This September, the popular 70's crime drama will celebrate its 35th anniversary. 35 years ago, on September 15th, 1977, the
On September 15, 1977, NBC premiered a new show called “CHiPs”. It’s premise was simple enough: two handsome young California Highway Patrol officers patrol the freeways of 1970’s Los Angeles, catching the bad guys and getting the girls. Throw in some spectacular car crashes and you have a hit! CHiPs ran for 6 seasons and made Erik Estrada THE heartthrob of the 70’s. I recently had the chance to talk to one of the show’s stars, Robert Pine (Sgt Joe Getraer).
September will mark 30 years since CHiPs premiered. How do you feel about that? Does it seem that long? Have you seen any of the episodes since the show ended?
The fact that it has been 30 years since we started CHiPs (1977) seems impossible. Unfortunately, the calendar doesn’t lie and I am just that much older. That is what is most difficult to accept. Fortunately, I am enjoying great health and seem to be as busy as I was then.
The first season was just released on DVD, introducing a whole new generation to the show. Erik Estrada contributed commentary to several episodes. Have you been asked to do the same for the second season? If not would you if asked?
I have not been asked to contribute commentary for the second year DVD but would love to do it. The problem is always compensation. Warner Bros., who owns the rights to the show and is releasing the DVDs, does not want to pay us to do this. I know this is sometimes hard for the fans to understand but this is how actors make a living and to the studios, whether it’s Warners or any of the others who release their videos to DVD, that is found money and it is only fair that they share some of the profits if we are going to create new material for release. They don’t even send a complementary copy to the actors. As you might be concluding here I have very strong feelings about this because I would like very much to add my presence to these DVDs. I would hope that they would include the entire core cast to comment on the show. I know the fans would really like that. But this is a huge conglomerate that is only looking to the bottom line and figures that you are going to buy it whether we are on it or not. They also figure that Erik is the only one that the audience wants really to hear from and they might very well be correct. He was our biggest draw. Having said all that, who knows. Things change. They may have a change of heart. I hope so.
There is currently a CHiPs motion picture in production. Would you appear in it if asked? How do you feel about another actor portraying your character?
I certainly would consider a role in the new motion picture of CHiPs. However, I have a feeling that will not happen. Again, they may ask Erik and/or Larry but they don’t want to overload the story with us. They want to tell a new story and give the new actors a chance to establish their characters and if we are there the temptation to compare is too great. I am sure if the movie does well at the box office they might consider reviving the series with the new cast. And as far as someone playing my part, I will be very curious to see their interpretation and will be in the front row cheering them on, cheering all of them on. I think we all feel that it was a good show that we are proud of and grateful to be associated with and would love to see someone carry on the franchise and enjoy the ride like we had.
You played tough but fair Sergeant Getraer. How did you feel about your character? Did you enjoy playing him? How much input did you have into the character’s development?
I loved playing Joe Getraer. I think he was the moral center of the show. My character always brought the boys back to the straight and narrow. I was the parental figure on the show. I was a good foil for Ponch & Jon. If they messed up they had to answer to Getraer. As for my input on the character, the producers and writers were always open to ideas. Mostly they threw some things into the early scripts and saw what was effective and wrote to those qualities. We had wonderful staff writers who were very sensitive to all our characters idiosyncrasies and, I thought, served all of us very well.
Your wife played your character’s wife in several episodes. How did that come to be and did you enjoy working together?
Gwynne Gilford, my real wife of almost 38 years, did play Betty Getraer for about 6 shows. I loved working with her. I’m just sorry that they couldn’t work her character in more. But one had to always remember that this was a show about Ponch & Jon not about the rest of us. Oh, it was about the rest of us but as we weaved in and out of their lives. And that is the way it should have been. I represented an older, more stodgy demographic and our show was aimed at the youth culture which I think was very successful.
The 6th season brought many dramatic changes to show, namely the loss of a great deal of the cast including Larry Wilcox. How did you and the remaining cast feel about those changes?
In the sixth season, Larry left, as did Randi and Michael Dorn and maybe some others. I have forgotten. The new cast members were all nice people but some of us could see the writing on the wall that our show was losing steam fast but not for lack of trying. MGM and NBC brought in a new producer, new writers with instructions to have more “fun” with the scripts. The result was some pretty silly shows that I was never very fond of and I think our core audience agreed evidenced by our numbers (Neilson) falling off precipitously. And that is always a recipe for disaster. Everyone gave it their all but it was a lost cause.
Do you keep in touch with any of your fellow castmates?
I don’t see Larry or Erik very much at all. I saw Larry last fall and I can’t remember the last time I saw Erik. The one I see the most is Paul Linke (Grossie). He and I have remained close friends ever since the show ended. He is a terrific guy and a very talented stage director especially in the one-man show format. I also manage to see Lou Wagner (Harlin) at least once a year at a New Year’s Day party he hosts at his house. Also a wonderful guy. I used to play tennis about twice a week with Michael Dorn (Turner) a few years back but I hurt my shoulder and had to scale back but we manage to have lunch every so often. Brodie Greer (Baricsa) has sort of dropped off my radar screen but because you have reminded me, I am going to track him down for an update. Those four guys were my pals on the show and remain so.
Your son Chris is a terrific actor and a rising star. Did you encourage him to get into acting?
You never encourage your children to attempt this business. It can be just too painful and heart breaking. But if they show a will and will not be denied, you do a 180 and give them all the support and encouragement you can. And I am delighted with the success Chris is having. He deserves it. He is a fierce worker and is always prepared for whatever comes his way. He’s also incredibly talented which doesn’t hurt. He’s off to a flying start and I think he will do very well. His Mom and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Did I also say he’s great guy? Well, he is!
What was it like reuniting with the cast for CHiPs 99?
We had a terrific time when we did CHiPs 99. Just sorry more of the cast couldn’t be with us. The movie did very well and we thought we would be doing more but TNT which owned the rights to CHiPs at the time wanted to go in a different direction with their in house productions. It would have been fun to do some more of them. As they say, that’s show business!
Finally, you’ve continued to act all these years. What are you working on now?
I have been rather busy of late, I am happy to say. This past spring I was in Connecticut doing a play for six weeks entitled, Viagara Falls. It was great fun and I will probably go out with it again this fall. We haven’t worked out the details yet. I finish a movie, Small Town Saturday Night, tomorrow where I play Chris’ Dad. How’s that for type casting and nepotism! I have a day on a Samuel Jackson film next week, Lakeview Terrace, and later in August start a film, No Man’s Land. So I am very grateful to be working. I seem to be avoiding the ageism in Hollywood they talk about.
Thanks so much Robert!