Cop Rock was a musical cop show. Apparently the American public was not ready for that particular blend of elements.
Sometimes people complain that American TV is too conventional, sticking to the tried and true genres—sitcoms, police procedurals, medical dramas—and within any genre, one series is pretty much like the next. Well, there’s one show against which that complaint can’t be leveled—Cop Rock, a short-lived series created by Steven Bochco, whose other shows include Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser, M.D., and NYPD Blue. Cop Rock, which ran for only 11 episodes (Sept.-Dec. 1990 on ABC), was a musical cop show. Apparently the American public was not ready for that particular blend of elements (suggesting one reason why innovation is rare in broadcast television), but the show has since become a cult classic.
The pilot episode begins conventionally enough, with a helicopter shot of a Los Angeles at night, followed by police cars following directions from a police radio. The camera scans across the faces of the officers, a train whistle is heard in the background, then everything explodes into action as they break down the front door of a house and arrest the occupants (with some tough and moralistic talk about addicts not being fit to raise children). Another day, another drug raid in TV land, apparently, except that three minutes in, two of the arrested men break into song. Four minutes in, the show’s logo appears, followed by Randy Newman singing the theme song in a recording studio.
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Cop Rock, the genesis for which dates back to someone’s suggestion to Bochco that he should make a Broadway musical based on his hit TV series Hill Street Blues. It’s easy to make fun of Cop Rock, and you can find plenty of people who like to go on about how it was one of the worst shows in the history of television, but if you’re willing to forego the easy schadenfreude, you will discover, as I did, that it’s actually kind of fun to watch. More to the point, Cop Rock has its own internal logic, and that’s the real standard by which popular entertainment should be judged.
Randy Newman wrote all the songs for the pilot episode (winning an Emmy for Best Achievement in Music and Lyrics for his trouble), plus the series theme, and nobody is better at crafting songs for dramatic situations. Other composers worked on later episodes, including Amanda McBroom, who wrote “The Rose” (sung by Bette Midler in the film of the same name). The police and courtroom action is typical of other shows of the period, except for the tendency of characters to burst into song, and the regular cast includes Anne Bobby (Nightbreed), Barbara Bosson (Hill Street Blues, Murder One), Larry Joshua (Dances with Wolves, NYPD Blue), and Ronny Cox (St. Elsewhere, Stargate SG-1; he was also the guitarist who played in the guitar-banjo duet in Deliverance).
Whatever else can be said about it, Cop Rock is certainly sui generis, and quite entertaining if you’re up for something different. More than anything, my reaction to this show is similar to that of seeing a dog walking on its hind legs—the wonder is not in whether or not it is done well, but that it is done at all. | Sarah Boslaugh
Cop Rock is distributed on DVD by Shout! Factory, with a street date of May 17. Extras include text commentary on the first episode (the commentary appears on screen, like subtitles) and video interviews with Anne Bobbie (31 min.) and Steven Bochco (39 min.).