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Series / CHiPs

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Left to right: Ponch, Sgt. Getraer, Jon.

Shawn: Dude, CHiPs was gonna come on like 20 minutes. What was I supposed to do! It was the one with the freeway crash where the car used the empty car-carrier trailer as a ramp and flipped in mid-air!
Gus: That happens in like every episode.
Psych, "And Down the Stretch Comes Murder"

CHiPs was a 60-minute comedy/drama on NBC about two California Highway Patrol ("CHiPs") motorcycle officers. The series ran for six seasons from 1977 to 1983. The stars of the show were Francis "Ponch" Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox), along with their commanding officer Sgt. Joe Getraer (Robert Pine).

Each episode of the show featured chase scenes and a series of accidents, many of which were choreographed scenes of cars flipping over and catching on fire. Throughout the entire run the two main characters never drew their weapons, the only police series which can claim that distinction.note 

Though Ponch and Jon are best friends on the show, the actors playing these two roles were known for their deep mutual dislike.

A Made-for-TV movie was produced called CHiPs 99. Guess which year it came out in.

A theatrical reboot, written and directed by Dax Shepard and starring Michael Peña and Shepard as Ponch and Jon, was released in March 2017.

Compare to Dragnet and Adam-12, other series centering on police officers in the Los Angeles area.

CHiPs contains examples of:

  • The Ace: T.C. from "New Guy In Town" can apparently do no wrong. He's so good at his job of CHP officer, the other officers start a pool betting on when he finally screws up. (T.C. even enters the pool himself to show he's a good sport.) He later admits that while his skills make him an excellent officer, it also makes it hard for him to make friends. At the end of the episode, he transfers to another location. Before he leaves, Getraer reveals that he missed a vital clue which could have solved the case earlier and counts that as a screw-up. Guess who wins the pool.
  • Actor Allusion: John was a Vietnam veteran as was Larry Wilcox who served as an artilleryman with the Marines. When Erik Estrada had his near fatal accident on the set Wilcox commented that he had the same "look of death" in his eyes he'd seen on mortally wounded men in combat.
  • Animated Adaptation: Casper and the Angels was sort of an unofficial one to both this show and Charlie's Angels, pairing Casper the Friendly Ghost with a pair of female space cops. (Hey, it was The '70s.)
  • Artistic License – Physics: Ponch and Jon have no difficulty talking to each other when riding their motorcycles, despite moving at 60 mph and wearing helmets.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: In the 1999 Made-for-TV movie, Ponch is able to identify that a set of skid marks were left by a stolen police bike based on the tread marks, due to their police motorcycles using a distinctive type of tire.
  • Back in the Saddle: CHiPs '99 has Ponch coming out of retirement to rejoin the California Highway Patrol, clashing with some of the younger officers on the way.
  • Big Fun: Officer Grossman ("Grossy") fancies himself a comedian. In one episode it doesn't go over well because he tells a racist joke. The same joke is a hit when told by a black comedian, the man who wrote it.
    "If you see a black guy driving fast, he's been shot at."—the punchline
  • Broke Episode: Played with in the Season 4 episode "Crash Course". Ponch isn't really broke; an alleged bank computer missed recording a deposit then automatically charged $85 in service fees for the subsequent bounced checks. Everything evidently gets corrected as a result of Ponch & Jon foiling a robbery while they're in the bank.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Ponch's Pontiac Firebird. It gets in so many wrecks when its in the episodes it appears in.
  • Cartwright Curse: In one episode Ponch finally finds true love. After the climax, Ponch and his girl have a picnic in the park... where she gets hit by a drunk driver. The episode ends with the girl dead in Ponch's arms, a rare episode where someone dies.
    • Ponch's girlfriend was played by Beverly Sassoon, who was Erik Estrada's real-life fiancee at the time.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Particularly in the first season, Ponch and Jon seem to pull over a celebrity at least Once an Episode. The two-parter "Roller Disco" opening season 3 is full of them, both credited and uncredited.
    • Season 4's two-part "The Great 5K Star Race and Boulder Wrap Party" is also full of cameos, and is something of a more larger sequel to "Roller Disco" (revolving around a CHP fundraiser for the same charity, the real Actors and Others for Animals).
    • In the first-season episode "Hustle", they have a very apropos celebrity cameo...Highway Patrol star Broderick Crawford, whom Jon and Ponch pull over for just an expired license!
    • Let's not forget when Ponch and John pulled over children's show star, H. R. Puffinstuf!
    • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. 'Nuff said.
    • The sixth season premiere episode, "Meet the New Guy", has cameos from Richard Simmons and legendary baseball manager Tommy LaSorda.
  • Chick Magnet: Ponch. Many episodes had him trying to nurture a relationship with a young, hot babe.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Sindy Cahill and Gene Fritz disappear in season 3 without rating any mention; Cahill in particular is notable since she was being built up as a fairly major character and her aspiration to become the first woman CHP motor officer was a plot point in several episodes.
  • Clear My Name: a key element of season 2's "MAIT Team", a much more serious episodenote  than usual involving a highway pile-up with multiple fatalities which Officer Cahill (who was injured in the incident) may have been partially responsible.
    • John was blamed for a phony CHP officer who made lewd advances toward women drivers that were stopped by him in the episode "One Two Many"... ironically enough, he DID look like John!
  • Clip Show: The last episode in Season 2, "The Greatest Adventures of CHiPs", which included Robert Pine and the supporting cast reminiscing about Ponch and Jon's greatest adventures to date in their absence.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Look-In, ITV's listings magazine for children, ran a comic strip of the series.
  • Cowboy Cop: In the 1998 revival movie, a mention is made of how thick Ponch's record was due to his various stunts. At one point, he jokes that they don't have to worry anymore, as computerized record keeping means that his stunts won't take up excessive file space anymore.
  • Creative Closing Credits: It only happened in the first season, leading to a funny ending for the episode.
  • Da Chief: Sgt. Joe Getraer was the Reasonable Authority Figure type.
  • Dirty Cop: A rather mild example, but you can probably count on one hand the number of times throughout the entire series Ponch, Jon, and other CHP officers actually obey the rather prominent stop sign on the gate at the exit to the station.
    • Played straight in the Season One episode, "One Two Many", where a phony CHP officer made vulgar and lewd advances toward women drivers he had stopped.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Throughout six seasons, neither Ponch nor Jon drew his weapon. In fact, a CHiPs reunion stated that only Officer Barry Baricza ever drew his sidearm in the episode, "Karate".
  • Down L.A. Drain: Seen a lot in Stock Footage, with the cops riding their motorcycles through it to get wherever they were going. Also serves nicely to remind the audience which part of California the show takes place in.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Professional getaway driver Sonny Matson in "Crash Course".
  • Drunk Driver: Arthur Holmes in "Wheels of Justice", who beats the rap in court because Jon and Ponch can't disprove that Holmes and his wife switched places in the car to make it look like she was driving. He gets off with only a public intoxication rap and a fine, but is soon back on the road, drunk and reckless, which results in tragedy.
    • The driver that strikes and kills Ponch's fiancee Vanessa at the end of "Head Over Heels" turns out to be drunk.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The theme music in the first season has a less "disco" arrangement and the episode plots are a bit more grounded in reality; also, cars rarely explode or go flying through the air, while in later seasons the stunt work becomes far more elaborate (and unrealistic).
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: Almost every episode. Unique in which they'd freeze on one character laughing over something, then another character reacting laughing and freezes, and so on.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: In most episodes, one or more car will flip or explode. Ironically, actual Pintos have been spared this fate. (Although one did end up at the bottom of a swimming pool.)
  • Exact Words: In CHiPs '99 , Ponch explains that he spent his temporary retirement making a living as a painter. When a situation requires him to improvise a sling so a police chopper can lift him away on a rope, he explains that he learned how while working as a painter... painting the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • False Confession: One episode has a man confess to numerous recent crimes to the point of annoyance. He would later be proven innocent and turned away. It turned out that he was planning to commit an actual crime and was confessing to the other ones to establish a "crying wolf" effect. Unfortunately for him, his plan is ruined when Ponch witnesses the crime he does commit and confirms his confession.
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: The Stingers use multiple freeze-frames during the scene.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Initially averted by Ponch living at a mobile home in a trailer park. Later played straight when he moved into a fancy apartment by the marina. This led to jokes among fans about Ponch being on the take from criminals.
    • To be fair, the initial $500 rent was theoretically just barely below one-third of Ponch's monthly salarynote  and he was Distracted by the Sexy when he accepted the apartment. He also had virtually no furniture when he first moved in, little more than a mattress on the living room floor.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: Though Ponch and Jon avert this one themselves, the rest of the CHP (and for that matter everyone else on the freeway) turn it up to eleven at least once per episode! (see Idiot Ball, below)
  • Hostile Hitchhiker:
    • One episode had a trio of Valley girls who would hitch rides from strangers, hold them hostage with a water pistol, and rob them. Their crime spree ends when they try this on someone who recognizes the water pistol for what it is and threatens to commit sexual assault on them. Luckily, the officers intervene before anything happens.
    • Inverted in an early episode. A pair of teenage girls hitchhike to get where they're going. This works well until the person who stops for them turns out to be a kidnapper. One girl abandons the other and Ponch and Jon come to the rescue.
  • Hot Pursuit: Once per Episode.
  • How Did You Know? I Didn't: In "Quarantine", Grossman tries to convince a bomb squad to violate the titular quarantine and take care of the pipe bomb dropped by the kid. While he's on the phone, Harlan casually walks in, picks up the pipe bomb, and opens it up. He discovers it's only a carrying case for the boy's meager possessions and not a real bomb. When Getraer asks Harlan how he knew it wasn't a bomb, he yelps and drops it.
  • Identical Stranger: One episode has Bonnie go to a strip club with her friends. She watches a stripper who looks a lot like Ponch who starts his act wearing a CHP uniform. She later admits she had to look closely to be sure it wasn't him.
    • An early episode, "One Two Many", has several motorists believing that a fake motor officer who's creeping on female drivers is actually Jon; they look like they could be brothers.
  • Idiot Ball: Watch enough episodes and a viewer might come to the conclusion that (a) California Highway Patrol officers are complete morons, or (b) the show was written by former police officers from around Los Angeles out to make the CHP officers look like complete morons.
  • Irony:
    • In "Name Your Price", Ponch goes on a game show similar to The Price Is Right. He spends much of his off time visiting stores to learn the prices of items. When he gets called down, the featured item is a motorcycle, implied to be the same model he rides as a highway patrolman. He loses.
    • The episode "Vintage '54" revolves around a series of classic car thefts. However, none of the stolen cars are from the '54 model year.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: Season 6 had several, including:
    • The addition of Tom Reilly as Officer Robert "Hot Dog" Nelson, replacing Larry Wilcox as Jon Baker. Even later, Bruce Penhall added as Bruce Nelson, Hot Dog's younger brother and probationary officer.
    • The opening credits themselves. In addition to Robert Pine appearing in a couple of shots in the opening credits (he just had an on-screen name mention in earlier seasons), but the two main officers individual credits – Ponch and "Hot Dog" – also have a montage of scenes where the two officers are seen doing what they enjoy, including outdoor adventure, sports, partying, etc.
    • The episode with a girl searching for her mother and attracting the attention of a Master of Disguise (played by Rich Little).
  • Parachute in a Tree: One episode had Ponch and Jon come to the rescue of a skydiver who got her parachute caught on a light pole on an overpass.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: The fifth season episodes "Mitchell & Woods" and "Force Seven".
  • Promoted to Opening Titles: Paul Linke and Lou Wagner in season 6.
  • Put on a Bus: Most notably, Larry Wilcox leaves at the end of season 5; other supporting characters leave as well, usually replaced by a Suspiciously Similar Substitute.
  • Race Lift: One of the two female cops that Jon and Ponch are mentoring in "Ponch's Angels" is Melanie Woods, played by Caucasian actress Barbara Stack. When Woods, along with her partner Mitchell, returns for a second appearance in the failed pilot "Mitchell & Woods", she's played by Black actress Jayne Kennedy.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Because of a musicians' strike, season four's "The Poachers" was "scored" by re-recorded Alan Silvestri pieces from other episodes, while several episodes of the same season were tracked with music Silvestri wrote for shows in previous seasons.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Aspiring motor officer Sindy Cahill is introduced as a semi-regular at the start of season 2, with both Ponch and Jon acting like she's been around Central for a long time.
    • Later on, officers Jebediah Turner (Michael Dorn) and Bonnie Clark show up in season 3 as if they'd always been there. It's possible that Bonnie had always been there; Randi Oakes first appeared as an unnamed CHP secretary.
  • Safe Driving Aesop: One example is the episode "Wheels of Justice" which starts with a multiple car accident caused by a drunk driver. His sober wife switches places with him while nobody's looking and he's acquitted since no one can prove he was actually driving. At the end of the episode, he gets into another accident while driving drunk. This time, his wife is killed when she is thrown out of the car as it crashes.
  • Sequel Episode: "Mitchell & Woods" as well as being a Poorly Disguised Pilot, took two characters from the two-parter "Ponch's Angels" both played by different actors in "Mitchell & Woods".
  • Special Guest: The "Roller Disco" two-parter has Lief Garrett, Bill Daily, and Larry Linville all billed this way, along with a "special appearance" by Ed McMahon, Jim Brown as a roller-skating thief, and loads of celebrity cameos at the disco-on-skates ending.
    • Milton Berle shows up in the sequel two-parter, "The Great 5K Star Race and Boulder Wrap Party," along with the requisite cameos at the charity fundraiser.
    • Caitlyn Jenner is also billed this way (as Bruce) in the season 5 episodes in which Steve McLeish appears.
  • Stock Footage: A rather egregious example in the two-hour "Drive, Lady, Drive" where actual NASCAR Winston Cup Series race footage of Richard Petty's famous #43 STP stock car is intercut with newly-shot footage of a car that is numbered 43 and has the STP logo on it but is a different model and has a much different paint scheme. The race track used in the NASCAR footage (an oval track) also looks nothing like the race track where the new scenes were shot (a road track).
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Bruce Nelson for Jon Baker in the final season. Lampshaded in Bruce's introductory episode when Ponch tries to get him to do the same things Jon liked.
    • Jebediah Turner effectively replaces Gene Fritz as the Token Black Guy in season 3, around the same time Bonnie Clark replaces Sindy Cahill as the only female.
    • In season 6, Kathy Linahan (former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Tina Gayle) replaces Clark and Benjamin Webster (played by Clarence Gilyard, Jr., who went on to star in Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger) replaces Turner in the token female and African American roles.
  • Syndication Title: CHiPs Patrol.
  • Television Geography: Although set and filmed in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the show plays fast-and-loose with geography beyond a few establishing shots, with freeways and interchanges that were being finished in the late 1970s (in early episodes I-210, running along the foothills to the north) regularly standing in for others in radically different parts of the urban area such as downtown and Long Beach. Chase scenes regularly intercut footage that doesn't match up, sometimes recycled from other episodes. There are also more egregious cases in which surface streets are identified in dialogue as freeways and even situations where traffic is filmed obviously driving down the wrong side of the road.
    • In one episode, they do a full loop from Hollywood to the Port of Los Angeles and back in what seems like minutes in-story; even without traffic that would take more than an hour.
  • Ungrateful Bastard / What the Hell, Hero?: In the episode, "The Volunteers", Ponch and John corral a loose tiger using meat, and the butcher gives them grief about using SIRLOIN STEAKS to catch it to save his wife.
  • Weaponized Car: In one episode, Ponch and Jon took on "the Stunt Car bandits", a pair of crooks using a stolen movie car.
    • In the "Roller Disco" episode, a pair of yahoos (played by Larry Storch and Larry Linville) drive around on the freeway with a car that shoots sparks out of the rear and cause several accidents. The motive is to gain revenge on the reckless drivers who crippled one of them.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: A vigilante version in the appropriately titled season 4 episode "Vigilante". The titular vigilante is on a crusade against drunk driving after a drunk killed his kid.
    • On the bright side, said vigilante nails a vengeful criminal who was harassing Sgt. Getraer and his family.