The 1970s saw an over-abundance of hard-nosed crime dramas on television. Looking to break from the mold, NBC commissioned CHiPs, a lighter take on the procedural genre. Starring Erik Estrada as Officer Francis Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Officer Jonathan Andrew “Jon” Baker, the show was a massive hit and ran for six seasons. Today, it is remembered for its ability to mix light-hearted comedy with darker themes. This is everything there is to know about CHiPs.
Estrada Almost Left CHiPs In Its Fifth Season
When the fourth season of CHiPs ended, Erik Estrada engaged in a contract dispute with the shows production company. While the two were locked into negotiations, Caitlyn Jenner was hired to replace him. Jenner was an accomplished Olympian at the time and knew how to ride a motorcycle.
Eventually, Estrada and MGM came to an agreement on a new contract, allowing him to return to the series. Jenner ended up in seven episodes before her character was phased out.
Wilcox And Estrada Were Enemies Behind The Scenes
Considering the on-screen chemistry between Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox it would be easy to assume the two were best friends off-screen. Sadly, when the cameras stopped rolling, so did their love for each other.
Wilcox disliked Estrada so much that he even refused to invite him to his wedding in 1980. He believed Estrada was cast in show because of his looks and said, “Erik and I are just totally different human beings, and I can’t get a good relationship going.”
It Was A Family Show And The Officers Rarely Drew Their Weapons
In total, there were 139 episodes of CHiPs produced. In those episodes, the cops only drew their weapons three times and Officers Poncho and Jon never did. For a show about lawmen, that count comes off as pretty surprising.
The reason for the lack of weapon violence was because of the show’s timeslot. It aired at eight, which is usually reserved for family programming. Taking a more pacifist approach just made sense in that regard. “It was about helping pedestrians, people in trouble, the young kids who are straying,” said Estrada.
Estrada Broke Eight Ribs Doing A Stunt
During the filming of CHiPs, Erik Estrada insisted on doing his own stunts whenever possible. For six seasons he took plenty of bumps and bruises, but none were as death-defying as when he broke eight ribs.
During a take, Estrada was riding his motorcycle when he lost control. The actor slammed the bike’s brakes and was launched forward chest first into a parked car. Along with breaking eight ribs, he also broke his collarbone, sternum, and wrist. When he was healthy enough to return to work, MGM gave him a $100,000 Rolls Royce Corniche as a welcome back gift.
Wilcox Left The Show Because Of Estrada
By the end of the fifth season, the tension between Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada was too much to overcome. Wilcox decided to leave the show. To replace him for the sixth season, producers cast Tom Reilly as Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson.
The new partnership was not popular with fans. Ratings declined so much in the sixth season that CHiPs was canceled. It didn’t help that during filming, Reilly was arrested for driving under the influence by actual highway patrol officers.
Poncho Was An Inspiration To The Village People
According to an interview Erik Estrada gave with TV Guide, the police officer from The Village People was inspired by Poncho. When asked if he was okay with that, Estrada said, “Yeah, I know! I don’t have a problem with that. I met them when we were filming CHiPs.”
Victor was reportedly inspired by Ponch’s tight patrol uniform to create his musical character. Even though Estrada didn’t get top billing in CHiPs, he easily had a bigger pop cultural impact than Larry Wilcox.
Poncho Was Written As Italian
When CHiPs was being developed, the character of Frank Poncherello was of Italian descent. When casting began for the character, the plan was to hire an Italian American. Then Erik Estrada showed up.
While Larry Wilcox might claim Estrada only got the role because of his looks, another theory is that it’s because he punched a wall. During his audition, the actor messed up a line and took out his frustration on a nearby wall. The next thing you know, he was as Ponch.
Critics Hated CHiPs
When CHiPs premiered, critics greeted it with scathing reviews. One reviewer even went as far as to label the show “dreadful.” These comments must have had NBC second-guessing their decision to keep the show on the air.
The ratings for the first season didn’t help either. Sometimes fans and critics will disagree, but the number of viewers who tuned in to the first season of CHiPs seemed to share the critics’ consensus. Then the second season aired and everything changed.
A Timeslot Change Saved The Show
Originally airing on Thursday, CHiPs looked like a sure bet to be another forgotten television series. Still, NBC gave it a second season and moved it to Saturday. It was the only new show from the 1977 season that the network renewed. One of the reasons it got a second chance was that the president of NBC enjoyed it and wanted CHiPs to stay on the air.
The timeslot change proved to be lifesaving. Within no time at all CHiPs was regularly winning its timeslot. The show was officially a hit, and its stars became instant celebrities.
The Name Of The Show Was Changed For Syndication
After five seasons on the air, CHiPs was sold to syndication. Because season six would be airing at the same time as reruns, it was determined the name should be changed so people wouldn’t get confused. The only problem was that the new name was pretty confusing on its own.
Reruns of CHiPs were called CHiPs Patrol. The CHP in CHiPs stands for, “California Highway Patrol” though, making the use of the word “patrol” in CHiPs Patrol frustratingly redundant.
The Toys Were Potentially Toxic
As CHiPs became one of the most-watched shows on television in its second season, Mego was quick to jump on creating a toy line. And by quick, we mean dangerously quick. The toy company re-used parts of other toy lines and molded the figures out of potentially toxic plastic.
The poor quality of the toys was discovered when they sat on store shelves for too long. The plastic used to make them reacted to the packaging and turned the characters gray. Toy collectors call this condition “zombie disease.”
In 2010 Wilcox Found Himself On The Wrong Side Of The Law
More than 30 years after debuting as Officer Baker on CHiPs, Larry Wilcox found himself on the wrong side of the law. In 2010 he was arrested for security fraud after he was caught inappropriately funding his mining company.
To stay out of prison, Wilcox wore a wire for police in 2011 so they could catch the other two men involved with the scheme. When all was said and done, he was sentenced by a judge to three years of probation.
Estrada And Wilcox Got Back Together In 1998
Fifteen years after CHiPs aired its final episode, TNT brought back its stars for a reunion movie, CHiPs ’99. The made for television production reunited Erik Estrada with Larry Wilcox and centered around the officers stopping an automobile hijacking ring.
While there is no information about whether the two men got over their feud or not, there were also no reports of tension on the set. Then again, the movie only took 17 days to shoot, there wasn’t a lot of time for tensions to form.
A Big Screen Reboot Bombed
In 2017 Warner Brothers hired Dax Shepard to write, direct, and star in a big-screen reboot of CHiPs. He brought Michael Pena along with him for the ride to co-star as Ponch, even though it was believed the studio had previously promised the role to Wilmer Valderrama.
Critics hated the film, which changed the text of CHiPs to CHIPS. Audiences stayed away as well, and the movie finished its domestic run with just $18 million against a $25 million budget.
Estrada Is Now A Real Cop
Before becoming an actor, Erik Estrada wanted to become a police officer. Obviously that didn’t happen, but his dream to be a cop never faded. Then a miracle in happened. In 2006 he was deputized in Muncie, Indiana, as a reserve officer for a reality TV series.
Two years later he returned to Muncie to work a night patrol shift. Today, Estrada continues to advocate for positive change in the world and works in Southern Virginia for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
A Star Trek Actor Starred On CHiPs First
Before becoming the iconic character Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Michael Dorn starred as Officer Jebediah Turner on CHiPs. Dorn was featured in 60 episodes of the television series, although he rarely talks about the role.
In 1987, Dorn made his debut as Worf. The role of the Klingon warrior turned hero has defined his career ever since. His last appearance as Worf was in the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis, although we wouldn’t be surprised if he reprises the role again in the upcoming CBS All Access series Picard.
Another Star Trek Connection
A more obscure Star Trek connection comes from Robert Pine, who played Sgt. Getraer on CHiPs. His son is none other than actor Chris Pine, who became the second actor to step into the captain’s chair as Captain Kirk in Star Trek.
Since that movie was released in 2009, Pine has played Kirk two more times. A fourth Trek reboot film is in the works that will see him return to the role yet again.
There Was Almost A Ninja Spin-Off
The 1982 season finale of CHiPs didn’t turn out to be much of a season finale at all. NBC used the episode to air a “back door” pilot for a potential spin-off called Force Seven. The episode introduced eye-patch wearing, ninja trained leader of the LAPD elite martial arts squad.
The show was never given a series order, leaving it as one of the most unique episodes of CHiPs. Fred Dryer, who starred as the main character, was cast a year later in Hunter.
The Vehicles On The Show Were Authentic
As much as they could, producers tried to keep CHiPs as authentic as possible. One of the ways they accomplished this was buying real CHP and police bikes at auction. While not every vehicle on the show was authentic, a surprising number were.
In the same regard, any actor who played a character with a motorcycle needed a license. Before being cast, Estrada didn’t have a license and was made to get one before shooting started.
Randi Oakes Played Two Roles On The Show
Actress Randi Oakes became a regular cast member on CHiPs playing Bonnie Clark. Oddly enough, this character wasn’t the only one she played. Early in the shows run, the talented actress was a car thief in an episode.
Oakes’ appearance in that episode luckily wasn’t enough to stop producers from casting her in a more prominent role later on. As Clark, she appeared in 68 episodes. Can you imagine Bonnie Clark being played by anyone else?