The original cop buddies

TV's `Starsky & Hutch' defined the genre

March 05, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

In 1975, Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul were most definitely the kings of cool.

As bell-bottomed stars of ABC's Starsky & Hutch, the actors came out of nowhere to redefine TV's cop persona as they played tough but hip policemen who fought crime and disco danced - sometimes at the same time.

For four successful seasons, a faithful audience tuned in to watch the buddy-buddy duo seduce Farrah-coiffed vixens, rough up back-alley thugs and wrap up undercover assignments with a blend of street smarts and urban savoir faire.

But it was more than novelty that allowed the tightly wound David Starsky (Glaser) and anything-goes Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Soul) to boogie their way into the hearts of Americans.

Their popularity stemmed from an undeniable chemistry between the true partners, as Glaser and Soul are quick to remind.

"It was not about fashion, it was about a relationship," said Soul, who views his collaboration with Glaser as the best part of working on the series. "It was a study in friendship that could operate on many different levels. And I think, finally, that's why the show stuck."

"You've got to remember that it was close to Vietnam," Glaser said. "It was a very disillusioned time in our country."

"It was a time when people wanted to believe that someone else could be there for you. I've always maintained that Hollywood reflects the country," added Glaser, who serves as honorary chairman of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, a group co-founded by his late wife who died of the disease in 1994.

For 60-year-olds Glaser and Soul, the show's steadfast focus on the characters' intense daily interactions - the "dance," in Glaser's words - is what made the series stand out.

So much, the pair said, that their work created a new kind of police-show genre, one that gave us the likes of Ponch and Jon, the cheesy but charming motorcycle patrolmen on NBC's CHiPs (1977-1983), Rick and A.J., the odd-couple private eye brothers from CBS' series Simon & Simon (1981-1988), and even the big-screen cop partnerships of the Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys movies.

All had the look of Starsky & Hutch, but few captured the dynamic, said Soul. And perhaps that essence cannot be re-created.

Anyway, nearly 30 years after it appeared, would the nation's TV audiences go for a show that championed best-buddy love between two men as it intertwined comedic and campy scenes with rock-'em sock-'em fights and car chases?

Glaser thinks not.

The old series "was a product of the times," he said. "There was a certain naivete in the '70s" that would permit actors "to visit real emotions ... and then turn around and wink at the audience and say, `Hey, this is entertainment; let's have fun.'"

Soul agreed, saying today's audience may indeed be too cynical, jaded and unwilling to suspend disbelief long enough to watch a show that blends goofy slapstick and pop culture affectations with down-and-dirty police work.

"I don't know that you could repeat it today. It's a test of the idea of what TV is all about," remarked Soul, who has continued his acting career in England.

That said, the stars of television's Starsky & Hutch believe the 2004 film version of the story, which director Todd Phillips described as a "romantic comedy between two straight men," will become a testament to the original program's innovative concept and enduring appeal.

Glaser commended Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson for their enthusiastic portrayals of the characters he and Soul made famous.

"With a 2004 sensibility, they kind of tipped their hats to the elements of the show" that were defining and, perhaps, even dated, he said.

"Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are both extremely talented and good in their own way," Glaser added.

But there's only one original, he said.

"No one's ever going to be Paul and David."

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