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Cop Rock Was Awful, But It May Be Worth Another Try

How song and dance could help combat TV copaganda.
  • Anne Bobby as Officer Vicki Quinn in ABC's short-lived 1990 series Cop Rock. (Photo: Shout! Factory)
    Anne Bobby as Officer Vicki Quinn in ABC's short-lived 1990 series Cop Rock. (Photo: Shout! Factory)

    In 1981, Steven Bochco brought us Hill Street Blues, a police procedural that changed how cop shows were done, depicting a gritty and often chaotic realism that was groundbreaking for its era, and it went on to become one of the most celebrated television shows of all time.

    In 1990, Bochco attempted to change the game again, by remaking the cop show in the form of a musical. In the clip below, you can see his aproach was almost literal — it even borrowed Hill Street Blues' familiar line "let's be careful out there" for a song. That was the genesis of Cop Rock, one of the most unmitigated disasters in TV history.

    A recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver illustrated just how painfully executed the show really was, with Oliver describing it as "if Pitch Perfect crashed into The Wire and there were absolutely no survivors," using an awkwardly-staged three-minute song about a "baby merchant" to illustate his point.

    Somewhat remarkably, just that mention on LWT created a new surge of interest in Cop Rock, to the point where DVDs have reportedly sold out. Even if they were all just joke purchases (which they almost certainly were), awareness has nonetheless been raised.

    It's been 30 years since the original debacle, and even on Broadway, musicals have evolved -- they're no longer required to be lavish, over-the-top spectacles to have broad appeal, nor do they have to rigidly follow old pop song structures. Today they can focus on anxious, introverted teens like Dear Evan Hansen, or they can adapt emotional indie movies like Once or The Band's Visit without losing their sense of intimacy. Musicals on television are also more common, with shows like Glee and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and the periodic live stagings of Broadway shows like Jesus Christ Superstar.

    On top of that, procedural shows about various facets of law enforcement have never been more popular, with series like NCIS, FBI, and Blue Bloods dominating the Nielsen ratings. At the same time, there's a growing sentiment that these shows traffic in "copaganda," which is to say that they tend to normalize noble cause corruption, lionize officers and agents who work outside the law, and turn a blind eye to systemic racism.

    Now imagine Cop Rock, but through the lens of Hamilton.

    One of the many issues with Cop Rock was the jarring transition between police drama and song-and-dance numbers, but with the Hamilton influence, every line can be musical, every word serving a rhythm, which puts you in that mindset and keeps you there. Simply put, everything flows. The hip-hop-infused style is the perfect musical genre for tackling "copaganda," as the legends of the genre were the first to bring the problems of police racism and abuse of power to the mainstream, and those problems and more are still in full effect, as evidenced in the aforementioned John Oliver piece focused on police raids.

    Granted, it took Lin-Manuel Miranda six years to write Hamilton, and it would be a herculean task to manage that level of lyrical density on a weekly basis, so maybe it returns as a miniseries or a stand-alone musical movie. That's a question for the creatives to decide, although Childish Gambino's video for "This Is America" could be another solid inspiration for a project like this.

    One thing's for sure: it should not be called Cop Rock. That is a name that very much describes the 1990 show and just does not work today. It didn't even work then.

    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: Cop Rock, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Steven Bochco, TV Musicals