz.'