Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Mod Squad" Moments

I was all set to jump in on some Star Trek action for my next post. Followed by some “Lost In Space” chatter. But then my friend Randy had me and another friend over to watch “Once” and have some pizza and beer. Wonderful movie by the way. When it ended we weren’t ready to end evening, so Randy put on the pilot episode of “The Mod Squad.” She’s been hocking me about it ever since she got the box set last year. Well let me tell you, it exceeded my expectations.

Randy, along with my sister and her friends, were really into this breakthrough series, which debuted in 1968. I was a tween when it ran in prime time, and among my peers it seemed the girls were way more into it. They all wanted to be Peggy Lipton-or at least have her groovy wardrobe.

Where to begin. First, the basic concept: three “lost” young adults (college age?) start working for the LAPD as an undercover unit that can “connect” with the young people of the day. Definitely a forerunner to “21 Jump Street.”

So what made this early Aaron Spelling production stand out in 1968? It’s one of the very first TV shows shot on location. And I mean all over town. If you want to see what metropolitan LA looked like 40 years ago, you must check out this DVD. The series has been fully restored and digitally re-mastered. From Malibu, to the corner near my current home, La Cienega & Santa Monica Boulevards, they cruised around town, film crew in tow. In the pilot we counted about a dozen locations, shot in natural light (I’m sure they through up a few fills here and there). Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Malibu, areas near Fairfax. They only used the Paramount lot sound stages to shoot interior scenes.

The plots were the usual TV fare of the day, but the scripts had trailblazing dialogue. I don’t think the show was ahead of its time. I do think it was a product of its time, and it dared to talk about things all other shows danced around, such as LCD, the generation gap, racial tensions, and police brutality. In once scene Clarence William’s III’s character, who is African American, calls a guy whitey! This was three years before “All in the Family” debuted!

Much of the music was authentic, with lots of late sixties rock. No real recognizable songs, but not that fake rock stuff used in other series. Bands actually cut sound tracks for this series, mostly used in nightclub scenes. Yet the scoring during dramatic and action scenes was typical Spelling/Quinn Martin jazzy stuff.

A rich guy had a phone in his car. Remember when that was really something. And it was a rotary phone with a dial, hooked up to some ship-to-shore style transmission.

Now I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series, to see what issues they tackle, and how the show evolved as it headed into the early 70s.

And yes, Peggy Lipton’s mod, psychedelic wardrobe was amazing.


Lisa said...

Had a big love for this growing up. I particularly recall the terrific and obviously insanely memorable ABC promo for the show -- Clarence Williams III is being questioned by the cops. "Name? Hayes. Full name? Lin...coln!" delivered with perfect insolence. My sisters and I used to imitate that all the time.

Did Aaron Spelling have the gift, or what? What a genius. I recall one NATPE being in a room for a little seminar by him where he talked about his career and all the things he had done -- he was as enthusiastic as could be and obviously so proud of all his television series offspring. He had absolute mastery of what was entertaining and fascinating, both in the action and the soapy realms. I'm going to have to get my hands on this Mod Squad collection! It's about time! Plus it has one of the greatest theme songs and theme song sequences ever, of course. Thanks for a great post, Scott!

Jane said...

What a great "Nose-talgia" piece Scott. I was just reading Time Magazine's special 40th edition piece yesterday ("1968") and they had a section on the Mod Squad. Here's a really cool fun fact. Rashida Jones, who played Jim's girlfriend last season on The Office, is the daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincey Jones. She is a very fine fledgling actress with a flair for comedy!
Hooray for the Mod Squad: One Black, One White, One Blond!!!

Scott said...

Great piece of trivia Jane! Who knew?!! Maybe later I'll hunt for a YouTube clip and post it.