"One-Adam-12, no warrant.
It took over three years for someone to come out with season two, but now that Shout! Factory looks to be picking up some of Universal's leftover TV library titles, we may eventually see the entire Adam-12 series out on disc. And how great will that be? Executive Producers Jack Webb's and Robert A. Cinader's docudrama ode to the highly trained uniformed LAPD police officer, Adam-12 may play "square" to some new viewers who have grown up on the fashionably edgy, "morally equivalent" cops-and-robbers/police procedurals of late. But during its run, Adam-12 was a hyper-realistic, sympathetic portrayal of the men in blue who patrolled the streets, to serve and protect us, and it influenced every single cop show that came after it. Shout! Factory has bettered Universal's first season release with some socko extras here, making Adam-12 - Season Two a must-have for vintage TV fans.
A brief rundown of the show. Patrolman Pete Malloy (Martin Milner), a seven-year veteran of the world's most highly trained police force, the Los Angeles Police Department, lost a long-time partner in a shoot-out the year before, and has taken on the responsibility of helping to train Probationary Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord). Each episode shows the officers, usually assigned to a patrol car, policing their assigned area and encountering a wide range of situations that run from the mundane (community relations work with school children) to the intense (a SWAT situation with a deadly sniper). While both officers have benefited from the intense procedural training that comes with being a LAPD police officer, there is naturally a little bit of friction between the partners, based mostly on their own levels of experience. Malloy, who has the job down pat, keeps a watchful eye on his younger, greener partner, who this season, allows his personal feelings about his wife, Jean (Mikki Jamison), having a baby, as well as his frustration at the more difficult aspects of the job, to (slightly) affect his performance. Malloy's and Reed's immediate superior, Sergeant MacDonald (William Boyett) is mindful of this questionable aspect of Reed's makeup, and asks Malloy to keep him informed. Malloy agrees, but he's solidly behind his partner, and believes he'll make an even better officer than himself - with time, patience, and experience.
I can't say where Adam-12 is today in the popular culture; I know my kids didn't have a clue about the show, which was a bit of culture shock for me (although I should have guessed). Growing up in the early seventies, Reed and Malloy were the template for any reference to a police officer (how many times did you go around saying, "One-Adam-12, see the man..." or "One-Adam-12, roger," when you were a kid?). I suspect now they may seem quaint or square in comparison to the myriad number of TV cops that have crossed the big and small screen in the four decades since Adam-12 first premiered. But ironically, as big and small screen police officers get more and more "outsized" and outrageous and neurotic and quirky in their behavior, Pete and Jim, despite the rigid formalism of producer Webb's design, look more and more like the real police officers I know: dedicated professionals who, despite the intense pressures of the job on their home lives, their families, and their own makeup, constantly strive to improve their skills, while acknowledging that they're indeed human, and that they can, and will, sometimes make mistakes. During a time in history when a left-wing media and media industry shamelessly championed artists and pundits who called authority figures like Reed and Malloy "pigs," Adam-12 was like a breathe of fresh air to the vast "silent majority" who, although they didn't enjoy getting that parking ticket from their local police officers, understood that the police were on their side. They weren't the enemy.
Maybe that's why the show still plays so well, forty years later, despite some obviously outdated aspects to the production (police procedures having evolved tremendously since the late '60s). Adam-12 humanizes these officers (I hesitate to say, "ordinary officers," because at the time, and I would imagine still to this day, an officer in the LAPD received far more rigorous training than an average patrolman in an average American city), and lets the viewer see the decidedly non-glamorous aspects of routine police work. Much like he did in Dragnet, Jack Webb, with his frequent collaborator Robert Cinader, elevate the art of police work not by glamorizing it in any way (there was nothing glamorous about Joe Friday's life), but by showing how the men and women who in engage in it, are professionals dedicated to serving their communities through upholding the letter of the law. Pete and Jim are career officers; they see it as their duty, a higher duty, to perform their jobs at the absolute peak of professionalism because lives may be at stake if they don't. Adam-12 doesn't need to glamorize their duties and personal lives; the true heroism of their work comes when the viewer sees their dedication to the law, to strictly following regulations, and to helping the people they serve - in even the most routine tasks.
To its credit, Adam-12 doesn't show Reed and Malloy as perfect enforcers of "The Law," either. They make mistakes here. In a couple of episodes this season, Reed blows his cool when he's dogged by some freelance reporters looking for dirt on cops, and when he busts a child sex offender. Malloy is sympathetic to Reed's distress, and to a degree, so is Sergeant MacDonald. But everyone understands, including Reed, that the job comes first, and that if you can't cut it, you're out. There's none of that recent tendency to whinge over one's own self-worth or self-esteem or "feelings," over and above the conditions and requirements of a job, that we've all seen so much of in the decades following the "Me First" generation. In this case, police work comes first, and personal feelings second, and there are enormous responsibilities that Malloy and Reed have to shoulder, day in and day out. If Reed can't hack it because he's too sensitive to the grim realities of crime (a surprisingly constant worry in the episodes in this second season), he's out. That's professionalism. And critically, Adam-12 doesn't always wind up its tidy 25-minute episodes with a happy ending (in fact, most of the episodes don't). Unlike Dragnet, where suspects were shown at the end of every episode, properly caught and convicted by the criminal justice system, many criminals in Adam-12 get away with the crime, or their ultimate fate is unknown as the series acknowledges that the rule of law is a far more complex animal than one that properly punishes a criminal each and every time.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Adam-12's Webb-stylized production is a perfect marriage of form and content. While Adam-12's sympathetic portrayal of Reed and Malloy was perhaps the first time on TV where "ordinary cops" were elevated to professionals, producer Webb still concentrates much of Adam-12's plots around police procedures, giving the episodes a documentary feel that's quite remarkable when you compare it to most police shows before and after its debut. Certainly, a few "Webb-isms" creep into the show - the use of rapid-fire questions between people to get out important exposition, a torrent of harsh facts laid out by an authoritative police officer to cow a defiant criminal, the obsession with getting even the smallest bits of procedure correct - but aside from those (delightful) hallmarks, Adam-12 often plays like those 16mm instructional films we saw back in elementary school (indeed, episodes of Adam-12 were for years used as additional training tools for police forces around the world). There are critics who despise Webb's restrictive schematic in camera framing and editing patterns, but I find real beauty in them: a clean, concise, classical framework that achieves a rhythmic power in its simplicity and unending uniformity.
Adam-12, in its sophomore outing for the 1969-1970 television season, still hadn't managed to crack the Top Thirty in the Nielsen's ratings. Getting clobbered by being run directly across from long-time favorite My Three Sons over on CBS (15th for the year in the Nielsen's), whatever traction Adam-12 was picking up came from its follow-up program, The NBC Saturday Night Movie (24th for the year), a reliable ratings' hit for sixteen straight years. Certainly The Andy Williams Show wasn't doing much as a lead-in for Adam-12, but ratings were decent enough for a third go-around for Malloy and Reed, where they would finally hit Nielsen paydirt, winding up with a healthy, successful seven-year run.
Here are the 26, one-half hour episodes of the four-disc set, Adam-12 - Season Two, as described on the DVD slimcases:
Log 15 - Exactly One Hundred Yards
Log 153 - Find Me a Needle
Log 52 - Good Cop: Handle with Care
Log 23 - Pig is a Three Letter Word
Log 83 - A Different Thing
Log 103 - A Sound Like Thunder
Log 63 - Baby
Log 93 - Once a Junkie
Log 123 -- Courtroom
Log 143 - Cave
Log 142 - As High as You Are
Log 43 - Hostage
Log 34 - Astro
Log 14 - S.W.A.T.
Log 64 - Bottom of the Bottle
Log 54 - Impersonation
Log 24 - A Rare Occasion
Log 124 - Airport
Log 94 - Vengeance
Log 104 - The Bomb
Log 74 - Light Duty
Log 114 - The Hero
Log 134 - Child Stealer
Log 144 - Bank Robbery
Log 44 - Attempted Bribery
Log 173 - Shoplift
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.