Police Squad!

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Police Squad!
Title card
GenreCrime comedy
Created byZucker, Abrahams and Zucker
Written by
Narrated byLeslie Nielsen
Theme music composerIra Newborn
Opening theme"Theme from Police Squad!"
ComposerIra Newborn
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes6
Executive producers
  • David Zucker
  • Jim Abrahams
  • Jerry Zucker
CinematographySherman Kunkel
  • Tom Benko
  • Malcolm Campbell
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time24–25 minutes
Production companyParamount Television
Original release
ReleaseMarch 4 (1982-03-04) –
July 8, 1982 (1982-07-08)[1]
The Naked Gun film series

Police Squad! is an American television crime comedy series that was broadcast on the ABC network in 1982. It was created by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, starring Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin. A spoof of police procedurals and many other television shows and movies, the series features Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker's usual sight gags, wordplay, and non sequiturs. It resembles the Lee Marvin police show M Squad (in particular the opening credits) and the late 1960s series Felony Squad.[2] It was canceled after six episodes, and yielded The Naked Gun film series from 1988 to 1994.


Police Squad! was created by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (ZAZ), who had previously worked on The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and Airplane! (1980). They wanted to make another spoof film similar to Airplane!, using the television series M Squad as a basis for the spoof. They had lacked an overarcing plot to the concept, so Paramount's Michael Eisner was able to secure them a six-episode television series, despite ZAZ wanting to make it into a film.[3]

The show aired as a mid-season replacement in March 1982, but was taken off the schedule after four episodes.[3] The remaining two episodes were dumped onto the summer schedule in place of the usual summer reruns. Against critical acclaim, the show was canceled by ABC after just six episodes.[4] The show gained a strong cult following through repeat broadcasts on cable channels.[5]

Alan North played Captain Ed Hocken, and Peter Lupus co-starred as Officer Norberg. In the films, those roles were played by George Kennedy and O. J. Simpson respectively, with Norberg renamed Nordberg. The only actors who reprised their roles in the films are Leslie Nielsen, Ed Williams as scientist Ted Olson, and Ronald "Tiny Ron" Taylor as the very tall Al. Joyce Brothers played herself in the fourth episode and in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. Robert Goulet, one of the "special guest stars" killed during the title sequence, plays the villain Quentin Hapsburg in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.[6]


Each episode's voiced title differs from that displayed on screen. In the following list, the voiced title is in parentheses.

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateProd.
1"A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)"David Zucker
Jim Abrahams
Jerry Zucker
David Zucker
Jim Abrahams
Jerry Zucker
March 4, 1982 (1982-03-04)1PS01
Special guest star: Lorne Greene
Sally Decker (Kathryn Leigh Scott), a teller at a credit union, murders her boss so she can steal money from the credit union and pay her orthodontist the money she owed. She kills a customer and frames him for the murder. The Police Squad department is called in to investigate the case. Frank is suspicious about the customer's guilt.
2"Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)"Joe DanteStory by : David Misch
Teleplay by : Tino Insana & Robert Wuhl
March 11, 1982 (1982-03-11)1PS02
Special guest star: Georg Stanford Brown
To expose corrupt boxing manager Mr. Martin (Rudy Solari), Frank goes undercover as manager Bob Kelly. Frank makes a deal with boxer Buddy Briggs, whom he trains for a title fight against the current champion "The Champ" (Grand L. Bush). However, Martin has kidnapped Briggs's wife, and will only release her if Briggs deliberately loses the fight. Frank has to find Buddy's wife before Buddy gets knocked out.
3"Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)"Reza BadiyiStory by : Pat Proft
Teleplay by : Nancy Steen & Neil Thompson
July 1, 1982 (1982-07-01)1PS03
Special guest star: Florence Henderson
After a small group of mobsters blackmail various store-owners, Frank and Norberg go undercover and set up a key-making and locksmith store. The mobsters offer Frank "protection" in exchange for money, but Frank declines. While they attack the store with guns, Frank and Norberg's Locksmith store remains, enraging the mobsters' boss.
4"Revenge and Remorse (The Guilty Alibi)"Paul KrasnyNancy Steen and Neil ThompsonMarch 25, 1982 (1982-03-25)1PS04
Special guest stars: William Shatner, Dr. Joyce Brothers
The Police Squad department is sent to investigate a bombing at the courthouse. The main suspect is Eddie Casales (Spencer Milligan), a bomber who was sent to jail by the victims killed in the explosion. Following the attack on the courthouse, the assistant DA who prosecuted Casales is killed with a bomb hidden in his car. All evidence points to Casales, but Frank thinks it is a setup.
5"The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)"Georg Stanford BrownStory by : Deborah Hwang-Marriott & Robert K. Weiss
Teleplay by : Pat Proft
March 18, 1982 (1982-03-18)1PS05
Special guest stars: Robert Goulet, Tommy Lasorda
Frank, Ed, and Norberg investigate the kidnapping of Terri Burton (Lilibet Stern), the daughter of a wealthy businessman, who has been kidnapped during her 18th birthday party. The kidnappers demand $1,000,000 ransom money. The only witness to the kidnapping is Burton's boyfriend Kingsley Addison (Ken Michelman), who had plans to marry Burton.
6"Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don't Laugh)"Joe DanteTino Insana & Robert WuhlJuly 8, 1982 (1982-07-08)1PS06
Special guest stars: William Conrad, Dick Clark
Frank investigates a body of a struggling comedian found at the bottom of a cliff in a car crash. Although the comedian's death appears to be a suicide, Frank soon learns that this comedian was an informant on a drug ring he infiltrated at his nightclub. To catch the perpetrator, Frank takes the place of the deceased at the nightclub he worked.


Drebin, Norberg, and Hocken are the main characters of Police Squad!.

Leslie Nielsen portrayed Sergeant Frank Drebin, detective lieutenant of Police Squad. Jerry Zucker explained that the name Drebin was picked blindly from the phone book. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker had met Nielsen when working on Airplane! (1980) and decided that their kind of humor matched.[7] The team said that Nielsen would be perfect as Drebin, as the character lampooned the roles that Nielsen had played in television dramas such as The Bold Ones: The Protectors and S.W.A.T..[8] Ed Williams, who co-starred as lab technician Ted Olson, had been a science teacher for many years and had some previous acting experience. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker were amazed by his performance.[7]

Rex Hamilton is credited in every episode as "Abraham Lincoln", with the same clip in all opening credits as his only appearance.

Nielsen, Taylor, and Williams were the only members of the main cast who reprise their characters into The Naked Gun film series. Captain Ed Hocken was portrayed by George Kennedy in the film series, and O. J. Simpson played Officer Nordberg (slightly renamed from "Norberg").


Opening sequence[edit]

Lorne Greene was a special guest star in the first episode.

The show's opening sequence is a satire on traditional crime-drama opening sequences, particularly those of M Squad and various Quinn Martin shows such as The Fugitive and particularly The New Breed (which also stars Nielsen).[9] Hank Simms, who had worked as an announcer for some of Martin's programs, announced the title of each episode,[9] though the spoken title never matches the title caption.[10][11] The sequence introduces Nielsen and North during a shootout,[12] and Abraham Lincoln impersonator Rex Hamilton, who dramatically returns gunfire to John Wilkes Booth, as his only appearance.[13]

Another recurring gag in the opening credits sequence is the "special guest star", a celebrity who is introduced but immediately murdered.[14] These special guest stars are Lorne Greene, Georg Stanford Brown, Robert Goulet, William Shatner, Florence Henderson, and William Conrad.[14][15][16][17] A scene with John Belushi, tied to blocks of concrete under water,[18] was filmed but replaced with footage of Henderson following Belushi's death before the episode was broadcast.[9] Belushi's death shocked Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, as they had joked about it after he had almost choked during the filming of the scene.[9] A list of possible celebrity death shots was included in the DVD release.[19]


The show was intended to mock police dramas in the same way in which Airplane! mocks disaster movies.[17] Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker wrote the pilot episode,[7] in which most straight lines were directly copied from an M Squad episode.[20] The pilot episode is a near scene-for-scene remake of "More Deadly", the opening episode of the second season of M Squad. Pat Proft, who had worked with Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker on The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and Airplane! (1980),[21] wrote the third episode.[22] Robert Wuhl was invited to join the writing staff after he had auditioned for the lead role in Airplane!. He co-wrote the show's second and sixth episodes with Tino Insana.[10][22][23] Both episodes contain cultural references to old movies such as On the Waterfront and The French Connection. In Wuhl's audio commentary for the DVD, he mentioned that it was a nice opportunity, but that he did not really feel a connection with the show, especially because of its short run.[10]


The first episode of Police Squad! was directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker. Two of the show's six episodes were directed by filmmaker Joe Dante, who recalled in 2008,

I knew the Zuckers from second unit on Rock 'n' Roll High School and Kentucky Fried Movie and had turned down Airplane! – don’t ask! When they got Police Squad! going, they asked me to do the second one. It only lasted six episodes, two of which I directed. ABC had no idea what to do with the show, which had no laugh track and resembled a rerun of a ’60s program. The network kept changing the time slot so no one could find it, and people casually switching it on thought it really was an old TV show! Like they did in their features, the boys used real TV episodes as their template, mostly a ’50s Lee Marvin series called M Squad. It was lots of fun to do and was the first thing I ever directed on a studio lot. I prefer the TV show to the later Naked Gun movies.[24]


ABC announced the cancellation of Police Squad! after four of its six episodes had aired in March 1982. The final two episodes were aired that summer. In an interview for the DVD release of the series, Nielsen said ABC entertainment president Tony Thomopoulos asserted Police Squad! was canceled because viewers had to pay close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor: "the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it".[25] Nielsen also thought the premise was more effective in the successful Naked Gun films because the much larger screen size in a cinema increases the efficacy of the visual gags. In its annual "Cheers and Jeers" issue, TV Guide magazine called the explanation for the cancellation "the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series".[26]

Home media[edit]

In 1985, Paramount Home Video first released all six episodes of the show on VHS, Betamax, and LaserDisc formats as two separate volumes: Police Squad!: Help Wanted! and More! Police Squad!, each with three episodes in their production order.[27][28]

Paramount and CBS DVD first released the series on DVD in 2006 in a keep case on one disc.[29] The episodes are in airing order from ABC. The DVD extras include production notes from network executives, a "freeze-frame" that was filmed but never used, bloopers, casting tests, and an interview with Nielsen.[30] Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, producer Robert K. Weiss, and writer Robert Wuhl recorded audio commentary for the first, third, and sixth episodes.[31] Critics universally praised how the show was still funny after more than 20 years.[32][8][33]

The series was released in Blu-ray format in the US on April 14, 2020.[34]


Naked Gun film series[edit]

After the cancellation of Police Squad!, ZAZ returned to films, creating the comedies Top Secret! and Ruthless People. At this point, they were able to identify a narrative to apply to the Police Squad! formula for a theatrical film by adding a romantic plotline, and the film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! was readily greenlit by Paramount.[3] It performed well at the box office, grossing around $78,756,177.[35] The film lead to the Naked Gun trilogy with two sequels, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991) and Naked Gun 33+13: The Final Insult (1994), were released. The Naked Gun 2+12: The Smell of Fear was considered the most successful of the three, grossing around $86,930,411,[36] and Naked Gun 33+13: The Final Insult grossed $51,132,598.[37] Roger Ebert rated the first movie 3+12 out of four stars and gave three stars to each of the two following films.[38]


A series of British advertisements for Red Rock Cider were made in the same style, with the opening titles changed to other names such as "Fraud Squad" or "Fried Squid", and featuring Leslie Nielsen. The advertisements were shown in British cinemas as well as on television. They were directed by John Lloyd, with such apparent success that Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker approached him to direct Naked Gun 33+13: The Final Insult, but he turned them down.[39]

During the WWE's SummerSlam 1994 pay-per-view event, the Police Squad! characters look for The Undertaker, who had previously vanished.[40]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, Police Squad! has an aggregate score of 90% based on 28 positive and three negative critic reviews. The website’s consensus reads: "Wacky, inventive, and endlessly quotable, Police Squad! is a hysterically funny leap forward for TV comedy that was tragically ahead of its time."[41]

Upon the home video release in 1985, Washington Post critic Tom Shales commented "People can rent them and laugh, and then cry that ABC was so cruel."[42] In 2009, the DVD set was nominated for a Satellite Award for Best DVD Release of a TV Show, though it lost to the DVD set of the eighth season of Fox's The Simpsons.[43] In 2013, TV Guide ranked it #7 on its list of 60 shows that were "Cancelled Too Soon".[44]

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, has said, "If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they'd have no problems keeping up, I think we've proved that."[45]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Leslie Nielsen Nominated [46]
Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
(Episode: "A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)")
Satellite Awards Best DVD Release of TV Shows The Complete Series Nominated [47]
Online Film & Television Association Awards Television Hall of Fame: Productions Season 1 Inducted [48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Police Squad!". The TVIV. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
  2. ^ The creators stated this in a featurette for The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.
  3. ^ a b c Gajewski, Ryan (December 21, 2023). "'Naked Gun' Turns 35: Team on Adapting Failed TV Series, Leslie Nielsen's Magic, Reboot Frustrations". The Hollywood Report. Retrieved December 22, 2023.
  4. ^ "Barnes and Noble". Police Squad! DVD Release. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2008.
  5. ^ "Police Squad! at TV Guide". Premise. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
  6. ^ "Dr. Joyce Brothers". TV.com. Archived from the original on March 31, 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Zucker, Jerry; Abrahams, Jim; Zucker, David; Weiss, Robert K. Police Squad: The Complete Series: Audio Commentary for "A Substantial Gift (A Bird in the hand)" (DVD). CBS Paramount.
  8. ^ a b Werts, Diane (November 10, 2006). "Badge of Humor – Short-Lived 1982 Series that Spoofed Cop Shows Comes with some Great Extras". Lexington Herald-Leader. p. 11.
  9. ^ a b c d Zucker, Jerry; Abrahams, Jim; Zucker, David; Weiss, Robert K. Police Squad: The Complete Series: Audio Commentary for "The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)" (DVD). CBS Paramount.
  10. ^ a b c Robert Wuhl. Police Squad: The Complete Series: Audio Commentary for "Testimony of Evil (Dead Man Don't Laugh)" (DVD). CBS Paramount.
  11. ^ McKerrew, Steve (July 24, 1991). "Quirky ' Police Squad !' returns". The Baltimore Sun. p. C10.
  12. ^ Abrotsky, Justin L. (November 29, 2010). "In Memory of Leslie Nielsen: The hilarious intro and ending to Police Squad!". Sun Sentinel.
  13. ^ Berhman, John (March 9, 1985). "Escondido teacher Rex Hamilton is dead at 60". The San Diego Union. p. II-1.
  14. ^ a b Bark, Ed (July 13, 1997). "Tired of TV? Try...UBN No hits, No hype. Just one critic's idea of the perfect prime-time week". The Dallas Morning News. p. 1C.
  15. ^ "Police Squad introduced clueless Frank Drebin −90210 makes debut on DVD". The Washington Times. November 9, 2006. p. C1.
  16. ^ Shales, Tom (July 1, 1982). "Okay, Hands Up! ' Police Squad !': Back And Copping Laughs". The Washington Post. p. M20.
  17. ^ a b Terrance, Vincent (1985). Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials: 1974–1984. VNR AG. p. 329. ISBN 978-0-918432-61-2.
  18. ^ Bark, Ed (December 29, 1985). "The Best of '85 (and a few duds, too!)". Dallas Morning News. p. 1C.
  19. ^ Police Squad: List of Celebrity Death Shots (DVD). CBS Paramount.
  20. ^ Carr, Jay (December 12, 1988). "Exposing a trio of film makers who take spoofs quite seriously". Boston Globe. p. 5C.
  21. ^ Baenen, Jeff (November 27, 2003). "Screenwriter just loves laughs". Deseret News. p. C4.
  22. ^ a b Reinhart, Mark S. (2009). Abraham Lincoln on screen: fictional and documentary portrayals on film and television. MacFarland. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-7864-3536-4.
  23. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (November 7, 2006). "Police Squad has arresting humor – Cult TV series only had six episodes". Houston Chronicle.
  24. ^ "The Den of Geek interview: Joe Dante". Den of Geek. Retrieved April 17, 2022.
  25. ^ Police Squad: The Complete Series (2006). CBS Paramount. ISBN 1-4157-2217-X
  26. ^ Ess, Ramsey (July 28, 2017). "A Lost Script from the Files of the 'Police Squad!'". www.vulture.com. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  27. ^ Burr, Ty (December 20, 1991). "Trigger-Happy". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  28. ^ Bark, Ed (December 29, 1985). "The Best of '85 (and a few duds, too !) – Videos". The Dallas Morning News. p. 1C.
  29. ^ Hicks, Chris (December 29, 2006). "The best of 2006: DVDs". Deseret News. p. W1.
  30. ^ Russo, Tom (December 31, 2006). "Extras – from commentaries to featurettes to complete alternative versions – make these discs extraordinary". The Boston Globe. p. 20N.
  31. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (November 7, 2006). "New on DVD: Police Squad has arresting humor – Cult TV series only had six episodes". Houston Chronicle. p. 2.
  32. ^ Owen, Rob (November 19, 2006). "Popular Discs – TV Shows on DVD are Gifts with Something Extra". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. GG8.
  33. ^ Barnhart, Aaron (December 6, 2006). "Police Squad: Big laughs from a little DVD set". Kansas City Star.
  34. ^ Police Squad!: The Complete Series Blu-ray Release Date April 14, 2020, retrieved May 29, 2020
  35. ^ "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!". BoxofficeMojo. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  36. ^ "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear". BoxofficeMojo. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  37. ^ "The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult". BoxofficeMojo. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  38. ^ "The Naked Gun movies". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved September 22, 2009.
  39. ^ Roberts, J.F., "The True History of the Black Adder", 2013, Random House
  40. ^ Reynolds, R.D.; Baer, Randy (2003). Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. pp. 168. ISBN 1-55022-584-7.
  41. ^ "Police Squad". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
  42. ^ Shales, Tom (July 24, 1985). "TV Could Take Lessons from Coke Executives". The Washington Post. p. 16.
  43. ^ "2006 11th Annual Satellite Awards". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on September 17, 2011. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  44. ^ Roush, Matt (June 3, 2013). "Cancelled Too Soon". TV Guide. pp. 20 and 21
  45. ^ "4 TV Shows That Should Have Lasted Longer". CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on October 8, 2010.
  46. ^ "Police Squad!". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved March 27, 2024.
  47. ^ "International Press Academy website – 2006 11th Annual SATELLITE Awards". Archived from the original on February 1, 2008.
  48. ^ "Television Hall of Fame: Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved March 27, 2024.

External links[edit]