14 Things You Might Not Know About CHiPs

NBC
NBC

As counter-programming to the heavy police procedural dramas of the 1970s, NBC’s CHiPs—which premiered on September 15, 1977—took a lighter approach to law enforcement. Amenable California Highway Patrol officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) rarely encountered anything more serious than a freeway pileup; families enjoyed the low mortality rate, and the series developed into a solid merchandising and ratings success. In honor of the series' 40th anniversary, cruise through 14 facts about co-star turmoil, off-screen accidents, and why your ChiPs toys had a tendency to turn toxic.

1. CAITLYN JENNER ONCE REPLACED ERIK ESTRADA.

Warner Bros.

When Estrada left the series during the beginning of its fifth season over a salary dispute, producers hired Olympian Caitlyn (then Bruce) Jenner to replace him: the athlete, who was already working for NBC Sports as a commentator, also happened to be an experienced motorcyclist. When Estrada came to an agreement with MGM and returned to work, Jenner’s character slowly evaporated from the series, lasting just seven episodes in total.

2. ERIK ESTRADA AND LARRY WILCOX DID NOT GET ALONG.

Onscreen, co-stars Estrada and Wilcox had each other’s backs. Off-camera? Different story. When Wilcox got married in 1980, he told People magazine he made a point of not inviting Estrada and noted the two had argued ever since the show began. "I thought it was asinine to pick someone just for being photogenic," he said of Estrada’s casting. “Erik and I are just totally different human beings, and I can't get a good relationship going." Describing it as an “ego problem,” Wilcox said Estrada was not his “best chum” and “never will be.”

3. THE COPS ALMOST NEVER DREW THEIR GUNS.

Warner Bros.

For a cop show, CHiPs had a pretty conservative approach to ammunition. According to some fan tallies, a gun was drawn by police in just three out of 139 episodes—and never by Estrada or Wilcox. Estrada told ABC News that the show’s 8 p.m. family time slot contributed to the pacifistic approach. “It was about helping pedestrians, people in trouble, the young kids who are straying,” he said.

4. ESTRADA WAS BADLY HURT DOING A STUNT.

Unlike many of the actors working in primetime today, Estrada insisted on doing many of his own motorcycle stunts. While shooting a 1979 episode, the actor was critically injured after he lost control of his bike while cruising around for a scene. Braking abruptly, he flew into a parked car chest-first, the bike landing on top of him; he broke eight ribs, his sternum, his collarbone, and his wrist. When he returned to work, MGM gifted him with a $100,000 Rolls Royce Corniche. (Not to be outdone, Wilcox flipped his motorcycle the following year and suffered a concussion.)   

5. WILCOX LEFT THE SHOW.

Warner Bros.

With the tension between Wilcox and Estrada unresolved, Wilcox elected to leave the show just as it was beginning its sixth and final season. The character of Baker was replaced with Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson (Tom Reilly), with the switch prompting a decline in ratings. Reilly made news in December of 1982 when United Press International reported he was arrested by actual motorcycle officers for suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs. Reilly pled innocent to the charges, his role was reduced, and the series was eventually canceled.  

6. ESTRADA INSPIRED THE VILLAGE PEOPLE COP.

Though he didn’t get top billing in the show, Estrada’s blindingly-white smile and good looks quickly became a pop culture staple. According to TV Guide, Estrada’s appearance had some major influence over Victor Willis of the Village People: Willis took notice of his extra-tight patrol uniform and adopted it for his role as the “cop” in the musical group.  

7. PONCH WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ITALIAN.

The role of Frank Poncherello was originally Poncherelli; producers envisioned an Italian character. They changed their minds when Estrada auditioned, possibly out of abject fear: Estrada punched a door during the meeting, frustrated he had flubbed a line.

8. IT WAS ALMOST CANCELED IN ITS FIRST SEASON.

Critics and media observers were indelicate in describing CHiPs’s ratings performance during its first season in 1977 to 1978, describing it as “dreadful.” The show’s fortunes improved in season two, when NBC moved it from Thursdays to Saturdays and where it began winning its time slot.  

9. THE TITLE FOR SYNDICATION MADE NO SENSE.

After completing five seasons, CHiPs was sold into syndication in the fall of 1982. To help avoid viewer confusion between reruns and new episodes, MGM re-titled it CHiPs Patrol. This was redundant, as “CHP” is an acronym for “California Highway Patrol,” making the complete series name California Highway Patrol Patrol.  

10. THE TOYS WEREN’T BUILT TO LAST.

Mego toy company was quick to pounce on the popularity of the series, offering 8-inch action figures and vehicles. Their CHiPs products were said to have reused a lot of molds from other lines—Fonzie’s motorcycle, Klingon boots from Star Trek—but the real disappointment came when the Ponch and Jon figures sat on shelves for too long. Owing to Mego’s uneven quality control, the plastic used for the bodies seemed to react poorly with the plastic on the packaging, tinting their heads from flesh-colored to a sickly gray. Collectors call it “zombie disease” and it’s reputed to be potentially toxic.

11. WILCOX GOT BUSTED.

In 2010, media had a delightful time with the irony of Wilcox finding himself on the other side of the law: The actor was arrested and charged with securities fraud. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Wilcox had unwittingly solicited kickbacks to fund his mining business from an undercover FBI agent in 2009. To help avoid serious repercussions, Wilcox wore a wire for authorities to nab two others involved in the scheme. In 2011, a judge sentenced him to three years of probation.

12. A REUNION MOVIE HAPPENED IN 1998.

Warner Bros.

CHiPs ’99 picked up the adventures of our asphalt-hugging heroes more than 15 years after the series went off the air. Wilcox returned to join Estrada in combating an automobile hijacking ring, with a subplot involving a dog obstinately pooping in Jon’s yard. The movie aired on TNT in October 1998; by all accounts, the co-stars got along this time. (Then again, the project took just 17 days to shoot.)

13. IT GOT A BIG-SCREEN REBOOT IN EARLY 2017.

Warner Bros. was betting big on nostalgia for the series when the studio enlisted Dax Shepard to write, direct and co-star in a relatively straight-faced adaptation. Previously, Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show) had allegedly earned an informal commitment to play Ponch after showing up to a studio meeting in a California motorcycle cop uniform and saying, “Funny, right?" But Michael Peña ended up playing the role.

14. ESTRADA BECAME A REAL COP.

Estrada had been quoted as saying his original intention was to become a police officer before he got into acting. That didn’t quite work out, but he eventually got his chance. In 2006, Estrada became a reserve officer for Muncie, Indiana’s police force. Originally deputized for a reality series, he returned in 2008 to work a night patrol shift. He currently works for the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.    

10 Killer Gifts for True Crime Fans

Ulysses Press/Little A
Ulysses Press/Little A

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Humans have a strange and lasting fascination with the dark and macabre. We’re hooked on stories about crime and murder, and if you know one of those obsessives who eagerly binges every true crime documentary and podcast that crosses their path, you’re in luck—we’ve compiled a list of gifts that will appeal to any murder mystery lover.

1. Donner Dinner Party: A Rowdy Game of Frontier Cannibalism!; $15

Chronicle Books/Amazon

The infamous story of the Donner party gets a new twist in this social deduction party game that challenges players to survive and eliminate the cannibals hiding within their group of friends. It’s “lots of fun accusing your friends of eating human flesh and poisoning your food,” one reviewer says.

Buy it: Amazon

2. A Year of True Crime Page-a-Day Calendar; $16

Workman Calendars/Amazon

With this page-a-day calendar, every morning is an opportunity to build your loved one's true crime chops. Feed their morbid curiosity by reading about unsolved cases and horrifying killers while testing their knowledge with the occasional quizzes sprinkled throughout the 313-page calendar (weekends are combined onto one page).

Buy it: Amazon

3. Bloody America: The Serial Killers Coloring Book; $10

Kolme Korkeudet Oy/Amazon

Some people use coloring books to relax, while others use them to dive into the grisly murders of American serial killers. Just make sure to also gift some red colored pencils before you wrap this up for your bestie.

Buy it: Amazon

4. The Serial Killer Cookbook: True Crime Trivia and Disturbingly Delicious Last Meals from Death Row's Most Infamous Killers and Murderers; $15

Ulysses Press/Amazon

This macabre cookbook contains recipes for the last meals of some of the world’s most famous serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, and John Wayne Gacy. This cookbook covers everything from breakfast (seared steak with eggs and toast, courtesy of Ted Bundy) to dessert (chocolate cake, the last request of Bobby Wayne Woods). Each recipe includes a short description of the killer who requested the meal.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Ripped from the Headlines!: The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes; $15

Little A/Amazon

In this book, true crime historian Harold Schechter sorts out the truth and fiction that inspired some of Hollywood’s best-known murder movies—including Psycho (1960), Scream (1996), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). As Schechter makes clear, sometimes reality is even a little more sick and twisted than the movies show.

Buy it: Amazon

6. The Deadbolt Mystery Society Monthly Box; $22/month

CrateJoy

Give the murder mystery lover in your life the opportunity to solve a brand-new case every single month. Each box includes the documents and files for a standalone mystery story that can be solved alone or with up to three friends. To crack the case, you’ll also need a laptop, tablet, or smartphone connected to the internet—each mystery includes interactive content that requires scanning QR codes or watching videos.

Buy it: Cratejoy

7. In Cold Blood; $10

Vintage/Amazon

Truman Capote’s 1965 classic about the murder of a Kansas family is considered by many to be the first true-crime nonfiction novel ever published. Capote’s book—still compulsively readable despite being written more than 50 years ago—follows the mysterious case from beginning to end, helping readers understand the perspectives of the victims, investigators, and suspects in equal time.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide; $13

Forge Books/Amazon

Any avid true crime fan has at least heard of My Favorite Murder, the popular podcast that premiered in 2016. This book is a combination of practical wisdom, true crime tales, and personal stories from the podcast’s comedic hosts. Reviewers say it’s “poignant” and “worth every penny.”

Buy it: Amazon

9. I Like to Party Mug; $12

LookHUMAN/Amazon

This cheeky coffee mug says it all. Plus, it’s both dishwasher- and microwave-safe, making it a sturdy gift for the true crime lover in your life.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Latent Fingerprint Kit; $60

Crime Scene Store/Amazon

Try your hand (get it?!) at being an amateur detective with this kit that lets you collect fingerprints left on most surfaces. It may not be glamorous, but it could help you solve the mystery of who put that practically empty carton back in the refrigerator when it barely contained enough milk for a cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

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12 Spirited Facts About How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Each year, millions of Americans welcome the holiday season by tuning into their favorite TV specials. For most people, this includes at least one viewing of the 1966 animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Adapted from Dr. Seuss’s equally famous children’s book by legendary animator Chuck Jones, How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired more than 50 years ago, on December 18, 1966. Here are 12 facts about the TV special that will surely make your heart grow three sizes this holiday season.

1. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel And Chuck Jones previously worked together on Army training videos.

During World War II, Geisel joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as commander of the Animation Department for the First Motion Picture Unit, a unit tasked with creating various training and pro-war propaganda films. It was here that Geisel soon found himself working closely with Chuck Jones on an instructional cartoon called Private Snafu. Originally classified as for-military-personnel-only, Private Snafu featured a bumbling protagonist who helped illustrate the dos and don’ts of Army safety and security protocols.

2. It was because of their previous working relationship that Ted Geisel agreed to hand over the rights to The Grinch to Chuck Jones.

After several unpleasant encounters in relation to his previous film work—including the removal of his name from credits and instances of pirated redistribution—Geisel became notoriously “anti-Hollywood.” Because of this, he was reluctant to sell the rights to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. However, when Jones personally approached him about making an adaptation, Geisel relented, knowing he could trust Jones and his vision.

3. Even with Ted Geisel’s approval, the special almost didn’t happen.

By Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Whereas today’s studios and production companies provide funding for projects of interest, television specials of the past, like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, had to rely on company sponsorship in order to get made. While A Charlie Brown Christmas found its financier in the form of Coca-Cola, How the Grinch Stole Christmas struggled to find a benefactor. With storyboards in hand, Jones pitched the story to more than two dozen potential sponsors—breakfast foods, candy companies, and the like—all without any luck. Down to the wire, Jones finally found his sponsor in an unlikely source: the Foundation for Commercial Banks. “I thought that was very odd, because one of the great lines in there is that the Grinch says, ‘Perhaps Christmas doesn’t come from a store,’” Jones said of the surprise endorsement. “I never thought of a banker endorsing that kind of a line. But they overlooked it, so we went ahead and made the picture.”

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas had a massive budget.

Coming in at over $300,000, or $2.2 million in today’s dollars, the special’s budget was unheard of at the time for a 26-minute cartoon adaptation. For comparison’s sake, A Charlie Brown Christmas’s budget was reported as $96,000, or roughly $722,000 today (and this was after production had gone $20,000 over the original budget).

5. Ted Geisel wrote the song lyrics for the special.

No one had a way with words quite like Dr. Seuss, so Jones felt that Geisel should provide the lyrics to the songs featured in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

6. Fans requested translations of the “Fahoo Foraze” song.

True to his persona’s tongue-twisting trickery, Geisel mimicked sounds of classical Latin in his nonsensical lyrics. After the special aired, viewers wrote to the network requesting translations of the song as they were convinced that the lyrics were, in fact, real Latin phrases.

7. Thurl Ravenscroft didn’t receive credit for his singing of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The famous voice actor and singer, best known for providing the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, wasn’t recognized for his work in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Because of this, most viewers wrongly assumed that the narrator of the special, Boris Karloff, also sang the piece in question. Upset by this oversight, Geisel personally apologized to Ravenscroft and vowed to make amends. Geisel went on to pen a letter, urging all the major columnists that he knew to help him rectify the mistake by issuing a notice of correction in their publications.

8. Chuck Jones had to find ways to fill out the 26-minute time slot.

Because reading the book out loud only takes about 12 minutes, Jones was faced with the challenge of extending the story. For this, he turned to Max the dog. “That whole center section where Max is tied up to the sleigh, and goes down through the mountainside, and has all those problems getting down there, was good comic business as it turns out,” Jones explained in TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas special, which is a special feature on the movie’s DVD. “But it was all added; it was not part of the book.” Jones would go on to name Max as his favorite character from the special, as he felt that he directly represented the audience.

9. The Grinch’s green coloring was inspired by a rental car.

Warner Home Video

In the original book, the Grinch is illustrated as black and white, with hints of pink and red. Rumor has it that Jones was inspired to give the Grinch his iconic coloring after he rented a car that was painted an ugly shade of green.

10. Ted Geisel thought the Grinch looked like Chuck Jones.

When Geisel first saw Jones’s drawings of the Grinch, he exclaimed, “That doesn’t look like the Grinch, that looks like you!” Jones’s response, according to TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas Special: “Well, it happens.”

11. At one point, the special received a “censored” edit.

Over the years, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been edited in order to shorten its running time (in order to allow for more commercials). However, one edit—which ran for several years—censored the line “You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch” from the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Additionally, the shot in which the Grinch smiles creepily just before approaching the bed filled with young Whos was deemed inappropriate for certain networks and was removed.

12. The special’s success led to both a prequel and a crossover special.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Given the popularity of the Christmas special, two more Grinch tales were produced: Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat. Airing on October 29, 1977, Halloween is Grinch Night tells the story of the Grinch making his way down to Whoville to scare all the Whos on Halloween. In The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat, which aired on May 20, 1982, the Grinch finds himself wanting to renew his mean spirit by picking on the Cat in the Hat. Unlike the original, neither special was deemed a classic. But this is not to say they weren’t well-received; in fact, both went on to win Emmy Awards.