Is this show forgotten? My informal poll tells me so, although that isn’t very scientific. What interests me is that everything AROUND The Rookies seems to be remembered, including its spin-off, S.W.A.T. This is especially interesting given that The Rookies was on for four years (1972-1976), and S.W.A.T. only one (1975-1976). (The latter fact hardly seems possible–I thought the show was a hit, there was a whole fad for it, it became a buzzword, just like C.B. radios and 18 wheelers etc….but then my perspective is probably skewed by the fact that I was ten years old at the time.)
The Rookies was an attempt by Aaron Spelling (best known for his extravagant, preposterous, gimmicky programming) to mimic the more realistic police procedural television of Jack Webb. Webb had monster hits on his hands with Dragnet and Adam-12, shows so bland and deadpan they are goldmines of unintentional camp comedy, conservative to the point of colorlessness, just a few notches to the right of Richard Nixon. By contrast, Spelling’s own previous police drama The Mod Squad (1968-1973) is a fantasia of, by and for the mind of a 13 year old, a show about three hippie undercover cops, a police unit as a sort of rock power trio of the kind that might have played Monterey Pop. The Rookies attempted to marry this kind of youth appeal to something more realistic, but still with a veneer of hip (e.g. with George Stanford Brown as the “Linc” stand-in) and sensitivity (sub-plots investigate the cops’ personal lives, a story avenue Jack Webb avoided like the plague).
It is this wishy-washiness that perhaps has caused the show to slip from the popular consciousness. The Rookies was not as uncompromising or extreme as Webb’s shows, yet not as high-concept or looney as Spelling’s more characteristic contributions. Even S.W.A.T. had an angle. Like Webb’s Emergency! (which people also seem to remember) it focused on an interesting, cutting edge sub-branch of local “first response” agencies. At any rate, after his little flirtation with realism, Spelling’s cop shows went gonzo again, first with Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979), which echoed the Mod Squad formula by mixing “gritty” with “hip”, “glamorous” and “trendy”, and then finally, his masterpiece of high-concept Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981), which went for broke by jettisoning realism entirely. (By the way, Kate Jackson had gotten her start working for Spelling on The Rookies). Here’s the show’s opener: