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
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.
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
Concrete Valley, Neon
Dead, Like a Lost
Covenant with Death
Time Is the Fire
The Bear That Didn't
Dirge for Sunday
The Good Die Young
To Taste of Terror
A Deadly Velocity
A Bloody Shade of Blue
Very Special Piece of
Rabbits on the Runway
Point of Impact
Three Hours to Kill
The Wheel of Death
Farewell Tree from
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