Cop Rock

Cop Rock

1990 - United States

The worst dramatic series ever? From the man who brought US television some of its best?

Cop Rock review by Michael Spadoni

Many critics believe Steven Bochco's effort to combine police drama and musical numbers was unforgivable. Others thought it was a noble but failed effort. "TV Guide" ranked it eighth among its "50 Worst Shows Ever"; topping the list were The Jerry Springer Show and the 1960's sitcom My Mother The Car.

Cop Rock actually began when it was suggested that Bochco turn his ground-breaking Hill Street Blues into a Broadway musical. Bochco rejected the idea but began thinking that maybe a marriage of police drama and music could work. He was also influenced by the work of the late Dennis Potter, especially his now-classic The Singing Detective.

In a 2003 interview for CBS News, Bochco noted that "some people would probably say that I wasn't thinking. I thought (Cop Rock) was a terrific experiment. But most people, I think, were embarrassed by it..." Bochco would later claim that Cop Rock was the most fun he ever had producing a television series. Actor Paul McCrane, who played Detective Bob McIntire (and who would later find fame as Doctor Robert "Rocket" Romano on ER) knew "people would either love it or hate it".

Cop Rock, which was created by Bochco and William Finklestein, was a gritty police drama in the "Hill Street" tradition, this time set in the toughest neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. Veteran actor Ronny Cox played Police Chief Roger Kendrick, a quasi-cowboy with a brash attitude. Larry Joshua was Captain John Hollander, the honest commander who tried to keep his precinct together. David Gianopoulos and Anne Bobby played street cops who had a romantic attraction to each other; James McDaniel (pre-NYPD Blue) was Officer Franklin Rose. Actress Barbara Bosson (who was married to Bochco at the time) played the corrupt, publicity-greedy Mayor Louise Plank.

Cop Rock

Every few minutes, the action stopped for a musical number. In the pilot episode, gang members turned on the cops who arrested them, rapping "On these streets, WE got the power!". The mayor and her staff sang about the glories of bribery, while a judge and a jury convicted a criminal gospel-style, with the refrain "He's guilty". And of course, there was the poor upscale yuppie whose BMW was taken away after he was arrested for buying cocaine. In a lament to his lost four-wheeled love, he sang "I want my Beemer back!"

Some of the original songs were written by the legendary singer-songwriter Randy Newman; a stable of songwriters penned most of the other tunes. (Newman did write and sing the show's title theme, "Under the Gun".)

In the fall of 1990, there seemed to be a hunger for a different type of television show, as the success of The Simpsons, America's Funniest Home Videos and the cult hit Twin Peaks seemed to indicate. There was no question that Cop Rock was a different breed of show. But at $1.8 million an episode (the most expensive television series up to that time), ABC needed it to become a quick and solid success. It wasn't.

Viewers stayed away despite heavy promotion for the series (it was even a trailer shown on thousands of movie screens across the country). With a guaranteed 13-week commitment, ABC urged Bochco to drop the musical numbers and turn the show into a conventional police drama. Bochco refused. Cop Rock was history, with the final episode airing just before Christmas 1990.

Maybe it failed because critics expected more from Bochco (who would recover from Cop Rock with the success of NYPD Blue). Or maybe audiences were not ready for music with their drama. Still, it was a noble but failed experiment. Later in the decade, an episode of the medical drama Chicago Hope featured the regular cast breaking out in song. And in November 2001, executive producer Josh Whedon penned a musical episode of his series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Entitled "Once More With Feeling", it blended a number of musical genres into an involving episode performed by the regular cast. Critics cheered the effort. Which was more than they did with Cop Rock.

Published on March 30th, 2023. Written by Michael Spadoni for Television Heaven.

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