♪ The NYPD Blues ♫
April 15, 2015 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Cop Rock might have been one of the weirdest programs to ever air on network television. A show that "had the guts to ask a question that had been on nobody’s mind: What would you get if you merged the grit of a police procedural with the whimsy of a Broadway musical?"

About half a season, apparently.

Cop Rock was Steven Bochco's attempt to replicate the success he'd had with Hill Street Blues. (Episode 7 featured Mike Kellogg singing HSB's classic Esterhaus line, "Let's Be Careful Out There." If you watch only one link in this post, make it that one. Trust me.) Bochco had been the force behind three super-successful network shows: the aforementioned Blues, LA Law and Doogie Howser, M.D., so ABC apparently figured he was a reliable bet, and convinced themselves that viewers wanted to see "cheery, happy songs spontaneously in an otherwise relatively serious police drama." Cast members included Peter Onorati, Ronny Cox, Barbara Bosson, Larry Joshua, Kathleen Wilhoite, Ron McLarty and Paul McCrane.

While the musical drama concept worked for Glee two decades later, critics at the time panned Cop Rock: "In good musicals, the songs further the plot — they advance the action through the lyrics and the tone of the melody. In this show, the songs do the opposite." and "It's not that you don't want to believe cops will break into song at a moment's notice. It's that when they do, it becomes apparent that all these hard-boiled types were weaned on bathetic Streisand-style balladry."

Cop Rock has the dubious honor of being rated #8 on the TV Guide List of the 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time.

The Episodes
(I swear these really are the actual episode titles.)

Season One (September 1990 - December 1990, Full Playlist)
1) Cop Rock (Watch for: Randy Newman wrote five songs for the pilot as well as the show's theme, and won an Emmy for his trouble. The pilot episode also won an Emmy for "Outstanding Editing for a Series - Single Camera Production")
2) Ill-Gotten Gaines
3) Happy Mudder's Day
4) A Three-Corpse Meal
5) The Cocaine Mutiny
6) Oil of Ol' Lay
7) Cop-a-Feeliac (Watch for: The aforementioned "Let's Be Careful Out There" number.)
8) Potts Don't Fail Me Now
9) Marital Blitz
10) No Noose is Good Noose
11) Bang the Potts Slowly (Watch for: Sheryl Crow appearing as a backup singer. Also, the cast breaks character and joins crew members to sing the series' final number to the viewing audience.)

Further Reading
* Wikipedia
* TV Tropes

A year after the show was cancelled, Bochco spoke with the New York Times:
"What did I learn from that experience? Don't put music in a cop show. Don't have characters burst into song. There are certain kinds of shows where music would not seem jarring. But clearly the juxtaposition of a cop show with music bugged the hell out of people because they were embarrassed about it, they were not able to suspend disbelief. If I had done the same show in a Broadway theater there would not have been a problem."
Bochco would go on to produce the award-winning, long-running show NYPD Blue for ABC two years later.

Emily Nussbaum at Vulture:
But really, Bochco — whose Hill Street Blues rewrote the rules for not just cop shows, but all adult dramas — was onto something admirable, even prescient, with Cop Rock. He was doing what ambitious TV-makers always try to do: take a familiar format (the sitcom, say) and explode or invert or otherwise apply some strange solvent to its structures (as 30 Rock, The Office, Community, and Louie have done so brilliantly). Or blend genres like the teen/goth/soap/myth masterpiece Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or push the limits of realism, like Ugly Betty or United States of Tara or Glee or Dexter at its early best. Or do something that alienates as many viewers as it charms, like Dollhouse or Treme. Even when a show like this doesn't work, it pushes the form forward.
posted by zarq (35 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Without Cop Rock there would be no Glee.

I'd reboot it for modern sensibilities.
posted by Renoroc at 5:07 AM on April 15, 2015

I remember when the show came out. I tried to like it, I really tried. Then I realized you should not have to try to like something.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:28 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I loved this show, and still do. But then, "Blackpool" is one of my favorite things the BBC has ever made, and I think I'm in the minority on that one too.
posted by jbickers at 5:35 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Marital Blitz" might be the best title of anything, ever.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:37 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

"In good musicals, the songs further the plot — they advance the action through the lyrics and the tone of the melody. In this show, the songs do the opposite."

This was my #1 issue with Cop Rock. The songs just didn't add anything to the narrative. Instead, they mostly just interrupted what was otherwise a pretty decent show and came off as an afterthought. If Cop Rock was on now I'm sure most viewers would DVR the show and just fast forward through the songs in the same manner they do the commercials.
posted by dances with hamsters at 5:38 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wasn't this just an American reimagining/ripoff/reconceptualizing of The Singing Detective?
posted by SPUTNIK at 5:46 AM on April 15, 2015

Cop Rock is perhaps the only truly awful failed series that I have clear memories of 15 years later because it was bad in such very interesting ways, rather than just being incompetent.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:50 AM on April 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nope Jbickers....my wife and I are huge Blackpool fans...so that makes at least 3 of us!
posted by Captain_Science at 5:50 AM on April 15, 2015

make it 4 for Blackpool, so I will have to give this a try
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 5:53 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my head this series also featured a straight-talking animated human-sized mouse in a trenchcoat. I am fairly certain this isn't actually true, but after this many years, I can't bring myself to watch now and destroy my illusion.

It may also have been a rat.
posted by Mchelly at 6:04 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Previously (from 2008)
posted by smackfu at 6:07 AM on April 15, 2015

(Of course every YouTube link from that previous Cop Rock post is dead.)
posted by smackfu at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2015

I'm at work, so I can't watch this. Someone tell me if "Cop-a-feeliac" is somehow a play on coprophilia.
posted by dortmunder at 6:12 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Made a mistake in the post. Sorry! Mike Finnegan sang "Let's Be Careful Out There." His character's name was Lieutenant Kellogg, and that was his only episode. The Agony Booth link in the post dissected/skewered the scene, and also noted:
"Believe it or not, but after this was posted I emailed Mike Finnigan to see if he would comment about his Cop Rock experience. He was... less than receptive. His exact words upon seeing this article were, "What you know about singing, and music in general, is what a pig knows about Sunday." Is it weird that this makes me love him more?"

posted by zarq at 6:48 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I guess, in a way, Lord of the Rings was written as a musical.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2015

Wow, that Let's Be Careful Out There song is... something. It's kind of long though, isn't it?

Wait, and the video isn't... moving any... more...

posted by Naberius at 7:22 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to point out a cameo at the end of Let's Be Careful. The guy emptying his pipe is James B Sikking aka Lt. Howard Hunter of Hill Street Blues.
posted by scalefree at 7:25 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I saw a preview of the pilot in college (my Intro to Broadcasting professor at Ithaca had an in due to his friendship with IC Alum/up& coming ABC exec Bob Iger). The reaction we all had was that of stunned silence. After a few minutes, somebody behind me began to sing the Officer Krupke song from West Side Story. We couldn't even have a serious discussion about the merits of the show and the programming decision because as soon as someone would start to discuss this or that point, they would start giggling as soon as they referenced a particular song/scene.

To be fair, it was a similarly bold decision that had worked really well in Iger's favor the year before when he convinced his bosses to pick up Twin Peaks. Things turned out OK for Bob-- by the time I had graduated, he had already been named head of the network (gave a pretty good commencement speech!) and would later go on to run the whole Disney empire.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:32 AM on April 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Maybe it's better to fail spectacularly than to fail pathetically.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:49 AM on April 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

Oh my god, "Let's Be Careful Out There" is amazing, and I need to watch every episode. (And yeah, another Blackpool fan here.)

I'm glad that this sort of musical TV show never seems to completely die -- just this year ABC aired Galavant. I've only seen the first episode so far, but it looks like ridiculous fun.
posted by asperity at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, this is the show I always wanted!
posted by corb at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2015

I'VE HAD THE LINE "Step up, chump, let's see what you got (ineffectual response: 'lets see what YOU got')" STUCK IN MY HEAD FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS

High time for a refreshing earworm infusion! :D
posted by zarq at 9:46 AM on April 15, 2015

I guess, in a way, Lord of the Rings was written as a musical.

LOTR was made into a pretty high production stage musical. I'm not finding the video I'm looking for right now, but this is a thing and it's been done.
posted by hippybear at 10:45 AM on April 15, 2015

I'm not sure if I should feel proud or horrified having inspired this post.

Either way, thanks zarq! I now know way more than I ever thought I would about Cop Rock. And I have a place to point my friends who don't believe that such a beast existed.
posted by brand-gnu at 11:09 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

New series for Fanfare?

Anyway, I haven't listened to it, but Chris Cubis's podcast "Canceled" (about TV shows that have been canceled after a single season, natch) did 5 episodes about Cop Rock. They can be found here.

(Looks like he started with Firefly, and has moved on to Freaks and Geeks.) He's great on Doug Loves Movies, I assume he's good here too.
posted by themanwho at 11:47 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Holy crap I just figured out what give me that rat idea - Stephen Bochco's other early-90s series
posted by Mchelly at 1:38 PM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

(Sometimes something bothers you so much, you just know there must be some meat behind it)
posted by Mchelly at 1:40 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Capitol Critters is on YouTube. In parts, but it looks like there are playlists for seamless viewing.

Neil Patrick Harris played the lead.
posted by zarq at 2:45 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot of things don't work, doesn't mean it's not possible. What is "Les Misérables" but a police procedural set in historic times? Sondheim's Assassins or Sweeney Todd are not particularly upbeat. Bochco shoulda hired Sondheim.
posted by sammyo at 5:14 PM on April 15, 2015

What is "Les Misérables" but a police procedural set in historic times?

I love Les Mis, but I can't imagine it as a TV show and I don't think I'd watch it if someone turned it into one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:12 PM on April 15, 2015

Coming this fall to NBC:

Jack Jackson is a wealthy man with a secret past.

Detective Green never lets a case go cold.

Lust. Intrigue. Misery.

NBC's "The Miserables".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:15 PM on April 15, 2015

I guess that would suck.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:16 PM on April 15, 2015

Oh my god I'm watching this right now this is AMAZING.
posted by corb at 9:30 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have such love for Cop Rock.

No really, I do.

I would have to rewatch the series to launch into a full defense, and I just might do that.

But for now I will just say, I really love Cop Rock.
posted by hippybear at 12:49 AM on April 17, 2015

Okay guys. If I start a rewatch thread on FanFare, who's in? Especially given the full episodes look like they're all on Youtube.
posted by corb at 11:53 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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