The early cop show format, as defined by shows like Dragnet, was certainly entertaining, but let’s face it…sometimes those flatfoots could be a bit square. The cops doled out justice, but they didn’t have a lot of fun doing it. It seemed that the description of TV cops might never include the word “cool,” until (whew!) The Mod Squad showed up to save the day. This influential action drama brought the cop show into the era of flower power by making its cops young, hip, and full of attitude. As a result, it became a big hit and one of the few cop shows with a big audience of youngsters.
The “Mod Squad” of the title was a trio of fashion-forward juvenile delinquents: Pete had stolen a car, Linc had been arrested during a riot, and Julie was a runaway from San Francisco. All three were on probation when they met Captain Adam Greer, a tough but sympathetic cop. Greer proposed that they join forces to form a special “youth squad”—they would go undercover in the thriving Southern Californian youth subculture and ensnare adult criminals who preyed on the kids. The three hipsters agreed, and The Mod Squad was born.
Although they did the work of police detectives, the Modders didn’t do things in conventional police officer style: they didn’t carry badges, they didn’t carry guns, and they didn’t “fink” on kids their own age. They also got to carry out their police work against colorful and exciting backdrops like go-go clubs, motorcycle rallies, and (of course) the beach. They also spoke in the cool slang of the day, the most notable example being Linc’s habit of saying “Solid” to show his approval of something cool.
The premise of The Mod Squad might have seemed too good to be true, but it did have a basis in fact. The show was inspired by the experiences of creator Bud Ruskin, a former L.A. policeman who had been part of undercover narcotics squad made up of youthful cops. His experiences turned out to be a goldmine, as The Mod Squad became an instant hit on ABC’s television lineup in the fall of 1968. The show won Peggy Lipton a Golden Globe Award for her performance as Julie, and its revolving cast of scenesters introduced plenty of new talent like Richard Dreyfuss and Lesley Ann Warren.
The Mod Squad continues to make its influence felt today in many ways. It remains a favorite of syndication, is frequently mentioned in surveys of influential television shows, and even inspired 1999 big-screen remake starring Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi and Omar Epps. The trio wasn’t kidding when they called themselves The Mod Squad. They never went out of style, never became un-mod. Our old Nehru jackets should have been so lucky.
USA / ABC – Thomas – Spelling / 124×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 24 September 1968 – 23 August 1973
Creators: Aaron Spelling, Buddy Ruskin, Sammy Hess / Producers: Harve Bennett, Tony Barrett
PEGGY LIPTON as Julie Barnes
MICHAEL COLE as Pete Cochran
CLARENCE WILLIAMS III as Linc Hayes
TIGE ANDREWS as Captain Adam Greer