TV Show Draft – Pick #1 – Police Squad!

This blog is part of the TV Show Draft that is being hosted by Hans from Slice The Life. He is the same guy who hosted the Song Draft I took part in last year. This is the same idea. All the participants will pick their “draft picks” like one would pick a player in a fantasy football draft. Once a show is picked, it is out of the running for others to pick.

That in itself makes this draft more difficult for me. I mean, there is no shortage of shows to write about. However, I have a feeling that many of the picks on my list are also picks on some of the other bloggers. Because of this, I have an extra long list in case I have to make a last minute switch of my pick.

For my first pick, I went with a show that despite only being on the air for 6 episodes, makes me laugh every time I watch it – Police Squad!

In 1980, Airplane! was a major hit at the movies. One of the reasons I think it was such a hit was the fact that you had actors and actresses known for playing dramatic roles in this comedy film, playing it completely straight! Watching Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves saying completely ridiculous lines as serious as possible only added to the humor of the film. How they kept a straight face with everything else that was going on in the background always amazed me.

To me, Leslie Nielsen was perfect for this movie. His role as Dr. Rumack is fantastic. His booming baritone voice saying those lines in all seriousness is just hilarious. No wonder he was the one who David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker approached him to play the lead, Detective Frank Drebin, in this TV series.

The series was basically a TV version of Airplane! There would be straight dialogue, silly jokes, word play, and all kinds of sight gags to watch for in the back ground. It was going to spoof cop shows. As a matter of fact, much like Airplane! which was almost a line by line copy of the movie Zero Hour, Police Squad lifted a plot and even dialogue from the TV show M Squad. It also drew from the show Felony Squad. The opening credits are very similar to M Squad (which starred Lee Marvin).

The opening narration was done by Hank Simms, who had done announcing on many other great shows. His narration is done is a matter of factly stern voice. He announces Leslie Neilsen and Alan North. Both enter scenes in which they pull out their guns and begin firing. Then, he announces “… and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln!”

The scene is Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. When his hat is shot off, he gets up and returns fire with his own gun! This is one of two running gags in the credits.

The other gag is just priceless. The gag introduces each weeks guest star.

In the credits, the guest stars are killed off and never appear in the rest of the show!

Guest stars included Lorne Greene, William Conrad, Florence Henderson, Robert Goulet, and Florence Henderson. Word is that they shot a scene of John Belushi, but when he died of a drug overdose, they reshot with another guest star.

The final gag of the opening credits was a simple (and stupid) one. The title of episode would appear on screen, but the announcer would call the episode something completely different. For example, the first episode shows on the screen as “A Substantial Gift,” but the announcer reads “A Broken Promise.”

The Naked Gun movies were direct spin offs of the TV show. Alan North played Ed on the show, while George Kennedy played him in the movies. Peter Lupus (who is brilliantly funny on the show) plays Norberg on the show, while OJ Simpson plays Nordberg (yes, spelled differently) in the movies. Many of the scenes from the movies were adapted from scenes from the show.

The show consisted of dialogue that at times reminded me of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Here is an example from the first episode:

[Frank and Ed are interviewing a witness to a shooting]

Sally: Well, I first heard the shot, and as I turned, Jim fell.

Frank: Jim Fell’s the teller?

Sally: No, Jim Johnson.

Frank: Who’s Jim Fell?

Ed: He’s the auditor, Frank.

Sally: He had the flu, so Jim… filled in.

Frank: Phil who?

Ed: Phil Din. He’s the night watchman.

Sally: Oh, if only Phil had been here…

The deadpan delivery of Leslie Nielsen on this show (and in the Naked Gun movies) made him comedy gold! In a scene where he and Ed are interviewing the widow of a man shot in a robbery, Drebin simply says:

“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”

The show aired on ABC in 1982. After 4 episodes aired, the show was cancelled. The last two episode aired later that summer. So why was such a funny show cancelled? That question was posed to Leslie Nielsen in an interview for the DVD release. He stated that ABC said “Police Squad! was canceled because viewers had to pay close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor.” In other words, people had to WATCH the show to get it. TV Guide stated that was “the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series.”

Nielsen also stated that “the premise was more effective in the successful Naked Gun films because the much larger screen size in a cinema meant viewers saw more of the visual gags.”

There certainly is some truth to that, as the movies were very successful. It is interesting that the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening said, “If Police Squad had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”

One of my favorite lines in the series comes from the third episode of the series. After a small group of mobsters blackmail various store-owners, Frank and Norberg go undercover and set up a key-making and locksmith store. The mobsters offer Frank “protection” in exchange for money, but Frank declines. While they attack the store with guns, Frank and Norberg’s Locksmith store remains, enraging the mobsters’ boss (played by the great Al Ruscio). Frank goes to see the boss and walks in unannounced:

Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?

Frank: I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.

Brilliant!!!

I need to interject here and say that Peter Lupus, who of course is known for his role as Willy on Mission: Impossible, is just hilarious! He was a body builder turned actor and was fantastic in Mission: Impossible. He really shows his comedy chops in Police Squad. I wish he had been in more episodes. He is almost over the top in everything he does.

In one episode, the crew is searching for a kidnapped girl. When the kidnapper calls, he is told to get a tap on the phone. As the call is going on you see him in the background banging and destroying the phone. It is a classic payoff when they ask if they got a tap on the phone ….

Later in the episode, mime comes through a window and acts out the “ransom note.” In a very funny scene, Frank, Ed, and Norberg (Lupus) are playing Charades to guess the answers. Peter Lupus steals the scene. He is so hysterically funny!

In the final running gag, the end of every episode featured Drebin and Hocken talking about the week’s criminal going to “Stateville Prison”, and mentioning the names of the criminals from all previous episodes. The scene ended with an imitation “Freeze Frame” with the actors trying to stand still while various things happened to or around them (such as Hocken pouring coffee into Drebin’s cup until it overflows and starts burning him.)

Those were so fun to watch. I wonder just how hard it was to get them to not react while everything around them went crazy?

I am so glad to have the entire series on DVD. It is a “go to” when I need to really laugh out loud. What a shame that this show never caught on. At the same time, if it had, would they have ever ventured out and made the Naked Gun movies? Who knows?

Thanks for reading!!

4 thoughts on “TV Show Draft – Pick #1 – Police Squad!

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