When people who aren’t television fans are asked why they don’t watch, they usually answer with something like, “It’s just the same old stuff,” or “No one has tried anything new on television in years.” It’s safe to say that these people were either living under a rock or simply not paying attention when Cop Rock debuted on ABC in the fall of 1990. The short-lived but much-remembered run of this show was one of the more memorable television events of its era.
Cop Rock represented the first (and probably only) time that music has been mixed into the format of a cop show. It was the creation of Steven Bochco, the veteran writer/producer behind such television favorites as Hill Street Blues and Doogie Howser, M.D., and was modeled after a theatrical revue Bochco had produced. His idea was to blend the gritty realism of the cop drama with the theatricality of the musical, creating one of the most unusual and hotly debated shows ever to hit the airwaves.
Set in Los Angeles, Cop Rock focused on a group of cops and other police officials living out their lives on the city’s streets. Captain Hollander was the no-nonsense chief officer who shepherded these cops. He reported to Chief Kendrick, an aging officer with a yen for Westerns. Kendrick was also romantically involved with the city’s corrupt Mayor Plank, an intensely ambitious woman who had earned the name “The Iron Lady.” Other characters included vicious Detective Vincent LaRusso, who wasn’t above killing someone and covering the incident up, and Officers Quinn and Campo, a pair of beat cops who fell in love despite the fact that Quinn was married.
True to modern cop show format, Cop Rock plot lines dealt with such tough topics as police corruption, drug dealing, and even a black-market baby ring. It all sounded normal enough until viewers saw the actual show itself: each episode worked in interludes in which the entire cast (even extras) would sing four to five original songs and often perform complex choreography. On any given show, a pair of cops making an inner-city bust might be taunted by a group of street-corner toughs rapping “On these streets, we got the power!”, or a jury might sing its verdict gospel-style: “He’s guilty! He’s guilty!”
No expense was spared on Cop Rock, making it one of the costliest shows of its time. It’s estimated that the producers spent an average of $1.8 million on each episode, and coming attractions previews for the show were shown in movie theaters. Cop Rock even boasted a custom-crafted theme song, “Under The Gun,” by highbrow pop songsmith Randy Newman. Despite the show’s ambition and well-utilized resources, Cop Rock never found an audience, ending its run after only 11 episodes. True to form, the show tied up its finale with the entire cast singing.