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Series / S.W.A.T. (1975)

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Left to right: Officer Travis Joseph "T.J." McCabe (James Coleman), Officer Dominic Luca (Mark Shera), Lt. Daniel "Hondo" Harrelson (Steve Forrest), Sgt. David "Deacon" Kay (Rod Perry), Officer Jim Street (Robert Urich).

"S.W.A.T. is elite. We're very particular about who joins the fraternity. The regular jobs are handled by the street cops. When it's big, when it's an emergency, when it's unique... that's when we're called in."
Lieutenant Daniel "Hondo" Harrelson, "The Killing Ground"

A short lived 1970s ABC television series following the Special Weapons And Tactics unit of an unnamed Californian city's police department (specifically "Olympic SWAT", the five-man team assigned to Olympic Precinct), created by Robert Hamner, developed by Rick Husky, and produced by Hamner, Aaron Spelling, and Leonard Goldberg. A Spin-Off of The Rookiesnote , the series stars Steve Forrest, Robert Urich, Rod Perry, Mark Shera, and James Coleman.

The series was notorious for its violence for 1970s television standards, which led to its early cancellation following its second season. However, it was a cultural hit, so much so that its funk theme song briefly topped the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1976. Combined with the show's opening sequence, where the cops jog in lockstep to grab their rifles and get to their transport van, this was the epitome of 1970s American TV cool.

The show was later adapted into a film in 2003 starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, and LL Cool J, featuring a cameo appearance by Forrest. Courtesy of CBS, a television series revival premiered on November 2, 2017, with Shemar Moore leading the new cast.

No relation to Sierra's S.W.A.T. video game series, nor the animated television show SWAT Kats.

Tropes featured in S.W.A.T. include:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: In "Blind Man's Bluff", Hondo makes the decision to retire from SWAT due to complications from a concussion he receives after his head is grazed by a bullet. However, after being dissatisfied with working a desk job for the rest of his career, he undergoes a surgery that repairs the damage. In the next scene, he's back to his usual position leading Olympic SWAT.
  • Armed Blag: Played with in "The Steel-Plated Security Blanket": an armored car is stolen by a team of criminals—except it's empty. The armored car is ultimately used as part of a disguise to steal a million-dollar crown and scepter from a pageant, and later to hold out from the police when the heist goes south.
  • Artistic License:
    • When Olympic SWAT isn't on a call, the officers stay in their headquarters to investigate a crime they're following up on or, if not, desk jobs and busywork relating to SWAT such as inventory checks and filling out forms. In Real Life, when SWAT officers are on duty but not actually being deployed, they are typically assigned to other police duties such as regular patrol, to be called back to headquarters for SWAT if the situation arises.
    • Practically every episode has some high-risk incident demanding SWAT's attention, most commonly standoffs, hostage-takings, and sniper attacks. And in S.W.A.T. they happen a lot, with "Pressure Cooker" having a robbery-turned-hostage-taking, an arson-turned-shootout-turned-suicide-prevention, a dispute-turned-standoff, and a kidnapping-turned-shootout happening in what was implied to be one shift. In real life however, incidents like these are rare and might happen once in an officer's entire lifetime. In fact, this was something actual police officers criticized the show for: things like crazed cop-killer snipers on rooftops or tense capers with hostages and shootouts rarely happened.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: In "The Steel-Plated Security Blanket", the armored car is shown to be practically impenetrable to bullets and breaching attempts. However, the team discovers two weak points: its windshield can be covered to prevent movement, and it has an air vent in its roof that small gas rounds can be fired into.
  • Bloodless Carnage: People who are shot or otherwise injured in the series rarely bleed. If they do, it's never a lot, and it's usually because the victim survived.
  • Bound and Gagged: Happens to some hostages, most notably the Brewer brothers when they get kidnapped by Mel and Ralph in "The Vendetta".
    • Also happens on occasion to criminals when SWAT has to apprehend one quietly, in which case they cuff them and put tape over their mouth so they don't shout for the others.
  • City with No Name: Many of Aaron Spelling's cop shows, such as The Rookies, Starsky & Hutch, and T.J. Hooker, are set in unnamed cities in Western California. In S.W.A.T., the city is obviously based on Los Angeles, but it is never named. The police department is referred to as the "WCPD", the full name of which (never mentioned in the show) being the... "Western California Police Department".
  • Cop Killer: Many criminals and Monster of the Week characters kill or injure patrol officers, which usually brings SWAT's full attention to them.
    • "The Killing Ground" and "Kill S.W.A.T." in particular focus on criminals specifically targeting police officers.
  • Cowboy Cop: Bo Pritchard is explicitly stated to be one by Deacon in "Jungle War".
  • Danger Room Cold Open: "Time Bomb" opens with the team deploying to take out a sniper perched on a rooftop, seemingly in the city—until half the team starts climbing random scaffolding and going behind building cutouts. Turns out the sniper is a training assistant, and they're on a film studio backlot SWAT uses for training every now and then. This location and scenario was also seen in "Kill S.W.A.T.", though there it was made more obvious the first time around that it was a training exercise.
  • Dead Man's Switch: In "Time Bomb", a stuntman-turned-bomber tries to escape by wiring himself to a bomb, with the switch in his hand. He demands a truck and takes Hondo hostage, but has to keep one hand on the wheel to keep Hondo in check. When Hondo jumps out and T.J. fires at him, the bomber accidentally lets go...
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens to a few suspects, such as Eric in "Death Carrier" and the plastics factory owner in "Pressure Cooker".
  • Fallen Hero: Bo Pritchard in "Jungle War". Though Deacon and the rest of SWAT dislike his Cowboy Cop tactics, Hondo fully respects him as a comrade who saved his life in The Vietnam War and a family friend—until Bo joins SWAT after Deacon is injured, screws up a standoff thanks to his ego, and gets kicked off by Hondo himself. Bo promptly goes off the deep end and kidnaps Hondo's wife Betty in an attempt to draw him out to fight one-on-one. When Hondo knocks out Bo, he looks down at him with a disappointed expression.
  • Fast-Roping: Happens a few times throughout the series, though not as often as you'd think for a show about a tactical team. They use ropes to climb more often than they use them to descend.
  • Friendly Sniper: T.J., a natural marksman who had his spot in SWAT ensured by Hondo for his shooting skills. It's stated in "The Killing Ground" that he's been hunting since his youth and learned to shoot so well because he couldn't afford ammunition and thus had to make every round count. Despite being such a skilled sniper though, it's stated in "Jungle War" that he doesn't like having to open fire.
    T.J.: When I have to shoot, that means nothin' else works, nothin'!
  • The Ghost: Sam, the SWAT van's driver. He is never seen clearly, never exits the vehicle, and only speaks once in season 2.
  • He Had a Name: In "The Killing Ground", when Luca, T.J., and Street are trying out for SWAT, Luca casually refers to a recently killed police officer as "whats-his-name". Street corrects him: the officer's name was Robert Duran, his patrol partner.
  • Hostage Situation: Happens to some degree in practically every episode.
  • Human Shield: Happens at least briefly in most hostage situations, particularly those with the Monster of the Week.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Many people who are shot in the series die almost instantly regardless of where they were hit or what gun was used. If they don't, either they're a character that's significant to the episode, or they get hospitalized and probably live. A noticeable example can be seen in "Criss-Cross", when the team shoots a burglar left behind by his crew; by the time Deacon climbs a fence to check his pulse (which takes maybe five seconds), he's dead.
  • Interrupted Suicide: How most instances of Driven to Suicide end up when SWAT arrives, sometimes by Talking Down the Suicidal, and others by physically stopping them.
  • It's Personal: Happens pretty often, usually resulting from of the loss of a family member.
    • "The Killing Ground" has a trio of cop killers seeking revenge on the WCPD for allegedly killing an uncle in police custody. Except when Hondo looks into it after they've been apprehended, he learns said uncle actually killed himself while surrounded by police, meaning it was All for Nothing.
    • "A Coven of Killers" has the Hopper family target various people involved in prosecuting cult leader Joey Hopper, including Hondo, who helped apprehend him.
    • "Jungle War" has Bo Pritchard, Hondo's close friend and ex-military comrade, kidnap Betty to draw Hondo out for a one-on-one fight, as revenge for Hondo kicking Bo out of SWAT for poor performance.
    • "Kill S.W.A.T." has a family targeting SWAT officers as revenge for losing a relative in the first ever SWAT deployment.
    • "Vigilante" has a titular vigilante who believes all criminals should die even if they surrender, driven by the loss of his wife in a burglary gone wrong.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Eric in "Death Carrier", who targets his crush's lovers for assassination because he wants her for himself.
  • Moral Guardians: The show was one of the targets as, unlike other action television shows of the 1970s such as The A-Team, suspects, police officers, and the innocent tended to die fairly often. Even the LAPD SWAT themselves, whom the show was loosely based on, reportedly didn't like this either. Steve Forrest addressed this, stating he understood the concerns, he just felt they were wrong to focus on S.W.A.T.. By 21st century standards however, the show is quite tame compared with other shows that came later.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: The armored car is presented this way in "The Steel-Plated Security Blanket". Its theft actually concerns the WCPD more than if valuables were stolen from it, as its attack-resistant design means the criminals can do whatever they want inside with all the leverage in the world, and the police can't stop them; even the 5.56mm rounds from SWAT's M16 rifles barely scratch the bulletproof glass. Hondo and the WCPD suggest everything from terrorist attacks to a heist on four banks in the same intersection as entirely feasible possibilities.
  • Police Are Useless: Solidly averted by SWAT, who always get their man. Played straight, however, with regular patrol officers, who are often taken out by the Monster of the Week so as to illustrate how cold and dangerous they are, sometimes before they can even get out of their cruisers or clear leather. Turns out the most dangerous job in the S.W.A.T. universe is being the first responding officer to any call.
    • A prime example of the patrol officers being useless can be seen in "Criss-Cross": a cruiser parks up to scope out an ongoing robbery before SWAT arrives, but when Hondo orders them to move in, the driver is immediately shot in the neck by a sniper (who is quite visible from his perch), while the other officer dies when the out-of-control cruiser crashes through a wall.
  • Police Brutality: By modern standards, it happens a lot throughout the series. Chokeholds, knock-out beatdowns, rough handling, and brow-raising use of force are bound to occur to some degree every now and then when SWAT sees action. But from a more general standpoint, this is actually mostly averted, as whoever the team doesn't shoot is simply cuffed and treated relatively respectfully.
    • A major plot point in "The Killing Ground" is this allegedly occurring to a man's uncle; in response, the man and his friends start ambushing cops. It's revealed at the end that the uncle actually killed himself before the police could apprehend him.
  • Red Alert: The famous Title Sequence commences with a shrieking muster signal as The Squad rushes for their Wall of Weapons and leaps into their van. This rarely happens in the show itself though, as the team is often alerted to incidents through telephone calls or radio dispatches instead.
  • Spin-Off: Of The Rookies. In fact, S.W.A.T. originated as a two-part pilot aired in February 1975 as an episode of The Rookies.
  • The Squad
  • Stock Footage: The series reused footage quite frequently, often for Establishing Shots, but also for transitionary scenes such as shots of the SWAT van driving to a call. Some episodes even reused footage from the opening sequence.
  • SWAT Team: Mhm. Released when SWAT teams as a concept were less than a decade old, S.W.A.T. arguably made the concept more familiar to audiences than before, albeit in an action-packed way actual SWAT teams didn't quite like.
  • Title Drop: Every single time "SWAT" is uttered in any capacity, so a lot.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Played with in "The Killing Ground". When Street, then a patrol officer having just survived an ambush, picks up his badge, it's played as though he's preparing to resign. However, he simply requests if his badge could be renumbered to that of his deceased partner's.
  • Vigilante Man: Paul Julian in "Vigilante".
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Happens sometimes, but not often, and is usually just limited to an Only Sane Man in a group of determined or reckless criminals. Whenever they're actually well-intentioned, they're usually not the actual Monster of the Week.
    • In "The Vendetta", the episode opens with SWAT being deployed to break the siege of a house belonging to the Brewer family, the land on which has been bought by a construction magnate hiding behind the law to get his way. It's obvious they're arguably in the right, but they're breaking the law. The Brewer brothers are promptly kidnapped by the episode's real Big Bads, a pair of ex-cons who plan to kill the magnate and Hondo for helping bring them in, and end up as the victims for the rest of the episode.
    • In "Criss-Cross", an accomplice of the episode's main Big Bad, a former state senator turned failed businessman who is ordering him and another accomplice to murder a kidnapped witness to an earlier crime, complains about always being bossed around to do dirty work, and challenges him to do it himself for once.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end of "The Bravo Enigma", Mr. Bravo, who is ill with a deadly and contagious form of pneumonic plague, which the WCPD and Olympic SWAT have been racing to contain for pretty much the entire episode lest he unwittingly spark a deadly epidemic that could potentially kill thousands, falls into a water reservoir and dies. The expression on Hondo's face and the framing of the scene suggests this means bad news... but aside from a select few characters seen earlier recovering in the hospital, it isn't brought up again.
  • Yandere: Eric in "Death Carrier". He views everyone Janet Warren dates as "not right" for her, obsessively prepares a perfect life with her on a remote cliffside property in the countryside, and methodically snipes every man Janet tries to date. Later in the episode, when he kidnaps Janet and is surrounded by SWAT on the cliff, he prepares to commit Murder-Suicide under the belief that if he can't have her, they can be together forever in the afterlife, only for Hondo to get there first.