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In the 1970s, TV cop shows were comforting and transfixing

  • The police killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests prompted critic Mark Harris to revisit the cop shows of his 1970s youth, from The Mod Squad to Adam-12 to Kojak and Hawaii Five-0. "At night, the TV would go on and I would be transfixed by the cops I saw there, the men who seized a piece of my consciousness when it was at its most impressionable, captured my imagination, and made me believe in their effectiveness," writes Harris. "I had not thought about those Hollywood policemen for a very long time. But this spring and summer, they came back to me — more accurately, I realized that they had never left. The seemingly countless videos of men in uniforms committing acts of casual brutality that have filled our screens have forced us to understand something that is not at all new but, thanks to smartphones, is now visible and undeniable. For many white Americans, especially those of my generation, it has been a year of belated education, anger, and no small amount of shame. I have become painfully aware of how little, over the decades, I have had to think about cops, largely because cops don’t spend all that much time concerning themselves with me. People who look like I look fall squarely in the category of those the police 'protect and serve,' not those they target. But although the term 'white privilege' covers many of the things I didn’t have to grow up fearing about the police, it doesn’t quite encompass the strangeness of what I did grow up thinking and feeling about cops, something I rediscovered only when I started to rewatch the police shows of my childhood. They were, if not exactly nuanced, less baldly retrograde than I had imagined they might be — but they were also undeniably indoctrinations into what authority meant and where you fit into it, and as such, their mildness only made them more effective. They were, for me, seductive in ways I had not wanted to think about for decades. Those imaginary men in blue had an unnerving and enduring hold on me. They were my gateway — to the world of adult TV, to the mysteries of adult men, to my own father, and, as it turned out, to the lonely realm of my own unnameable longing." ALSO: FX boss John Landgraf, who made The Shield his cable network's flagship drama, admits "I don’t know how to do a cop show at the moment, to be honest with you."

    TOPICS: Kojak, Adam-12, Hawaii Five-0 (1968 series), The Mod Squad, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, Retro TV