Today in 1990, the premiere of one of the most bewildering TV experiments of all time: Cop Rock.
This is a show that routinely shows up on all those lists of the worst TV shows ever, biggest flops, and so on.
But, to be fair, Cop Rock was neither the first show, nor the last show, that wove song and dance sequences into its storylines.
In fact, it wasn’t even the first police-themed show with music.
In the 1980s, the BBC broadcast a show called “The Singing Detective.”
It had characters in film noir-ish crime stories lip-synch to songs from the 30s and 40s.
One of the fans of that UK show was American TV producer Steven Bochco, who had co-created the hit police drama “Hill Street Blues”
Bochco said a Broadway producer once proposed putting that show onstage and adding music.
That didn’t happen, but Bochco thought, instead of doing a musical version of a cop show, why not make a cop show that’s also a musical?
He started lining up a cast that included some acclaimed actors with musical experience.
You can even find a young Sheryl Crow in an episode.
And the singer/songwriter who came up with some of the show’s songs was none other than Randy Newman.
That was a big difference between “Cop Rock” and “The Singing Detective”: the new show had original music.
Officers broke into song during roll call.
Juries broke into song during trial.
Defendants broke into song when they were on their way to lockup!
But in between all these jaunty, Broadway-style numbers were storylines on homelessness, street gangs, even human trafficking… subjects that were as gritty as anything “Hill Street Blues” ever had.
“Several of the numbers are so jarring in their context that it’s almost ludicrous,” wrote one critic.
And that summed up a lot of the reaction to “Cop Rock.”
The show did get something like 9 million viewers, which today would be a massive hit.
It even won two Emmys.
But generally people didn’t like what they saw.
After just 11 expensive episodes, ABC canceled the show.
Not that it slowed Steven Bochco down at all.
His next cop show, “NYPD Blue,” was a massive hit – and it was pretty much music free.
Today in 1786, the birthday of George William Crump, who may have been the first streaker.
In 1804 he was suspended from what is now called Washington College for taking off all his clothes and running through the streets of Lexington, Virginia.
Crump would later be elected to Congress and serve as US Ambassador to Chile (while clothed).
University Chronology (Washington University via Archive.org)