Kojak title screen, from the first season
|Created by||Abby Mann
("suggested by" the book
Justice in the Back Room,
written by Selwyn Raab)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||118 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Abby Mann
James Duff McAdams
|Running time||60 minutes (per episode)|
|Production company(s)||Universal Television|
|Original run||October 24, 1973 – March 18, 1978|
Kojak is an American television series starring Telly Savalas as the title character, New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak. Taking the time slot of the popular Cannon series, which was moved one hour earlier it aired on CBS from October 24, 1973, to March 18, 1978. In 1999 TV Guide ranked Theo Kojak number 18 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.
The show was created by Abby Mann, an Academy Award–winning film writer best known for his work on drama anthologies such as Robert Montgomery Presents and Playhouse 90. Universal Television approached him to do a story based on the 1963 Wylie-Hoffert Career Girls Murders, the brutal rape and murder of two young professional women in Manhattan.
Due to poor police work and the prevailing casual attitude toward suspects' civil rights, the crimes in the Wylie-Hoffert case were pinned on a young African-American man, George Whitmore, Jr., who had been arrested on a separate assault charge. After illegally obtaining a confession, the police had the suspect all but convicted until a second investigation by a different team of detectives exonerated the suspect and identified the real killer, a Puerto-Rican drug addict.
Mann developed the project as a gritty police procedural, but with a subtext focusing on institutionalized prejudice and the civil rights of suspects and witnesses. The result was the 1973 made-for-TV movie, The Marcus-Nelson Murders. The opening and closing titles of the film emphasized the point that it was a fictional account of the events that led to the creation of Miranda rights by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. Selwyn Raab's book Justice in the Back Room also provided Mann with some of his inspiration for the story of The Marcus-Nelson Murders, and the series subsequently included a credits reference to having been "suggested by" that book, though it was never actually named in the reference.
Telly Savalas starred in The Marcus-Nelson Murders as a police detective whose last name was spelled "Kojack." The film served as a pilot for the Kojak television series. Kojak himself was a composite character, based on a number of detectives, lawyers, and reporters who were involved in the Wylie-Hoffert murder case.
The series was set in the New York City Police Department's Eleventh Precinct (the building shown was actually Ninth Precinct), Manhattan South Patrol Borough. The show revolved around the efforts of the tough and incorruptible Lieutenant Theodore ("Theo") Kojak (Telly Savalas), a bald, dapper, New York City policeman, who was fond of Tootsie Roll Pops and using the catchphrase, "Who loves ya, baby?" Kojak was stubborn and tenacious in his investigation of crimes—and also displayed a dark, cynical wit, along with a tendency to bend the rules if it brought a criminal to justice. Savalas described Kojak as a "basically honest character, tough but with feelings—the kind of guy who might kick a hooker in the tail if he had to, but they'd understand each other because maybe they grew up on the same kind of block." Kojak's Greek American heritage, shared by actor Savalas, was featured prominently in the series.
In the early episodes of the series, Kojak is often seen smoking thin, brown More-brand cigarettes. Following the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on smoking, cigarette commercials were banned from American television in 1971, and trying to quit smoking became common in the 1970s. To cut down on his own habit, Kojak (and quite possibly Savalas himself) began using lollipops as a substitute. (Savalas later owned up to getting three cavities from sucking them.) The lollipop made its debut in the Season 1 episode "Dark Sunday", broadcast on December 12, 1973: Kojak lights a cigarette as he begins questioning a witness, but thinks better of it and sticks a lollipop (specifically, a Tootsie Pop) in his mouth instead. Later in the episode, Kevin Dobson's character Crocker asks about the lollipop and Kojak replies, "I'm trying to bridge the generation gap." Lollipops became a trademark of the character, but contrary to popular belief they were only a partial substitute for cigarettes and Kojak did not quit smoking. Nor did Savalas himself, by his own confession.[when?]
His longtime supervisor was Capt. Frank McNeil (Dan Frazer). Later in the series, McNeil was promoted to Chief of Detectives in Manhattan. Kojak is the commander of the Manhattan South Precinct's detective squad. His squad includes one of his favorite employees: young plainclothes officer, Det. Bobby Crocker (Kevin Dobson). Detective Stavros (played by Telly's real-life brother George Savalas, who originally used the name "Demosthenes" as his screen credit; under his real name, Savalas also received a Production Associate credit during the early seasons), Detective Saperstein (Mark Russell), and Detective Rizzo (Vince Conti), all gave Kojak support. Roger Robinson appeared in 12 episodes as Detective Gil Weaver.
Among the guest stars in the series' original run were F. Murray Abraham, Maud Adams, Danny Aiello, Paul Anka, Armand Assante, Eileen Brennan, Blair Brown, Dabney Coleman, Hector Elizondo, Richard Gere, Ruth Gordon, Gloria Grahame, Harvey Keitel, Sally Kirkland, Tina Louise, Carol Lynley, Sheree North, Geraldine Page, Kathleen Quinlan, Lynn Redgrave, John Ritter, Sylvester Stallone, Danny Thomas, Forrest Tucker, Christopher Walken, Eli Wallach, Shelley Winters and James Woods.
Although the show primarily focused on Kojak's police work, it occasionally veered into other areas of the character's lives, such as the first season episode "Knockover" which included a subplot involving Kojak romancing a (much younger) female police officer. The series also occasionally touched upon the character's Greek heritage.
In 1976, acclaimed crime writer Joe Gores received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Episode in a TV Series Teleplay for the third-season episode "No Immunity for Murder" (first aired November 23, 1975).
The show ended in 1978, after five seasons, due to low ratings. Reruns of Kojak became successful in syndication and TV Land. Years after the series ended, Savalas reprised the role in two TV movies, The Belarus File (1985), an adaptation of the John Loftus book The Belarus Secret, and The Price of Justice (1987), based on Dorothy Uhnak's novel, The Investigation. Kojak is not a character in either book.
In 1989–1990, Kojak returned to television in five two-hour episodes that aired on ABC, rotating with three other series as part of the ABC Mystery Movie. No longer a lieutenant commanding a precinct detective squad, Kojak had been promoted to inspector and put in charge of the NYPD's city-wide Major Crimes Squad. Andre Braugher was cast as a young detective assigned to Kojak's command.
Series stars the Savalas brothers (Telly & George), Frazer and Dobson are the only cast members to appear in every episode of the original series, and stayed throughout its entire run.
Kojak used a red, magnetically mounted Federal Signal Fireball rotating emergency light atop his unmarked police vehicle (a brown 1973 Buick Century Regal 455, and later, a copper 1975 version of the same car). This type of emergency light has popularly come to be known as a "Kojak Light" among police. During the series, Kojak's duty weapon was either a Smith & Wesson Model 15 or a .38 Special snub nosed Smith & Wesson Bodyguard. The latter type of revolver was the kind typically carried by New York City Police Department detectives of that era. Kojak usually carried it in the front right pocket of his overcoat or suit jacket, or he carried it in his hand as he approached a scene where he was expecting danger. This became known as carrying a weapon "Kojak Style" or as the "Kojak Carry" by police.
- Telly Savalas as Lieutenant Theodore "Theo" Kojak
- Dan Frazer as Captain Frank McNeil—Kojak's boss
- Kevin Dobson as Detective Robert "Bobby" Crocker
- George Savalas (Demosthenes) as Sergeant Heathcliff "Fatso" Stavros
- Mark Russell as Detective Percy Saperstein
- Vince Conti as Detective Lionel Rizzo
- Andre Braugher as Detective Winston Blake (1989–90 ABC revival)
The somewhat better-known first Kojak theme, in two distinct arrangements is the work of Billy Goldenberg, who scored the early episodes. John Cacavas composed the third main title theme used throughout the show's fifth and final season. In addition, Cacavas composed the music score for most of the series.
Kojak aired for five seasons on CBS, from 1973 to 1978. In the mid-eighties, Kojak returned in two made-for-TV movies. In 1989, eleven years after the series ended, Telly Savalas returned to play Kojak in five TV movies that aired on ABC as part of their ABC Mystery Movie theme block which aired on Saturday nights. His character was promoted to the rank of captain. Andre Braugher co-starred as Det. Winston Blake, and for one two-hour episode, It's Always Something, Kevin Dobson returned as Bobby Crocker, now an assistant district attorney. Guest stars in these TV movies included Angie Dickinson, Marcia Gay Harden, Max von Sydow, Jerry Orbach and Suzanne Pleshette. Kojak is being aired in 2013 on the Me-TV classic television network, and on ITV4 in the UK.
In March 2005, a new Kojak series debuted on the USA Network cable channel and on ITV4 in the UK. In this re-imagined version, actor Ving Rhames portrays the character. The series only lasted one season.
Universal Pictures is planning to make a film version of Kojak, with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to write the script for the film and Vin Diesel will star as Kojak and produced the film with Samantha Vincent.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2011)|
In the hit 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit, Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed) referred to a police officer with a radar gun as a "Kojak with a Kodak", reflecting contemporary CB slang. The phrase also appears in a subtitle in The Cannonball Run when the Japanese team in the Subaru GL encountered a radar-operating officer.
In the film Foul Play, Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn commandeer a livery vehicle with two Asian tourists in the backseat. When the tourists become agitated at his high speed driving, Chase informs them that he is a policeman like Kojak. Even though the tourists know very little English, the name Kojak turns their chagrin to enthusiasm and they enjoy the high-speed pursuit. When the car stops and they are left in the backseat, the male tourist cracks a smile and yells "Kojak! BANG! BANG!"
In Canada, some Canadians were concerned that the show left an impression in Canadian youth that they had rights, such as to be informed of an offense, and that it depicted American police reading people their rights in accordance with the Miranda ruling. In his 1980 book Deference to Authority: The Case of Canada, American sociologist Edgar Fredenberg who came to Canada in the early 1970s to avoid the draft was concerned that Canadians were more upset over depictions of Americans practicing their civil rights on a TV show dealing with civil rights issues than that they did not have those rights. In 1982, the right to be informed of a criminal offense and of one's rights was enumerated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In Brazil, the show was so successful that in the 1970s and 1980s the term "Kojak" became Brazilian slang for "bald man". In tribute, "Kojak" was a theme of Brazilian carnival-time music, a very rare honor. Telly Savalas also visited the country to do promotional work. In Rio de Janeiro, the expression: "I won't give a chance to Kojak" became popular among criminals, meaning the speaker would avoid leaving any clue that would lead the police to him or her. Later, this expression became popular among lay people. It would come to mean "I won't let anyone see my mistakes".
In Chile, the show was so successful that in the 1970s and 1980s the term "Kojak" became Chilean slang for "lollipop" until to this day.
In Maribor, Slovenia the National Liberation Fight statue on the Liberty Square is called "Kojak" by the locals because of its shape.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Season One of Kojak on DVD in Region 1, 2 and 4 in 2005-2006, but chose not to release any further seasons in Region 1.
On May 25, 2011, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the Region 1 DVD rights to the series. They have subsequently released the remaining 4 seasons on DVD as well as a complete movie collection.
In Region 2, Mediumrare Entertainment has released seasons 2-5 on DVD in the UK.
|DVD Name||Episodes||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Season One||22||March 22, 2005||July 18, 2005||June 1, 2006|
|Season Two||25||September 27, 2011||April 26, 2010||August 11, 2010|
|Season Three||24||March 20, 2012||April 26, 2010||August 11, 2010|
|Season Four||25||May 1, 2012||August 29, 2011||March 7, 2012|
|Season Five||22||September 11, 2012||August 29, 2011||March 7, 2012|
|The Complete Movie Collection||8||January 24, 2012||N/A||N/A|
- TV Guide Guide to TV, Barnes and Noble, 2004, p. 651, ISBN 0-7607-5634-1
- Van Gelder, Lawrence "Thomas J. Cavanagh Jr., 82, Who Inspired 'Kojak,' Dies". The New York Times, Sunday, August 4, 1996
- Reuss, Edward D. "The Fighting 9th Rises Again". Edward D. Reuss. NYCop.com. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- Tim Brooks, Earl Marsh (2007). "Kojak (Police Drama)". The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows (9th ed.). Random House. p. 748. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
- Hernandez, Raymond (23 January 1994). "Telly Savalas, Actor, Dies at 70; Played 'Kojak' in 70's TV Series". The New York Times.
- Universal Sets ‘Skyfall’ Scribes Purvis & Wade To Script ‘Kojak’ For Vin Diesel
- Lacey, Gord (25 May 2011). "Kojak - Shout! Factory to Continue Kojak?". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- Lambert, David (10 Oct 2011). "Kojak DVD news: Box Art and Details for Kojak - The Complete Movie Collection | TVShowsOnDVD.com". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
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