When Police Squad arrived on March 4, 1982, TV viewers were expecting something unusual from Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker. The trio had scored a major box office success with Airplane! and their Kentucky Fried Movie still playing midnight movie screenings. ZAZ delivered with a spoof of the cop shows that had been a staple of broadcast TV. They gave viewers a familiar face with Leslie Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin. Neilsen had spent decades in films and cop shows including SWAT, Kojak and Hawaii Five-O. He was Deputy Police Chief in The Bold Ones: The Protectors. Viewers were very familiar with Nielsen in the role of law and order. Police Squad! quickly brought the disorder. Sadly this same disorder became part of the reason why this ground breaking series can fit on a single Blu-ray without compromising bit rate. Police Squad!: The Complete Series won’t have you doing hard time to watch all six episodes.
Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker only wrote and directed the pilot episode. Even then their script work was a bit of a cheat since they pretty much remade an episode of M Squad with Neilsen doing a stranger version of Lee Marvin’s cop. “A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)” is M Squad‘s “More Deadly” with comic twists. In the original the woman is taking money from her check casing job to pay her gambling debt. In Police Squad!, she’s run up an orthodontic bill. The straight lines used by ZAZ are from the original show. They even use the same camera angles in many of the scenes. It’s something that wasn’t noticed by nearly everyone watching since by this point M Squad hasn’t been on TV in 20 year and didn’t really play the rerun circuit. The show did have the non-stop visual jokes found in Airplane! and the wordplay as the investigation grew.
The weight of the show isn’t all on the strong shoulders of Det. Drebin. There’s a great supporting cast that starts with Captain Ed Hocken (Highlander‘s Alan North). A big familiar face and chest belongs to Mission: Impossible‘s Peter Lupus as Officer Norberg. He fronts the undercover operations. Ted Olson is the scientist at the lab that performs very unusual ballistics tests using VCR tapes. William Duell is the shoeshine guy with his ear on the street. Finally there’s Al, who doesn’t quite make the it into the frame is played by former-ABA superstar center Ronald “Tiny Ron” Taylor. This was a pretty great team.
The second episode “Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)” marks the first visit to the directing chair by Joe Dante (Gremlins). Joe gives his slapstick wonder to the tale of a boxing match being fixed. An interesting note that the celebrity that dies in the opening of the show is Georg Stanford Brown of The Rookies. He’s return to the show off the camera as the director of “The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand).” This has a rich heiress getting kidnapped before her birthday. It’s up to Drebin to crack the case. “Revenge and Remorse (The Guilty Alibi)” has a mad bomber on the loose and the only real suspect is a guy who was convicted of being a bomber. But Drebin thinks the case couldn’t be so simple. Joe Dante returned for “Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don’t Laugh)” which turned out to be the final episode. Drebin has to infiltrate the stand up comedy world to find out if a dead comic was a suicide or a homicide.
There’s no need to give away the fast paced gags that dominate the show. Sadly those gags turned out to be part of the show’s undoing. The series only lasted four episodes when ABC yanked it off the schedule. The ratings weren’t great after it replaced Mork and Mindy on the Thursday night schedule. An executive said that the show required the audiences to focus too much on the screen. Later in summer the network burned off the last two episodes. While some critics go nuts about ABC yanking the cord too soon, it seems like the fast axe is what has allowed Police Squad! to be so legendary. With only six episodes, Police Squad! came out on VHS, Beta and Laserdiscs at the start of the home video rental revolution. Would the show have been able to really keep up the fun at 24 or 48 episodes? Would they have released Beta tapes of all those episodes? Or would people say that it overstayed it’s welcome? Six episodes make it a seminal series. The show had enough of a cult following that in 1988 Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker released The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. The film brought back Nielsen as Drebin although North and Lupus were replaced by George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson. The good news is Police Squad!: The Complete Series is O.J. Simpson free. Luckily it’s not free of Det. Drebin’s unorthodox ways to fight crime.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The 1080p image really brings out the details of the show. This has never looked better from when it was broadcast to even the early home video releases. This is the version fans have been waiting to behold. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Mono so you can hear the original mix and the new version. The episodes are subtitled.
Audio Commentaries have David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Robert K. Weiss discuss their work on “A Substantial Gift:” and “The Butler Did It.” Robert Wuhl (Batman talks about writing “Testimony of Evil.” The show was a bit of whirlwind for him because it didn’t last that long.
Gag Reel (4:57) has the times the jokes went a bit too weird.
Leslie Nielsen Interview (8:41) has him talk about playing the ultimate detective and how it felt when the show got yanked.
Behind the Freeze Frames (4:31) goes into how the episodes ended with the actors not stopping from an optical effect.
Casting Test: Ed Williams (2:50) has him bringing science to the role.
Casting Test: Alan North (6:03) show how he nailed the Police Captain gig.
Producers Photo Gallery (0:58) are still from the show.
List of Celebrity Death Shots is text of the star fatalities.
Production Memo Highlights is text of things that had to be changed from the network’s standards and practices department.
CBS DVD presents Police Squad: The Complete Series. Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Alan North, Peter Lupus, Ed Williams & William Duell. Boxset Contents: 6 episodes on 1 Bluray disc. Released: April 14, 2020.
Tags: CBS DVD, M Squad, Mission Impossible, Police Squad