Cop Rock: "Let's Be Careful Out There"
Here at the Agony Booth, we work our hardest to bring you the absolute state of the art in snark. Whether its computer-animated superheroes, Starfleet personnel, or twelve year-old Canadian girls, we’re on top of their every move.
But there’s been something missing, something that I swore I would recap from the very first moment I saw this place: Cop Rock. It was, after all, the worst TV show ever made.
Or was it?
I have no idea.
The thing is, you can’t get Cop Rock anywhere. It’s not on VHS. It’s not on DVD. It’s not on Blu-ray or that other thing that isn’t Blu-ray. There is no bit nor torrent (none that look safe, anyway). Cop Rock is almost entirely missing from the archeological record. It’s almost as if someone were purposefully trying to hide it.
But you can find traces of it. In reviews and on websites, you can piece together episodes, characters, even a sense of some of the plots. And in one place, you can find a short clip or two, providing a small glimpse into what it must have been like, all those years ago.
You ask for miracles, I give you Yahoo Video. Stick around until the end of this article, and you might just get a small glimpse yourself.
After an amazing string of successes, and after he’d signed a ten-year/ten-show development deal with ABC, it was suggested to Steven Bochco that Hill Street Blues could be the basis for an excellent gritty cop Broadway musical. Instead, Bochco decided that he could make a gritty cop TV series musical—twenty-six episodes a year of all-singing, all-dancing, ripped-from-the-headlines drama.
Yes, Cop Rock was a musical! It was an f-ing musical!
And ABC bought it.
They hyped the hell out of it. Cop Rock was one of the first TV shows ever to have a preview played in movie theaters. The idea strained credulity, but this was Steven “We Just Gave Him Fifty Million Dollars” Bochco. He created L.A. Law. He singlehandedly made people believe a 16 year-old could be a doctor—and keep a blog about it!
The clip I’m recapping comes from episode seven, “Cop-A-Feeliac”, originally broadcast November 7, 1990. I know what you’re thinking: This has to be the worst episode title ever. Wrong. It’s not even the worst episode title of Cop Rock. That honor would go to episode six: “Oil of Ol’ Lay”. I know what you’re thinking: I made that up. Wrong again.
The clip starts with the helpful chyron, “ROLL CALL 7:52 a.m.”
The scene comes up on 40 or 50 LAPD officers sitting at those little desk chairs like they do at the start of a shift, when the sergeant or lieutenant or chief or whatever gives out assignments. So, you know, roll call. Just like on every other police show… ever. I have a feeling that this chyron will be the beginning of historic unnecessariness the likes of which have not been seen since Haley Joel Osment asked the Blue Fairy to make him real. And then the aliens came. And then his mother was alive again.
The person conducting roll call is Lieutenant Kellogg, played by musician Mike Finnigan. He’s worked with everybody. He worked with Jimi Hendrix. He worked with Billy Bob Thornton. Now, that’s a career. (And thanks to forum member bees on pie for identifying him.)
Lieutenant Kellogg is going over item seven. There’s a conflict resolution seminar on November 29 at 3 PM. Attendance is mandatory. The cops all grumble, because this was 1990. Back then, all that touchy-feely crap was brand new. Everybody was into it, but everybody had to pretend they weren’t. Today’s equivalent would be 35 year-olds and MySpace. Nobody admits to having a page, and yet there they all are.
One of the officers raises his hand. The Lieutenant asks, “You got a conflict with that?” The officer replies, “Yeah, I do.” It’s not the best excuse in the world. Naturally, Kellogg sees right through it: “It’s resolved, you’re going.”
It just occurred to me: If attendance at this seminar is mandatory, there won’t be anybody left to actually protect Los Angeles. So, there’s a good tip from Steven Bochco: plan all your crimes for November 27, 1990 at 3 PM. I don’t know how long the seminar goes, so just try to be done by 4:30 at the latest.
Item eight is that Officer Quinn is returning to active duty. I honestly don’t know the plot of this episode, but I’m pretty sure that we have arrived at the Point of the Scene. I don’t know what Quinn did or whether he or she was shot, but my mad TV watching skillz tell me that we are supposed to care mightily that he is coming back. Or she. Or the canine mascot.
Apparently, the return of Quinn the Mystery Cop won’t be without its problems. The Lieutenant has to reassign people to make room for him/her/K9. This means Yeager will have to ride with Cerrutto. Cerrutto complains that Yeager has yak-breath. Yeager, good-naturedly, breathes on him. It’s wonderfully inventive and not at all the same as the sample script that came with FinalDraft 1.0.
Kellogg reaches the last item on the teletype. The Franklin Avenue Flasher is still on the… wait, did he say “teletype”? Yes, yes he did.
Kellogg gives a description of the flasher. “Male cauc, 6’3″, look for tattoos in unusual places.” Incidentally, email me if you ever see a cop show that doesn’t include a flasher with incriminatingly distinct genitals.
Kellogg wraps up roll call with one last overdone cop cliché. He tells the squad, “Let’s be careful out there.” My lord, Steven Bochco is stealing from himself. That was how Esterhaus ended his briefings on Hill Street Blues. Now Kellogg is saying it.
Wait just a minute. He’s not saying it. He’s singing it. He’s belting it at the top of his lungs. “Leeeet’s beeeee careful ouuuut theeeeeeere!!!!!!“
I was 20 years old back in 1990. Nobody thought Cop Rock would be any good. Nobody. The nicest thing ABC’s chief Daniel Burke could say about it was, “I think it’s going to take some getting used to.” And his network was committed to a hard-boiled, no-nonsense, straight dramatic musical. Where five times during an episode, people would just bust out singing. And that’s what Kellogg is doing here as he repeats, “Let’s be careful out theeeeeeerrrrrreeeee.”
Now the electric guitar starts up and the bass slides in. Because Cop Rock wasn’t just a musical, it was a rock musical. This particular song was written by Mike Post, because when I think of “rock”, I always think of the guy who wrote the theme song to Quantum Leap.
And why didn’t Mike Finnigan write the song? What was the point of hiring a veteran studio musician? He clearly has the credentials. I suspect the producers may not have known what they were doing. Also, I suspect the groom is having doubts.
Kellogg is kind of half-singing, half-growling, half-yelling the whole time. That’s three halves, which should tell you just how awful his performance is. It’s 150% suck. Considering the fact that Finnigan can sing, it must have taken teams of production assistants weeks to make him look this bad.
He sings, “We had a 187 at the 7-11 on the corner of Fourth and Main/ Two caucasians of the male persuasion put a bullet through the cashier’s brain.” When he sings this, he pantomimes a little gun with his right hand and pretends to shoot himself in the head. It’s kind of what an actor might do if he was receiving no direction at all.
Mike Finnigan stands there screaming a list of offenses from the California Penal Code. “Moving on, I see a 211, half a dozen 459s/ Two ADWs, a GTA and several miscellaneous crimes.” As he sings, the most amazing thing happens: nothing. All of the police officers sit there as though the Lieutenant hasn’t just lost his damn mind.
This was kind of a thing on Cop Rock. Everybody had to sing and none of the songs were any good. So, the rest of the cast would just pretend the musical number wasn’t happening. That way, when it was their turn, they didn’t have to be embarrassed. It’s like when a kid started crying in kindergarten and you ignored it. I’m just playing with my blocks, my suddenly fascinating blocks…
Kellogg has reached the chorus, to the extent that the song can be said to have one. “Homicide, arson, robbery, rape: everybody gets his share.” What amazes me is that sentence is grammatically correct. “Crime never sleeps so stay awake and,” Kellogg squints and squeezes like he’s taking a dump, “LEEEETS BEEEE CAREFUL OUUUUT THEEEEERE!!!!!!“
We’ve come to the bridge. Kellogg spins his podium around, revealing that it’s an electric keyboard, which he begins to play. This was another thing on Cop Rock. The numbers usually started out firmly based in reality, but as the song went on, more and more unreal elements were introduced. Then, they’d slide back into reality by the end. It didn’t work. The whole musical interlude should have had a consistent style. It wouldn’t have made it less unnecessary, but it would have saved me the trouble of typing two sentences.
Kellogg is wailing away on the keyboard. Hey, you know how you can tell if the actor is really playing a piano? You actually see a long shot of him touching the keys. Jason Segal can play the piano. Charlie Sheen cannot. In this case, it appears Mike Finnigan… cannot. It’s fingers on keys, Finnigan down to the elbow, Finnigan behind the keyboard, more fingers on keys. But, we know for a fact that Mike Finnigan can play. So … What … How … Did the director even talk to him before filming?
Kellogg is hollering, “15 Adam 20, that’s Frewer and Perez!” I don’t know who Frewer and Perez are, but 15 Adam 20 is a real call sign. It’s a patrol car on the day shift in North Hollywood. Do you think Frewer and Perez were in 15 Adam 20? When it exploded? Out of boredom?
“We got civil reports of nefarious sorts hanging down around Central West!” I think Kellogg is sending Frewer and Perez down to patrol West-Central L.A. In one car. Alone. Those guys are gonna die.
Hey, here’s an interesting fact about Mike Finnigan: his wife is Candy Finnigan from the TV show Intervention. Is it just me, or does that show hit a little too close to home?
We’re still singing. “And you foot patrols keep a lookout for that supermarket Robin Hood!” Finnigan screams the words “foot patrols” like he’s having a hernia palpated. “He’s been stealing from the stores and giving to the poor. He’s the hero of the neighborhood!” Hmm. Why wasn’t this included in the non-singing part of the briefing? It sounds important.
“Homicide, arson, robbery, rape: it wouldn’t hurt to say our prayers. Play it tough but play it safe!” Finnigan has resorted to pointing. He’s pointing with both hands. Where the hell was the director? “AND LEEET’S BEEE CAREFUL OUUUUT THEEEERE!!!!”
[Note from the future: Believe it or not, but after this was posted I emailed Mike Finnigan to see if he would comment about his Cop Rock experience. He was… less than receptive. His exact words upon seeing this article were, “What you know about singing, and music in general, is what a pig knows about Sunday.” Is it weird that this makes me love him more?]
Mike goes back to playing the piano/podium. I just noticed that his uniform is tight. I mean, it is really tight. It’s like ’80s porn actor tight. That might explain all the screaming.
Looking more closely at the clip, everybody looks like they’re rinsing off after an extended stay in the ’80s. The men’s hair is too long and the women’s hair is too short. It’s a mess, reflecting the general confusion at the time. The ’80s actually lasted well into the ’90s—January 11, 1992, to be exact. For all of 1990 and 1991, we had absolutely no idea what to do with ourselves. And that’s nothing. The ’60s didn’t end until August 8, 1974, leaving everybody completely unprepared.
“Homicide, arson, robbery, rape: it wouldn’t hurt to say our prayers!” These are the real lyrics. They just have Kellogg repeat the second chorus. But then why was the first chorus different from the second? Could they only think of two words that rhyme with “there”? “I’ve got share and prayers. What do you got?” “Um… Farberware?”
It’s not the singing that’s depressing me here. It’s the complete pointlessness of it all. I don’t think it’s impossible to do a musical on television. My favorite thing of anything of all time ever is a musical on television. And half of that cast had no talent whatsoever. Nicholas Brendon danced like he had a gun to his head.
Mike Finnigan closes his eyes and swings his head to the rhythm. Let’s be honest, they were on an eight-day shooting schedule; nobody had time to choreograph him. “AND LEEET’S BEEE CAREFUL OUUUT THEEEERE!!!!“
I have a confession to make. I went out there. And I wasn’t careful. And now I feel bad about it.
I mean, what is the point of this song? We know it’s not the focus of the scene. They already gave us all the information we needed. But if Bochco isn’t trying to get something across to the audience, there’s no reason to be singing. A musical number gives the audience information. Usually, it’s information about the characters’ feelings. The whole point of the Buffy episode was to let the audience in on the characters’ feelings (except for “Under Your Spell”, which was just about lesbian sex).
So, the Lieutenant cares about his officers and wants them to be careful out there. We knew that already. He’s warning his people to be careful. This part could have been played equally well by a message on an answering machine.
And this is ultimately why Cop Rock sucked. The songs were useless. Five times an hour, from a storytelling perspective, the show would die.
Mike Finnigan, his character Kellogg, the director, and the musicians all give up. Kellogg sighs one last, “Let’s be careful ouuuut theeeeee-ee-yahh-yahh,” and then he’s done. He gives a little nod to indicate that he doesn’t intend to sing about any other criminal violations, and everyone gets up and leaves in a subdued and orderly manner.
But this clip has one more surprise. As the cops file out, they leave one lone pipe-smoking officer at the back of the room. It’s James B. Sikking as Lieutenant Howard Hunter from Hill Street Blues! He doesn’t say anything to anybody. He just nods and leaves.
I suspect we were supposed to infer that the Hill Street Blues people gave their blessing to Cop Rock. All I got out of it was that James B. Sikking showed up because his boss told him to. (He was, at that moment, playing Doogie’s father on another ABC show.)
That’s the end of the clip. Here’s the whole thing, Sikking sighting and all:
My God, it’s full of stars.
And that’s all we know of this thing called Cop Rock. It ran for 11 episodes in 1990. It was the most expensive TV show ever made at the time. It was universally despised, and quickly disappeared.
But in its day, Cop Rock was glorious. It taught us something that no one ever knew before: generating the equivalent of thirteen new full-length musicals a year is impossible. Steven Bochco proved it. Now go out and spread the word to Dick Wolf and all the other producers in L.A. And, hey, let’s be careful out there.
Let’s be careful ouuuut theeeeee-ee-yahh-yahh.
He’s sending them to me. I promise to watch every minute of every episode or die trying. I’ll report back to answer all of your most pressing Cop Rock questions. And then, I’ll move on to Capitol Critters.