Of course I say cop shows, but most of these guys were private eyes who had an unorthodox way of getting things done, dammit! And note that these weren’t necessarily the best shows, but the best credits – the sequences that made you go, “man, I want to watch this…”. The frequent disappointments
which followed were only because the anticipation had been made so great by a winning combination of music, mayhem, character and charisma that was guaranteed to keep you hooked – at least until the first ad break.
MIA here are Miami Vice, CHiPs and Magnum P.I., which all had great theme tunes but boring credits (unless you were a big fan of the Florida Tourist Board, closeups of motorbike parts or a shirtless Tom Selleck respectively).
1. Spenser For Hire
Whether wining and dining them in Boston’s finest restaurants or taking them in the shower, Robert Urich sure knew how to treat a lady right. This one seemed to have it all – badass black sidekick? Check. Short, balding, harassed, donut-eating cop who world-wearily puts up with Spenser’s unorthodox way of getting things done, dammit? Check. Scary eyes senior authority figure? Check check check. But what’s with Spenser’s oral fixation? One minute he’s popping breath mints at a Celtics game, the next he’s slurping up spaghetti in a lumberjack shirt. And whatever Hawk’s finding so funny in the closing sequence, Spenser sure ain’t laughing.
(NB Avery Brooks got his own short-lived spinoff, A Man Called Hawk,
tho it was cancelled after 13 eps either due to low ratings – or if you believe John from Michigan, having “overwhelmed white people in the 1980s to see a black man portrayed so splendidly”!)
2. Matt Houston
Christ, I wanted to be Matt Houston. What a guy! A Texan millionaire who had literally nothing better to do than solve crime, he was equally at ease hob-nobbing at posh society do’s or rolling around in the dirt wrasslin’ bad guys. That’s versatility. Why was he so cool? Watch and learn, people: he’s the playboy master of whatever vehicle he hops into, be it fast car, speedboat or whirlybird. He drives police cars… over OTHER police cars! Despite – or perhaps due to – looking like the guy off the Brawny kitchen roll packaging, he gets all the ladies, not least his pouting bit of posh “assistant” CJ (US 70s-80s TV smokestress Pamela Hensley), who seemed to adore and despair of him in equal measures. He doesn’t just have a world-weary, harassed, donut-eating cop buddy, he’s got a BLACK, world-weary, harassed donut-eating cop buddy – who can skindive. Take that, Magnum! And don’t even get me started on his Uzi-toting, brandy-quaffing octogenarian uncle… Obviously the main inspiration for the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, how this only lasted 3 seasons is beyond me.
3. The Equalizer
Great music, especially when it kicks in at the end. Also stands out among the other character-fests due to the lack of Edwood Woodwood until the last 15 secs of the sequence, and even then he’s in silhouette for most of that.
No knockaround regular guys here – this show means business.
Other than the Jerry Seinfeld lookalike who can’t get out of the phone booth (hey, we’ve all been there) I’d forgotten how many scenarios in the credits allude to vulnerable single women being followed by undesirables in flat leather caps. Never mind the Equalizer, someone call the Fashion Police!
4. Hardcastle & McCormick
Or “The Judge and The Pilot”, as the French subtitles helpfully translate for those of us who are completely in the dark as to what the fuck was going on here. Although it must be through some sense of Parisian bourgeois liberalism that McCormick is referred to as a pilot, when in actual fact he was a reformed car thief. There’s no denying it – you see him in prison as the lyrics sing “everybody’s doing time”. Less liberal, more literal. (These, of course,
are the same lyrics which include the never-bettered couplet, “Slow motion man / Iron and steel in the palm of your hand”. Yes!) Teamed up with Brian Keith’s crusty retired judge Hardcastle, they went after bad guys who’d walked away scot-free from Hardcastle’s court – on technicalities! The sons of bitches. Probably wearing shit-eating grins while they were strutting out, too.
One look at these credits, however, and it’s obvious that, as they say on Top Gear, the car’s the star. The reg plate alone – COYOTE X – dripped with cool, and that was before you saw it move. Every 9-year old boy wanted to gun it into 5th and drive underneath an artic, preferably while blowing a Wish I Was In Dixie musical horn, making for a fidgety sit through whatever faffery the judge and the pilot were getting into while you waited for the car chases.
If they were remaking this for a rubbish Hollywood comedy today, they’d be casting Will Ferrell and Bryan Dennehy with infrequently hilarious results.
(NB if this actually happens I will sue.)
5. The A-Team
I know, I know, it’s not a cop show, but no list of this sort would be complete without this lot. This is the one that got your fizzy-drink high spiking to dangerous levels whenever the chopper blades and military drumbeat laid down the backbeat for what was to come – a 90-second orgy of shit-eating grins, cigar chomping, manic mugging, bad-assery and of course, lots and lots
of vehicular destruction. Cars drive THROUGH buildings! Jeeps FLIP over shrubbery! Low-flying choppers force cars INTO puddles! Whatever came next, great as it invariably was, could never quite live up to the excitement of those opening credits. And let’s not forget the wonderful postmodern touch of Face reacting to the Cylon. I bet David Lynch was a big A-Team fan.
6. Cagney & Lacey
Ahh, that jaunty sax… the girls walking to work on the streets… this must be an ’80s precursor to Sex and The City, right? But hang on a minute, does she have a gun? Christ, they both do! Whu… they’re cops? In fashionable (for the time) knitwear? Only in New York! Just to keep some kind of gender balance,
they surround them with a representative of every known male cop category: the balding, harassed one (donut surely just out of shot), the down-with-the-streets black one, the shirtless one and the bow-tie wearing Poindexter one, but all of them together couldn’t hold a candle to the twin blow-dried beacons of feminine assertiveness, Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly. That bit where they barely react to the flasher? That was the start of Girl Power, right there.
7. Knight Rider
Controversial as it may seem, for all its sleek black finish and many secret weapon buttons, I think I would have always preferred to drive Coyote X over KITT. Let’s face it, he was always a bit up himself. The credits never gave an inkling, though: what you got was a portentous voiceover bordering on asthmatic – bringing the excitement of Movie Voiceover Man to those of us who were still only young enough for the small screen – and THAT fantastic electronic score. You got a black car speeding through a vast purple twilit desert, evoking wondrous visions of exotic, unknown Americana and vague fears of what might happen if you got any sand in the axles. You got David Hasslehoff, cool dude extraordinaire (“a man who does not exist”, indeed). And you got lots of KITT smashing through and jumping over whatever foolish obstacles managed
to get in his way. Full marks also to Patricia MacPherson for perfecting the
“look-around-suspiciously-followed-by-an-oh-it’s-YOU-grin” so crucial for
a good character intro credit montage. That girl will go far. Er, or perhaps not…
8. Hart To Hart
I don’t think there’s anything I can say about this that Max himself doesn’t say better, although special mention must go to the bit where their smooching in the surf is rudely interrupted by a dead body. Proof positive to debunk anyone who says that all the excitement goes once you get married.
9. T.J. Hooker
Always a big hit with those of us too young to appreciate the full ridiculousness of William Shatner or the streetwalkin’ slang connotations of the title,
T.J. Hooker was the coolest cop – and the coolest-named cop – around.
This series seems to have had different yet equally exciting opening credits for
each season; here, I’ve plumped for Season 4 which, while sadly lacking in any demonstration of the “T.J. Hooker roll” or a shirtless Adrian Zmed (steady, girls), gets bonus Heather Locklear sassafras points and showcases a relentless parade of auto erotica (a car chase where both cars are on fire? I’m there!), including perhaps the signature “cop-car-cresting-a-hill-by-six-clear-feet” shot, plus one genius piece of editing where it appears that Romano has blown up his own squad car with a single shotgun blast. Try explaining that one to your desk sergeant…
Something of a dark horse, this one, and a show I’ve never actually seen an episode of. But if I were sitting on the couch in my pants eating a giant block of cheese at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and I saw these credits come up on screen, you can bet your ass I wouldn’t be changing channels. It seems to have been a short-lived Pat Morita vehicle based on his post-Karate Kid mainstream popularity – I can only imagine lots of gags where people reckoned he was an Irish cop when they heard the name – where his (oh yes) unconventional police lieutenant was ably assisted by solid performers of the likes of Jon Polito,
Jack Wallace and Robert Clohessy, not to mention the as-then-unknown talents of take-no-shit screen goddesses Rachel Ticotin and Catherine Keener.
It’s unavailable on DVD. Hell, it’s even unavailable on VHS. But somewhere, surely, it’s out there, and someone watching these credits is right now saying, “oh man, this is going to be great…”