Friday, February 28, 2014

Classic TV: CHiPs (1977)

It was a twist on the familiar crime drama formula of two partners who were also best pals. This time, the focus was on the California Highway Patrol's motorcycle patrol.

CHiPs spent six seasons (1977-83) on NBC, and was bounced around, airing on weekends, and, if memory serves, at least one weeknight. Series creator-executive producer Rick Rosner had served with the Highway Patrol, and got the idea for the series after seeing two motorcyle officers on patrol one night. The series is best remembered for making Erik Estrada ("The Cross & The Switchblade") an icon, but the real beauty of the series was it was an ensemble cast built around Estrada and Larry Wilcox. 

As with Jack Webb's Adam 12 & Emergency!, multiple cases were handled during the hour, but there was also time for a little downtime. I remember one episode toward the end of the run where Ponch (Estrada) actually got on the mic to sing Kool & the Gang's "Celebration". I have to find that clip someday.

Wilcox left the show after 5 seasons, which ultimately was the "Jump the Shark" moment, since Ponch now had to break in a new partner. The ensemble cast changed over the course of six seasons, and Rosner took a chance on former Olympic hero Bruce Jenner for one season. Future stars Michael Dorn (later of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Clarence Gilyard, Jr. (Duck Factory, Matlock, Walker, Texas Ranger) made their earliest appearances during the run as well.

The season 1 open seems to have been lost, but this was the definitive theme, starting in season 2:

Rosner developed another primetime series, 240-Robert, which wasn't quite as successful, before turning to game shows in the 80's.

Rating: B+.


magicdog said...

Used to love watching "ChiPs", I was a total fangirl for Larry Wilcox! He was always the "Roy Desoto To Ponch's John Gage".

I remember Wilcox leaving and his replacement was a famous motorcross rider. I think he was supposed to be John Baker's brother or something.

hobbyfan said...

I think I tuned out around that time. I wasn't a regular viewer anyway.

I do remember when Randi Oakes was on the cover of a fitness magazine, though. Shape Magazine (which is still around), also near the end of the series' run.