In 1961 the first police-themed sitcom came to television. Its name was Car 54, Where Are You? Running on NBC for 60 one half-hour episodes, this black and white program was often very funny.
Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross were the program's stars. Gwynne played Officer Francis Muldoon, and Ross played Muldoon's partner Gunther Toody.
The two characters were opposites in many ways. Muldoon was tall and thin while Toody was short and heavy-set. Toody was the dumb one of the bunch. A hen-pecked married man, he was also fairly inquisitive. Muldoon, meanwhile, was a shy bachelor who lived with his mother. Together they worked out of the fictional 53rd Precinct, patrolling their area of New York City in Car 54.
Both men were kind-hearted and liked by the neighborhood residents. However, their misadventures often embarrassed their superior, Captain Martin Block (played by Paul Reed).
The program's popular theme song (words by Nat Hiken, music by John Strauss) says it all:
"There's a holdup in the Bronx,
Brooklyn's broken out in fights.
There's a traffic jam in Harlem,
That's backed up to Jackson Heights.
There's a scout troop short a child,
Krushchev's due at Idlewild...
CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU???!!!"
The comedy was aided by good writing and good acting. Other people to appear on the show either as semi-regulars or a guest stars included Larry Storch (F-Troop), Ossie Davis, Wally Cox (Mr. Peepers), Charlotte Rae, Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz) and Nipsey Russell. Shari Lewis, the ventriloquist and creator of the children's puppet character Lamb Chop, appeared in a couple of episodes. So did several well-known boxers, namely Rocky Graziano, Jake La Motta and Suger Ray Robinson. And Al Lewis, later Grandpa Munster to Fred Gwynne's Herman Munster, was a semi-regular, playing Officer Leo Schnauser.
A theatrical movie of the same name and based upon the original show was made in 1994, but it was poorly done and panned by most critics. The original series, however, was very good, and is well worth viewing if you ever get a chance.
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