Created by writer and real life detective Joseph Wambaugh, Police Story was an anthology series that aired on NBC from 1973 through 1978 and while it may not be as well remembered as other seventies cop/detective shows like Starsky & Hutch or Kojak it's influence on the modern day cop drama simply cannot be denied. For the first time here was a TV series that put realism first and foremost and which scratched below the surface of police work. While the series didn't feature a recurring cast in the traditional sense, it did at least make sure that all of its characters were completely human. While past cop shows had almost always portrayed officers are stand up guys, incapable of making mistakes or making bad judgment calls, Police Story took a more realistic approach and showed us that not only are cops human and capable of making mistakes like the rest of us but also in showing us how those flaws can have trickle down effects on their lives both in and out of the station. Always set in Los Angeles, the series also provides a great 'time capsule' of sorts and offers an interesting glimpse into the L.A. of the era, quite a different animal than the Los Angeles of 2011.
Again, though, it's the emotional resonance that makes this show as interesting as it is, the human side of the equation that pulls us in and makes us what to find out what happens next in any given episode. As the series was the brainchild of Joseph Wambaugh who had himself worked as a police officer for some time before putting pen to paper and churning out some popular novels, there is an air of experience and understanding behind the writing that peels back the layers of what is involved in law enforcement.
The anthology format allowed Wambaugh and his writing team, who he often put in contact with real life police officers, to worry less about continuity and ongoing character development and more about self contained stories that focused on different aspects of the job. Logic dictates that if you focus on one cop or even one group of cops within the same department that there's going to be a fair bit of repetition in terms of what cases those characters are going to be dealing with. The anthology format allowed Police Story to operate outside of those confines and instead delve into areas that viewers hadn't seen before. The opening TV movie, which showcases a cop played by Vic Morrow against a robber taking down grocery stores played by Chuck Connors differs very much from an episode in which a cop played by John Saxon takes down a credit card fraud ring. What both of those very different stories have in common, however, is the type of depth it requires to get viewers to care about the characters.
The episodes that make up the first season of Police Story are spread across the six discs in this collection as follows:
Disc One: Slow Boy / Dangerous Games / Requiem For An Informer
Disc Two: The Ten Year Honeymoon / Violent Homecoming / The Ho Chi Minh Trail / Collision Course
Disc Three: Death On Credit / The Big Walk / Man On A Rack / Line of Fire
Disc Four: Chain Of Command / Countdown: Part 1 / Countdown: Part 2 / Cop In The Middle
Disc Five: The Ripper / Country Boy / Big John Morrison
Disc Six: Wyatt Earp Syndrome / Fingerprint / Chief / The Gamble
Fans of seventies cop shows will appreciate seeing an episode entitled The Gambit in this set. Here Angie Dickinson plays a cop new to the beat that is tasked with bringing down a gambling operation. This episode is notable not just for solid performances from Dickinson and Joseph Campanella (who plays the leader of the gambling ring) but also for the fact that Dickinson and her character here would soon be spun off into their own ongoing regular TV series, Police Woman, which ran for four seasons on NBC from 1974 through 1978.
Production values are strong throughout the series and there's obviously a lot of attention paid to detail here in order to get things right and create a believable environment for the series' stories to play out in. The show also features an interesting array of talent throughout this first season, including the aforementioned actors but also including cameos from Ed Asner, Fred Williamson, Antonio Fargas, Dean Stockwell, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Louise, Rory Calhoun, Kim Hunter, Martin Balsam, Jan-Michael Vincent, Cameron Mitchell, Stuart Whitman, Edmond O'Brien, Christopher George, Sid Haig, Darren McGavin, Kurt Russell, Clu Gulager, Smokey Robinson and plenty more. By enlisting this caliber of talent, the series assured itself performances that would match the quality of the writing and the camera work.
So those looking for a simple police procedural series might not necessarily dig what this show does, but anyone who appreciates well written characters and wants to see more to their cop shows than crime scene investigations and chase scenes should appreciate this show. By focusing on characters as varied as a police chief and a records officer it's a series that winds up as thorough and varied as it is interesting and it holds up very well even by today's standards. While many of the methods and most of the technology involved in police work has changed in the thirty plus years since this first aired, there's still plenty of room for great acting and solid storytelling, something Police Story offers up in spades.
Each episode is shown in this set the same way that it was shown on broadcast television way back when - in 1.33.1 fullframe. Overall quality of the image is pretty strong, but some of the colors look to have faded a bit and there is some mild print damage evident throughout here and there and during the opening credits. Flesh tones look pretty clean and natural though, and the black levels remain pretty stable and solid throughout. Edge enhancement is a non-issue, as is edge enhancement though if you look for it you'll pick up on some mild aliasing. For the most part, however, these episodes really do look quite good.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is pretty clean without any noticeable hiss or distortion creeping into the mix at any given time. The odd scene sounds a little bit flat but overall this track takes care of business. The theme song in particular that starts off each episode on the set while the opening credits play through sounds quite good, as does a lot of the background music used throughout the episodes. Dialogue isn't ever hard to understand either, which is nice. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided on this release.
The only extra, aside from menus and episode selection, is an interview with series' creator Joseph Wambaugh who speaks for just over twenty minutes about how his work as a detective influenced his work as a writer which in turn lead to the creation of this series. He discusses his work as a novelist as well as his work as a screenwriter and has a keen memory about the time he spent working on this show. It might have been nice to see some sort of retrospective documentary included here, but this is still a solid inclusion in the set.
Police Story Season One is a rock solid set offering up loads of drama, action, adventure and excitement with its feet placed firmly on the ground thanks to some very realistic writing and believable situations. On top of that, the show benefits from some strong production values and an excellent revolving door cast of seventies stars. Shout! Factory's DVD is a bit light on extras but the interview with Wambaugh is a very welcome supplement and the episodes themselves look and sound pretty good. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.