For much of the 1970s, Dennis Weaver played Sam McCloud, a cowboy cop working in New York at a time when porn-filled Times Square was a synonym for sin. These days, a Naked Cowboy patrols the Disneyfied Crossroads of the World.
The times may have changed, but apparently not the fascination with 1970s cop and detective shows – at least not in Hollywood. In July, plans for a revival of “The Rockford Files” were announced. Now comes news that “Hawaii Five-0” is due for a reboot – which, if nothing else, probably will give the theme song new life as an iTunes hit.
In some respects, though, the influence of 1970s cop and detective shows already endures on the small screen.
Tony Shalhoub’s Adrian Monk is a Felix Unger to Peter Falk’s first-nameless Columbo’s Oscar Madison, but with similarly smart and quirky crime-solving methods. Speaking of Oscar Madison, Jack Klugman’s (also first-nameless) Quincy lives on in the DNA of “Bones” and a whole alphabet soup of “CSI” editions.
“Law & Order,” in its 20th season, remains most associated with its greatest star – the late Jerry Orbach, whose Detective Lennie Briscoe was a classic 1970s cop working in a late 20th and early 21st Century world.
There have been some noble failures in attempts to capitalize on the 1970s magic: Ving Rhames’ 2005 bid to fill the fedora of Telly Savalas’ “Kojak” – the best of the genre (we will accept no arguments) – didn’t quite make the cut. More recently, the clever, short-lived ABC version of the BBC’s “Life on Mars,” merged the decades, sending a current New York cop back in time to 1973. (The American edition was released on DVD this month.)
There’s no easy explanation for the 1970s crime-fighter renaissance. Maybe folks are attracted to characters who are tough, clever and flawed, going up bad guys who are much the same. Maybe we just love good detective stories.
Or maybe Hollywood, which already has given us campy big-screen takes on “Starsky & Hutch” and “Charlie’s Angels,” is just out of ideas and happy to rely on familiar brand names.
Whatever the reason, it’s fun to consider updating a canon of TV shows that includes “Cannon” – not to mention, “Baretta,” “Barnaby Jones” and “Police Woman,” among others.
So we put it to you: which 1970s TV cop shows would you like to see revived – and who would you like to see star? Use the comments section to clue us in on your thoughts.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.