CHiPs: a Very Belated Review

(From left), Larry Wilcox, "Jon Baker," and Erik Estrada, "Ponch," the two main stars of CHiPs
(From left), Larry Wilcox, "Jon Baker," and Erik Estrada, "Ponch," the two main stars of CHiPs | Source

Intro

To produce a professionally-written piece one has to act and actually "be" have a professional mindset. That, I cannot promise. It would be much easier for me to be a "pro" if I were dealing with a professionally-produced action show on television in the mid-1970's through the early 1980's.

But I'm not, so I guess it's fine to just be me and let you sort out what you like and dislike. That would make it easier on both of us.

Erik Estrada was a publicity vehicle who NBC used to get higher ratings with CHiPs
Erik Estrada was a publicity vehicle who NBC used to get higher ratings with CHiPs | Source

CHiPs: brief bio

CHiPs was an American television drama series produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios that aired on NBC from Sept. 15, 1977, to May 1, 1983. CHiPs followed the lives of two motorcycle police officers of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The series, produced by the "ratings wizard," Rick Rosner, ran for 139 episodes over six seasons, plus one reunion TV movie from October 27, 1998.

This brief glance at CHiPs bio pretty much sums up what the show was about. But I want to present my own brief look at this surreal television action series that made a block-buster debut and the fire went higher, but after a season or two, the "old green monster," started raising its ugly head. I am referring to money, not jealousy. To be fair with you. It was a dead-heat between money and jealousy.

Thought you might like to see this flashback

Rick Rosner, CHiPs producer
Rick Rosner, CHiPs producer | Source
CHiPs opening montage
CHiPs opening montage | Source
CHiPs brought in millions for NBC through the sales of CHiPs merchandise
CHiPs brought in millions for NBC through the sales of CHiPs merchandise | Source

Success bred with fame gives birth to strife

There were really only three stars on CHiPs: Erik "Poncherollo" Estrada, Larry "Jon Baker" Wilcox and the stunt choreographers: Paul Nuckles, coordinator (22 episodes, 1977-1983). Bill Young, precision, Jerry Nista, choreographer (2) episodes, 1979) and Ralph Helfer. It does not take a veteran television critic to instantly realize that for the amount of stunt directors, designers, and choreographers, there was very little acting on CHiPs. I am not being harsh. Just speaking honestly.

Strife, fame and popularity plus weekly fan letters in the thousands all go hand-in-hand and CHiPs was not exempt from this near-fatal illness. Erik Estrada was the "hunk" (notice my usage of 1980's slang) that women, married and single worshiped. Plus Estrada received more fan mail than Wilcox. This metamorphasis did not catch NBC napping as they began to promote Estrada (from within) via the writers who had the easiest jobs on the planet for they only had to give Estrada "Ponch," more dramatic lines than Larry "Jon" Baker and they were home free.

Example of "dramatic," hard-hitting dialogue on CHiPs:

Poncherollo: "Hey, man. You get a look at that fox at the roller blade charity event last night, "Jon?"
Jon: "Uhh, yeah, but, uhhh, Ponch, I didn't, uhhh . . ."

There you have it. Cut! Print. End of scene one, act one, episode 15: "Taco Bandit Terrorizes L.A. Freeway." Now do you get it? Frankly put, if you seen on episode of CHiPs, you've seen them all.

Would you not be upset if you were in Wilcox's shoes? He could only take so much, so he left the show and did not return to finish the sixth season. But producer, Rick Rosner didn't panic. He got Bruce Jenner, then a male, to fill in with Estrada and that move, calculated I might add, made Estrada even more famous to the point of fans almost forgetting Larry Wilcox.

(From left), Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, stars of CHiPs in happier days
(From left), Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, stars of CHiPs in happier days | Source

Celebrities who "Ponch" and "Jon" stopped each week for higher ratings

Broderick Crawford, "Dan Matthews," on "Highway Patrol"
Broderick Crawford, "Dan Matthews," on "Highway Patrol" | Source
Orleans, the band who scored with "Dance With Me," "Love Takes Time," and "Still The One"
Orleans, the band who scored with "Dance With Me," "Love Takes Time," and "Still The One" | Source
Even "Lassie," made a cameo appearance on CHiPs
Even "Lassie," made a cameo appearance on CHiPs | Source

Predictable leads to boredom

When each episode of CHiPs began, CHP officers were seen assembled in the briefing room being given their daily orders by Robert "Sgt. Getraer" Pine and before the first commercial, "Getraer," like a human puppet, would point to "Poncherollo," and scold him for some mischevious act he had pulled on some fellow officers just for fun and with a mild frown, "Sgt. Getraer," told the officers some policey-sounding phrase like, "Guys, watch yourselves out there," and the scene would cut to "Jon" and "Ponch," chatting briefly about "Ponch's" date he had the night before with this hot radio DJ and she loved him so much, "Ponch" was talking irrationally about leaving the CHP to get married and making a live with the female DJ in the San Fernando Valley.

All of this talk while Wilcox looked very confused and chuckled to himself and as they rev'd up their Kawasaki's, Wilcox would say something like: "Ponch," love takes time," and would lead the way onto the freeway to watch for "dangerous" speeders and maybe an occasional litterbug.

If you were a fan of CHiPs, you would catch the clue given in the dialogue by "Jon" or "Ponch" that subconsciously made you stop from turning the channel. In this example, the hot rock band, "Orleans," would be stopped by "Ponch" and "Jon," to fulfill their guest star cameo.

"Orleans," as you well know, had monster hits with "Dance With Me," "Still The One," and "Love Takes Time." What clever writing. What clever directing. Hey, my then-seven-year-old daughter, Angie, could have directed this or any episode of this cartoon with real actors. No. Real people. Oh, lest I forget. Sometimes a famous animal star such as "Lassie" and trainer would be "stopped" to mix things up.

Robert Pine starred as "Sgt. Getraer"
Robert Pine starred as "Sgt. Getraer" | Source

Be honest. Were you a fan of CHiPs?

See results without voting
Lou Wagner was "Harlan Arliss," the CHiPs motorcycle and car mechanic
Lou Wagner was "Harlan Arliss," the CHiPs motorcycle and car mechanic | Source
Paul Linke endured the role of "Officer Grossman," who was grossly overweight and suffered many harsh jokes because of his large girth
Paul Linke endured the role of "Officer Grossman," who was grossly overweight and suffered many harsh jokes because of his large girth | Source
The pretty Randi Oakes was cast as "Officer Bonnie Clark"
The pretty Randi Oakes was cast as "Officer Bonnie Clark" | Source
Michael Dorn was cast as "Officer Jeb"
Michael Dorn was cast as "Officer Jeb" | Source

Weekly mistakes

CHiPs had so many obvious mistakes in filming that it was not funny. It was hilarious at first, but after eight episodes, it wore thin. My wife, Pam, and our daughter, Angie, would always watch CHiPs with my mom and dad on Sunday nights and I would always say to Angie, "let's see who can spot the first mistake first." That event was big fun for Angie and me.

Here are a few that I noticed right off:

  • "Ponch" and "Jon" talked a lot while breezing down the L.A. freeways. But if you will watch the reruns, you will see that neither guy talked above a normal tone of voice. Now with their helmets secured they would talk about dates, work and dates mostly. You and someone test this and see if you and a friend can talk with helmets secured breezing down any freeway. It simply cannot be done.
  • Why was "Sergent Getraer," always in a fowl mood? He was rarely happy. And what police captain, sergeant ever threatens, "Poncherollo! This makes the fourth time I've had to tell you to stop stand on the seat of you bike to show off for girls!" Fourth time? What type of commander did he want to portray, all talk and no discipline?
  • Speaking of "Sargent Getraer." He had a wife that was never seen on CHiPs. Oh, she was seen once. But for a married guy, he spent a lot of time with his single officers, both guys and girls at whatever barbecue or shrimp boil they were having. Beer, disco music, and "Sgt. Getraer." Hail! Hail! The troops are all here. I wondered to myself that in real life if this were happening, someone would step up and tell their superior officer that this party was for singles only.
  • "Jon" and "Ponch" were never wrong in their judgments about arresting a speeder or lawbreaker. So this is real life? No. This is why I used "surreal" early in this hub to describe CHiPs. In real life, real motorcycle or automobile officers do make mistakes. And they own them. Not "Jon" and "Ponch." But poor "Grossman," the once-fat CHP officer. He was the "butt of CHiPs ridicule" and sometimes when he was not guilty.
  • Did you notice the predictable stunts? Oh, yeah, they were there every week. Cars, pick-up trucks and even diesel rigs pulling trailers running on flat asphalt roads going airborn over cars that were overturned and they did the jumps all in slow motion. What a slick move by Rosner to make young viewers say, "Ohhhh. Ahhhh." I didn't. Frankly it was very mundane.
  • It was so very obvious that pretty Randi "Officer Bonnie Clark" Oakes and Michael "Officer Jeb" Dorn were only used as tokens to satisfy the feminists and African-American groups that were known to monitor television shows to make sure that the genders and races they represented were treated fairly. Fact is, both Clark and Dorn were fine actors, but the scriptwriters never gave them any choice lines.

In summation

CHiPs ended broadcast in May, 1983. I should say mercifully-ended broadcast and for me it was a merciful act by NBC to cancel this "circus" nick-named a television show.

Out of five stars, I have to be honest. I give CHiPs, two and a half stars.

© 2016 Kenneth Avery

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Comments 2 comments

Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 5 months ago from Mississauga, ON

Well, Ken, I beg to disagree. As young students, we loved this program. Perhaps, not knowing the American ways back then, we were not intelligent enough to pick out those mistakes.

CHiPs was an instant success with us.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 5 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Suhail and my dog,

I respect your comment and feelings toward this program. Honest.

It is (this) freedom to express our own opinions that keep our country strong.

Happy Fourth to you.

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