The series ran 174 episodes on NBC between 1968 and 1975, accompanied by a comic book adaptation from Gold Key. There was a failed In Name Only Revival in 1990-91 (not to be confused with the 1989 TV movie Nashville Beat, a Spiritual Successor starring Milner and McCord as former partners now working in Tennessee).
The entire series has been released on DVD, and the first four seasons can currently be enjoyed on Hulu, assuming one is in the United States. As of May 2013, the show (along with the 60s/70s Dragnet) airs weekday afternoons and late night on digital subchannel network MeTV.
- Affectionate Parody: "Boredom-12", in MAD.
- The Alleged Car: Malloy and Reed are assigned "The Beast," a patrol car only 300 miles away from its mandatory retirement, in the episode of the same title. It's so awful, Malloy even "lets" Reed drive for one of only a handful of times during the course of the series.
- Always on Duty: Webb did his best to avert this. It is made clear that our main characters are one team out of many working one shift out of many and that just as much happens off-camera as on.
- Author Avatar: Malloy seems to be one for Jack Webb in the pilot, especially when he slips into Joe Friday's talking style during the Info Dump listed below. (Webb directed the pilot).
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: A few one-offs, some of whom realize they aren't cut out for the job and others who have to be forced out. Ed Wells is a mild example, in that he tends to believe his way is the correct way to handle a situation...only for the situation to be badly mishandled.
- Beware the Nice Ones: One episode involves a normally mild-mannered tailor from Trieste/Dubrovnik, who has recognized a customer as the Yugoslav Nazi who killed his brother. And he knows the Ustae knows he's been recognized, so he lays a trap...
- Big Brother Mentor: At least one episode paid homage to Big Brothers Big Sisters, with both Malloy and Reed serving as mentors. The other usage is Malloy (the senior officer) serving as training officer for Reed in the early episodes.
- Blackmail: The appropriately titled "IAD-Blackmail" has Pete discover that a fellow officer is blackmailing a witness to keep quiet. The officer tries to get Pete on his side after having saved Pete's life earlier in the episode, but Pete just gets ticked off about having his name drug into it.
- Bottle Episode: The season two episode "Light Duty" takes place entirely within the police department, as Reed and Malloy man the front desk for a night while a riot brews elsewhere in the city. The season one episode "It All Happened So Fast," with the exception of the first three minutes (filmed on a Universal backlot street), takes place in an interview room at the police department.
- Brand X: In the pilot there is one quick insert shot of the radio (one that doesn't quite match the radio usually shown in the car) that has tape over the Motorola name but leaves the M logo intact.
- Broken Pedestal: A cop saves Malloy's life, but Malloy later learns that this cop is as twisty as a corkscrew.
- Buddy Cop Show: Reed and Malloy are the best of friends on and off duty.
- By-the-Book Cop: Most of the officers are reasonable. Malloy is completely willing to bend the nitpicky rules, particularly in an episode like "Suspended" where Reed's job is at stake. The obnoxiously by-the-book officers are figures of humour, often Obstructive Bureaucrats in uniform...including the cop that replaces Reed in "Suspended".
- Call-Back: In an episode where two guys are fighting over a boat, Pete recalls buying one and that it "nickled and dimed him to death". This is referring to "A Fool and His Money", where Pete wins $10k in a contest and wants to buy a boat, despite Jim's urging to invest the money.
- Camp Gay: The occasional run-ins with "out there" types. While Reed's reactions can sometimes stray toward Licensed Homophobe, Malloy and the show as a whole are non-judgmental.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Reed. He spends a good portion of the finale of season one trying to tell Malloy a joke about ... a dog... and paint... or something, suffering constant interruptions from calls (not his fault) and his own disjointed retelling (totally his fault), and then he's crushed when Malloy doesn't laugh, invoking So Unfunny, It's Funny. Also, Reed obsessing over Malloy's failure to laugh, to the extent that he explains the joke and is offended that Pete doesn't find it amusing, is completely Adorkable.
- Chase Scene: Not that many episodes featured these; notably, the first episode had a car chase, where Malloy and Reed pursue two liquor store robbers down a highway under construction and the end result is Reed's first bust. There were far more foot pursuits than car chases, although enough police pursuits were scattered throughout the run to satisfy most viewers.
- Code Emergency: Adam-12 is the Trope Codifier for using routine codes on television: in this case, the Los Angeles Police code system. People soon learned many of the designations, some of which are still recognized today:
- Code 1: Please acknowledge. Tends to only be used if a unit doesn't acknowledge a dispatch message right away.
- Code 2: Respond to an incident with due speed without lights and sirens.
- Code 3: Respond to an incident with due speed with lights and sirens.
- Code 4: Do not respond to reported incident; assistance no longer needed.
- Code 5: Other units avoid the specified location due to something ongoing like a stakeout.
- Code 6: Unit's occupants are leaving the car, usually to investigate something; this informs dispatch in case something happens.
- Code 7: Requesting their once-per-shift break, usually for a meal.
- Code 30 (seen late in the run): Respond to a silent alarm.
- Code 100 (seen late in the run): In a roadblock position, usually to assist in a chase.
- An episode involving the LA County Sheriffs' Department also notes the different "10-code" system used by the sheriffs.
- In addition, sections of the Penal Code are used as code numbers for various criminal incidents. Frequently-cited sections include 211 (robbery), 415 (disturbing the peace), 459 (burglary), 484 (petty theft), and 502 (driving under the influence).
- Comic-Book Adaptation: A Gold Key Comics adaptation ran for 10 issues.
- Cool Car: Webb set out to make the patrol car the third star of the show, featuring it and its functions as much as possible.
- Cop Killer: Only once, kind of surprising for a cop show, but the standards of the time discouraged violence. "Elegy For A Pig" centers on an officer killed in a shootout, and it was painted as probably the most dead-serious episode in the entire show; a black screen for the intro, and no music: just Jack Webb himself reading the credits.
- Cop Show
- Couch Gag: Over the course of the series, it had numerous variations in its opening credits. Sometimes they took place during the day, other times at night, sometimes the officers were shown running towards their vehicle, sometimes they were already driving. Although there was consistency in the original broadcast, the random nature of TV syndication in the 1970s and 1980s meant that it was not uncommon to see a different opening with each episode.
- Cowboy Be Bop At His Computer:
- Due to the show using LAPD terminology with little in the way of explanation, many people can get confused and believe "Adam-12" refers to either of the main characters (typically Reed, since he's usually the one calling out "Adam-12" over the radio) or the car itself.
- "Adam-12", or rather the full designation "1-Adam-12"note , is a call sign that refers to the car and the two officers assigned to it as a whole.
- The call sign is tied to the patrol area and the car assigned to it. The car itself has a large "012" painted on the roof so that it will be immediately identifiable from the air. There is a third-season episode in which Malloy and Reed chase a stolen police car. When it runs out of gas, they discover it was taken by a kid who had just signed up to work at the police department's auto maintenance shop. When he recognizes their car, he says "Yeah, that's 1-Adam-12".
- On the occasions Malloy and Reed are assigned to a different unit, they are given a different designation. For instance, when the two temporarily patrol Los Angeles International Airport they use the "Zebra" designation of the LAPD's airport division.
- Cowboy Cop:
- A big no-no in Jack Webb land. In the episode "A Dead Cop Can't Help Anyone", recurring officer Ed Wells is characterized as a cop of the cowboy variety. He learns his lesson... via shotgun. He lives and is reeled in a bit, but he's still an almighty Jerk Ass.
- Gus Corbin, a rookie Reed is saddled with in the episode of the same name, has some of these tendencies. He gets chewed out twice for taking reckless chances and "playing with the Academy's money" - once for going into a building without waiting for backup, and again for chasing an armed suspect without backup and without his gun.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: In the first episode, Malloy preforms CPR on a suffocated infant, who is fine and dandy seconds later. Not at all unrealistic, however, dramatic as it was. Prompt administration of rescue breathing is effective in children in respiratory arrest. It's when respiratory arrest leads to cardiac arrest (which is usually the order of things in childrenadults are usually in full arrest already following suffocation or near-drowning) when the odds of survival take a sharp dive. That applies for adults and children, but especially for children, who compensate wellup to a point. When they crash, they crash very hard. Besides which, the characters all treated it as something of a miracleMalloy had instructed Reed to inform the parents that their daughter was all but dead already.
- Crossover: with several other Jack Webb productions: Dragnet, Emergency!, and the short-lived Robert Conrad vehicle, The D.A.
- Da Chief: Mac essentially fills this role for Pete, Jim and the other uniformed officers, although in one or two episodes, we also saw the Captain pop up. Mac is more positive than a lot of other examples of this trope, thoughmore of a Reasonable Authority Figure sort.
- Dead Sidekick:
- Malloy's previous partner, who was about Reed's age. His death was Malloy's greatest failure, over which he almost quits the force. Malloy is a bit of a Failure Knight in the first episode, but as Reed gains more experience he mellows.
- Early in the third season, there was an episode titled "Elegy for a Pig," where another of Malloy's closest friends both on and off the force was shot to death while trying to capture an armed robber. Officer Tom Porter is NOT the same policeman that was gunned down shortly before Reed joins the force, but another officer that went through the police academy at the same time that Malloy did. The episode itself showed Porter as he and Malloy became fast friends in the academy, and Porter's role as not just a police officer but a family man and friend (Reed also grows close to Porter), and Porter's finest moment as an officer — helping to catch an escaped mental patient who was about to go on a deadly rampage. The episode ends with Porter's funeral and showing his grieving wife and children.
- Deadpan Snarker: Malloy has a very dry sense of humor. He usually doesn't employ it against civilians, but Reed, MacDonald, Wells and others are frequent victims.
- Death Glare: An integral part of Malloy's repertoire, especially when dealing with Reed, who likes to occasionally provoke him.
- Deconfirmed Bachelor: For most of the series, Malloy is a confirmed bachelor who breaks out in hives at the mere mention of marriage. Then he meets a widow named Judy and before long he's doing her laundry, buying gifts for her son, dating her exclusively and well on his way to settling down.
- Dirty Cop: A Truth in Television — Jack Webb (accurately) portrayed police officers as those whom people encounter every day: good, upstanding citizens and active members of their community, and most importantly honorable law enforcement officers dedicated to keeping people safe while keeping them safe from crime ... but Webb also didn't sugarcoat the truth, as he was well aware that police departments also had the occasional officer who thought the badge allowed him to beat up suspects, engage in racism and other crimes. Every time, those who discredit the badge or do wrong are quickly exposed by their very own (in this case, Reed and/or Malloy were involved in exposing the truth) and ousted from the force. The most notable examples were "Internal Affairs Blackmail," where one of Malloy's best friends had secretly been blackmailing witnesses; and "Badge Heavy," where Reed witnesses a fellow officer choking out a suspect and eventually gets him to admit that officers need to be rough on suspects.
- Distracted by the Sexy: A marine back from Vietnam has his car stolen by a hitchhiker. All he can remember about her is that she was blonde and wearing a miniskirt (which is probably what the thief had in mind).
- Double Take: Reed and Malloy both give and take strange calls. Giving:
- "Somebody Stole My Lawn": Some guys dressed as pool cleaners stripped a freshly-seeded lawn from someone's property. Malloy points out that municipal rights of way mean the lawn actually belongs to the city, making it a felony: Grand Theft Real Estate. Reed puts the report out on the radio, which the dispatcher relays, causing some confused reactions:Officer: Grand Theft Real Estate?
- "Easy Bare Rider": They bust a drunk driver, only to learn he's also nude. So Reed calls for a sergeant to meet them with a blanket. It's possibly the only time the dispatcher actually expresses an emotion the whole series.Dispatch: One-Adam-Twelve verify. A blanket?
- Receiving: "Grand Theft Horse":Reed: "Grand Theft Horse"?
Malloy: That's what they said.
- "North Hollywood Division": The dispatcher sends Adam-12 to investigate a possible lion in someone's backyard:note Reed: One-Adam-Twelve roger, and...please verify. On your last call, did you say lion?
Dispatch: One-Adam-Twelve, roger: lion, Lincoln-Ida-Ocean-Nora.
- "Somebody Stole My Lawn": Some guys dressed as pool cleaners stripped a freshly-seeded lawn from someone's property. Malloy points out that municipal rights of way mean the lawn actually belongs to the city, making it a felony: Grand Theft Real Estate. Reed puts the report out on the radio, which the dispatcher relays, causing some confused reactions:
- Driving Test: An expired license forces Malloy to allow Reed to drive in the third season episode "Vice Versa".
- Drunk Driver: Happened frequently enough, as would be expected on a show about patrol officers, that the police slang "deuce" (short for DUI) entered the vernacular. However, the writers came up with a few spins on it:
- "Easy Bare Rider": One driver was not only drunk, but naked, leading to the aforementioned request for MacDonald to bring a blanket.Mac: What's this about a blanket for a 502?
Malloy: A naked 502.
- Foster Brooks appeared twice. He played it straight in "Pilgrimage," fatally ruining another driver's Christmas, and in "Mary Hong Loves Tommy Chen," he skirted the trope by being high behind the wheel instead of drunk.
- "Con Artists": Reed and Malloy asked a drunk driver's wife to drive the couple home, only to discover that she was more intoxicated than he was, meaning they had to take both of them in.
- "Airdrop": They catch a guy weaving all over an empty stretch of road. They pull him over to find out he hasn't just been drinking.Malloy: Reds and Muscatel. Can't you find a faster way to kill yourself?
- "Anatomy of a 415": Another variant. A man realizes he's too drunk to drive...so he tries to get home on a stolen bicycle. But he's so plastered, he loses control, crashes into a sign, and flips over into the grass. Probably nothing in the statutes about Bicycling Under the Influence, but Public Intoxication and Petty Theft are plenty enough for him to end up in jail.
- "Easy Bare Rider": One driver was not only drunk, but naked, leading to the aforementioned request for MacDonald to bring a blanket.
- Eagle-Eye Detection: Arguably what makes Reed a very strong officer his ability to observe, pay attention and analyze almost instantly what's going on. He can easily spot license plates that belong to wanted cars, to determine whether someone is a suspect (just by how he's behaving) ... to the very last episode, where the last case involves him cracking a typewriter theft ring by spotting the serial number and matching it with an advisory on the thefts. Malloy, too, in his own way. His experience helps him pick up on tells, missed details, and other clues. One good example of how both work is in "The Beast". They're told to investigate a warehouse with unusual activity. They arrive to see a bunch of men apparently loading boxes. Each has his own way of sensing something's amiss. Malloy noted the manifest he was given was two weeks out of date. Reed noticed the workers had unwrinkled clothes despite having supposedly drove in from some distance away.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: In the first-season episode "Log 62 Grand Theft Horse?", a Ford Falcon Adam-12 is pursuing fails to make a turn and hits a tree. The engine explodes on impact (or, from the way it appeared, explodes just before impact) but the car isn't destroyed.
- Expy: Picture Joe Friday in his uniform days. That's Malloy. Also, the team dynamic of happily-married X/confirmed-bachelor-playboy X is a typical feature of many other Jack Webb shows, including Emergency! and Dragnet.
- Fake-Out Opening: The opening scene of "Training Division" features a group of robbers being pulled over and then taking out the arresting officers and the backup officers. Adam-12 then shows up...and then the camera pans to a group of trainees in street clothes, revealing that the entire scenario was a recreation of an actual incident. (It's supposedly based on the Newhall massacre, which resulted in the death of four California Highway Patrol officers.) The whole thing was a training exercise, where Mac and other officers explain how an incident like this should have been handled and, if done correctly, would have resulted in just the arrests and nothing else.
- Female Gaze: Reasonably attractive actors in tight cop uniforms. It's a Cop Show, fair enough. But then there are Anvilicious seat-belt buckling scenes (because all good, socially responsible people buckle their seat-belts) and the camera likes to focus directly on Reed or Malloy's crotch while they perform the maneuver. Remember kids, buckle your seat-belts, and let it not be said, ladies, that Jack Webb never pandered to your interests.
- A form of: LXI 483 seems to be the license number of a lot of cars in Los Angeles. It's the license number the dispatcher checks in the opening credits of the first two seasons and of several cars over the course of the series.
- One of the things Pacific Telephone had set up in Los Angeles County was a fake phone number in every exchange, consisting of the exchange number, the digit 1, and the exchange number, so a phone number like 282-1282 or 772-1772 would be a fake number. At least one guy asked for his phone number by the police gave a number in the exchange-1-exchange format. Of course, this was back when Los Angeles consisted of just area code 213, not the current 10+ area codes it has now.
- Foreshadowing: In "Astro Division", Reed and Malloy are getting help from the department helicopters. Reed says he wonders what the view is like from one of them, and Malloy says that maybe one day he'll find out. Both officers later went up in helicopters in the two part episode "Skywatch".
- Fowl-Mouthed Parrot: In "Training Wheels," Reed and Malloy stop a driver for running a stop sign. They then hear a high-pitched "Down with the pigs!", so the driver opens the trunk to reveal a mynah bird belonging to his cop-hating girlfriend.
- "Getting My Own Room" Plot: A string of small item thefts in a neighborhood leads the officers to a kid who stole the stuff and set it up in a cave because his stepdad wouldn't give him his own room. The problem is, the cave collapses and the boy nearly dies.
- Happily Married: Jim and Jean Reed. Frequently averted with couples encountered on calls, who are often enmeshed in the Masochism Tango or perplexing relationships where there is just No Accounting for Taste. The Reeds' marriage is shown to be under significant strain during the final season, but by the series finale, it appears they've smoothed things over a bit.
- Hero Does Public Service: Malloy is shown coaching kids' basketball in one episode. It turns into Pete and Jim trying to help a drug-addicted player before it's too late. The kid's brother gets into the guy's stash and dies.
- Heroic Bystander: In one episode, involving a deranged sniper with a grudge against the people in the neighborhood, a motorcycle cop comes along who hadn't heard the warning because his radio was kaput. The sniper wounds him, and then a bystander takes him to safety at great personal risk.
- Hostage Situation: Too many to count. Reed, Malloy, or both got involved in a few of them.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming:
- For the first three seasons, episode titles followed a "Log #: Descriptive Phrase" convention. For the first season, the phrase was a piece of actual dialogue.
- Season six episodes follow a "X Division" naming convention with "X" standing in for the name of the division, such as Hollywood, Northwest, Rampart (Some season six episodes archived on You Tube are misnamed).
- Impersonating an Officer: In one episode there's someone out there claiming to be a particular detective in the LAPD, flashing his badge around and insisting on bribes. They aren't sure until the end of the episode whether it's really that cop turned bad or someone impersonating him. It's someone impersonating him.
- Info Dump: Pretty common in all Jack Webb shows. Here's Malloy in the first episode, running down the specs of Adam-12:Malloy: You know what this is?
Reed: (smiling) Yes sir, it's a police car.
Malloy: This black and white patrol car has an overhead valve V8 engine. It develops 325 horsepower at 4800 RPM's. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in seven seconds; it has a top speed of 120 miles an hour. It's equipped with a multi-channeled DFE radio and an electronic siren capable of emitting three variables: wail, yelp, and alert. It also serves as an outside radio speaker and a public address system. The automobile has two shotgun racks - one attached to the bottom portion of the front seat, one in the vehicle trunk. Attached to the middle of the dash, illuminated by a single bulb, is a hot sheet desk, fastened to which you will always make sure is the latest one off the teletype before you ever roll.
Reed: Yes, sir.
Malloy: [deep breath, sigh] It's your life insurance...and mine. You take care of it, it'll take care of you.
Reed: Yes, sir. You want me to drive?
Malloy: (death glare)
- In-Series Nickname: It's mentioned in one episode that Pete is, to some, "The Strawberry Fox".
- Instrumental Theme Tune: The theme music is a driving, energetic piece which, in places, manages to be quite reminiscent of the wail of a police siren. There are no lyrics.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: A few examples:
- To a point, Officer Wells; although a very good officer, along with his jerky behavior he often acts before he thinks, along the lines that his way is the way to handle a given situation ... only for the situation to be incorrectly handled.
- In the episode "Training Division," Wells was actually saddled with a "know-nothing know-it-all" rookie officer. Naturally, the rookie officer didn't last long on the force, and Malloy for once felt sorry for Wells, who laid out the rookie's problem dead-serious to MacDonald: "The kid's a hot dog: wants to be a ten-year cop in six months" (Several other episodes dealt with "know-nothing know-it-all" rookies and the consequences of their mistakes.)
- Lampshade Hanging:
- In the pilot episode, Reed gives Malloy a reason to take the wheel. After that, Malloy always drives (continuity edits being easier that way).
- In "Vice Versa" Malloy is physically unsettled that Reed is driving. It's some sort of meta-lampshading. Or maybe it's just funny.
- In "The Beast", Malloy practically begs Reed to drive, mainly because the POS patrol car they've been assigned is driving him crazy. See The Alleged Car above.
- Large Ham: Studiously averted by the regular cast, but fairly common among guest stars, often in "eccentric citizen" or "funny drunk" roles. Known Large Hams appearing in more than one episode include Foster Brooks, Norm Crosby, and Rose Marie.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Once in a while, someone mentions cop shows. For example, in "Log 26: LEMRAS":(A woman hostage stomps on a robber with her high heels, allowing police to capture him.)
Malloy: Where did you learn to use your heel like that?
Woman: I watched a lot of cop shows on TV.
- Meaningful Name: One episode features an unpleasant buff named Thornton. Guess what he is in Reed and Malloy's sides.
- Mercy Kill: "Log 44: Attempted Bribery" has an elderly gentleman approach Reed and Malloy and confess to having done this to his terminally ill wife at her request. They inquire after him with the D.A. after taking him in, and all three of them are sympathetic, but the D.A. doesn't have a clue what his legal chances are. "Routine Patrol" in season 6 subverts this. A man who was near-vegetative due to an accident supposedly electrocutes himself with an electric comb in a bathtub, but an investigation of the scene makes it clear it was set up by the wife (the only other occupant); at first, the trope was suspected, but the truth is darker: it was to clear her to gain sole possession so she could hook up with her new boyfriend.
- Mood Whiplash: "Tell Him He Pushed Back a Little Too Hard" starts out as a fairly lighthearted episode, showing Reed and Malloy's frustration with repeatedly being called to intervene in a feud between two neighbors and their jointly owned boat. Until one neighbor finally snaps and murders the other.
- Myth Arc: It's not very evident due to the tendency of Jack Webb's shows towards Status Quo Is God, but there is an overarching storyline which begins with the pilot and concludes in the series finale - Reed's development from an eager, idealistic, very happily married rookie into, in the seventh season, a somewhat cynical, world-weary veteran whose job is having a negative affect on his home life. The series finale brings things full circle by very nearly placing Reed in the same shoes Malloy was wearing in the pilot.
- Naïve Newcomer: Reed, in the first two seasons (which represent his probationary first year). A few one-off characters throughout the series.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: In one episode, Malloy is injured in a crash, and the radio is hors de combat. Then a murderer with nothing to lose happens by, and, not realizing the radio is kaput, pulls mike out. Malloy is able to cross the now-exposed wires to signal ***---*** in Morse Code.
- No Respect Guy: Every so often, the police's bad publicity with the public turns up, such as when suspects call the cops "pigs" (long-standing police epithet), or when crowds complain when they're told to break up. One time ("Pilgrimage"), Malloy and Reed have no choice but to arrest a charity Santa for wailing on the guy who mugged him earlier. Hearing a little girl cry out, "Mommy, look! He's arresting Santy Claus!" just makes the job even less pleasant.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Like Dragnet, Adam-12 stories were taken from actual police files, so the show used a Dragnet-like disclaimer at the end of its episodes: "The incidents you have seen are true. The names were changed to protect the innocent."
- Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Malloy chases a suspect with a shotgun over a hilltop to find the shotgun leveled at him. Then the suspect gives up. Turned out he left the safety on by mistake and pulled the trigger so hard it broke.
- Oh, Crap!: One episode opens with Reed and Malloy going to aid a camper driver—then discovering too late that it's a trap.Malloy: SETUP!
- One Bullet Left: Several times throughout the course of the series, most notably in a 1969 episode where, during Reed's rookie days, he and Malloy are engaged in a burglary-in-progress call at a warehouse, which ends in a shootout. Malloy stresses to Reed how important it is to not shoot unless absolutely necessary or if ordered to. Reed follows the orders to a "T" and ... after the suspects are all successfully taken in custody, Reed sees exactly why it was a good idea he listened: Malloy's gun had just one bullet left, and any time spent reloading gives the bad guys who think they have nothing to lose the opening they need.
- Only Sane Man - Frequently both Reed and Malloy, when they're interacting with the odder elements of society. Malloy often feels this way among even his fellow officers.Pete: "The world is full of squirrels."
- Our Mermaids Are Different: The third season episode "Post Time" features Morey Amsterdam as a Printer named Jerry Mermaid, whose printing press is stolen.Jerry Mermaid: I'm Mermaid, Jerry Mermaid. And before you say anything, I've heard all the jokes! 'Oh, was your Dad a Crab and your Mother a Berracuda?' Ha ha ha!
- Out of Order: Occasionally throughout the run, but in one instance later on in the first season, this was very noticeable. It was "A Jumper-Code 2," aired as the 19th episode of the series but was the third one filmed, and second after a full season's worth of episodes were ordered. After Malloy makes a high-risk decision to getting a jumper off a tall ledge, Mac finds out and is not happy, tersely pointing out Malloy's errors in judgment. The trope is enforced when Reed jumps to his partner's defense, and Mac snaps back: "You've been on the job three weeks. You don't have an opinion!" Critics point out that, had this actually aired in the fall of 1968, a month or less after the premiere episode, Mac's comment would have made sense ... but when first aired almost five months had passed since the debut.
- Phonetic Alphabet: Rare is the episode that doesn't feature the LAPD phonetic alphabet. It's constantly used when announcing unit call signs and license plates over the radio.
- Police Brutality:
- Season two episode "Good Cop, Handle With Care" has two freelance journalists trying to make Malloy and Reed out to be bad cops out to beat up people and arrest others at random. They seem to have found their catch after taking a seemingly incriminating photo of a drugged-out suspect with a broken nose (obtained by hitting his head against the seat frame of the police car, after he had gone into a seizure), but in the end the two rogue journalists end up (indirectly) causing a tragedy.
- In the season five episode "Badge Heavy," we meet a rogue cop who thinks that criminals should be dealt with severely. Reed witnesses once such incident and tries to flush him from the department, but his complaint is determined to be unfounded (after the cop and the suspect lie about the incident, the officer claiming it was retaliation from another officer who was tired of his (unfunny) practical jokes). In the end, the officer's rant about asserting authority over suspects with brutal force leads to his downfall.
- While Malloy and Reed were both professional about their duties and kept their cool, Malloy blows it once in the season seven episode "X-Force," where he is accused of roughing up a child molester he just arrested (after the creep had made a snide remark); Malloy is suspended for four days without pay for his mistake, and it is suggested that it may hinder his chances for promotion to sergeant.
- Police Procedural: Most episodes focus strictly on the day-to-day routine of policework, including the less exciting aspects of the job (paperwork, pre-shift briefings, inspections, car trouble, tedious calls, ungrateful citizens, etc.).
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: Season 6, Episode 24's A Clinic on 18th Street is the pilot for a show featuring the DA Office's Fraud Division. The cast of the pilot (including future Switch (1975)/Cagney & Lacey star Sharon Gless who gets the Welcome Episode treatment), are all listed in the opening credits as "Special Guest Stars". Reed and Malloy only appear in the very begining and very ending of this story of a Doctor peddling electronic health belts to diabetics and fake blindness cures to little girls. Jack Webb directed, but not in his trademark Dragnet style.
- Porn Stache: Pete grows one in "Van Nuys Division". Jim annoys him about it the whole time. By the end of the ep, it's gone, due to what Pete describes as trimming mishaps.
- The Precarious Ledge: In one episode Reed and Malloy encounter a jumper on one of these. Malloy goes out on the ledge to pull him back in. The sergeant gives him a massive chewing-out for this.
- Precious Puppies:
Reed: Well....he is a police dog....
- In one episode Reed tries to give away his dog Queenie's "All American" puppies.
- In another episode, Reed and Malloy return to the squad car after having lunch only to find Reed had forgotten to roll up his window... allowing a German Shepherd named Luger to jump into Reed's seat.
- Rank Up: Mostly Pete. He starts out as a regular officer, but by the series' end, he is one step short of Sergeant. Jim may count too, going from probationary to regular patrol officer, and possibly further, although we are never told one way or another what he decides in the last episode.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The raison d'être of several of Jack Webb's productions is to portray the police and other avatars of the Establishment in this light.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: At least in the pilot, but subverted by the nature of Jack Webb procedurals. As the more learned and world-weary Malloy (Blue) starts to mold the impulsive, eager Reed (Red), they converge into a sort of Purple Oni. Adherence to reality - job codes, paperwork, procedure - is required at all times by the script and show philosophy, meaning the two never get to burn very brightly in their respective colors.
- Roman à Clef: Occasionally drifts into 'loose interpretation' territory.
- The '70s: What happened to your hair, Reed? Ah.
- All non regular, non-corrupt background officers are named after actual LAPD policemen Webb had gotten to know all the way back to Dragnet's radio days.
- In one episode, the officers investigate a group of hippie thieves hitting ranches in the area. In the end of the episode, Wells makes a joke about them leaving a silver bullet behind. This is an obvious The Lone Ranger reference.
- Shown Their Work: As mentioned in the main description.
- Stalker with a Crush: The innocuous variety. An attractive young blonde begins showing up at the precinct, sends suggestive photos, and even tries to follow Malloy home. It's okay because the stalker is a woman and Malloy is a man.
- Stay in the Kitchen: Wells. He never stops complaining about the female officer who rides patrol with Reed in one episode, though it does get toned down a little after she proves herself during a concert riot and even has to save him.
- Story Arc: Several short ones occur over the course of the series, mainly in the early seasons - one which involves a restaurant owner named Duke, another revolving around an informant named T.J., yet another dealing with the events leading up to and following the birth of James Reed, Jr. Season six features a recurring burglar named Reno West, and in the seventh season both Reed and his wife begin to feel dissatisfied with his job, which comes to a head in the two-part series finale.
- Strawman U: Malloy goes back to school to finish his degree in one episode, but this being The '60s he comes in for guff from student activists for being a cop. Then he has to respond in uniform to a sit-in at the school, for which his car is vandalized.
- Team Dad: Malloy, who in his stern way sometimes chides other officers in the division that they should "listen to daddy." He's also later of a rank (Police Officer III+1, which is one step below sergeant) and seniority that is "almost as good as a sergeant."
- These Hands Have Killed: Season one, "It All Happened So Fast", where Reed makes his first kill in the line of duty. The show goes to great lengths to show how seriously the department takes such incidents (similar to the Dragnet episode "The Shooting Board") as well as the emotional roller coaster Reed experiences shortly after, with Malloy assuring him even he went through it with his first kill. The whole episode shows Reed (and cops in general) is human like everyone else. They don't get a kick out of shooting people; it may get easier, but they usually don't like it. The subject is brought up again in "Elegy for a Pig".
- They Fight Crime!: Reed is a Happily Married family man, while Malloy is a freewheeling bachelor. Reed is full of youthful enthusiasm as a fresh-faced rookie while Malloy is usually level-headed and practical as the by-the-book veteran. They Fight Crime!.
- Title Drop: Constantly. Probably sets some sort of record. In addition, the title of an individual episode is often stated word-for-word in the episode.
- Totally Radical:
Junkie: (to Malloy after being rescued from a burning building) Hey...I wanna...thank you...you saved our lives...you guys in the Fire Department...man, I'll tell ya...you're the greatest.
- "Helicopters? That's dirty pool, man."
- Some of the "drug culture" dialogue is especially painful:
Malloy: Wrong department, friend. We're the police.
Junkie: Fuzz...lousy, stinking fuzz!
Malloy: Don't give it another thought.
- Any scene that involves college protesters is gonna have its fair share of "hip" and/or "with it" dialogue.
- Translation by Volume: In "Astro," the only person at a residence who is available to tell the officers why they were called speaks very little English. They manage limited communication using pantomime, but Malloy, for some reason, also tries repeating his questions VERY LOUDLY.
- Very Special Episode: The season three episode "Log 105: Elegy for a Pig." It's made more as a documentary. The regular opening credits were replaced by Jack Webb reading them over a black screen. Martin Milner narrated the episode in character. The policeman the episode revolves around, Tom Porter, had not been seen on screen before despite being a friend of Malloy and Reed's, going through the police academy with the former. No lines are spoken by any character on screen.
- The Voice: Real-life LAPD dispatcher Shaaron Claridge. She appears on-screen in one episode, helping Malloy run plate numbers on a dispatch computer, though only in an over-the-shoulder shot. It's possible she got recognized enough on her voice alone.
- Welcome Episode: In the pilot, veteran Malloy shows rookie Reed the ropes, which sets up their relationship for the next few seasons.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: "Militants" and "The Radical" feature militant fanatics, and "The Ferret" features a vandal who wants a major polluter to realize what they're doing—it's just his method is off-base.
- What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Many episodes that depict the death of innocent (and sometimes, not-so-innocent) people. A few examples:
- "I Feel Like a Fool, Malloy": The episode-closing incident involves a 5-year-old girl who drowned in a swimming pool. The tyke is actually still alive barely as she is taken away by ambulance, but Reed and Malloy remark that her death is imminent. (The cops' response had been delayed because an elderly neighbor refused to help the inexperienced babysitter - the woman had called the police in mistaking the babysitter for a drugged-out girl wanting money for a hit - and only while checking out the loud happy chase-type music do Malloy and Reed realize the seriousness of the incident.)
- "Good Cop: Handle With Care": Two rogue freelance journalists, seeking to do a sensationalist story on police brutality, harass Malloy and Reed throughout the episode. Things reach their climax when the officers pull over a car matching the description of one used in an armed robbery. The journalists harass the officers as they're trying to take the suspects into custody just enough for one of the suspects to fire his gun ... and he ends up shooting an innocent passer-by across the street. The assailed whom we quickly learn is a married father of three later dies at the hospital of his wounds, and the officers muse about the situation and lives impacted (a family now thrown into grieving, and two otherwise-promising young journalists whose careers might be destroyed because of their overbearing tactics) in the tag scene.
- "Pilgrimage": A drunk driver T-bones another car and kills its driver carrying a present from his wife and kids (the episode occurs on Christmas Eve). Worse, the offender denies he's drunk in spite of admitting he'd just had a few at an office Christmas party he'd just left. Reed explaining the tag on the present hammers the nail on the tragedy.
- "Easy Rap" centers around a teenager who keeps getting busted for GTA, yet he keeps getting off thanks to his father's lawyer coming up with excuses such as "the keys were in it." He ultimately goes too far when he's chased by Adam-12 just after robbing a house and trying to get away in another stolen car. Only he refuses to be caught this time, and he gets clipped by a passing car and crashes, ultimately dying at the scene. Reed notes, "That's all he knew: how to beat the rap. What a waste."
- "Hot Shot": A teenager robs a liquor store and kills the owner, then gets cornered in a pedestrian underpass but refuses to surrender, forcing Reed to gun him down when he tries to shoot. Mac laments at how young the perp was: "Every year they get younger..."
- "G.T.A.": Two kids break into a house being fumigated, not realizing that rag masks are useless against methyl bromide. They collapse not long after entering, and by the time they're pulled out again, it's too late.
- "Elegy for a Pig": See above.
- What the Hell, Hero?: In "X-Force", Malloy allows a Smug Snake child molester to get him riled enough to use excessive force. The long dénouement is about the consequences.
- You Owe Me: In "Blackmail", another officer saves Pete's life during a shootout in the beginning of the episode. Later, Pete discovers that the officer was taking bribes from a witness in another case being investigated. The cop tries to throw it back and Pete when confronted, and say that Pete owes him for saving Pete's life, but naturally, Pete doesn't go for it and just gets more ticked off.