The really funny thing about "Police Squad!", the quirky 1982 series that spawned the hit movies "The Naked Gun" (1989) and this summer's sequel "The Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear," is that it was all right there in the beginning -- all the adolescent gags, word plays and stupid, silly, hilarious stuff.
But nobody got it in 1982, when ABC ran just six episodes before canceling the show. At least the network didn't get it, for Alex McNeil's reference work, "Total Television," quotes an ABC executive as saying the show required "too much attention" from viewers.
Happily, however, for the next six weeks we can turn our attention to "Police Squad" once again, for beginning tonight CBS is re-running the episodes (at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Channel 11). They introduced Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin, the upright, uptight detective who is every bit as dense as Peter Sellers' great Inspector Clouseau.
The non sequitur gags never stop, and begin with the opening credits. We hear, "...and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln..." as a shootout erupts in Ford's Theater, and we see Lorne Greene doing a "special guest" appearance as a corpse.
Media Monitor's favorite joke tonight? When the ballistics expert compares the power of two pistols by test firing bullets through videocassettes of Barbara Walters celebrity interviews.
A close second is when Drebin thinks he's solved tonight's crime and says, "we know how he did it," and another character says, "Oh, Howie couldn't have done it. He hasn't been in all week."
Trivia notes: Viewers may also notice in subsequent weeks that Drebin's rank ranges from sergeant to lieutenant, and that the title of each episode never matches what the announcer says.
The short life of the TV series is hard to understand when you examine its roots in the manic minds of producers Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker. For longtime character actor Nielsen's actual transformation into a comedy player came in the trio's first film hit "Airplane!" in 1980.
Remember? Nielsen was the doctor on board the stricken aircraft piloted by Robert Hayes.
INTO THE WOODS -- In another mixed media event, the TBS basic cable service tonight is firing into the air a cute stunt playing off Kevin Costner's summer theatrical film "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."
In what it bills as "Showdown in Sherwood Forest," for 12 hours (from 6:05 p.m. to 6:05 a.m.) the channel is repeatedly screening "The Adventures of Robin Hood." This is the 1938 classic swashbuckler with Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and Olivia de Havilland, and which was one of the most expensive movies of its time, at a cost of about $2 million.
What's more, throughout the marathon viewers can call a special 900 area code number to vote on which of the two movies, Flynn's or Costner's, is the best.