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.    

12 Good Ol' Facts About The Dukes of Hazzard

Getty Images
Getty Images

When The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on January 26, 1979, it was intended to be a temporary patch in CBS’s primetime schedule until The Incredible Hulk returned. Only nine episodes were ordered, and few executives at the network had any expectation that the series—about two amiable brothers at odds with the corrupt law enforcement of Hazzard County—would become both a ratings powerhouse and a merchandising bonanza. Check out some of these lesser-known facts about the Duke boys, their extended family, and the gravity-defying General Lee.

1. CBS's chairman hated The Dukes of Hazzard.

CBS chairman William Paley never quite bought into the idea of spinning his opinion to match the company line. Having built CBS from a radio station to one of the “Big Three” television networks, he had harvested talent as diverse as Norman Lear and Lucille Ball, a marked contrast to the Southern-fried humor of The Dukes of Hazzard. In his 80s when it became a top 10 series and seeing no reason to censor himself, Paley repeatedly and publicly described the show as “lousy.”

2. The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee got 35,000 fan letters a month.


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While John Schneider and Tom Wopat were the ostensible stars of the show, both the actors and the show's producers quickly found out that the main attraction was the 1969 Dodge Charger—dubbed the General Lee—that trafficked brothers Bo and Luke Duke from one caper to another. Of the 60,000 letters the series was receiving every month in 1981, 35,000 wanted more information on or pictures of the car.

3. Dennis Quaid wanted to be The Dukes of Hazzard's Luke Duke—on one condition.

When the show began casting in 1978, producers threw out a wide net searching for the leads. Dennis Quaid was among those interested in the role of Luke Duke—which eventually went to Wopat—but he had a condition: he would only agree to the show if his then-wife, P.J. Soles, was cast at the Dukes’ cousin, Daisy. Soles wasn’t a proper fit for the supporting part, which put Quaid off; Catherine Bach was eventually cast as Daisy.

4. John Schneider pretended to be a redneck for his Dukes of Hazzard audition.

New York native Schneider was only 18 years old when he went in to read for the role of Bo Duke. The problem: producers wanted someone 24 to 30 years old. Schneider lied about his age and passed himself off as a Southern archetype, strutting in wearing a cowboy hat, drinking a beer, and spitting tobacco. He also told them he could do stunt driving. It was a good enough performance to land him the show.

5. The Dukes of Hazzard co-stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat met while taking a poop.

After Schneider was cast, the show needed to locate an actor who could complement Bo. Stage actor Wopat was flown in for a screen test; Schneider happened to be in the bathroom when Wopat walked in after him. The two began talking about music—Schneider had seen a guitar under the stall door—and found they had an easy camaraderie. After flushing, the two did a scene. Wopat was hired immediately.

6. Daisy's Dukes needed a tweak on The Dukes of Hazzard.

Bach’s omnipresent jean shorts were such a hit that any kind of cutoffs quickly became known as “Daisy Dukes,” after her character. But they were so skimpy that the network was concerned censors wouldn’t allow them. A negotiation began, and it was eventually decided that Bach would wear some extremely sheer pantyhose to make sure there were no clothing malfunctions.

7. Nancy Reagan was fan of The Dukes of Hazzard's Daisy.

Shirley Moore, Bach’s former grade school teacher, went on to work in the White House. After Bach sent her a poster, she was surprised to hear back that then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was enamored with it. “I’m the envy of the White House and I’m having your poster framed,” Moore wrote in a letter. “Mrs. Reagan saw the picture and fell in love with it.” Bach sent more posters, which presumably became part of the decor during the Reagan administration.

8. The Dukes of Hazzard's stars had some very bizarre contract demands.

Wopat and Schneider famously walked off the series in 1982 after demanding a cut of the show’s massive merchandising revenue—which was, by one estimate, more than $190 million in 1981 alone. They were replaced with Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, “cousins” of the Duke boys, who were reviled by fans for being scabs. The two leads eventually came back, but it wasn’t the only time Warner Bros. had to deal with irate actors. James Best, who portrayed crooked sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, refused to film five episodes because he had no private dressing room in which to change his clothes; the production just hosed him down when he got dirty. Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” the mechanic, briefly left because he wanted his character to sport a beard and producers preferred he be clean-shaven.

9. A miniature car was used for some stunts in The Dukes of Hazzard.

As established, the General Lee was a primary attraction for viewers of the series. For years, the show wrecked dozens of Chargers by jumping, crashing, and otherwise abusing them, which created some terrific footage. For its seventh and final season in 1985, the show turned to a miniature effects team in an effort to save on production costs: it was cheaper to mangle a Hot Wheels-sized model than the real thing. “It was a source of embarrassment to all of us on the show,” Wopat told E!.

10. The Dukes of Hazzard's famous "hood slide" was an accident.

A staple—and, eventually, cliché—of action films everywhere, the slide over the hood was popularized by Tom Wopat. While it may have been tempting to take credit, Wopat said it was unintentional and that the first time he tried clearing the hood, the car’s antenna wound up injuring him.

11. The Dukes of Hazzard cartoon went international.


YouTube

Warner Bros. capitalized on the show’s phenomenal popularity with an animated series, The Dukes, which was produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired in 1983. Taking advantage of the form, the Duke boys traveled internationally, racing Boss Hogg through Greece or Hong Kong. Perhaps owing to the fact that the live-action series was already considered enough of a cartoon, the animated series only lasted 20 episodes.

12. In 2015, Warner Bros. banned the Confederate flag from The Dukes of Hazzard merchandising.

At the time the series originally aired, little was made of the General Lee sporting a Confederate flag on its hood. In 2015, after then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley spoke out against the depiction of the flag in popular culture, Warner Bros. elected to stop licensing products with the original roof. The company announced that all future Dukes merchandise would drop the design element. Schneider disagreed with the decision, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Is the flag used as such in other applications? Yes, but certainly not on the Dukes ... Labeling anyone who has the flag a ‘racist’ seems unfair to those who are clearly ‘never meanin’ no harm.'”

8 Surprising Facts About Paul Newman

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With roles as varied as pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson in 1961’s The Hustler (and 1986's The Color of Money) and alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin in 1982’s The Verdict, Paul Newman never conformed to type. The versatile actor spent decades as a movie star, auto racer, and part-time salad dressing pitchman. In honor of what would have been Newman’s 95th birthday on January 26, 2020, take a look at some lesser-known details of the performer’s life and career.

1. Paul Newman originally wanted to be a football player.

Born in Cleveland and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Paul Newman was the offspring of Arthur, a sporting goods store owner, and Teresa, whose love of theater eventually proved contagious. But Newman originally had his sights set on a sports career. He played football in high school and college before enlisting in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, where he served as a radio operator (as he was ineligible to be a pilot due to being colorblind).

When Newman returned home in 1946, he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio on a football scholarship. After getting arrested for fighting and being kicked off the team, Newman decided to shift his major to theater. He eventually wound up in summer stock and then the Yale School of Drama before heading off to be a full-time actor in New York.

2. Paul Newman thought his first film was the worst movie ever made.

After stints on stage and in television, including roles in Playhouse 90, Newman was offered the starring role in 1954’s The Silver Chalice, about a Greek slave who crafts the cup used during the Last Supper. While the $1000 weekly salary was welcome, the film was not. Newman later asked friends to sit through it while drubbing it as the worst film ever made. He had better luck two years later when he played boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). In 1958, Newman earned his first of 10 Academy Award nominations for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

3. Paul Newman was often mistaken for Marlon Brando.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward standing outdoors, circa 1962
Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward, circa 1962.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Early in their respective careers, Newman was regularly approached by people who thought he was Marlon Brando. Rather than correct them, he would oblige their request for an autograph by signing, “Best Wishes, Marlon Brando.”

4. Paul Newman frequently enjoyed faking his own death.

Newman, who was described by most who knew him as an affable man, had a mischievous streak that often manifested in practical jokes on his directors. A frequent target was George Roy Hill, who directed Newman in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1973’s The Sting, and 1977’s Slap Shot. Newman cut Hill’s desk and car in half during filming of the first two films. While making Slap Shot, he crawled behind the wheel of a wrecked car and pretended he had been in an accident, much to Hill’s horror.

While making 1960’s Exodus, Newman pranked director Otto Preminger by tossing a dummy off a building knowing Preminger would think it was him: Preminger collapsed in shock. He repeated the joke during shooting of 1973’s The MacKintosh Man, tossing another dummy off a 60-foot building in front of director John Huston.

5. A movie introduced Paul Newman to racing.

It was starring in the 1969 racing film Winning that led Newman down a path of competitive racing in his private life. In 1972, Newman started driving on an amateur level before winning his first professional race in 1982. At age 70, he was part of the winning team in the 1995 Daytona 24-Hours sports car endurance race and continued to drive through 2005. The hobby was one of the few things that could get Newman, who was notoriously press-shy, to open up to media. “I’ll always talk about racing because the people are interesting and fun, the sport is a lot more exciting than anything else I do, and nobody cares that I’m an actor,” Newman said. “I wish I could spend all my time at the racetrack.”

6. Richard Nixon considered Paul Newman an enemy.

Actor Paul Newman is pictured in Venice, Italy in 1963
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

President Richard Nixon, who was no stranger to controversy, liked to keep tabs on people he considered volatile and in opposition to his politics. While that normally included political figures, his “enemies list” also included Newman. The actor earned the honor by supporting 1968 presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and being an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Oddly, Newman and Nixon had some personal history: Both men shared use of a Jaguar on loan from an automobile dealer. When Newman learned that Nixon was driving the car during part of the week, he left a note saying Nixon should find no trouble operating a car with a “tricky clutch,” a nod to Nixon’s “Tricky Dick” nickname. When Nixon gathered his list of rivals in 1971, Newman’s name was on it. The actor later got a copy and had it framed.

7. Martha Stewart helped put Paul Newman’s salad dressing on the map.

Today it's not uncommon for major actors to lend their images to food and alcoholic beverages. In the early 1980s, it was unusual, though Newman wasn’t looking to make history—only salad dressing. The actor enjoyed mixing an oil and vinegar blend and giving it out to friends and family around the holidays. With friend A.E. Hotchner, Newman bottled a batch and dispensed it over the 1980 Christmas season. Martha Stewart, who was then a caterer, was living in Newman's neighborhood at the time and reported a blind taste test was in favor of the dressing. Newman agreed to put his face on the bottle and call it Newman’s Own. The dressing and the foods to come—including spaghetti sauce—generated profits that Newman donated entirely to charity. As of 2015, the company has delivered an estimated $430 million to charitable causes.

8. Paul Newman once offered part of his salary to a co-star.

While making the 1998 film Twilight with Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, Newman was surprised to discover that both he and Hackman were making considerably more than Sarandon, despite all three receiving equal billing. Sarandon told the BBC in 2018 that Newman then offered to give up a portion of his salary to make things equitable.

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