Police Woman first aired on US television on 26th March, 1974, as 'The Gamble', an episode of Joseph Wambaugh's anthology series Police Story, starring Angie Dickinson as policewoman Lisa Beaumont.
By the fall of that year Dickinson was back in the same role but with an new name; the more attractively sounding Pepper Anderson, undercover cop for the Criminal Conspiracy Unit of the LAPD.
The series broke new ground in featuring a woman in the lead role as a police officer and arguably paved the way for future female cop TV successes such as Charlie's Angels, and Cagney and Lacey in America and Juliet Bravo, The Gentle Touch and Prime Suspect in the UK. Sergeant Bill Crowley (Earl Holliman) was Anderson's immediate superior while Pete Royster (Charles Dierkop) and Joe Styles (Ed Bernard) formed the other half of the undercover team that investigated everything from murder and rape to drugs and vice, all of which required Anderson to go undercover posing variously as a callgirl, a gangsters girlfriend, a dancer or anything else that required Angie Dickinson to be seen in mini skirts, evening gowns and nurses uniforms.
Dickinson soon became the television sex symbol for the over 40's - it may have been groundbreaking in its subject matter but it was still very sexist in TV terms in what was still very much a male dominated medium. However, in its favour the show was not all high heels and fishnet stockings and Anderson's character was rounded out by her occasional visits to a younger autistic sister, Cheryl (Nichole Kallis), in the first season.
One month before filming, the cast visited the Hollywood Division police station to soak up the atmosphere and found themselves caught up in the midst of a real-life gun drama that ended in the death of an armed attacker.
Police Woman became the inspiration behind an avalanche of applications from women to join police departments throughout the United States in the late 1970s and well into the 1980s negating (admittedly with hindsight) the views of many feminists who put pressure on the network to de-sexualize the character.
Published on January 21st, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.