14 Things You Might Not Know About CHiPs

NBC
NBC

As counter-programming to the heavy police procedural dramas of the 1970s, NBC’s CHiPs—which premiered on September 15, 1977—took a lighter approach to law enforcement. Amenable California Highway Patrol officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) rarely encountered anything more serious than a freeway pileup; families enjoyed the low mortality rate, and the series developed into a solid merchandising and ratings success. In honor of the series' 40th anniversary, cruise through 14 facts about co-star turmoil, off-screen accidents, and why your ChiPs toys had a tendency to turn toxic.

1. CAITLYN JENNER ONCE REPLACED ERIK ESTRADA.


Warner Bros.

When Estrada left the series during the beginning of its fifth season over a salary dispute, producers hired Olympian Caitlyn (then Bruce) Jenner to replace him: the athlete, who was already working for NBC Sports as a commentator, also happened to be an experienced motorcyclist. When Estrada came to an agreement with MGM and returned to work, Jenner’s character slowly evaporated from the series, lasting just seven episodes in total.

2. ERIK ESTRADA AND LARRY WILCOX DID NOT GET ALONG.

Onscreen, co-stars Estrada and Wilcox had each other’s backs. Off-camera? Different story. When Wilcox got married in 1980, he told People magazine he made a point of not inviting Estrada and noted the two had argued ever since the show began. "I thought it was asinine to pick someone just for being photogenic," he said of Estrada’s casting. “Erik and I are just totally different human beings, and I can't get a good relationship going." Describing it as an “ego problem,” Wilcox said Estrada was not his “best chum” and “never will be.”

3. THE COPS ALMOST NEVER DREW THEIR GUNS.


Warner Bros.

For a cop show, CHiPs had a pretty conservative approach to ammunition. According to some fan tallies, a gun was drawn by police in just three out of 139 episodes—and never by Estrada or Wilcox. Estrada told ABC News that the show’s 8 p.m. family time slot contributed to the pacifistic approach. “It was about helping pedestrians, people in trouble, the young kids who are straying,” he said.

4. ESTRADA WAS BADLY HURT DOING A STUNT.

Unlike many of the actors working in primetime today, Estrada insisted on doing many of his own motorcycle stunts. While shooting a 1979 episode, the actor was critically injured after he lost control of his bike while cruising around for a scene. Braking abruptly, he flew into a parked car chest-first, the bike landing on top of him; he broke eight ribs, his sternum, his collarbone, and his wrist. When he returned to work, MGM gifted him with a $100,000 Rolls Royce Corniche. (Not to be outdone, Wilcox flipped his motorcycle the following year and suffered a concussion.)   

5. WILCOX LEFT THE SHOW.


Warner Bros.

With the tension between Wilcox and Estrada unresolved, Wilcox elected to leave the show just as it was beginning its sixth and final season. The character of Baker was replaced with Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson (Tom Reilly), with the switch prompting a decline in ratings. Reilly made news in December of 1982 when United Press International reported he was arrested by actual motorcycle officers for suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs. Reilly pled innocent to the charges, his role was reduced, and the series was eventually canceled.  

6. ESTRADA INSPIRED THE VILLAGE PEOPLE COP.

Though he didn’t get top billing in the show, Estrada’s blindingly-white smile and good looks quickly became a pop culture staple. According to TV Guide, Estrada’s appearance had some major influence over Victor Willis of the Village People: Willis took notice of his extra-tight patrol uniform and adopted it for his role as the “cop” in the musical group.  

7. PONCH WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ITALIAN.

The role of Frank Poncherello was originally Poncherelli; producers envisioned an Italian character. They changed their minds when Estrada auditioned, possibly out of abject fear: Estrada punched a door during the meeting, frustrated he had flubbed a line.

8. IT WAS ALMOST CANCELED IN ITS FIRST SEASON.

Critics and media observers were indelicate in describing CHiPs’s ratings performance during its first season in 1977 to 1978, describing it as “dreadful.” The show’s fortunes improved in season two, when NBC moved it from Thursdays to Saturdays and where it began winning its time slot.  

9. THE TITLE FOR SYNDICATION MADE NO SENSE.

After completing five seasons, CHiPs was sold into syndication in the fall of 1982. To help avoid viewer confusion between reruns and new episodes, MGM re-titled it CHiPs Patrol. This was redundant, as “CHP” is an acronym for “California Highway Patrol,” making the complete series name California Highway Patrol Patrol.  

10. THE TOYS WEREN’T BUILT TO LAST.

Mego toy company was quick to pounce on the popularity of the series, offering 8-inch action figures and vehicles. Their CHiPs products were said to have reused a lot of molds from other lines—Fonzie’s motorcycle, Klingon boots from Star Trek—but the real disappointment came when the Ponch and Jon figures sat on shelves for too long. Owing to Mego’s uneven quality control, the plastic used for the bodies seemed to react poorly with the plastic on the packaging, tinting their heads from flesh-colored to a sickly gray. Collectors call it “zombie disease” and it’s reputed to be potentially toxic.

11. WILCOX GOT BUSTED.

In 2010, media had a delightful time with the irony of Wilcox finding himself on the other side of the law: The actor was arrested and charged with securities fraud. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Wilcox had unwittingly solicited kickbacks to fund his mining business from an undercover FBI agent in 2009. To help avoid serious repercussions, Wilcox wore a wire for authorities to nab two others involved in the scheme. In 2011, a judge sentenced him to three years of probation.

12. A REUNION MOVIE HAPPENED IN 1998.


Warner Bros.

CHiPs ’99 picked up the adventures of our asphalt-hugging heroes more than 15 years after the series went off the air. Wilcox returned to join Estrada in combating an automobile hijacking ring, with a subplot involving a dog obstinately pooping in Jon’s yard. The movie aired on TNT in October 1998; by all accounts, the co-stars got along this time. (Then again, the project took just 17 days to shoot.)

13. IT GOT A BIG-SCREEN REBOOT IN EARLY 2017.

Warner Bros. was betting big on nostalgia for the series when the studio enlisted Dax Shepard to write, direct and co-star in a relatively straight-faced adaptation. Previously, Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show) had allegedly earned an informal commitment to play Ponch after showing up to a studio meeting in a California motorcycle cop uniform and saying, “Funny, right?" But Michael Peña ended up playing the role.

14. ESTRADA BECAME A REAL COP.

Estrada had been quoted as saying his original intention was to become a police officer before he got into acting. That didn’t quite work out, but he eventually got his chance. In 2006, Estrada became a reserve officer for Muncie, Indiana’s police force. Originally deputized for a reality series, he returned in 2008 to work a night patrol shift. He currently works for the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.    

This Damn Fine Twin Peaks Box Set Is the Only One Fans Will Ever Need

Amazon
Amazon

Fans of David Lynch’s three-season drama Twin Peaks know there’s quite a lot to excavate. The series, which ran from 1990 to 1991 on ABC and returned for a one-season engagement on Showtime in 2017, has been a perpetual source of ambiguity, red herrings, and the downright inexplicable.

Now there’s a centralized hub of all things Peaks to dwell on. Twin Peaks: From Z to A is a Blu-ray box set containing all episodes of the original series; 1992’s feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; 2017's Twin Peaks: The Return; an international version of the 1990 pilot with additional footage; as well as an abundance of new and archival material totaling 20 hours in length.

The box for the 'Twin Peaks: From Z to A' Blu-ray DVD set is pictured
Amazon

Inside the package, which is illustrated with the Douglas firs that are part of the show’s iconography, are mini-figures of Special Agent Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer, played in the show by Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, respectively. The box acts as a diorama of sorts and opens to reveal the Red Room, a location where many of the show’s most surreal moments took place. A series of three-by-five index cards provide backdrops of key scenes. The only thing the set doesn’t have is Lynch’s hand-drawn map of the show’s Washington location, but you can find that here.

The set is limited to 25,000 copies. It retails for $139.99 on Amazon and is due for release on December 10.

[h/t Newsweek]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline'

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

The story of Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" has it all: love, baseball, Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s pop’s answer to the national anthem, and as any karaoke belter or Boston Red Sox fan will tell you, it’s way easier to sing than "The Star-Spangled Banner." As the song celebrates its 50th birthday this year, now’s a good time—so good, so good, so good—to dig into the rich history of a tune people will still be singing in 2069.

"Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing," Diamond sings in the song’s iconic opening lines. Except the "where" part of this story is actually pretty simple: Diamond wrote "Sweet Caroline" in a Memphis hotel room in 1969 on the eve of a recording session at American Sound Studio. By this point in his career, Diamond had established himself as a fairly well-known singer-songwriter with two top-10 hits—"Cherry Cherry" and "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon"—to his name. He’d also written "I’m a Believer," which The Monkees took to #1 in late 1966.

 

The "who," as in the identity of the "Caroline" immortalized in the lyrics, is the much juicier question. In 2007, Diamond revealed that he was inspired to write the song by a photograph of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, that he saw in a magazine in the early ‘60s, when he was a "young, broke songwriter."

"It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," Diamond told the Associated Press. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there.” Years later, in that Memphis hotel room, the song was finally born.

Neil Diamond sings the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XXI between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California
George Rose/Getty Images

Perhaps because it’s a little creepy, Diamond kept that tidbit to himself for years and only broke the news after performing the song at Kennedy’s 50th birthday in 2007. "I’m happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline," Diamond said. "I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy."

The plot thickened in 2014, however, as Diamond told the gang at NBC’s TODAY that the song is really about his first wife, Marsha. "I couldn’t get Marsha into the three-syllable name I needed,” Diamond said. "So I had Caroline Kennedy’s name from years ago in one of my books. I tried ‘Sweet Caroline,’ and that worked."

It certainly did. Released in 1969, "Sweet Caroline" rose to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the decade that followed, it was covered by Elvis Presley, soul great Bobby Womack, Roy Orbison, and Frank Sinatra. Diamond rates Ol’ Blue Eyes’ version the best of the bunch.

"He did it his way," Diamond told The Sunday Guardian in 2011. "He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swingin', big-band version tops them all by far."

 

Another key question in the "Sweet Caroline" saga is "why"—why has the song become a staple at Fenway Park in Boston, a city with no discernible connection to Diamond, a native of Brooklyn?

It’s all because of a woman named Amy Tobey, who worked for the Sox via BCN Productions from 1998 to 2004. During those years, Tobey had the wicked awesome job of picking the music at Sox games. She noticed that "Sweet Caroline" was a crowd-pleaser, and like any good baseball fan, she soon developed a superstition. If the Sox were up, and Tobey thought they were going to win the game, she’d play the song somewhere in between the seventh and ninth innings.

"I actually considered it like a good luck charm," Tobey told The Boston Globe in 2005. "Even if they were just one run [ahead], I might still do it. It was just a feel." It became a regular thing in 2002, when Fenway’s new management asked Tobey to play "Sweet Caroline" during the eighth inning of every home game, regardless of the score.

At first, Tobey was worried that mandatory Diamond would lead to bad luck on the actual diamond. But that wasn’t the case, as the Sox won the World Series in 2004, ending the "Curse of the Bambino" and giving Beantown its first title since 1918. In 2010, Diamond made a surprise appearance at Fenway to perform "Sweet Caroline" during the Red Sox's season opener against the New York Yankees. He wore a Sox cap and a sports coat emblazoned with the message "Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn."

 

A different mood greeted Diamond when he returned to Fenway on April 20, 2013, just five days after bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured nearly 300 others. "What an honor it is for me to be here today," Diamond told the crowd. "I bring love from the whole country." He then sang along with the ‘69 recording of the song, leading the crowd in the "Ba! Ba! Ba!" and "So good! So good! So good!" ad-libs that have essentially become official lyrics. Diamond also donated all the royalties he received from the song that week, as downloads increased by 597 percent.

The Red Sox aren't the only sports team to have basked in the glory of "Sweet Caroline." The song has become popular with both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Iowa State Cyclones football squads and has even crossed the Atlantic to become part of the music rotation for England's Castleford Tigers crew team and Britain's Oxford United Football Club.

Over the last five decades, millions of people have had their lives touched by "Sweet Caroline" in one way or another. The enduring popularity must be a pleasant surprise for Diamond, who had no idea he’d written a classic back in 1969. "Neil didn't like the song at all," Tommy Cogbill, a bass player at American Sound Studio, said in an interview for the 2011 book Memphis Boys. "I actually remember him not liking it and not wanting it to be a single."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER