Over its five-season, 118-episode run on CBS, the tough-yet-dapper NYPD detective — played by Telly Savalas — showed a stubborn and tenacious desire to fight crimes and right wrongs in malaise-era New York City.
While always willing to bend the rules if it would bring a suspect to justice, Kojak himself was incorruptible, despite his cynical side.
Kojak’s lollipop habit came out of a shift in American culture around the time of the show. Cigarette commercials had been banned in 1971, and many Americans had taken up the attempt to quit smoking — including Savalas, and his character as a result.
Kojak took to the Tootsie Pops as a smoke substitute, but neither he — nor Savalas — ever managed to totally kick the habit.
Still, an entire generation grew up pulling lollipops out of their mouths while parroting Kojak’s signature line, “Who loves ya, baby?”
TV in review: Kojak, new on CBS (from 1973)
By Edward Meadows – Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida) November 18, 1973
Telly Savalas’ tough, uncompromising competence as a New York City cop gives the new CBS series “Kojak” a very appealing ingredient.
Bald-headed, smartly-dressed Kojak offers us a character to admire. For if he is a man of high repute, he can also talk tougher than the meanest criminal, and he’s not afraid to slap a despicable mobster around a bit. This Kojak is no pansy.
For instance, in one episode when Kojak finds out that a mobster was saved from assassination by a bulletproof vest, Kojak contemptuously examines the vest as the mobster lies in the street, then flicks it away and mutters dark comments.
The mobster, in his turn, rolls over and spits in Kojak’s path.
Kojak is a believer in “an eye for an eye,” though the restrictions of the law only allow him to imagine the real justice he prefers for the most venal of criminals.
At the end of one episode, when two “hit men” are indicted on charges that will send them away for 50 years, Kojak says, “Not good enough.” They killed an innocent elderly woman, he explains, yet they will live and perhaps eventually go free.
The series is cursed with the usual predictable plots that always keep the viewer a step ahead of Kojak, but on the other hand, there is more than a passing attempt at realism.
Photos taken with a mini-camera actually come out grainy, walkie-talkie radio sets only work for short distances (as in real life), and Kojak even takes time to aim his pistol with both hands, as is done in the real police world.
And on the episode I saw, “Kojak” features some fine black acting. Several blacks play ghetto hustlers and petty criminals. Their jive dialogue shows how rhythmic, dramatic and pungent black street dialect can be.
Kojak, though, is the main attraction, and he represents a character many Americans might like to have in their government.
He is a man of principles, high principles, but he is a man who can’t be fooled, and he’s as tough as they come.
“Kojak,” thanks to Savalas, is the best new police show I have seen.
Kojak intro/opening credits video
Kojak: Telly Savalas says new series will be honest (1973)
By Dick Kleiner – The Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, Louisiana) September 28, 1973
There are some actors you talk to and all you get is wall-to-wall bland. And then there is Telly Savalas.
Over the years. Telly has proved to be what we in the columnist trade call “good copy.” He opens his mouth, and out pour words with some meat to them.
Maybe it’s because he’s bright. Maybe it’s just because he’s Greek. Who knows? Or cares?
Like now. He’s up to his Greek hips in his new series. I’m glad that CBS has finally reached a corporate decision on how to spell it. They’ve settled on Kojak, after experimenting with Cojak, Kojack and Cojaques.
Anyhow, Savalas breezed in, and the first thing he said, after the usual socially graceful introductory phrases, concerned Sigmund Freud. It wasn’t very pro-Freud, either.
“He was a villain,” Savalas said, “equal to or surpassing Adolf Hitler in the breadth of his villainy. Don’t forget, he ruined a few generations of kids with his ideas.”
He knows what he’s talking about in this area. He was a psychology major at Columbia University… before he went into the State Department… before he became an actor. Besides, one of Salvalas’ uncles, he says, is a leading psychiatrist.
“What we need,” he says, ”is more LOVE!”
Apparently, in his mind. love is better than Freudian analysis any day. Or night.
All this was preparatory to talking about a screenplay he’s written. He says it will be turned into a movie on the first break he gets from Kojak.
The script is based somewhat on his psychic experiences (he’s a firm believer) and somewhat on his psychological background.
In it, the Devil takes the form of a beautiful young girl. (So what else is new?) He says four directors are fighting over the property. He also says his uncle, the psychiatrist, has flipped over the script.
He thinks Kojak has a chance to make it because he’s going to insist on it being honest.
“If some hood has a gun,” Telly says, “Kojak will hide somewhere. If Kojak sees a prostitute on the street, he’ll kick her in the rear and tell her to get lost. He’ll behave like a real cop behaves, not like some TV Boy Scout cops.”
They’ve been after Savalas for years to do a series. He never wanted to, but CBS sneaked up on him.
When he did last season’s very good TV movie, “The Marcus-Nelson Murders,” there was a contingency thing in the contract, which meant that he’d have to do it if it became a series.
He didn’t want it to work. He says he hoped it wouldn’t sell.
“Being in a series is too secure,” he says. ‘”My father made a million in the tobacco business, then lost it and piled his five kids in a truck and peddled cakes. He was happy. So were we. I don’t want my kids to be too secure.”
In memory of Aristotelis “Telly” Savalas
January 21, 1922 – January 22, 1994