CHiPs is an action crime dramedy. Over-the-top freeway pileups, which occurred frequently, especially in the later seasons, were a signature of the show. There was little violence on CHiPs, and the show can be classified as a light drama. The episodes filled a standard hour-long time slot, which at the time required 48 minutes of actual programming. For filming, traffic on Los Angeles freeways was non-existent and most chase scenes were done on back roads, usually dirt roads.
The show was created by Rick Rosner, and starred Erik Estrada as macho, rambunctious Officer Francis ("Frank") Llewellyn "Ponch" Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as his straitlaced partner, Officer Jonathan ("Jon") Andrew Baker. With Ponch the more trouble-prone of the pair, and Jon generally the more level-headed one trying to keep him out of trouble with the duo's gruff yet fatherly commanding officer Sergeant Joseph Getraer (Robert Pine), the two were Highway Patrolmen of the Central Los Angeles office of the California Highway Patrol (CHP, hence the name CHiPs).
As real-life CHP motor officers rarely ride in pairs, in early episodes this was explained away by placing the trouble-prone Ponch on probationary status, with Jon assigned as his field training officer. Eventually, by the end of the first season, this subplot faded away (Ponch completed his probation) as audiences were used to seeing the two working as a team.Larry Wilcox as Officer Jonathan Andrew "Jon" Baker (1977–82) / 7-Mary-3
Erik Estrada as Officer Francis (Frank) Llewelyn "Ponch" Poncherello / 7-Mary-4 (15-Mary-6 in the final season)
Robert Pine as Sergeant Joseph (Joe) Getraer / S-4
Lew Saunders as Officer Gene Fritz (1977–79) / 5-David-5 (7-David in some episodes)
Brodie Greer as Officer Barry "Bear" Baricza (1977–82) / 7-Adam (7-David in two episodes)
Paul Linke as Officer Arthur (Artie) "Grossie" Grossman / 7-Mary-5
Lou Wagner as Harlan Arliss, Automobile/Motorcycle Mechanic, CHP (1978–83)
Brianne Leary as Officer Sindy Cahill (1978–79) / 7-Charles
Randi Oakes as Officer Bonnie Clark (1979–82) / 7-Charles
Michael Dorn as Officer Jedediah Turner (1979–82) / 7-David
Bruce Jenner as Officer Steve McLeish (1981–82)
Tom Reilly as Officer Bobby "Hot Dog" Nelson (1982–83) / 15-Mary-7
Tina Gayle as Officer Kathy Linahan (1982–83) / 7-Mary-10
Bruce Penhall as Cadet/Officer Bruce Nelson (1982–83) / 15-Mary-8
Clarence Gilyard, Jr. as Officer Benjamin Webster (1982–83) / 15-Adam-9
In the fifth season (1981–82), Estrada went on strike over a dispute over syndication profits. As a result, he did not appear in seven episodes; for that period he was replaced by Jenner (Officer Steve McLeish).
Despite their successful pairing on-screen, Wilcox and Estrada did not always get along behind the camera. However, it was Wilcox's falling-out with the producers over what he saw as continual favoritism toward Estrada that saw Wilcox not return for the sixth and final season. Wilcox was replaced by Tom Reilly (Officer Bobby Nelson).
Bruce Penhall, a native of Balboa Island, Newport Beach and a Motorcycle speedway rider who had won the 1981 and 1982 Speedway World Championships, was also introduced as cadet–probationary officer Bruce Nelson, Bobby's younger brother in 1982–83. The season 6 episode "Speedway Fever" (aired November 7, 1982) centered on Penhall's character Nelson winning the 1982 Speedway World Final at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with scenes filmed in the pits during the meeting. The episode also used television coverage of the final (with dubbed commentary). Penhall later admitted that having a bodyguard and having to have makeup done in the pits in full view of his competitors at the World Final only added to the pressure he was under both as a rider and a rookie actor and that it felt weird having to "buddy up to Ponch" in front of the other riders while the World Final was taking place. In order to become a full-time member of the CHiPs cast, Penhall had officially announced his retirement from speedway racing on the podium of the 1982 World Final.
Estrada apparently did not approve of Reilly's work ethic and was very displeased with Reilly's real life arrest by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for possession of controlled substances during a traffic stop. As a result, Bobby was featured somewhat less prominently in later episodes of the season, with Bruce becoming Ponch's partner in the third to last episode, "Fast Company."
According to a 1998 TV Guide article, show creator Rick Rosner was a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. During a coffee break on an evening patrol shift in the mid-1970s he saw two young CHP officers on motorcycles which gave him the idea for this series. He later created 240-Robert, which seemed like a hybrid of CHiPs and Emergency!.
Episodes occasionally reference Jon Baker's service in Vietnam. This makes his character one of the earliest regular (and one of the more positive) portrayals of a Vietnam veteran on television. Larry Wilcox served 13 months in Vietnam as a Marine artilleryman.
Despite the Ford Motor Company's credit as a vehicle provider for nearly 4 of the series' 6 seasons, cars and trucks were supplied by several manufacturers; many of the police cars seen were Dodge models.
Although doubles were used for far-off shots and various stunt or action sequences, Wilcox and Estrada did a great deal of their own motorcycle riding, and performed many smaller stunts themselves. Although Wilcox emerged relatively injury-free, Estrada suffered various injuries several times throughout the run of the series. In several early first season episodes, a huge bruise or scar can be seen on his arm after he was flung from one of the motorcycles and skidded along the ground. But his worst accident came when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident while filming a season three episode in August 1979, fracturing several ribs and breaking both wrists. The accident and Estrada's subsequent hospitalization was incorporated into the series' storyline.
Prior to being cast in CHiPs Estrada had no experience with motorcycles, so he underwent an intensive eight-week course, learning how to ride. In 2007 it was revealed that he did not hold a motorcycle license at the time CHiPs was in production, and only qualified for a license after three attempts, while preparing for an appearance on the reality television show Back to the Grind.
Estrada and Wilcox never drew their firearms over the course of the series. (This did occur in "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 and in the made-for-TV reunion movie CHiPs '99.) The only character on the series depicted as drawing his firearm was Baricza (Brodie Greer), and he did so three times. The first was his radio car's Ithaca 37 shotgun in season 1's episode "Rainy Day", where the CHiPs conduct a felony traffic stop of a motorhome-based casino. The second was in season 2's premiere, "Peaks and Valleys", against two hillbillies armed with a Tommy-gun and a double-barrel shotgun who had ambushed his unattended patrol car for fun. Here the action was only implied, with his hand motion just below camera range. The last was in season 4's "Karate", in which a karate-trained car burglar (Danny Bonaduce) attacked him with a Bō, but Baricza drew his gun to stop Bonaduce.
NBC aired reruns of this series on its 1982 daytime schedule from April to September.
During the original run of the series, syndicated reruns of older episodes were retitled CHiPs Patrol to avoid confusion. Later syndicated reruns after the show went out of production reverted to the original title.
CHiPs episodes were usually a combination of light comedy and drama. A typical episode would start with Ponch and Jon on routine patrol or being assigned to an interesting beat, such as Malibu or the Sunset Strip. In roll call briefing, Sgt. Getraer would alert his officers to be on the lookout for a particular criminal operation, such as people staging accidents as part of an insurance scam or punks breaking into cars. A few interesting, unrelated vignettes often transpired during "routine" traffic enforcement.
A light-hearted subplot would also be included, such as Harlan trying to hide a stray dog from Getraer at the office. A more serious theme, such as Ponch trying to keep a kid from his old neighborhood out of a potential life of crime, might also be included. After a few failed attempts to apprehend the gang that had been menacing L.A.'s freeways, the episode would invariably culminate in Ponch and Jon leading a chase of the suspects (often assisted by other members of their division), climaxing with a spectacular series of stunt vehicle crashes.
The show then typically featured a dénouement of Ponch and Jon participating in a new activity (such as jet skiing or skydiving), designed to showcase the pair's glamorous Southern California lifestyle. Often, Ponch would attempt to impress a woman he had met during the episode with his athletic prowess or disco dancing, only to fail and provide Jon, Getraer, and others with many laughs. As the preliminary end credits would start, the image would freeze multiple times, showing various characters laughing or otherwise enjoying the social scene.
Some of the more outlandish plots included Ponch and his Season 6 partner Bobby Nelson helping a girl who believed that she was being targeted by UFOs and them racing against time to defuse a battery about to explode on an intelligent experimental police robot.
CHP Officers almost never drew their guns in the series; in the TV Movie however, guns were used more prominently, especially in one of the final scenes in which Jon and McFall are held hostage on a tour bus, the entire CHP are shown holding guns at the bus.
(all times Eastern/Pacific Time; subtract one hour for Central/Mountain Time)September 1977 – March 1978: NBC Thursday, 8–9PM
April 1978: NBC Saturday, 8–9PM
May – August 1978: NBC Thursday, 8–9PM
September 1978 – March 1980: NBC Saturday, 8–9PM
March 1980 – March 1983: NBC Sunday, 8–9PM
April – May 1983: NBC Sunday, 7–8PM
May – July 1983: NBC Sunday, 8–9PM
NBC aired reruns of the series weekdays at 3PM EST between April 26, 1982 – September 10, 1982 Currently the show airs on Me-TV.
In the United Kingdom, the series was broadcast by ITV but was not simulcast nationally. The series started in January 1979 in the London region, but began with Season Two (the first episode shown was episode 2x02 "The Volunteers") by February most other ITV regions originally screened in the Saturday tea-time slot around 17:35 but moved to the Sunday teatime slot in 1980. By 1981, as with many imported programmes of the era, the series was being broadcast at different times during the weekend throughout the year by the different ITV regions. The series shared its Saturday teatime slot with other series such as The A-Team, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I. and Whiz Kids.
During 1984, most ITV station continued with the Saturday teatime slot except for Anglia Television, Scottish Television (STV) and Television South West (TSW), who broadcast episodes during the weekend mornings or Sunday afternoons. By early 1985, the series was being broadcast during Saturday mornings by Anglia, Central, Grampian, Granada, STV and Tyne Tees, who all completed the series by end of the 1985. HTV and Yorkshire completed the series by 1986, while LWT, TVS and TSW finished series six in 1987 after starting in 1985. A few companies repeated the series in 1987.
The entire series was shown in New Zealand on TVNZ in the 1980s.
CHiPs debuted in France on channel Antenne 2 as an eight-episode mini-series beginning September 18, 1983 at 2:25pm. The episodes included in the mini-series are from season 1 and 2. On April 24, 1986, CHiPs began airing on La Cinq at 8pm. La Cinq aired the first two seasons until August 28, 1987. On May 30, 1988, CHiPs began airing on TF1, showing all episodes of the series.
Warner Home Video released the first two seasons of CHiPs on DVD in Regions 1, 2 & 4 between 2007/2008. On March 3, 2015 (over 6 years later), the third season was released on DVD in Region 1. The fourth season was released in Region 1 on March 15, 2016. The fifth season was released in Region 1 on March 14, 2017. The sixth season and the complete series were released in Region 1 on June 6, 2017.
All 139 episodes are at the iTunes Store.
CHiPs '99 is a 1998 made-for-television film and a sequel to the series. It was directed by Jon Cassar. Several cast members from the original series make a return. Original cast with promotions were Jon Baker as a Captain and Joe Getraer as the CHP Commissioner. Other original cast members were Officer Frank Poncherello returning from a 15-year hiatus with the CHP, Officer Barry Baricza and Arthur (Artie) "Grossie" Grossman as a Detective. Bruce Penhall also returns as newly promoted Sergeant Bruce Nelson.Larry Wilcox as Captain Jonathan (Jon) A. Baker / 79 Charles
Erik Estrada as Officer Francis (Frank) Llewelyn "Ponch" Poncherello / 79-Mary-4
Robert Pine as CHP Commissioner Joseph (Joe) Getraer
Paul Korver as Officer Peter Roulette / 79-Mary-13
David Ramsey as Officer Sergeant McFall
Brodie Greer as Officer Barry "Bear" Baricza
Bruce Penhall as Officer/Sergeant Bruce Nelson / 79-S-10
Paul Linke as Detective Arthur (Artie) "Grossie" Grossman
In 2005, a theatrical release motion picture version of the show was announced, starring Wilmer Valderrama as Ponch, though as of 2013 this production was still "stalled". Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox were rumored to make cameo appearances. In a 2002 episode of MADtv, Valderrama and fellow That '70s Show cast member Danny Masterson were featured in two parodies of CHiPs, which featured the two actors as Ponch and Baker respectively. Mila Kunis also appeared in the second sketch. In a 2002 episode of That '70s Show, Valderrama's character, Fez, was seen in the "most likely" section of the yearbook as "most likely to appear as Ponch in a musical version of CHiPs".
On September 2, 2014, Warner Bros. Pictures announced a film adaptation of the show, which Andrew Panay would be producing along with Dax Shepard. Shepard will also write, direct and star in the film as Officer Jon Baker; Michael Peña will play Frank "Ponch" Poncherello while Vincent D’Onofrio is in negotiations to play the villain.
A series of 3 3⁄4" action figures was released by Mego in the late 1970s. Due to the materials used to construct the figures, many of them have discolored (typically turning green) or started to decompose over the years, making good conditioned examples quite hard to find on the collectors market. There was also a series of six die-cast model vehicles produced by Imperial Toys.
In the UK, as was common with many popular US series of the era, a series of tie-in annuals were produced by World International Publishing Ltd, containing stories, photos, puzzles and features on the stars. There are four annuals in total, one each for 1980–83.
In 2006, a limited edition soundtrack was released on CD by Turner Classic Movies' music division via Film Score Monthly, featuring the original recordings of the main theme by John Parker (Parker's theme replaced an unused composition by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, who scored the pilot) and in-episode musical scores from many episodes of the second season, as composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri, the series' primary (and from seasons three to five sole) composer until the final season. Silvestri also arranged the theme as heard from season two onwards, and it is this version that is heard here—the soundtrack album also includes the "Trick or Treat" score composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton, his only work for the series. In 2008, music from the third season was released; an album of music from the fourth season followed in 2010.
In the Galactica 1980 episode "The Super Scouts, Part I", a California Highway Patrol motor officer references CHiPs by lamenting to his partner, "How come this never happens to those two guys on TV?" when the two Colonial Warriors, Captain Troy (Kent McCord) and Lieutenant Dillon (Barry Van Dyke), escape the CHP duo by using flying motorcycles.
The alternative rock band Seven Mary Three gets its name from Jon's call sign.
Both Estrada and Wilcox reprised their roles in the 1993 film National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1.
The show was referenced in the Hawaii Five-0 episode "He Kane Hewaʻole" (An Innocent Man), in which cops pursue a suspect on the Kamehameha Highway and discover a severed head inside the suspect's car, sparking a murder investigation.
The 2014 Walt Disney Pictures film Planes: Fire & Rescue features a parody TV series titled CHoPs, with Estrada providing the voice of helicopter officer Nick "Loop'n" Lopez.
On February 2, 2014, Estrada reprised his role as Ponch in the RadioShack Super Bowl XLVIII commercial "The '80s Called".