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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Police > The Rookies - The Complete First Season

The Rookies - The Complete First Season


Picture: B-   Sound: B-   Extras: D   Series: B-



Network television was full of cop/detective shows at the start of the 1972-1973 season.  Already established series returning that fall included The F.B.I., Mannix, Columbo, McCloud, McMillan & Wife, Hawaii Five-O, Adam 12, Ironside, Cannon and The Mod Squad, with such soon to be hits as The Streets of San Francisco and The Rookies just premiering.  However, of all those established shows, the only one that really had much youth appeal was The Mod Squad, which was then entering its final season.  This was in the midst of the "law & order" Nixon administration and the Vietnam War, so there was still a lot of mistrust and resentment of authority figures by many of the day's youth.  


In order to have another one-hour police drama that would hopefully appeal to a younger, slightly more liberal audience, ABC began airing The Rookies in September, 1972 on Monday nights at 8 p.m.  It would go on to become a top-25 show for the first three of its four seasons. 


Instead of traditional hard-nosed cops, The Rookies revolved around three first-year officers, passionate, streetwise African-American Terry Webster (Georg Stanford Brown), naive recent college graduate Willie Gillis (Michael Ontkean) and U.S. military veteran Mike Danko (Sam Melville), who were recruited as part of a program to create a new breed of more sensitive policemen.  As they're veteran commanding officer, Lt. Ryker (Gerald S. O'Loughlin), says in the opening episode, "The response of the 1930s won't do in the 1970s."


Part of the fictional SCPD (obviously Southern California where the show was filmed), Officers Webster, Gillis and Danko were virtually inseparable; Webster and Gillis were roommates while Danko and his nurse wife, Jill (Kate Jackson), lived right next door in the same apartment building.  The three officers also usually ended up working the same case under the guidance of the tough but fair Lt. Ryker -- in season one, it often seems, unrealistically, as if Ryker and the three rookies are the only cops on the entire force.


The Rookies was a standard formulaic police show in that each episode opened with a crime, followed with the requisite investigation and ended with Webster, Gillis and Danko always nabbing their man.  But what separated them from other cops was the extent to which they got involved in the personal lives of ordinary citizens they encountered.  A typical episode would have the rookies solving a crime, but also helping a witness, victim or somebody who just happened to get involved in the wrong crowd. 


Although Melville was billed second in the credits, his character, Danko, who was slightly older than his two counterparts, often felt like the third wheel during the debut season -- perhaps Brown and Ontkean were given more screen time because they were clearly stronger actors than Melville.  Most episodes attempted to get Danko's wife, Jill, involved in some manner, either in an actual case or just offering support at home or at the hospital -- interestingly, Jackson would later co-star as Ontkean's wife in 1982's Making Love and would again appear opposite Melville when he played her ex-husband in the '80s series, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King.


Like many of the police shows of its era, The Rookies benefited from memorable theme music, in this case by composer Elmer Bernstein.  The series was created by William Blinn, and was a production of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg.  Spelling-Goldberg, of course, would later produce ABC's Charlie's Angels, in which Jackson played one of the original three female leads, while Blinn, Spelling and Goldberg would later reunite for ABC's Starsky & Hutch, which was sort of a hipper variation of The Rookies. 


Guest stars in first season of The Rookies include James B. Sikking, Vic Tayback, Bo Svenson, Andrew Robinson (the Scorpio killer from Dirty Harry), Louis Gossett Jr., William Windom (who rivaled Michael Lerner for the most guest appearances on '70s TV cop shows), David Huddleston, Roddy McDowall, Vincent Gardenia, Cheryl Ladd, Earl Holliman, Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, Pat Hingle, Dick Van Patten and Tyne Daly, who was then married to Georg Stanford Brown.


The first season consists of 23 episodes, the titles of which are follows:


Concrete Valley, Neon Sky

Dead, Like a Lost Dream

The Informant

The Commitment

Covenant with Death

Time Is the Fire

The Bear That Didn't Get Up

Dirge for Sunday

The Good Die Young

To Taste of Terror

A Deadly Velocity

A Bloody Shade of Blue

Very Special Piece of Ground

Rabbits on the Runway

Tarnished Idol


Snow Job

Point of Impact

Three Hours to Kill

The Wheel of Death

Life Robbery

Farewell Tree from Marly

Easy Money



The Rookies is certainly dated by 2007 standards, and it's frequently corny in the superficial way it deals with a myriad of social issues.  But warts and all, the series remains an adequate time killer, especially for those of us who affectionately remember the '70s.


Sony's DVD presentation of the first season is a box set with 5 discs included within three separate, slender slip cases.  All episodes have been digitally remastered, and the picture and sound quality is generally pretty good, especially considering these episodes are 35 years old.  Disappointingly, there are no extras; retrospective interviews with Brown, Ontkean, Jackson and O'Loughlin (who's now 85) would have been nice -- Melville died in 1989.  But a special feature that's not included which would have been great is the original 72-minute pilot movie that aired in March, 1972.  In the pilot, the three rookies are the same, but Lt. Ryker and Jill Danko are played by different actors (Darren McGavin and Jennifer Billingsley).



-   Chuck O'Leary


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