Cop Rock, the ill-fated ABC series from 1990 produced and co-created by Steven Bochco, is now available in its entirety on DVD from Shout! Factory. Considering its dubious place in TV history (TV Guide famously ranked it among the Worst TV Shows Ever), one might wonder why.
While Bochco today still believes it was a good idea, even he admits his attempt to fuse the grittiness of Hill Street Blues with elements of musical theatre was a noble failure at best.
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But, as TV historians Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik point out in their book Watching TV, take away the music and Cop Rock is Bochco at his best. The main story arc, about the prosecution and trial of a renegade L.A. cop who takes justice into his own hands by gunning down a notorious African-American street lord in cold blood, is eerily prescient of the tension between the L.A. police and the African-American community that mounted in the Rodney King case and the O.J. Simpson trial (both of which would play out in real life within a few years of the series). That alone makes Cop Rock compelling to watch, if not a little disturbing.
But you can’t take the music out of Cop Rock (though apparently ABC tried), and when used effectively, such as the Randy Newman song “Sandman’s Coming” at the end of the pilot episode, it does create the sort of evocative moments that only music can achieve. (Newman composed all five songs for the pilot, as well as the stirring theme song “Under the Gun,” which he also performed as part of Cop Rock’s opening title sequence, with the entire cast gathered around him. Mike Post supervised the song composition for the remaining ten episodes.)
Bochco also made a point of casting dramatic actors who also had accomplished stage and musical backgrounds, including Ronny Cox (Deliverance), Carl Anderson (Jesus Christ Superstar), Anne Bobby and Ron McLarty. All of which gives the musical pieces in Cop Rock a sort of gravitas.
On the whole, however, the melding of music with hardcore police action never quite gelled. ABC cancelled Cop Rock almost immediately after it premiered, though it did allow the series to complete production of its ten-episode run. At the very least, that allowed the show’s story arc to come to a resolution, while treating its audience to a rollicking final number that’s fun to watch today.
Extra features in the Shout! Factory box set include a 40-minute interview with Bochco and a 30-minute interview with Bobby. Bochco gives viewers insight into how the songs were composed, integrated into the scripts and ultimately filmed live (no doubt, one reason why the series was reportedly among the most expensive shows to produce in 1990), while Bobby reveals how the actors on the series bonded with each other in the best musical tradition.
- Cop Rock: The Complete Series
- Eleven episodes (including the pilot), on three DVDs
- Special Features: New interviews with Steven Bochco and Anne Bobby
- DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Total Running Time: +/- 9 hours
- SRP: $29.95