Ponch & John hit the roads as motorcycle cops in LA on CHiPs (1977-1983)

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Larry Wilcox Erik Estrada in CHiPs TV show

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

CHiPs: Young motorcycle cops keep California highways safe in new TV series (1977)

CHiPS, a light-hearted one-hour action-adventure series, follows the exploits of a pair of young California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers on the busy Los Angeles freeways, and their encounters with the infinite variety of people who drive there.

Starring in the series are Larry Wilcox as Officer Jonathan Baker, the serious one of the team despite his boyish good looks, and Erik Estrada as Officer Francis “Ponch” Poncherello, ruggedly handsome and the Peck’s bad boy of the duo. Robert Pine costars as their supervisor, Sgt. Joe Getraer.

Each episode of CHiPs is a blend of action sequences and four or five extended vignettes illustrating the CHP officer’s encounters as they respond to day-to-day situations on the freeways. Intertwined with their on-the-job exploits is a running sub-plot about the lives of the two bachelor patrolmen.

The stories in this series, in which guns are rarely drawn and violence is minimized, are a balance of the humorous, the human interest and the dramatic.

CHiPs, which will be filmed on the Los Angeles freeways and other locations, is the first television series in 24 years to be filmed with the cooperation of the California Highway Patrol. The creator-producer is Rick Rosner, who, for the last six years, has served as a reserve deputy sheriff for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. His assignments vary from patrols with a regular deputy partner to flying with the Aero Bureau on helicopter surveillance, pursuit and rescue missions.


CHiPs TV show cast members

CHiPs appears straight from the Jack Webb mold (1977)

By Buck Biggers

In 1949, an actor named Jack Webb began appearing in a radio series titled “Dragnet,” and a new kind of show was born — a type which would prove even more successful on television than radio. This was what would eventually come to be called the “low key” series or the “I just want the facts, Ma’am” series.

On television, the first such show was the TV version of “Dragnet.” It’s Dum-Tee-Dum-Dum music would become probably the most hummed theme in all eventually have another “Dragnet” hit in 1967 plus “Adam-12” and then “Emergency!” which is still on NBC although limited to two-hour specials.

Asked the secret of his low-key shows, Webb once said, “We went for the documentary approach. The shows were never designed as personality pieces — or else we would have called them ‘Friday and Smith’ or ‘Malloy and Reed.’ On our shows, the people aren’t as important as the overall idea.”

Well, Webb’s Mark VII company does not have a new series on the air this season, but there is a new one which might have been stamped out by that Mark VII mold. The title is “CHiPs.”

CHIPS TV Guide cover 1982

CHiPs TV show scorecard

Let’s take a look in 3D (Difference, Depth and Durability):

1. Difference: The series follows the exploits of a couple of young California Highway Patrol (that’s what “CHiPs” stands for) officers on motorcycles.

They race along those busy Los Angeles freeways, about which comedians have been making jokes for so many years, pulling people over or chasing them or giving them tickets or taking them in or giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in case they have had a heart attack.

Each episode contains four or five different vignettes loosely tied together by some small thread — one of the officers breathing toxic gas and failing to fully realize it until almost the end of the show, one of the officers finding a dog and hating to give him up until almost the end of the show, etc.

As for being different, it isn’t. The episodes look so much like a combination of “Emergency!” and “Adam-12” that, if this were a Jack Webb production, it would be logical to accuse him of reusing old scripts.

For the most part, this is simply “Adam-12” on motorcycles instead of in a police car. (And, of course, “Adam-12” was simply “Dragnet” in a police car instead of on foot.)

And so it goes.

Dynamite magazine cover with CHIPS TV show

2. Depth: We like the talent. Erik Estrada, in portraying Frances “Ponch” Poncherello, knows precisely how to grin crookedly at the right moment in order to project his “Peck’s bad boy” image.

And Larry Wilcox, playing officer Jonathan Baker, the straight man, seems to have memorized all of Martin Milner’s Malloy expressions from “Adam-12,” so that he looks properly indulgent or exasperated as required by Ponch’s bad boy antics.

Since these two young men spend the vast majority of their time racing around the freeways, their bodies glued to motorcycles and their heads covered by hel- mets, it is virtually impossible to expect more than one-dimensional characterizations. And that is what they offer.

3. Durability: The Webb formula for a successful series is unique enough that there ought always to be room in prime-time for at least one such property during any season. But it is unfair to expect that this show could possibly be this kind of obvious imitation.

How did the show get on? Perhaps it was because the creator-producer is Rick Rosner, an honest-to-goodness deputy sheriff for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Even though the show is almost certain to have a short run, maybe the fact that the execs at NBC gave it a try will keep them from getting a speeding ticket on the freeway.

And that’s important, especially when the “CHiPs” are down.

CHiPs Tv show: Season 1 opening credits and theme music (video)

Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada in CHiPs TV show

CHiPs Ponch and John cartoon from 1977

CHiPs Ponch and John cartoon from 1977

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