In the mid-70s, action movies were upping the ante as far as acceptable levels of violence, with films like Dirty Harry redefining the role of the fictional cop. Soon after, the normally timid medium of television decided that they needed to respond in kind if they wanted to attract the audiences that were flocking to see this new era of films. ABC decided that the calm days of Adam-12 and Dragnet were over. There were two new cops on the beat that didn’t take crap from anyone and weren’t shy about drawing their guns and firing off a couple dozen rounds. Their names were Starsky and Hutch.
Debuting in 1975, Starsky and Hutch starred Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, respectively, as New Yorker David Starsky and Minnesota native Ken Hutchinson, two recent transplants to the fictional Southern Californian “Bay City.” Ken was the calm and collected cop and his partner David was the more erratic, emotional one of the team. But while their personalities contrasted each other, their devotion to fighting crime and their loyalty to each other was strikingly similar. They drove around in the car that Hutch had sarcastically christened “the striped tomato” – a red Ford Torino, sporting a white vector stripe on each side, and officially known as “Zebra-Three.”
Working under the direction of Captain Harold Dobey, the pair fought all manners of thug, thief and criminal, from the petty to the psychotic. Their ear on the streets was the wisecracking uber-cool informer, Huggy Bear, who, despite his hoodlum image, was a kind and caring soul underneath – even if he rarely let that side show.
At the end of the second season, Paul Michael Glaser expressed an interest in leaving the series, and when that wasn’t granted, he sued to get out of his contract. Things were smoothed over with a significant pay raise, thanks to the show’s overwhelming popularity, but it wouldn’t be the last time he tried to depart. In the fourth season, a new character was introduced named Nick, brother of Starsky. This was done out of fear that Glaser was planning to leave and the plan was, if he leaves, Nick goes to the police academy and joins the force as Hutch’s new partner (Nick and Hutch?) The fears were unfounded as Glaser stayed on throughout the fourth and, sadly, final season, thanks to a recent drop in the ratings.
The world wouldn’t hear from Starsky and Hutch again until 2004, when Warner Brothers released their spoof/tribute to the series, the Starsky and Hutch motion picture. Starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the respective title roles, the film poked playful fun at the iconic series and was a major box office hit.
Looking back, there is no denying that Starsky and Hutch was violent and gritty in contrast to the police shows that preceded it, but that was only part of the picture. The series also benefited from solid writing and compelling main characters – whose on-screen chemistry was inescapable and oddly appealing. All of this combined to make the series a cut above the rest, and it remains a beloved reminder of the days when cop shows didn’t sacrifice action for drama and weren’t afraid to let the bullets fly.
If you stayed up late each week to see what kind of mayhem would surround Starsky and Hutch, we’d love to hear your recollections of watching this classic cop show in our comments section.