|ADAM 12 is BACK!|
|Written by Barbara A. Schwartz|
Adam-12 was a wildly popular television program over 40 years ago and its realistic depiction of two officers working the beat earned the respect of real cops everywhere. But what most people don't know is that the show almost didn't survive past the first season. NBC had given the executive producer Jack Webb an ultimatum - keep Dragnet or Adam-12. Not both.Webb decided to hang up Joe Friday's detective badge in favor of the beat cops. Actor Kent McCord portrayed Officer Jim Reed on Adam-12 for seven seasons and feels like he walked a mile in an officer's shoes. McCord realizes "as a police officer, you are there when the last thing they want to see is a cop and never there quick enough when they've called for help." To make the show a hit, McCord remembers, "we had to capture the audience who didn't like the police.
"Not long after the show started, officers began noticing that people were approaching them differently. Adam-12 allowed the public to see the police as human beings," McCord noted. He credits Bob Cinader, who created Adam-12 along with Jack Webb, for the show's realism. Cinader witnessed the aftermath of a rookie's murder during a ride-along with the LAPD. The officers impressed Cinader with their professionalism as they continued to patrol in spite of their intense grief.
Cinader included that experience in a pitch letter to network advertisers which eventually sold the show. The ride-along also became the theme of the pilot and first season episode designated as "Log 91" on the DVD. Cinader championed Adam-12's format of handling multiple calls for service punctuated by in-car dialogue between partners which required filming inside a patrol car that was moving through actual Los Angeles traffic. The director, sound tech, and cinematographer sat on a station wagon's rear-facing third seat overseeing a towed patrol car with lights and cameras attached to a bar over the car's hood.
Script supervisor Cynnie Troup hid in the back of the patrol car, communicating with the director via headphones. She read lines to cue McCord's radio traffic. Post-production magic added the dispatcher's famous voice. The quest for realism required the actors to receive specialized training. McCord, and Martin Milner, who played Pete Malloy, studied defensive tactics and firearms at LAPD's Police Academy. The actors and scriptwriters went on ride-alongs. That included writer Stephen J. Cannell. Cannell didn't set out to write cop TV.
"After the third season, Jack wasn't happy with the scripts," Cannell explained. "So they started a competition to find new writers." Struggling to get noticed, Cannell entered and won the competition. He impressed Webb with his ability to produce top-notch scripts in record time. Cannell would go on to write individual episodes as well as serve as story editor for two seasons. According to McCord, Steve came on board and nailed what the show was about. "He understood Cinader's vision and improved the in-car banter between Reed and Malloy."
Cannell recalled that ride-alongs created difficulty for the writers. "Jack wanted the rule book version of police work versus the street version," he said. The LAPD assigned sergeants to each of the show's writers to answer questions and approve the final scripts. Sergeants also presided over the filming as technical advisors. "They would write notes in the margins and send the script back to us," Cannell said.
"Every time we got out of the car, or approached a suspect, the sergeant told us tactically what we should be doing," McCord said. McCord and Milner offered script suggestions based on their ride-along experiences and what they thought the characters would say and do. Officers from across the country mailed in stories. "I always picked one or two for secondary story lines," Cannell said. If used, the show paid the officer $100, which was a lot of money for a story line in the 1970's. During the era when the show aired from 1968 to 1975, LAPD officers were required to wear their hats on patrol and in their police cars.
The actors tried wearing the uniform hats in the car, but the shiny brims reflected the camera lights. To solve the problem, in the first episode, Malloy told Reed, then a rookie, "Hats in the back. These roofs are too low." This change was the only dramatic license Adam-12 took throughout the series.
McCord said the following about Milner who did the majority of the driving during the show: "Marty was a good driver. He never missed hitting his marks." In "Child Stealer," which aired in the second season, they chased a kidnapper's car over railroad tracks. Milner asked, "Do we need blocks to clear this?" He was told not to worry. "We tore the bottom of the car out," McCord said.
After being blamed for the damage, a very pissed Milner said, "Fine, next time, hire a stunt driver to do this stuff." Citizens often mistook the actors for officers since the show used vehicles identical to the LAPD fleet at the time. "It happened a lot when we were by ourselves," McCord recalled. "We'd be around the corner and a couple of blocks away waiting to drive into a scene. Someone would come running up looking for an officer.
We had to explain we were pretend cops." One time when they were filming on a skid row street with a camera mounted inside the car where it couldn't be seen, McCord jumped out of the car, drew his gun, and pursued an actor portraying an armed robber - "Once A Junkie/Season Two." "Citizens walking down the street hit the deck," McCord recalled. "I yelled, 'cut,' and asked if anyone had told these people this was make believe? I was running down the street in uniform with a gun drawn thinking somebody's liable to take a bead on me."
In McCord's favorite episode - "It All Happened So Fast/First Season" designated as "Log 33" on the DVD - Reed shoots a teenager and endures the subsequent investigation and media scrutiny. "It showed the emotions of taking a life and how all of a sudden, on a quiet night, an officer can be in a life or death situation," McCord said. Airing forty years ago, the episode remains one of the most realistic television portrayals of an officer-involved shooting. In a second season episode - "Good Cop: Handle with Care" - two men with a police radio follow Malloy and Reed from call to call.
The men try to provoke a confrontation, snap photos that they provide to the media, and launch an excessive force complaint against the officers. This episode aired in 1969, proving not much has changed in the past forty years for the officer working the beat. "I use what I learned during Adam-12 every day," Cannell said.
He later went on to form his own production company creating The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Wiseguy, 21 Jump Street, and other hit shows. Cannell now pens novels. His latest, The Pallbearers, features LAPD detective Shane Scully. The Prostitute's Ball is scheduled to hit bookstores in October. "Unlike Reed and Malloy," Cannell says, "Scully skates on the edge and is willing to take the heat." Cannell's movie version of The A-Team premiered in theaters this past summer.
During book tours, Cannell is often asked if he was a cop. He usually replies, "That's just my time with Adam-12 showing.'" Cannell, Milner, and McCord are all proud that Adam-12 motivated officers to put on the uniform and do the job. McCord donned a uniform for real as a reserve officer for the Los Angeles School Police Department wearing the same badge number he wore in the show. He was a frequent speaker at assemblies and in classrooms always working to create a bridge between kids and cops.
"The goal of the reserve unit is to teach kids that officers were not the enemy and were there to protect and help them," McCord, (above right.) Kent retired at the rank of lieutenant. McCord served and protected his fellow actors during his entire career by working for the Screen Actors Guild, where he served several terms as vice president. Both Milner and McCord appeared on Dragnet prior to Webb casting them on Adam-12 - Milner on radio and McCord in the TV version. McCord said, "I was the rookie who Jack gave his 'What is a Cop' speech in the episode, 'The Big Interrogation.'" The first season of Dragnet (1967) is now available on DVD.
McCord appeared in several of Cannell's productions. He then went from cops to sci-fi appearing in SeaQuestDSV, Farscape, Galactica 1980 and Airplane II. McCord and Milner remain close friends. They paired up again as cops in an episode of Diagnosis Murder and a TV-movie Nashville Beat which McCord created and produced. Recently, McCord has recorded voice-overs for commercials including Gander Mountain and Home Depot. Milner acted in the Swiss Family Robinson TV series, on stage, and hosted a radio call-in fishing show.
Retired, he lives in San Diego. McCord and Cannell get together often. "The show meant a lot to Kent," Cannell said. McCord remembers filming in a park when two LAPD officers stopped and said, "You guys are making it very hard on us." When asked what they meant, the officers answered, "You guys are hard to live up to." McCord and Milner responded, "Good." The actors are proud of the standard Adam-12 set. Outgoing LAPD Chief William Bratton honored McCord for his forty years of volunteer service to the department. Bratton noted that McCord had earned the trust of a "brother in blue" and thanked him for his "positive worldwide image of one of us, a Los Angeles Police officer just working the beat."
1-Adam-12 never existed as a beat in LAPD. When current LAPD Chief Charlie Beck served as Central Division captain, he decided to change that. He instituted the "Adam-12 Award" which honored productive officers by allowing them to ride Unit 1-A-12. The officer could pick and choose which calls to check by on without having to do any paperwork.
Beck invited McCord to ride-along with 1-A-12, finally providing McCord the opportunity to say, "One-Adam-Twelve, Roger" on the real LAPD airwaves. The first five seasons of Adam-12 are available on DVD and can be purchased at leading electronics retailers as well as online at Amazon, Borders, Best Buy, and the NBC Universal store.
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