The age of the undercover detective was launched in the late 1960s with a TV show that was revolutionary on several fronts.
What better way to invade the counterculture but with the counterculture?
“The Mod Squad” was Michael Cole, who played long-haired rebel Pete Cochran, who was evicted from his wealthy parents’ Beverly Hills home, then arrested and put on probation after he stole a car; the late Peggy Lipton, who portrayed flower child Julie Barnes, who was arrested for vagrancy after running away from her prostitute mother’s San Francisco home, and Clarence Williams III, who played Lincoln “Linc” Hayes, who came from a family of 13 children, and was arrested in the Watts riots, one of the longest and most violent actual riots in Los Angeles history.
The idea was to take these three rebellious, yet disaffected young social outcasts and convince them to work as unarmed undercover detectives as an alternative to being incarcerated. Their youthful, hippie personas would enable them to get close to the criminals they investigated.
Their mentor was Captain Adam Greer, played adeptly by veteran cop actor Tige Andrews. Captain Greer believed this “Mod Squad” could get into places normal cops could not. Examples included infiltrating a high school to solve a teacher’s murder, an underground newspaper to find a bomber, and an acting class to look for a strangler who was preying on blonde actresses.
They were The Mod Squad, “One black, one white, one blonde”, described by one critic as “the hippest and first young undercover cops on TV”. Captain Greer was a tough but sympathetic mentor and father figure who convinced them to form the squad.
“The Mod Squad” was one of the earliest attempts to deal with the groundbreaking issues such as abortion, domestic violence, child abuse, illiteracy, slumlords, illegal immigration, police brutality, student protest, racism, euthanasia, the illegal drug trade, and issues dealing with the Vietnam War, which was going on at the time – soldiers returning from Vietnam, the anti-war movement, and PTSD.
During its five-year run from 1969 to 1973, the series earned six Emmy Award nominations, four Golden Globe nominations plus one win for Peggy Lipton, one Directors Guild of America Award, and four Logies.
The executive producers of the series were Aaron Spelling and Danny Thomas. Spelling intended the show to be about the characters’ relationships and promised that the Squad “would never arrest kids…or carry a gun or use one.”
The show was loosely based on creator Bud “Buddy” Ruskin’s experiences in the late 1950s as a squad leader for young undercover narcotics cops, though it took almost 10 years after he wrote a script for the idea to be green-lighted by ABC Television Studios.
The Mod Squad presented an African-American character, Linc, as being on an equal footing, as roles went, to the Caucasian characters, Barnes and Cochran. In one “Mod Squad” episode, the script called for Linc to give Barnes a “friendly kiss”. Since the first interracial kiss on an American television show was in 1967, this was still fairly new territory in popular culture. The studio was frightened of a negative public reaction, so they asked Spelling to cut it, fearing complaint letters. But Spelling said he didn’t receive one letter.
Linc’s famous “solid” and “keep the faith” were among the current-day slang used on the show, which included “pad”, “dig it”, and “groovy.”
The “kids” traveled in Pete’s famous “Woody”, an old green 1950 Mercury “Woodie” station wagon, until it burned up in a fire after going over a cliff during a chase at the end of the second season episode “The Death of Wild Bill Hannachek”.
Among the series guest stars were Spelling’s ex-wife Carolyn Jones, Morticia Addams from “The Addams Family”; Leslie Nielsen, from “Police Squad” and the “Naked Gun” movie franchise; William Windom, from “Murder, She Wrote” Andy Griffith, from “The Andy Griffith Show”; Joe Don Baker, from “Walking Tall”; David Cassidy, Keith Partridge from the Partridge Family; his father, actor Jack Cassidy; Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, Mr. and Mrs. C from “Happy Days”; Danny Thomas, from “Make Room for Daddy”; Anthony Geary, Luke Spencer from “General Hospital”; Sam Elliott, “Roadhouse”; Martin Sheen, from “The West Wing”; Desi Arnaz Jr., from “Here’s Lucy”; René Auberjonois, from “Benson”; Stefanie Powers, from “Hart to Hart”; Robert Reed, from “The Brady Bunch” and “Mannix”; Cesar Romero, the Joker from “Batman; Tony Dow, Wally from “Leave it to Beaver”; Vic Tayback, Mel from “Alice”; Harrison Ford, from “The Fugitive: Clint Howard, from “Gentle Ben”; Louis Gossett, Jr., from “Gideon” boxer Sugar Ray Robinson; Billy Dee Williams, from “Brian’s Song”; Victor Buono, King Tut from “Batman”; Jim Backus, Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island:; Cleavon Little, Sheriff Bart from “Blazing Saddles”; actors in three diffrerent roles – Daniel J. Travanti, from “Hill Street Blues”; Ed Asner, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant”; horror king Vincent Price,; singer Sammy Davis Jr., and actors in two different roles – Richard Dreyfuss, from “American Graffiti” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus”; Meg Foster and Tyne Daly, from “Cagney and Lacey”, and singer Bobby Sherman, from “Here Come the Brides”,
“Toma” was a television series about a real-life undercover detective in Newark, New Jersey. But his story wasn’t compelling enough for television audiences, so it was repackaged and resold as “Baretta”.
“Toma” lasted one season, and had some moments. The series stars Tony Musante as real-life detective Dave Toma, who was a master of disguise and undercover work. Susan Strasberg – yes, the beautiful daughter of acting coach Lee Strasberg – stars as Toma’s wife, and Simon Oakland as his boss.
The series was based on the real-life story and published biography of Newark, New Jersey, police detective David Toma, who actually appeared in bit parts in the series. Toma had compiled an amazing arrest record during his years on the force, particularly in arresting drug dealers. His boss, Inspector Spooner, was played by Simon Oakland.
The show ended production after one season, as Musante had only agreed to film one full season, citing a desire not to get trapped into only playing one character over a long period of time. The network and producers had initially assumed this to be a negotiating ploy, but Musante held firm and did not return for a second season.
Although the role of David Toma was recast with Robert Blake, it was soon felt that Blake would be better served with a different concept; accordingly, Toma was overhauled and became the 1975 series Baretta. Apart from the circumstances of its conception, Baretta has no obvious on-screen connection to Toma, as the shows have no characters or settings in common.
Many of the people on the “Toma” writing staff would go on to write episodes of “The Rockford Files”, which debuted shortly after “Toma’s” cancellation. These writers included Stephen J. Cannell, Roy Huggins – who signed most of his work on both shows as “John Thomas James” – Juanita Bartlett, Zekial Marko, Don Carlos Dunaway, and Gloryette Clark. Series stars Musante, Strasberg and Oakland would also guest star on various episodes of “The Rockford Files”. An early version of the character of Jim Rockford had originally been conceived of as a guest star for a never-filmed episode of Toma; the script was rewritten and became The Rockford Files 90-minute pilot, and all connections and references to Toma were dropped.
“Baretta” ran on ABC from 1975–78.
Anthony Vincenzo “Tony” Baretta is an unorthodox plainclothes police detective, Badge #609, with the 53rd Precinct in an unnamed, fictional city. He resides in Apartment 2C of the run-down King Edward Hotel with Fred, his Triton cockatoo. A master of disguise, Baretta wears many while performing his duties. When not working he usually wears a short-sleeve sweatshirt, casual slacks, a brown suede jacket and a newsboy cap.
Baretta is often seen with an unlit cigarette in his lips or behind his ear. His catchphrases include “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”, “You can take dat to da bank” and “And dat’s the name of dat tune.”
“Baretta” had a Top 40 theme song sung by the immotal Sammy Davis Jr. “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow” was composed by Dave Grusin and Morgan Ames. Initially an instrumental, lyrics were added in later seasons.
Every episode of “Baretta” began with the song, which contained the motto, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”
The song was released as a single in Europe in 1976, reaching number one in the Dutch Top 40 as “Baretta’s Theme”. The music for the theme song was performed by Los Angeles-based Latin influenced Rock band El Chicano from Los Angeles, California. El Chicano also released the song as a 45 and also as a track on one of their albums. The “Baretta” theme song by El Chicano was a huge hit in many countries including Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, France and The Philippines.
The song was released as a single in the US, but only charted as high as #42 on the Adult Contemporary Chart, while it “bubbled under the Hot 100” at #101.
When exasperated he, occasionally speaks in asides to his late father, Louie Baretta. He drives a rusted-out Mist Blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala four-door sport sedan nicknamed “The Blue Ghost”. He frequents Ross’s Billiard Academy and refers to his numerous girlfriends as his “cousins”.
Upon watching Blake in the 1973 film “Electra Glide in Blue”, then-ABC executive Michael Eisner contacted the star about doing a police series, which culminated in “Baretta”. Blake was given creative control in most aspects of production.
‘Starsky and Hutch’
“Starsky & Hutch” was two Southern California police detectives – David Michael Starsky, portrayed by Paul Michael Glaser, the dark-haired, Brooklyn transplant and U.S. Army veteran, with a street-wise manner and intense, sometimes childlike moodiness, and Kenneth Richard “Hutch” Hutchinson, played by David Soul, the divorced, blond, Duluth, Minnesota, native with a more reserved and intellectual approach.
Under the radio call sign “Zebra Three”, they were known for usually tearing around the streets of fictional Bay City, California. Much of the series was shot on location in the Los Angeles beach community of San Pedro. The building that was used as the Metropolitan Division police headquarters is now San Pedro’s City Hall.
The characters and even some plot points were based on real-life New York City detectives, Lou Telano and John Sepe, who gained notoriety and commendations for their unconventional and effective undercover police work. The show’s production team spent considerable time with the two detectives during their daily routines. Lou Telano and John Sepe later sued Aaron Spelling’s production company and settled out of court for $10,000 each.
“Starsky and Hutch” originally aired as a 70-minute pilot Movie of the Week. The show was created by William Blinn – who died Oct. 22 – produced by Spelling-Goldberg Productions, and broadcast from April 1975 to May 1979 on ABC.
The vehicle of choice was Starsky’s two-door Ford Gran Torino, which was bright red, with a large white vector stripe on both sides, or more commonly referred to as the “Coca Cola paint job”.
The Torino was nicknamed the “Striped Tomato” by Hutch in the episode “Snowstorm”, and fans subsequently referred to the car by that nickname, too. However, this moniker didn’t come from the writers, it came from a real-life comment that Glaser made. Glaser stated that when he was first shown the Torino by series producer Aaron Spelling, he sarcastically said to Soul, “That thing looks like a striped tomato!” In characteristic contrast, Hutch’s vehicle was a battered tan 1973 Ford Galaxie 500. It occasionally appeared when the duo needed separate vehicles, or for undercover work. However, the duo’s cover was often blown because Hutch’s vehicle had a bad habit; when its driver’s side door was opened, the horn would go off, instantly drawing attention. It was also noticeable due to the severely cluttered back seat, so cluttered that there was no room to transport both prisoners and the two detectives simultaneously.
The detectives’ main confidential informant was the street-wise, ethically ambiguous, “jive-talking” Huggy Bear, played by Antonio Fargas, who often dressed in a flashy manner and operated his own bar – first named “Huggy Bear’s”, and later, “The Pits”. The duo’s boss was the gruff, no-nonsense-but-fair Captain Harold C. Dobey, portrayed by Bernie Hamilton in the series.
Huggy’s immense popularity with viewers caused producers Spelling and Goldberg to consider giving actor Fargas his own TV series. The second-season episode “Huggy Bear and the Turkey” was the test pilot for a proposed spin-off with Huggy and his friend, former Sheriff “Turkey” Turquet, played by Dale Robinette, becoming private investigators; however, this premise proved unpopular with viewers, and a spin-off never materialized. In the episode it was revealed that Huggy’s last name is Brown, but no clue as to his first name was given, though.
Two series characters were named for people from William Blinn’s past: Starsky was the name of a high school friend, and Huggy Bear was a local disc jockey.
Series creator William Blinn first used the name Huggy Bear on-screen for a character, also a confidential informant, in an episode penned by Blinn for the TV series The Rookies, during the 1973 second season, “Prayers Unanswered Prayers Unheard”, there played by actor Johnny Brown.
In 1977, a rising concern in America about violence on TV, along with Glaser’s own concerns about the level of violence in the series, forced the writers to reduce the violent “action” scenes, with more romantically and socially themed storylines, and play-up the “buddy-buddy” aspect of the show’s leads even more. At the same time, the lead actors – Glaser in particular – became jaded with the general theme; these and other factors contributed to the fading popularity of the series.
Glaser indicated several times that he wanted to get out of his contract and quit the series; he even sued the producers to force a release from his contract before the start of the third season. It seemed that he would not be returning for filming, so to fill the presumed void, the character “Officer Linda Baylor” – played by Roz Kelly – was created, and a number of alternative scripts featuring her instead of Starsky were written (whether the show’s name would have remained the same is unknown). After being granted more creative control over scripts, opportunities to direct episodes, and a per-episode pay raise to $35,000, up from $5,000, Glaser returned to the show. Ultimately, Officer Baylor only appeared in one episode alongside both Starsky and Hutch: the “Play Misty for Me”-inspired episode, “Fatal Charm”.
Glaser again voiced his desires to leave during the fourth and final season. This time, Starsky’s wayward younger brother Nick, played by John Herzfeld, was introduced, in the episode as Starsky’s brother. It was intended that if Glaser was to quit, that the reformed Nick would take David’s place on the police force and allow the series to avoid a title change . However, the disgruntled Glaser decided to return yet again, to finish out the season. Although a fifth season was planned, increasing production costs, Glaser’s persistent and oft-publicized desire to move on, and declining ratings, brought an end to the series.
The final episode, “Sweet Revenge” which has Starsky fighting for his life after being gunned down, originally had its co-lead dying in the early drafts. However, the producers decided to have the character survive, as it was felt that a dead Starsky would disrupt the continuity of reruns/syndication, and preclude the option of the producers’ reviving the series in the near future. “Starsky & Hutch” finished #36 in the Nielsen Ratings in their final season.
The first season of the show had a dark and ominous theme written by Lalo Schifrin that seemed to fit the hard action and violence of the season. The main title version was edited down from the chase climax cue of his score for the pilot episode. The climax contains the shot of Hutch leaping off a fire escape and landing on his car which appears in the opening titles of all subsequent episodes. The end credits featured a similar piece of ominous music.
The first season theme was replaced for the second season by a Tom Scott-written theme entitled “Gotcha”. “Gotcha” is the best known of the show’s themes, and has been covered by several musicians, including the James Taylor Quartet and The Ventures. It also appears on the title screen of the Nintendo Entertainment System game Treasure Master, covered by Tim Follin. A version of “Gotcha” was featured on Scott’s 1977 album Blow It Out and is also on the album Best Of Tom Scott. For the third season, a more dramatic theme was used that highlighted the show’s move to more socially conscious and light-hearted stories. It was written by Mark Snow and released on an LP around 1979.
A reworked “Gotcha”, similar in style – but not identical – to the version on Blow It Out, returned for the fourth and last season. The revamped version was the most easy-going of the different themes for the series, reflecting the last season’s increased “buddy cop” feel.
Created by Robert L. Collins and based on an original screenplay by Lincoln C. Hilburn,
“Police Woman” aired for four television seasons on NBC from 1974 to 1978,
Angie Dickinson played Sgt. “Pepper” Anderson, an undercover police officer working for the Criminal Conspiracy Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department. Sergeant William “Bill” Crowley, portrayed by Earl Holliman, was her immediate superior, and Pete Royster, played by Charles Dierkop, and Joe Styles, played by Ed Bernard, were the other half of the undercover team that investigated everything from murders to rape and drug crimes. In many episodes, Pepper went undercover as a prostitute, nurse, teacher, flight attendant, prison inmate, dancer, waitress, to get close enough to the suspects to gain valuable information that would lead to their arrest.
Although Dickinson’s character was called Pepper, sources differ as to the legal given name of the character. Most sources give the character’s legal name as Suzanne. Others give it as Leanne, or Lee Ann. The latter name is mentioned by Crowley in the second-season episode “The Chasers” and by Pepper herself in the first-season episodes “Fish” and “The Stalking of Joey Marr”.
The “Police Story” episode entitled “The Gamble”, which serves as a pilot for “Police Woman:”, gives Dickinson’s character’s name as “Lisa Beaumont”. On the Season 1 DVD release of “Police Woman”, Dickinson states that the producers and she decided not to go with the name Lisa Beaumont when the series first went into production, and came up with the name Pepper.
Among the guest stars in the series were: Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner from “WKRP in Cincinnati”; Bob Crane, Col. Hogan from “Hogan’s Heroes”; Patricia Crowley, from Olyphant and “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”; James Darren, from “The Time Tunnel” and “TJ Hooker”; Danny DeVito from “Taxi”; Elinor Donahue from “Father Knows Best”, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Odd Couple: Patty Duke from “The Patty Duke Show”; Sam Elliott from “Roadhouse”; Larry Hagman from “I Dream of Jeannie and “Dallas”; Florence Halop from “Night Court”; Mark Harmon from NCIS”; legendary Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn; Cheryl Ladd, one of “Charlie’s Angels”; former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith from “Monday Night Football” and “Police Story”; Juliet Mills from “Nanny and the Professor”; William Shatner from “Star Trek” and “TJ Hooker”; Philip Michael Thomas from “Miami Vice”; Robert Vaughn from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “The A-Team”; “Batman” Adam West; Barry Williams from “The Brady Bunch” and Debra Winger from “Urban Cowboy”.
“Police Woman” was the first hour-long television drama starring a woman. Dickinson received three Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award on the show. Although the syndicated 1957 series “Decoy” starring Beverly Garland was the first American television show to focus on a female police officer, the 30-minute drama series was shortlived, lasting only a single season.
While the show made her a star, by the last season Dickinson tired of appearing in scenes “where the phone rings while I’m taking a bath. I always want to look as sexy, beautiful and luscious as I can. But I’d prefer scripts where the sensuality is pouring out naturally for the whole 60 minutes”. She nonetheless did not expect the show’s cancellation. Dickinson said in 2019 that she regrets having done the series, since the remuneration was inadequate and it left her with little time for other projects.
While the series never ranked above number 15 in the ratings for a given season, “Police Woman” hit number one for the week on two occasions during its first year, also hitting number one in several countries in which the program aired.
“Police Woman” influenced later shows such as “Charlie’s Angels”, which People magazine in 1978 described as a “three-shaker imitation”. It caused an avalanche of applications for employment from women to police departments around the United States. Sociologists who have in recent years examined the inspiration for long-term female law enforcement officials to adopt this vocation have been surprised by how often “Police Woman” has been referenced.
President Gerald Ford rescheduled a press conference so as not to delay an episode of Police Woman, reportedly his favorite show.
- In one episode of “The Mod Squad”, where did Captain Adam Greer say he came from?
- Who was Peggy Lipton married to?
- Did Michael Cole and Clarence Williams III ever work together again after “Mod Squad”?
- Who played the chief of police who was against the “Mod Squad?
- What part is Roz Kelly best known for?
- What other TV series did David Soul star in before “Starsky and Hutch”?
Trivia answers from last time
Q: What husband and wife team were members of the supporting cast on “Simon and Simon?
A: Tim Reid played Lieutenant Marcel Proust “Downtown” Brown, the Simons’ friend in the police department, while his wife, Daphne Reid, portrayed reporter Temple Hill.
Q. What role is Tim Reid best known for?
A. For four TV seasons, Reid was Venus Flytrap, the nighttime personality on the fictional radio station “WKRP in Cincinnati”. He was also Steve Barnett, the long-lost father of the character Steven Hyde on “That 70s Show”.
Q. What was significant about who played Amanda King’s ex-husband on “Scarecrow and Mrs. King?
A. Actor Sam Melville played opposite Kate Jackson as Amanda King’s ex-husband. Melville also played opposite Jackson as her husband, Officer Mike Danko, to Jackson’s nurse Jill Danko character on “The Rookies” from 1972 to 1976.
Q. Joey Scarbury sang one theme song for “Scarecrow and Mrs. King”. What other TV series did Scarbury sing the theme for?
A. “The Greatest American Hero” in 1981, which was a bigger hit for Scarbury.