Police Squad!

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Still from "Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)"[1]

My name is Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant, Police Squad. There'd been a recent wave of gorgeous fashion models found naked and unconscious in laundromats on the West Side. Unfortunately, I was assigned to investigate holdups of neighborhood credit unions. I was across town doing my laundry when I got the call on the double killing. It took me twenty minutes to get there. My boss was already on the scene.


After the success of the movie Airplane! in 1980, Zucker, Abrams and Zucker returned to television, resulting in Police Squad! A blatant parody of 1950s through 1970s-vintage cop shows (specifically 1957's M Squad and practically every Quinn Martin Productions crime drama programs ever made), this Half-Hour Comedy featured Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin, and filled its half hour with an incredible panoply of fast-paced and hard-hitting puns, surreal non-sequiturs and over-the-top sight gags of the kind that had become familiar thanks to the ZAZ movies. it was broadcast on ABC in 1982.

Unfortunately, ABC canceled the program after only six episodes, with network head Tony Thermopolous giving as the reason that the show required the viewer to pay too much attention -- a pronouncement that earned Thermopolous and the network a considerable amount of derision (TV Guide called it, "The dumbest reason to cancel a TV series"). Ironically, the producers themselves were actually grateful, as the six episodes they made were already stretching their ideas thin and they knew they'd never be able to keep up the level of quality much longer. To this day the show is remembered with fondness by many as a program that respected (and tested) the intelligence of its viewers even while making them roll on the floor with laughter. The entire series was released on DVD in 2006.

Zucker, Abrams and Zucker eventually revived the show (and reused many of its gags) in The Naked Gun feature films.

Tropes used in Police Squad! include:
  • Almighty Janitor: Johnny the shoeshine guy knows everything and will tell you about it--for a price. (He can even tell you about the afterlife.) Invariably, as soon as Drebin gets the information he needs and leaves, someone else will come for information, such as a surgeon asking how to perform open-heart surgery, or Dick Clark asking what he should play on American Bandstand.
  • As You Know

Frank: That sounded like a tuba in the background.
Chief: Oh that won't be easy to narrow down, this city is the tuba capital of the world.

  • A-Team Firing: Frank and enemy unable to shoot each other hiding behind chairs and garbage cans 5 feet away.
  • Bang Bang BANG
  • Becoming the Mask: For example, Norberg is more occupied with improving revenues on their key making business cover than with dealing with mob they went into business to attract.
  • Body of the Week: along with Dead Star Walking, the special guest star was killed off as they were being introduced in the credits.
  • Book'em, Danno: Parodied (of course) with

(The Chief and Frank lead a culprit up to a pair of uniformed officers.)
Chief: Sergeants, take her away and book her.
Frank: (shaking hands with the officers) Sergeant Takeraway. Sergeant Booker.

  • The Boxing Episode: episode "Ring of Fear (A Dangerous Assignment)"
  • Brick Joke: Frank mentions in the introductory monologue of the first episode that he was doing his laundry when a case came up. About halfway through the episode he finally gets to pick it up.
  • The Butler Did It: He did. But that wasn't a surprise if you read the episode title.
    • It would still be a surprise; every single episode had two titles (that read by the announcer, and that displayed on the screen.)
  • Cameo: In addition to the Body of the Week, many of the people who came to Johnny the Shoeshine Boy for advice, including Dick Clark and Dr. Joyce Brothers.
  • Catch Phrase: The first and last line of the page header quote. Also:

Drebin: [offering a cigarette to the victim of the episode's crime] Cigarette?
Victim: Yes. I know.
Drebin: (disillusioned) Well...

  • Clumsy Copyright Censorship: Examples below:
    • In the original airing of "The Butler Did It", the party goers were actually singing "Happy Birthday to You". But in the VHS/Syndicated versions, they were singing a totally new song to the tune of the original called, literally, "Something Different".
    • "Testimony of Evil", the last episode, originally had Drebin singing Judy Garland tunes. Again, in the VHS/Syndication versions, these were changed to versions that sounded almost the same, but with totally made up lyrics, and the new singer sounding nothing like Leslie Nielsen at all.
      • Thankfully, the DVD release put back the original versions of those songs in those two episodes, along with Nielsen's original singing for his Judy Garland tribute.
  • Cop Show
  • Dead Star Walking: A guest star would be immediately killed off as soon as he/she is introduced, during the opening credits.
  • Dirt Forcefield: After a fight involving herpes and a signed Picasso, Frank Drebin seems relatively unscathed, but in the next shot we see him dusting himself off with several cuts and bruises all over his face and his hair mussed. After the next cut, he's spotless once again.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Every episode Drebin crashes into some garbage cans with his car. And he once "drives back to the station" by literally driving there backwards.
  • Economy Cast: Parodied with Johnny the shoe shine boy, Drebin's only informant. Johnny already knows everything, why would Drebin bother going anywhere else?
  • Episode Title Card: Always contradicted by the voiceover.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending/Every Episode Ending/Oh, Cisco: Every episode's "Epilogue" involves Drebin and Hocker cracking a joke about the criminal they just sent to prison, followed by a mock-Freeze Frame Ending ( a.k.a. the Yeah! Shot listed below ): the camera keeps rolling, but the actors stand really still.
    • One actor tries to escape, only to run into the Fourth Wall.
    • Another episode had Peter Lupus walk into the scene after the freeze frame, and try to find a suitable pose for himself to freeze on.
    • Another character can't hold his expression for long.
    • In another episode, a suspect, a dressed-up chimpanzee, starts to demolish the office, while the rest freeze-frames.
    • The end of one episode "freeze-frames" while Hocker pours Drebin some coffee. The coffee continues to pour, and Hocker has to slowly raise his arm to keep it going as the pot empties. Eventually, Drebin's coffee cup overflows and falls out of his hand.
    • A character goes to nail something on the wall, and the impact of the hammer causes the entire set to start falling down around the frozen actors.
  • The Fool: Drebin.
  • The Faceless: Al, a cop at headquarters who was so tall his head was never seen. Here's what he looks like.
  • Finger in the Mail: Frank and his co-workers tell the mother of a kidnapped young lady about a similar case they had in which the victim's ear was cut off and mailed to her parents. The story, naturally, horrifies the woman.
  • Knowledge Broker: Johnny the shoeshine guy, who can give you information on literally anything for a price.
  • Half-Hour Comedy
  • Happy Birthday to You: Turns into...something different...literally.
  • Homage: Multiple brief recreations of famous and not-so-famous movie and TV moments, plus the series' entire recreation of the look and feel of 1950s police shows, particularly M Squad.
    • Bad Obsession Motorspot's Project Binky offers an elaborate Homage to Police Squad! by using its opening and closing theme music and mimicking the style of its credits -- including the Idiosyncratic Episode Naming and crediting Rex Harrison as Abraham Lincoln in the opening, and the fake freeze-frame under the end credits, which have jokes in them.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode had two names -- the one displayed on the screen, and the one read by the announcer at the same time.
  • Lady in Red: Stella in "Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)"
  • Latex Perfection: The Frenchman.
  • Literal-Minded: Every character whenever it was funny. A signature style found in pretty much all Zucker-Abrams-Zucker comedies.
  • Little Jimmy: Dr. Olson was always demonstrating something unsafe, sadistic or both to a kid or two whenever Frank needed to consult with him.
  • The Movie: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad and its sequels.
  • Mysterious Informant
  • Narrator
  • No Fourth Wall: Literally -- whenever Olson would take Drebin to the lab where he'd run the episode's critical experiment, Olson would walk through the door -- and Drebin would walk around the end of the set wall in which the door was placed.
  • Non Sequitur Thud: Played straight when Buddy Brigs delivers the knockout blow to the Champ.

Referee: How many fingers do you see?
Champ: Thursday. [collapses]

  • Once an Episode: Every episode Drebin will: Consult Johnny the shoeshine guy for the word on the street; consult Dr. Olson for forensic info (interrupting him in the middle of some dangerous or creepy experiment he's doing for some kid); crash into something while parking; offer a cigarette or something similar; and mention that the current episode's arrestee would be joining every single criminal (listed off by name) who had been arrested in the previous episodes.
  • Pinch Me
  • Police Procedural: Well, in theory--definitely a spoof of the genre.
  • Pretty in Mink: Stella in "Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)" wears a white fox stole.
  • The Professor: Mr. Olson.
  • Recycled Script: The pilot is a spoof remake of an episode of M Squad, with jokes and non sequiturs added to the original plot and dialogue.
  • Serial Escalation: How many sight gags and bad puns can we fit into a half-hour show?
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: Johnny the Shoe-Shine Boy, who knew everything, so much that he's listed on this site as an Almighty Janitor.
  • Teaser Only Character: All of the celebrities killed during the opening credits. Also Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln.
  • Throw-Away Guns: Drebin and a criminal begin pelting each other with a seemingly bottomless supply of empty guns.
  • Too Soon: John Belushi filmed a scene as one of the above Dead Star Walking, but he died before the show was aired. They quickly shot a replacement scene with Georg Stanford Brown, who they happened to have hired to direct one of the episodes.
  • Turn Your Head and Cough: In the first episode, Sally Decker plans to rob the bank she works at. Just off-screen, Ralph Twice is opening up an account at the bank, and the overheard signing-up procedure grows increasingly surreal until the bank teller instructs Ralph, "Now, turn your head and cough."
  • Visual Pun: Again, so very many. In one episode, Drebin follows a lead to the "Club Flamingo" bar. The mechanical sign shows a man hitting a flamingo with a club.
    • In another, "Here comes the big tow truck." A truck arrives, resembling a big toe. A big toe truck.
  • Vomiting Cop: Subverted: in response to seeing a picture of Alexander Haig.
  • Walk This Way: Students at a ballet school continue to imitate their teacher as she gets roughed up by the local mob.
  • What's a Henway?: Built on this trope.
  • Who's on First?: And how!
  • Wingding Eyes: "No sale" eyeballs, animated onto a live-action boxer.
  • Work Com
  • Yeah! Shot (see above description of Freeze Frame Ending for details)
  • Your Little Dismissive Diminutive: When Frank is minding a key-cutting shop in order to flush out a gang of extortionists:

Extortionist: You'd better watch your little key store.
Frank: What about my little keister?

  1. Yes, it's still from that episode. It wouldn't have changed.