"My name is Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant, Police Squad. There'd been a recent wave of gorgeous fashion models found naked and unconscious in laundromats on the West Side. Unfortunately, I was assigned to investigate holdups of neighborhood credit unions. I was across town doing my laundry when I got the call on the double killing. It took me twenty minutes to get there. My boss was already on the scene."
After the success of the movie Airplane!
in 1980, Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker returned to TV, resulting in Police Squad!
, 1982). A blatant parody of 1950s- through 1970s-vintage cop shows
(specifically 1957's M Squad
and practically every Quinn Martin Productions crime drama ever made - Police Squad!
even uses Hank Simms, the announcer for many QM shows), this Half Hour Comedy
featured Leslie Nielsen
as Lt. Frank Drebin, and filled its half hour with an incredible panoply of fast-paced and hard-hitting puns, surreal non-sequiturs and over-the-top sight gags of the kind that had become familiar thanks to the ZAZ movies.
Unfortunately, ABC canceled the program after only six episodes, with network head Tony Thomopoulos giving as the reason that the show required the viewer to pay too much attention
— a pronouncement that earned Thermopolous and the network a considerable amount of derision (TV Guide
called it "the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series"). Ironically, the producers themselves were actually grateful, as the six episodes they made were already stretching their ideas thin and they knew they'd never be able to keep up the level of quality much longer. To this day the show is remembered with fondness by many as a program that respected (and tested) the intelligence of its viewers even while making them roll on the floor with laughter. The entire series was released on DVD in 2006.
Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker eventually revived the show (and reused many of its gags) in The Naked Gun
series of motion pictures.
This show, IN COLOR, provides examples of:
- Almighty Janitor: Johnny the shoeshine guy knows everything and will tell you about it—for a price. (He can even tell you about the afterlife.) Invariably, as soon as Drebin gets the information he needs and leaves, someone else will come for information, such as a surgeon asking how to perform open-heart surgery or Dick Clark asking about ska.
- And Starring: Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln.
- As You Know
Frank: That sounded like a tuba in the background.
- A-Team Firing: Frank and a perpetrator are unable to shoot each other while hiding behind a bench and a garbage can that are only five feet away from each other.
- Bang Bang BANG
- Becoming the Mask: For example, Norberg is more occupied with improving revenues on their key making business cover than with dealing with the mob they went into business to attract.
- Black Dude Dies First: Georg Stanford Brown, a guest star.
- Body of the Week: along with Dead Star Walking, the special guest star was killed off as they were being introduced in the credits.
- The Boxing Episode: episode "Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)"
- Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: First episode, when Frank visits the dentist.
- Brick Joke: Frank mentions in the introductory monologue of the first episode that he was doing his laundry when a case came up. About halfway through the episode he finally gets to pick it up.
- The Butler Did It: He did. But that wasn't a surprise if you read the episode title.
- It would still be a surprise; every single episode had two titles (that read by the announcer, and that displayed on the screen.)
- Of course, said titles are often vague and tend to have little to do with the episode...
- Cameo: In addition to the Body of the Week, many of the people who came to Johnny the Shoeshine Boy for advice, including Dick Clark and Dr. Joyce Brothers.
- Catch Phrase: The first and last line of the page header quote. Also:
Drebin: [offering a cigarette to the victim of the episode's crime] Cigarette?
Victim: Yes. I know.
Drebin: (disillusioned) Well...
- Chair Reveal: A chair does a slow turn... revealing another, identical, chair in the seat. The villain is standing off to the side.
- Clumsy Copyright Censorship: Examples below:
- In the original airing of "The Butler Did It", the party goers were actually singing "Happy Birthday to You". But in the VHS/Syndicated versions, they were singing a totally new song to the tune of the original called, literally, "Something Different".
- "Testimony of Evil", the last episode, originally had Drebin singing Judy Garland tunes. Again, in the VHS/Syndication versions, these were changed to versions that sounded almost the same, but with totally made up lyrics, and the new singer sounding nothing like Leslie Nielsen at all.
- Thankfully, the DVD release put back the original versions of those songs in those two episodes, along with Nielsen's original singing for his Judy Garland tribute.
- Cop Show
- Credits Gag: Every credits roll parodied the freeze frame ending by having the actors actually freeze instead of using a still shot.
- Damage-Proof Vehicle: Frank Drebin's green Plymouth seems to be one, no matter how many trash cans and kids bikes it hits it stays pristine.
- Dead Star Walking/Death by Cameo: A guest star would be immediately killed off as soon as he/she is introduced, during the opening credits.
- Dirt Forcefield: After a fight involving herpes and a signed Picasso, Frank Drebin seems relatively unscathed, but in the next shot we see him dusting himself off with several cuts and bruises all over his face and his hair mussed. After the next cut, he's spotless once again.
- Drives Like Crazy: Every episode Drebin crashes into some garbage cans with his car. And he once "drives back to the station" by literally driving there backwards.
- DVD Commentary: Unfortunately the commentary for the DVD release of Police Squad! is pretty boring - they hadn't seen the series for a while and spend more time laughing at the jokes and saying how wet behind the ears they were than letting you know anything interesting. They only offer it on three out of the total of six episodes, too - and not even the best ones. They spend half the time talking about how they had to fight against having a Laugh Track added - and then annoyingly their commentary is mostly... a laugh track.
- Economy Cast: Parodied with Johnny the shoe shine boy, Drebin's only informant. Johnny already knows everything, why would Drebin bother going anywhere else?
- Episode Title Card: Always contradicted by the voiceover.
- Everybody Laughs Ending/Every Episode Ending/Oh, Cisco!: Every episode's "Epilogue" involves Drebin and Hocken cracking a joke about the criminal they just sent to prison, followed by a mock-freeze frame (a.k.a. the "YEAH!" Shot listed below): the camera keeps rolling, but the actors stand really still.
- In Episode 1, Drebin and Hocken are visibly blinking and struggling to hold their expressions as the credits roll.
- In Episode 2, the episode's villain, Montague Martin, tries to escape, only to find the exits blocked by frozen cops or the Fourth Wall.
- In Episode 3, a suspect (a dressed-up chimpanzee) starts to demolish the office, while the rest of the cast freeze-frames.
- In Episode 4, Norberg walks into the scene after the freeze frame, and tries to find a suitable pose for himself to freeze on.
- In Episode 5, the ending "freeze-frames" while Hocken pours Drebin some coffee, halfway through Drebin saying "when". The coffee continues to pour, and Hocken has to slowly raise his arm to keep it going as the pot empties. Eventually, Drebin's coffee cup overflows and falls out of his hand.
- In Episode 6, Norberg goes to nail something to the wall, and the impact of his hammering causes the entire set to start falling down around the frozen actors.
- Excited Show Title!: The show's official title is written with an exclamation mark at the end, as if it's screaming the name at you.
- The Faceless: Al, a cop at headquarters who was so tall his head was never seen. Here's what he looks like.
- Finger in the Mail: Frank and his co-workers tell the mother of a kidnapped young lady about a similar case they had in which the victim's ear was cut off and mailed to her parents. The story, naturally, horrifies the woman—especially as they prattle on about the possibility.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: In the last episode, Norberg states there's only one way to find out if these suspicious powders they found in the car are drugs, so he does one... then takes another "test"... and then a whole finger's worth... Norberg was always a little quirky, but maybe....
- The Fool: Drebin.
- Knowledge Broker: Johnny the shoeshine guy, who can give you information on literally anything for a price.
- Half Hour Comedy
- Happy Birthday to You: Turns into...something different...literally.
- Homage: Multiple brief recreations of famous and not-so-famous movie and TV moments, plus the series' entire recreation of the look and feel of 1950s police shows, particularly M Squad.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: In one episode Frank tries to taunt a boxer with all sorts of insults, to which the man smiles and turns the other cheek. When Frank finally gives up and says, "Forget it!" that suddenly sets the man off and accidentally does the trick.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode had two names — the one displayed on the screen, and the one read by the announcer at the same time.
- Improbable Weapon User: "Look out, Frank: herpes!"
- "Watch out, he's got a painting! It's a signed Picasso!!"
- Lady in Red: Stella in "Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)"
- Latex Perfection: The Frenchman.
- Literal-Minded: Every character whenever it was funny. A signature style found in pretty much all Zucker Abrams Zucker comedies.
- The Movie: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad and its sequels.
- Mysterious Informant
- No Fourth Wall: Literally — whenever Olson would take Drebin to the lab where he'd run the episode's critical experiment, Olson would walk through the door — and Drebin would walk around the end of the set wall in which the door was placed.
- Non Sequitur Thud: Played straight when Buddy Brigs delivers the knockout blow to the Champ.
Referee: How many fingers do you see?
Champ: Thursday. [collapses]
- Once an Episode: Every episode Drebin will: Come in to work while narrating how he was in the middle of something else; consult Johnny the shoeshine guy for the word on the street (who will then be consulted by someone in a non-cop profession); consult Dr. Olson for forensic info (interrupting him in the middle of some dangerous or creepy experiment he's doing for some kid); crash into something while parking; offer a cigarette or something similar, only to have the offeree agree that it is indeed a cigarette; and mention that the current episode's arrestee would be joining every single criminal (listed off by name) who had been arrested in the previous episodes.
- Orphaned Punchline: In "Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don't Laugh)": "So anyway, the guy looked up at her and he said, 'Lady, I don't think I can take sixty-seven more of those!'"
- The Pete Best: Actors Alan North and Peter Lupus, whose characters went on to be played by George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson in the better known Naked Gun movies.
- Pinch Me
- Police Procedural: Well, in theory—definitely a spoof of the genre.
- Pretty in Mink: Stella in "Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)" wears a white fox stole.
- The Professor: Mr. Olson.
- Reverse Whodunnit: The opening of "A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)" clearly shows that Sally committed the crime.
- Rock Star Parking: Parodied; Frank Drebin parks no matter what objects might be in the way.
- Running Gag: Drebin regularly goes places mentioning that "my boss was already there".
Sergeant Lieutenant Captain Drebin's rank changes every time it's said.
- While it didn't quite happen every episode, a few times Drebin and Hocken would step into an elevator, and then we'd see inside as they talked about the case. In the background, an unlikely passenger would enter, then the elevator doors would open to a setting that makes no sense for an elevator to be present, but makes sense with the outfit the passenger is wearing, who disembarks.
- Rule of Three: The opening titles introduce "Leslie Nielson as Detective Frank Drebin", who is in an alleyway when someone shoots at him and he returns fire. Then "Alan North as Captain Ed Hocken" who is also fired on and returns fire, even though he's in the police station. Finally, "Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln". He's at the theater and, of course, someone shoots at him. He returns fire.
- Saint-Bernard Rescue: As an unexplained sight gag, a boxer's drunk girlfriend has a pet St. Bernard with a cask of brandy on its collar.
- Serial Escalation: How many sight gags and bad puns can we fit into a half-hour show?
- Shoe Shine, Mister?: Johnny the Shoe-Shine Boy, who knew everything, so much that he's listed on this site as an Almighty Janitor.
- Shout-Out: The original newspaper ads for Airplane! featured a picture of a 747 tied in a knot. The ABC Tv Guide ads for Police Squad! featured a picture of a police revolver with its barrel tied in a similar knot.
- The opening credit shot of Leslie Neilson is a direct parody of Lee Marvin's M Squad opening credit shot right down to the theme music.
- Someone's Touching My Butt: In the episode "Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)", when Drebin confronts the villain inside a steam room.
Drebin: All right, hands up, Luca! I got a gun in your ribs!
Mary: I'm not Luca, and those aren't my ribs.
- Teaser-Only Character: All of the celebrities killed during the opening credits. Also Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln.
- Throw Away Guns: Drebin and a criminal begin pelting each other with a seemingly bottomless supply of empty guns.
- Turn Your Head and Cough: In the first episode, Sally Decker plans to rob the bank she works at. Just off-screen, Ralph Twice is opening up an account at the bank, and the overheard signing-up procedure grows increasingly surreal until the bank teller instructs Ralph, "Now, turn your head and cough."
- Visual Pun: Again, so very many. In one episode, Drebin follows a lead to the "Club Flamingo" bar. The mechanical sign shows a man clubbing a flamingo to death.
- In another, "Here comes the tow truck." A truck arrives, resembling a toe. A toe truck.
- Vomiting Cop: Subverted: in response to seeing a picture of Alexander Haig.
- Walk This Way: Students at a ballet school continue to imitate their teacher, even as she gets roughed up by the local mob.
- Warrior Poet: Parodied with the champ, in reference to Muhammad Ali:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
I'm gonna break his face.
Jack and Jill went up the hill,
I'M GONNA BREAK YOUR FACE! I'M GONNA BREAK YOUR FACE!
- What's a Henway?: Built on this trope.
- Who's on First?: The first episode alone had a lengthy conversation that went like this. But what do you expect when you're investigating a double murder involving guys with names like Ralph Twice and Jim Fell? For extra fun, they throw in Phil Din, Once, and a hunch back at the office.
- Not to mention Sergeants Takeheraway and Booker.
- Wingding Eyes: "No sale" eyeballs, animated onto a live-action boxer.
- Work Com
- "YEAH!" Shot: Parodied at the end of every episode.
- Your Little Dismissive Diminutive: When Frank is minding a key-cutting shop in order to flush out a gang of extortionists:
Extortionist: You'd better watch your little key store.