A light-weight action crime drama (that played as more of a comedy in some episodes, particularly in the first season) created by Rick Rosner, it starred Erik Estrada as macho, rambunctious Officer Francis ("Frank") Leonidas (as translated in France) "Ponch" Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as his straight-laced partner, Officer Jonathan "Jon" Baker. With Ponch the more swarthy, trouble-prone of the pair, and Jon generally the more level-headed one trying to keep him out of trouble with the duo's gruff yet fatherly commanding officer Sergeant Joseph Getraer (Robert Pine), the two were Highway Patrolmen of the Central Los Angeles office of the California Highway Patrol (CHP, hence the name "CHiPs").
As real-life CHP motor officers rarely ride in pairs, in early episodes this was explained away by placing the trouble-prone Ponch on probationary status, with Jon assigned as his field training officer. Eventually, by the end of the first season, this subplot faded away (Ponch completed his probation) as audiences were used to seeing the two working as a team.
In the fifth season (1981-1982), Estrada was occasionally replaced by Bruce Jenner (Officer Steve McLeish) for a half-dozen episodes due to a contract dispute. Despite their successful pairing on-screen, Wilcox and Estrada did not always get along when the cameras were not rolling. However, it was Wilcox's falling-out with the producers over what he saw as continual favoritism towards Estrada (giving Estrada a Rolls Royce, for example), that saw him not return for the sixth and final season, and he was replaced by Tom Reilly (Officer Bobby Nelson). Bruce Penhall was also introduced as cadet–probationary officer Bruce Nelson, Bobby's younger brother at the same time. Estrada apparently did not approve of Reilly's work ethic (and was also very displeased with Reilly's real-life arrest by the LAPD for possession of controlled substances during a traffic stop), and as a result Bobby was featured much less prominently in later episodes of the season, with Bruce taking his place for most of the remainder episodes.
According to a 1998 TV Guide article, show creator Rick Rosner was a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. During a coffee break on an evening patrol shift in the mid-1970s he saw two young CHP officers on motorcycles which gave him the idea for this series. He later created 240-Robert, which seemed like a hybrid of "CHiPs" and Emergency!.
Episodes occasionally reference Jon Baker's service in Vietnam. This makes his character one of the earliest regular (and one of the more positive) portrayals of a Vietnam Veteran on television. In real life Larry Wilcox served 13 months in Vietnam as a Marine artilleryman.
Estrada and Wilcox never drew their firearms over the course of the series. They did, however, in CHiPs 99. The only character on the series to ever draw his firearm on camera was Baricza (Brodie Greer). He did so three times: Once (his radio car's Ithaca 37 shotgun) in the episode, "Rainy Day, where the CHiPs conduct a felony traffic stop of a motorhome-based rolling casino; the second time while being attacked by a karate-trained vehicle burglar named Billy (played by Danny Bonaduce) in the episode, "Karate". In that episode, Billy (armed with nunchaku), gains the upper hand on Officer Baricza, at which point Baricza feels he has no other choice but to draw his weapon (a large framed Smith & Wesson revolver) in a dramatic moment. Billy then wisely runs in retreat to a waiting getaway van. He also drew down on two hillbillies (who were armed with a Tommy-gun and a double-barrel shotgun, respectively) that had ambushed his unattended patrol car for fun in the second season premiere "Peaks and Valleys," but the obvious action was only implied (as his hand/wrist motion was just below camera range) rather than actually shown to viewers.
Though public perception links the later P-Series Kawasaki Police Special with the series, in fact they rode the C-Series Kawasaki, which had an oval windshield rather than the later model's fiberglass fairing.
Filming locations were generally in the San Fernando Valley of California. Freeway crashes were performed on recently constructed highways that were about to open to the public. For the first season, the Glendale Freeway (Highway 2) in Montrose, California was used. After the first season, the intersection of the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) and the Simi Valley Freeway (Highway 118) in Sylmar, California were used. For the racing scenes in the episode "Drive, Lady, Drive" they used the Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California.
Although doubles were used for far-off shots and various stunt or action sequences, Wilcox and Estrada did a great deal of their own motorcycle riding, and performed many smaller stunts themselves. Although Wilcox emerged relatively injury-free, Estrada suffered various injures several times throughout the run of the series. In several early first season episodes, a huge bruise or scar can be seen on his arm after he was flung from one of the motorcycles and skidded along the ground. But his worst accident came when was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident while filming an episode in August 1979, fracturing several ribs and breaking both wrists. The accident and Estrada's subsequent hospitalization was incorporated into the series' storyline.
Prior to being cast in CHiPs Estrada had no experience with motorcycles, so he underwent an intensive eight-week course, learning how to ride. In 2007 it was revealed that he didn't hold a motorcycle license at the time CHiPs was in production, and only qualified for a license after three attempts, while preparing for an appearance on a reality television show, Back To The Grind.
During the original run of the series, syndicated reruns of older episodes were retitled CHiPs Patrol to avoid confusion. This was often mocked by fans, as it effectively made the title California Highway Patrol Patrol. Later syndicated reruns after the show went out of production reverted to the original title.
In the UK, as was common with many popular US series of the era, a series of tie-in annuals were produced by World International Publishing Ltd, containing stories, photos, puzzles and features on the stars. There are four annuals in total, one each for 1980-83.
In 2006, a limted edition soundtrack was released on CD by Tuner Classic Movies music division, featuring the original recordings of the main theme and in-episode musical scores from many episodes of the second season, as composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. The packaging read Volume 1, suggesting that further releases may be released in the future.
In 2003, a new series of "CHiPs" was to be made in San Francisco with a new cast. Martin Kunert and Eric Manes wrote the pilot script for Doug Liman to direct. However, the network that ordered the remake, NBC, decided not to pursue the new series.
In 2005, a theatrical release motion picture version of the show was announced, starring Wilmer Valderrama as Ponch. The movie is tentatively set to be released in 2009. The choice of Valderrama as Ponch will not be the first time that the actor has played the character of Ponch; MadTV featured during 2000 and 2001, Valderrama and fellow That 70s Show cast member Danny Masterson were featured in several recurring parodies of "CHiPs", which featured the two actors as Ponch and Baker respectively. Actually, in a 2002 episode of That 70's Show, Wilmer's character, Fez, was seen in the "most likely" section of the yearbook to appear as Ponch in a musical version of CHiPs.
The series was also successful in many other countries.
In the United Kingdom, it was broadcast by ITV. As with many imported programmes of the era, despite being very popular, the show was not networked for most of its run, with each region instead showing the series in their own selected timeslot, and episodes were quite often shown out of sequence from their original US order. Many regions showed much of the series in a Saturday tea-time slot around 17:35, although later this went on to cause a scheduling clash for fans of such US imports, as it clashed with BBC Ones run of The Dukes of Hazzard (in the days before video recorders were commonplace). For the last couple of seasons, most regions ran the series in a Saturday lunch-time 13:20 slot, interspread with runs of Airwolf (which began production the year after "CHiPs" finished, but many regions still had many "CHiPs" episodes yet to show). Although the show finished production in 1983, many regions did not complete their runs of the series until the later 1980s, in some cases almost ten years after the show had first appeared.
On June 5, 2007 Warner Home Video (under license to Turner Entertainment) released the first season of "CHiPs" on DVD in Region 1. The second season was released on June 3, 2008. Seasons 1 and 2 are also available for purchase at the online iTunes Store.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|CHiPs: The Complete First Season||22||June 5, 2007|
|CHiPs: The Complete Second Season||22||June 3, 2008|