Breaking barriers and setting trends: The Mod Squad’s television legacy
With its innovative concept and dynamic trio — Pete Cochran, Linc Hayes, and Julie Barnes — the series broke new ground, and left a lasting legacy in the world of television.
The Mod Squad show’s premise
The show, which aired from 1968 to 1973, was revolutionary for its time. It featured three young undercover cops with troubled pasts who were recruited to work on cases that involved the youth of America.
This premise alone set The Mod Squad apart from other crime dramas of the era. The characters, each from a different background, represented a significant shift towards diversity and inclusion on television.
The Mod Squad & social issues
The cultural impact of The Mod Squad extended beyond its casting choices. The series tackled pressing social issues of the time, including racism, drug abuse, and the counterculture movement. It was one of the first shows to address these topics head-on, making it a conversation starter in homes across the country.
Their fashion influence
Fashion also played a key role in the show’s appeal. The characters were the epitome of late 1960s and early 70s style, influencing trends and becoming style icons for the youth of that era. Their outfits, hairstyles, and overall aesthetic were imitated by fans, cementing the show’s place in pop culture history.
The Mod Squad catchphrase
The Mod Squad also left its mark with the memorable catchphrase, “One black, one white, one blonde,” which succinctly captured the essence of the show’s diverse lead cast. This phrase, along with the show’s innovative approach to storytelling and social commentary, contributed to its status as a cultural phenomenon.
In hindsight, The Mod Squad was a reflection of a society in transition, grappling with important social issues while also providing entertainment. Its legacy is evident in the way it paved the way for future television shows to explore more diverse themes and castings, making it a significant piece of American television history.
Below, find a 1968 profile of the show and its cast, as well as a collection of photos and videos from back when the show aired.
- all 124 episodes, Multiple Best TV Actress Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award for Peggy Lipton
- Peggy Lipton, Clarence Williams III, Micheal Cole (Actors)
- Aaron Spelling (Director)
- Spanish (Publication Language)
- Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Mod Squad profile from 1968
‘Mod Squad’ lays it on the line (1968)
By Bob Wright in The Post Crescent (Wisconsin) October 13, 1968
So, what’s so novel about three young people, two boys and a girl, who work as undercover police in ABC’s hour-long Tuesday night, “The Mod Squad’? Plenty.
It’s far from being another cops ‘n’ robbers tale, and the people to tell you of the difference are executive producer Aaron Spelling and the show’s stars, Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton.
Let’s begin with Spelling: “This is the story of three lonely young kids who have been in trouble with the police. They are on probation, and the police say to them: ‘We don’t understand you and you don’t understand us, but we want you to help us bridge the generation gap.’ After Vietnam and civil rights, that’s our biggest problem today, in my opinion.
“We are not dealing with hippies, but with kids who want to know what it’s all about, where our country is going, and where they fit in. These are three members of the new generation, of the now generation. They want to contribute as well as criticize.
“Kids are involved in much crime today, but a major proportion, of that involvement is the direct result of adults using kids. We’re not interested in pot parties, or in finking on the kids involved. That’s not our bag. We are interested in who is selling the pot.”
In entertainment terms, this sounds interesting, even admirable, but rather idealistic. The idea of “kids” as cops smacks of “it could only happen on television.”
Are fictitious ingredients placed together simply to garner a young audience?
The answer to that is a qualified “no.” Says Spelling: “While no television series, or play or movie, exactly mirrors life, the basic ingredients of ‘The Mod Squad’ are definitely not fictitious.
“A young man named Buddy Ruskin came to me with an idea for a series based on his adventures as a private eye. That didn’t interest me, but I was intrigued by his youth. I imagined private eyes all looked like Sam Spade. He told me he became a private investigator when he lost a police job because he was too old. Then I really took notice.
“He had been a member of the young narcotics squad in Los Angeles, roaming Sunset Strip and working in high schools to find out who was selling drugs to kids, who was getting them involved in drug-related crimes. After a few years, he was burned out because everybody knew him. I was amazed, and asked if there were still such squads in Los Angeles. He said there were.
“When some checking revealed that Mayor Lindsay had formed a “hippie squad” in New York and that other large cities had similar teams we went ahead with ‘The Mod Squad’ as a series, and Buddy Ruskin is now our technical adviser.
“The show has a lot of visual appeal,” Spelling states. “We do a lot of location shooting in and around Los Angeles and there are some exciting chase sequences involved in the action. Also — we are taking advantage of the photographic breakthroughs made in the movie ‘The Graduate,’ and we are trying a lot of exciting things. But what will make us are the three kids, Michael, Peggy and Clarence.
“We feel the scenes audiences will remember from ‘The Mod Squad’ are the ones where the kids talk to each other. They’re like sponges, soaking in their environment, discussing it and reacting to it. We call them the ‘soul scenes’ and I think both kids and adults will respond to them — perhaps even learn something about each other.
“The fourth regular on the series, Tige Andrews, is an actor of proven ability. He plays the police captain, Adam Greer, with the same warmth and believability that audiences remember in the ‘Robert Taylor’s Detectives’ series.”
Michael Cole, who plays Pete Cochran, hails from Madison, Wis., and spent several years ”just drifting’ before arriving in Los Angeles and enrolling in Estelle Harmon’s acting workshop. He Studied for two years, then appeared in ”Felony Squad,” “Gunsmoke” and “Run For Your Life” on television and in two films, ”The Bubble’ and “Chuka.”
Michael says of his first meeting with Aaron Spelling: “He must have thought I was crazy. He explained briefly what the series was about and I told him I wasn’t interested. It sounded to me as if kids were being sent out to squeal on other kids.
“Luckily for me, Aaron didn’t throw me out of the office. He asked me to read the script in another room, then discuss it. Man, I sure felt foolish when I read it. Then I asked if I could test for the part.
“It wasn’t anything like I had expected. Pete Cochran is the only child of rich Beverly Hills parents who kicked him out because he put down everything they tried to do for him. He was anti-everything. Then he swiped a car and was caught by the police.
“That gave me plenty to work with. There’s a lot of me in Pete. Our backgrounds aren’t the same, but I know what it is to feel lonely and lost. It’s groovy to find a role you feel completely comfortable with, and better yet to work with people like Clarence, Peggy and Tige.”
Peggy Lipton portrays Julie Barnes, who fled to Los Angeles. Without funds and with no place to stay, she was picked up for vagrancy. Peggy landed the role after 27 girls had been tested. Spelling says, “We were looking for a certain type, a canary with a broken wing. Peggy was the girl.”
Born in New York City where she became a professional photographic model in her early teens, all of Peggy’s professional work has been on film in Hollywood. She has appeared on many television programs. ”The Mod Squad” is her major breakthrough.
How does she see the role? “I feel Julie had been put down by her environment before joining the Mod Squad. It gives her something to belong to and a sense of purpose. I think a lot of young people today can associate with that need. She’s a staunch individualist but she’s very sensitive to the concerns of other people.
“We don’t run around like Supermen, we make mistakes, and Julie’s not at all like Mrs. Peel or Honey West. We don’t carry guns or use gimmicks, and we don’t use karate. Just common sense and compassion.”
Clarence Williams III, born and raised in New York’s Harlem district, gained his training on and off Broadway, and in the lead in the stage production, ‘Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.’
Actor-comedian Bill Cosby saw a performance and complimented Williams on it when they met a year later. Still later, when Spelling was scouting for a young Negro actor for ”The Mod Squad,” Cosby’s enthusiastic recommendation was responsible for Williams’ being tested for the role.
Clarence plays Lincoln (“Linc”) Hayes from a family of 18 in the Watts section of Los Angeles.
“Because I’m black and Michael’s white, people ask us if the show will be like ‘I Spy,'” he says with a grin. “And because we’re working for the police, people assume we’re doing ‘Felony Squad’ or ‘N.Y.P.D.’ We’re not.
“Our primary job is to entertain but we’re also trying to lay something in there to think about. We’ve talked about LSD and the lack of a gun control law, even Sen. Kennedy’s assassination, although we’re not all breast-beating drama. We laugh and kid each other.
“Look at the musical ‘South Pacific.’ It was a great piece of entertainment with music, dancing, everything. But they laid a few things on you between the songs, it had something to say along the way. That’s what we’re trying for. We hope we’ll have something to offer to both kids and adults, but I couldn’t tell you whether we’ll succeed.
“That’s for the audience to decide.”
VIDEO: The Mod Squad theme song
The theme song of The Mod Squad is an iconic piece of television history that perfectly aligns with the show’s innovative spirit and the era it represents.
Crafted by the legendary composer Earle Hagen, the music is a fusion of jazz, rock, and funk, mirroring the show’s blend of drama, action, and cultural commentary.
Its memorable melody and groovy rhythm immediately transport listeners back to the late 60s and early 70s, setting the tone for the groundbreaking series.
The theme not only heightened the show’s cool factor but also became a symbol of the times, reflecting the changing musical landscape and the youth culture’s evolving tastes.