Monday, August 16, 2010

Jailbirds and Songbirds

It was 20 years ago next month that the “musical police drama” Cop Rock--created by Steven Bochco of Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law fame--debuted on ABC-TV in the States. Just three months later, after a run of 11 episodes, and despite promises from ABC execs that they’d be patient with the series’ efforts to build an audience, it was canceled due to poor ratings.

In the decades since, Cop Rock has been a frequent fixture on lists of the worst television shows ever made. However, it still claims some die-hard fans. Among them longtime American journalist-humorist Lewis Grossberger, who wrote of the program earlier this year in True/Slant:
I loved it. I thought it was great.

Everyone else--every single other living person in the entire world--thought it sucked. Protests broke out in Chad. The Uzbeks were enraged. Bhutan declared war. (fortunately no one noticed)

Said the entire world as one:

Law-enforcement personnel who suddenly burst into song? Why, that’s unrealistic. It strains credulity. Such things do not happen in real life. My puny, pea-sized imagination can’t handle it. Please, you’re making my head hurt.

Cop Rock was taken out and shot. No way it could be allowed to sully a distinguished network schedule that featured such blue-ribbon fare as Jake and the Fatman, Doogie Howser, M.D. and Beverly Hills 90210. It became a legendary, iconic symbol of overreaching hubristic loserliness like Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar (also underrated), General Custer (not underrated), Titanic (the ship, not the movie, which is overrated) and George W. Bush.

But now look.

Cop Rock’s influence is all over the tube.

Without warning, characters burst into six-part harmony or trombone solos on Glee and Tremé and now there is TNT’s new Memphis Beat, a not-bad-but-I-doubt-if-I’ll-bother-watching-it-again cop show starring a police detective who moonlights as an Elvis tribute singer (not to be confused with an Elvis impersonator).
I confess that I was among those who loathed Cop Rock. I remember watching it only once, before deciding I had better things to do on Wednesday nights. Even the casting of James McDaniel and Ron McLarty in the show, and guest appearances by Bochco favorites Jimmy Smits and Michele Greene couldn’t get me to watch.

But recently I stumbled upon several clips from the series on YouTube, and was captivated by the weirdness of it all. I watched ever single scene I could find, several of which weren’t thoroughly horrendous. I’m embedding some of those clips below, starting with the Cop Rock main title sequence, its theme sung by Randy Newman:

Next we have a tuneful twist on the “roll call” sequences that were so familiar in Hill Street Blues:

This courtroom clip comes from Cop Rock’s first episode:

Now we have one of my favorite numbers, focusing on women vice cops wondering whether they can advertise their wares on the street:

And finally, here’s a scene in which a woman who had been promised by the Los Angeles cops that she wouldn’t be arrested for selling her baby (part of a sting operation, I gather), is charged anyway--and then confronts the female officer who led her on:

Click here to find more Cop Rock clips on YouTube. So far, there’s no DVD collection of the series. Maybe the studio doesn’t think it could sell enough of them to make their production worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

No stranger than the hit stage play and movie, Jesus Christ Superstar.

bish8 said...

Thanks for this reminder. Somehow, it's better than I remember. Waaaay ahead of it's time. I don't know if we're ready for a remake even now, but it wasn't as bad as everyone wanted to believe at the time.

It worked for the British series Viva Blackpool, but bomb in the American remake Viva Reno . . .

An acquired taste perhaps. More acceptable in Glee than with cops?

Rural View said...

Personally I can't stand Glee but I love Memphis Beat. Different strokes for different folks!

michael said...

Remember BBC's "The Singing Detective" (1989)?

You really can't compare ratings for network TV in 1990 to today. In 1990 it was a three network race (Fox did not hit it big until 1993). It would not surprise me if "Cop Rock" had better numbers than today's "Glee".

I always felt the idea of "Cop Rock" would have worked better on stage or as a movie. Just like "Naked Gun" was more successful than "Police Squad".