Popular 70's TV Show Celebrates 35 Years

Popular 70's TV Show Celebrates 35 Years

In 1977, a new TV series premiered on NBC.  It showcased the adventures of two young, handsome California Highway Patrol 

motorcycle officers. Created by Rick Rosner, it was intended to be a different kind of cop show.  Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello never pulled their guns and violence, aside from spectacular car crashes, was rare. Even when a car crash was featured, injuries weren’t often serious and when deaths occurred, they were kept off screen. Instead the show featured sunny California beaches, pretty girls, nice cars, a healthy dose of humor, and of course, the Kawasaki police bikes they rode. After slow start, the show became a hit and gained a loyal following of young viewers.

“CHiPs” wasn’t without its share of controversy though. In 1979 star Erik Estrada was seriously injured in an on-set crash, and he and co-star Larry Wilcox were not the best of friends. Then, in 1981 at the start of the show’s 5th season, in the midst of a feud with the studio over syndication royalties, Estrada walked off the set. He was replaced by Olympic gold medalist and future Kardashian stepfather Bruce Jenner. While he fit in well with the cast and his character, Officer Steve MacLeish, was fairly popular with fans, ratings took a mild dip and the studio gave into Estrada’s demands. He returned midway through the season and Jenner’s character simply disappeared.

Season 6 brought major changes to the show as Larry Wilcox, tired of studio politics and the tension with Estrada, quit. Series regulars Randi Oakes, Brodie Greer and Michael Dorn (who went on to fame as Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Worf) also did not return and the show’s entire writing staff was replaced. The changes were largely due to cost-cutting demands from the studio, and the result was a series that seemed completely alien to many fans. Wilcox’s replacement, unknown actor Tom Reilly, wasn’t widely accepted by fans and his arrest midway through the season lead to tension between him and Estrada. Reilly was quickly delegated to the background and paired up with Tina Gayle, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader who was cast as Officer Kathy Linahan, the station’s new female motor officer. Clarence Gilyard Jr. (who is best known for his starring roles on “Matlock” and “Walker: Texas Ranger”) also joined the cast. Reilly was replaced by motorcycle racing champion Bruce Penhall.

The changes proved to be too much and the show was canceled. Despite that, it remained popular in syndication and stayed there, largely in part due to Turner Entertainment, for nearly 20 years and can still be seen in syndication in other countries.

In 1998 the cast reunited for “CHiPs 99” a reunion movie that brought Jon and Ponch back together. This time there was no tension between Wilcox and Estrada and the cast enjoyed filming. Despite some uninspired casting, poor writing and glaring continuity errors, including one that pretty much erased the 6th season, the TV movie was popular with fans.  Several more were planned but later those plans were dropped.

Today, thanks to the wonders of the internet,”CHiPs” continues to enjoy a loyal following, and in September the cast will reunite in Los Angeles with fans to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the series’ premiere. For more information, visit the event’s official website