"Thanks for taking this meeting, J.B. Now - you ready to get your socks knocked off? Here's my boffo idea: we combine gritty, tough
urban crime drama with... the musical! Yeah, that's right, New York cops runnin' around, bustin' drug dealers just like all my other
Emmy-winning shows... when suddenly - bam! Everybody starts singin' & dancin', boppin' around to the tunes of some slick
songwriter, like, uh, I dunno, that guy who did "Short People." I tell ya, J.B., it's gold. Gold, baby!"
At least, that's my impression of the meeting that spawned this televisual abomination.
Cop Rock was the creation of Steven Bochco, whose output up to that moment was pretty much a grandslam homerun every
time he stepped up to the plate: this was the man who created the crime dramas Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and
LA Law - his track record for this sort of thing was impeccable. Some would say he reinvented the crime-genre TV show,
making things gritty and hyper-realistic, dark dramas peopled with flawed heroes. (This was, after all, the period of Reagan and
Thatcher, of Bernie Getz and all of that post-70's angst.) Hell, the man probably could have gotten absolutely any project greenlighted
just on his name value alone.
Yup. Any stupid piece of shit. Apparently.
Cop Rock took this rough-edged drama and mixed it into a musical format. Literally, characters on both sides of the law would
be going through their routine, then suddenly stop and burst into Broadway-style tunes. A jury deciding the fate of a murderer; a
drug-addicted mom with her baby just before she's about to sell the kid for money to buy more dope; gangs of black youths being led to
the waiting patrol cars. All of these characters - in the first episode alone! - could be seen bursting into song and, in some cases,
boogying down in unison. Yes, it was absolutely ridiculous as it sounds.
Remember, this was after the flowering of MTV, when music videos were no longer enjoyed for their novelty value; in fact, by this time
MTV was increasingly turning itself into the anything-but-music channel (a position it still holds today, inexplicably).
The musical numbers on Cop Rock were thus emulative of the music-video style - with professional lighting, choreography, camera
techniques, etc. But by that time such things were old hat.
Contrasting this, the 'cop' part of the equation was as deadly-serious as it could get. The police force were after a group
of drug dealers who kept getting released on technicalities, so that they were back out on the streets and peddling their stuff the
next day. The increasingly desperate lawmen tried more and more elaborate raids to bring the perps to trial, until at the end of the
first episode, the main protagonist (played by the annoying Peter Onorati, who up to that time we endured only during commercials)
simply murders the suspect in cold blood. The same scene wouldn't be out of place in any current police or forensic-evidence drama.
That's what made Cop Rock so friggin' goofy: the show's format swung between these two genres so seamlessly that viewers
got a case of mental whiplash. One can imagine a family engrossed in the show's drama, only to see it devolve into a shitty Randy
Newman showtune - the only reasonable response to such a thing is "What the fuck?!!" (Oh, and can we please kill and bury any notion
that Randy Newman is some kind of musical genius? The guy's a low-rent hack. He's always been a hack, and he always will be one.
His po'-boy piano tinklings aren't clever, they're not witty, they're not elegant or pleasant or even well-executed. It's just the
worst, blandest sort of generic brainfarts that untalented people expel now and then, thinking themselves to be creative.)
This show continued going for several months, despite the catcalls and boos coming from all directions. It just ground on and on,
with newer episodes being even more ridiculous and heavy-handed than the previous ones, while the usually tasteless television
viewing public displayed enough good sense to turn the channel to something else, anything else, for the love of God, hurry. The
series creators did their best to kickstart the stillborn little bastard of a show: characters from Hill Street Blues and
LA Law crossed over into the dark, career-destroying Cop Rock universe. (Poor Jimmy Smits still wakes in a pool of
sweat, the monsters from his nightmares haunting his increasingly fragile sanity.) Insiders said that a shitload of money was spent
on each episode, upwards of two million, to hire all of the actors and dancers and voice coaches and therapists necessary to vomit up
each new one.
In the end, everybody just decided to drop the thing and walk away from it, disavowing any knowledge of or participation in its sorry
existence, hoping the rest of the world could, if not forgive, at least forget. Of course, if they'd had the sense that God gives to
baboons, they never would have created the thing in the first place. History is full of seriously Bad Ideas, and the universe is
usually pretty swift to pursue and punish the perpetrators. But, like the drug dealers in this show, sometimes these things just sort
of manage to escape the punishment they so richly deserve. And there aren't enough singing cops around to give the rest of the closure,
the harsh justice, we crave.