The Hollywood Reporter just announced that the “CHiPs” movie is back on track and production is to begin early next year.. The news has been met with some excitement by CHiPs fans (the show’s following is still quite strong) but much trepidation. Many fans are worried about how their favorite show will be treated and whether breathing new life into an old classic is really a good idea. I think it can be, if care is taken to preserve and celebrate what made the original so special. Warner Brothers and Mr. Shepard, if you don’t mind, let me offer some advice. I think I’m qualified-I’ve been a fan since the beginning and run a community of CHiPs and Larry Wilcox fans that numbers well over 23,000 and counting!
I was just 7 years old when “CHiPs” premiered in 1977. The first season was on after my bedtime, but my mother watched every week so I listened to each episode from my bed and visualized them in my head. From the second season on I was in front of the TV every Saturday (and then Sunday) night. I had the dolls, the trading cards, and some of the other toys. Like many children of my generation, I spent many a summer’s day playing “CHiPs” with my friends. Our bikes became CHP motorcycles and our quiet New England street became a bustling California freeway. When the show went into syndication we did our homework with Jon and Ponch, and along the way we grew up with them. We turned in every week to watch, laugh, learn, and escape for awhile into a world where the good guys always won and friendships lasted forever.
Jon, Ponch and the rest of the officers at Central touched us in different ways. They inspired some of us to live a life devoted to public service as a member of law enforcement. For countless others they provided positive role models when they otherwise had none. They gave a lot of kids who had painful childhoods (including me) hope, comfort, laughter, and someone to look up to. They were heroes. Many fans say their kids are now fans too.
It is my hope that the new movie will remember that. My first piece of advice is to please handle the show with care. Don’t turn it into a mindless parody. While there’s nothing wrong with gently poking fun at the show or its characters (“CHiPs” did just that in the episode “Hustle”! When guest star Broderick Crawford did his trademark “10-4” sign-off from “Highway Patrol”, Jon replied, “They just don’t make shows like that anymore!” Crawford eyed them both and lamented, “No, they sure don’t!”) but there’s a fine line between affectionate self-deprecation and outright mockery. “CHiPs” and the actors whose talents made it special mean so much to so many. Don’t insult their cherished memories.
I’m reminded of a story Donny Osmond once told to a reporter. He had just finished a concert in New York City and several times had made fun of the songs he sang back in the 70’s when he shot to superstardom. After the show a fan approached him, clearly upset, and said how he dare make fun of those songs! She explained that they were a part of the fabric of her childhood and that they didn’t just belong to him, but to every fan they had touched. Donny said her words made a real impression on him and he never mocked those songs again.
As a long time fan and the administrator of this site and Larry’s fan page on Facebook, I’ve spoken to “CHiPs” fans from all over the world and I know they all feel the same about the show as that fan felt about those songs. The awe and joy on their faces at the 40th Anniversary CHiPs Cast Reunion in 2012 is proof of that. Fans came from across the globe to meet the men and women they grew up watching. Time marches on but their love for the show remains. Please please, stay true to the original. Humor is fine and indeed was an important part of the series, but mockery isn’t.
My second piece of advice is to learn from the mistakes of “CHiPs 99”. Find quality writers and make sure they take the time to learn the show’s timeline and canon to avoid ending up with painfully ridiculous storylines like Ponch’s. It was so mangled that it managed to blow the entire 6th season out of existence! Fans know that the first episode of that season reveals that Jon left the patrol and moved back to Wyoming, although we were never told why. This led to a lot of fans being quite confused when “CHiPs 99” opened with Captain Baker and Officer-about-to-become-Sergeant Bruce Nelson at Central and Ponch nowhere to be found. Why? Surprise! He left all those years ago, not Jon! We were never given any explanation as to where Jon was during the final season, (long court case? Hey, it worked for Ponch for half a season!) or how he could possibly know Bruce (or what happened to his brother Bobby!) but are told Ponch married a woman he rescued during the first season (despite the fact we never saw her again and his being engaged to someone else during the 6th season), had a son, became a widower and decided to quit the patrol and go paint bridges. So if Jon never left, the 6th season never happened-so how did Bruce get there? Yeah it makes my head hurt too. The whole storyline was a dreadful mess that left more than a few fans wishing for a “Dallas” type ending where it all ended up being a bad dream. Please learn from this! Continuity matters!
A little research and episode watching would have revealed an absolutely perfect premise for “CHiPs 99”. In the 4th season episode “New Guy in Town”, bad guy Martin Beck snarls at Jon and Ponch, “Remember this face, cause you’re gonna see it again!” as he’s arrested for trying to kill them. Jon replies cockily, “We can wait the 20 years!” Now this was in 1981 so it would have been only 17 years, but it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he got out early. In my opinion having Beck come back to make good on his threat would have made a GREAT movie. The little problem of Jon having left? Easily fixed. Jon was only away on a leave of absence and returned to the patrol 6 months later. A brief line or two could reveal that. It would also explain why Ponch never seemed to miss his partner and best friend-he knew he was coming back! The 6th season remains intact, Jon and Ponch are together again and you’ve still got lots of action and suspense. Please, do plenty of research and episode watching. It matters!
My third piece of advice? Don’t update it too much. Yes, this is 2014, where much of George Carlin’s classic “Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television” can be heard regularly during prime time, cop shows feature graphic violence and some gore regularly and even some nudity is acceptable, but that doesn’t mean it should be featured in the new movie and series. One of the “CHiPs” hallmarks was that, as Paul Linke (Officer Artie Grossman) put it, “we solved problems with our hearts and minds, not guns and violence.” That may be idealistic and perhaps unrealistic in today’s world but please don’t turn the new “CHiPs” into a sex and gore fest. We all know that police work isn’t always pretty and that Ponch was…well let’s face it; he got around-a lot! (In the episode “Tow Truck Lady” Ponch has a friend’s child stay with him while the friend is having problems. When the little girl announces she forgot her toothbrush, he takes her into his bathroom and shows her he has a drawer FULL of brand new toothbrushes. When she asks why he has so many, Ponch carefully explains that his friends like to sleep over a lot. That may have gone right over our 8-year-old heads but as an adult it was pretty darn clear what he really meant!) We didn’t need to see it then and really don’t need to see it now. Keep CHiPs the fun escape it’s always been.
Finally, don’t forget the original cast. Each of them gave a little of themselves to the characters they played and left their mark. The show wouldn’t have been the same without any of them. Don’t believe me? Ask any fan what they thought of the 6th season when Larry Wilcox, Brodie Greer, Randi Oakes and Michael Dorn (50% of the cast!) all left. Do you think it was just a coincidence that it ended up being the series’ final season? Not likely. (No disrespect to the remaining original cast, who did a fine job!) Had the cast changes been handled delicately and with much thought and respect (like they were for example, on M*A*S*H) it may have been a different story. Treat the original actors and their characters with respect. They need to be involved in the new series somehow, whether it be through cameos, the characters’ children being characters, or something else. I’d love to see Chris Pine get a role in the movie as nod toward his dad, who made Sgt. Joe Getraer such a great character. Don’t forget them-give them the respect and attention they deserve.
We’d love to see CHiPs come back to life. Just do it with the same love and respect we have for it. Treat the series right and it will delight a whole new generation of fans, just like it did us all those years ago-and while you’re at it, release the rest of the seasons on DVD already! We’ve been waiting long enough. Release them and believe me, we will buy them!