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Kojak is an Americanmarker television series starring Telly Savalas as the title character, bald New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak. It aired from October 24, 1973 to March 18, 1978 on CBS. It took the time slot of the popular Cannon series, which was moved one hour earlier. Kojak's Greek heritage, shared by actor Savalas, was prominently featured in the series.

Production

The show was created by Abby Mann, an Academy Award-winning film writer best known for his work on drama anthologies such as Robert Montgomery Presents and Playhouse 90. Universal Television approached him to do a story based on the 1963 Wylie-Hoffert "Career Girls Murders". The crime involved the brutal rape and murder of two young professional women in Manhattanmarker. Due to poor police work and the prevailing casual attitude toward suspects' civil rights, the crime was pinned on a young African-American male, George Whitmore, Jr, who had been arrested on a separate assault charge. After illegally obtaining a confession, the police had the suspect all but convicted until a second investigation by a different team of detectives exonerated the suspect and identified the real killer, a white junkie. Kojak himself was a composite, based on a number of detectives, lawyers and reporters who were involved in the 1963 Wylie-Hoffert murder case, which included police detective Thomas J. Cavanagh Jr., known to his colleagues as "the velvet whip", and who had been part of the team that cleared Whitmore of the double-murder.

Mann developed the project as a gritty police procedural, but with a subtext focusing on institutionalized prejudice and the civil rights of suspects and witnesses. The result, The Marcus-Nelson Murders, in which the character's last name was spelled "Kojack", prompted the commission of the series.

The opening and closing titles of the pilot emphasized the point that it was a fictional account of the events that led to the passing of the Miranda rights by the US Supreme Courtmarker in 1966.

Plot

The series is set in New York Citymarker's Thirteenth Precinct. It revolves around the efforts of the incorruptible Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas), a tough, bald New York Citymarker policeman who was fond of lollipops and for using the catchphrase, "Who loves ya, baby?" Lt. Kojak displayed a dark, cynical wit and a tendency to bend the rules in order to bring a criminal to justice. In the early episodes of the series, Kojak smoked heavily; in order to reflect the anti-smoking sentiment gaining momentum on American TV, the writers decided that Kojak had quit smoking. He began sucking on lollipops as a substitute, which became a trademark of the character (although Kojak is frequently seen smoking a cigarillo when he winds up a case by interrogation of the main suspect(s)).

His longtime supervisor was Capt. Frank McNeil (Dan Frazer). Later in the series, McNeil was promoted to Chief of Detectives in Manhattanmarker. Kojak is the commander of the Manhattan South Precinct's detective squad. His squad includes one of his favorite employees: young plainclothes officer, Det. Bobby Crocker (Kevin Dobson). Detectives Stavros (played by Telly's real-life brother George Savalas, who originally used the name "Demosthenes" as his screen credit), Saperstein (Mark Russell), and Rizzo (Vince Conti), all gave Kojak support.

In 1976, acclaimed crime writer Joe Gores received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Episode in a TV Series Teleplay for the third-season episode "No Immunity for Murder" (first aired November 23, 1975).

The show ended in 1978, after five seasons, due to low ratings. Reruns of Kojak became successful in syndication and TV Land. Years after the series ended, Savalas reprised the role in two TV movies, The Belarus File (1985), an adaptation of the John Loftus book The Belarus Secret, and The Price of Justice (1987), based on Dorothy Uhnak's novel, The Investigation. Kojak is not a character in either book.

In 19891990 Kojak returned to television in five two-hour episodes that aired on ABC, rotating with three other series as part of the ABC Mystery Movie. No longer a lieutenant commanding a precinct detective squad, Kojak had been promoted to inspector and put in charge of the NYPD's city-wide Major Crimes Squad. Andre Braugher was cast as a young detective assigned to Kojak's command.

Series stars The Savalas Brothers (Telly & George), Frazer and Dobson are the only cast members to appear in every episode of the series, and stayed throughout the entire run.

Characters

  • Telly Savalas - Lt./Insp. Theo Kojak - A bald detective sucking lollipops
  • Dan Frazer - Capt. Frank McNeil - Kojak's boss
  • Kevin Dobson - Det. Bobby Crocker - Kojak's partner
  • George Savalas (Demosthenes) - Det. Stavros - Kojak's supporting co-worker
  • Mark Russell - Det. Saperstein
  • Vince Conti - Det. Rizzo
  • Andre Braugher - Det. Winston Blake (1989-90 ABC revival)


A roster of guest stars

During its five season run, many unfamiliar and/or familiar actors who guest-starred on the show went on to greater fame; among those appearing in Kojak episodes are: John Ritter, Bernie Kopell, Kathleen Quinlan, Sharon Gless, Swoosie Kurtz, Stacy Keach, Sr., Sylvester Stallone, Thayer David, Lenny Montana, Jayne Kennedy, David White, Harvey Keitel, Charles Siebert, Joan Van Ark, John Pleshette, Pamela Hensley, Yvonne Craig, Mary Beth Hurt, Roosevelt Grier, Lynn Redgrave, Kene Holliday, John Larroquette, Lonny Chapman, Judith Chapman, Richard Eastham, Erik Estrada, Robert Ito, Richard Herd, Robert Webber, Sally Kirkland, Richard Gere, Paul Benedict, James Luisi, Roger E. Mosley, Stephen Macht, Nicholas Colasanto, Dabney Coleman, James Sloyan, Michael Ansara, Paul Michael Glaser, Marco St. John, Ken Kercheval, Judith Light, John M. Pickard, Eileen Brennan, Al Franken, Irene Cara, Hector Elizondo, Jackie Cooper, William Katt, Jerry Orbach, Danny Thomas, Allan Miller, Danny Aiello and James Woods, among many others.

Future Hill Street Blues stars, Daniel J. Travanti and Veronica Hamel would make guest appearances on the show, along with future Falcon Crest stars David Selby and Susan Sullivan, future The Young and The Restless stars Eric Braeden and Jess Walton, and Len Lesser, who portrayed Uncle Leo on Seinfeld, made appearances on the show, as well.

Music

The somewhat more well-known first Kojak theme, in two distinct arrangements is the work of Billy Goldenberg, who scored the early episodes. John Cacavas composed the second main title theme used throughout the show's 5th and final season.

Episodes

Kojak aired for 5 seasons on CBS, from 1973-1978. In the mid-eighties Kojak returned in two made-for-TV movies. In 1989, eleven years after the series ended, Telly Savalas returned to play Kojak in 5 TV movies that aired on ABC as part of their ABC Mystery Movie theme block which aired on Saturday nights.

Revival

In March 2005, a new Kojak series debuted on the USA Network cable channel and on ITV4 in the UK. In this re-imagined version, African-American actor Ving Rhames portrays the character. The series only lasted one season.

Cultural Impact

In Brazil the show was so successful that in the 1970s and 80s the term "Kojak" became Brazilian slang for "bald man". Telly Savalas visited the country to do promotional work.

In Rio de Janeiro, the expression: "I won't give a chance to Kojak" became popular among criminals — as in, the speaker would avoid leaving any clue that would lead the police to him or her. Later, this expression became popular among lay people. Nowadays, it means "I won't let anyone see my mistakes".

On French television, actor Henry Djanik dubbed Kojak. He also dubbed "Dog Savalas", who was modelled on Telly Savalas, and was a character from the manga and anime versions of the popular Japanese series Space Adventure Cobra.

In Chile, a "kojak" is a slang to refer to any kind of lollipop.

DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Season One of Kojak on DVD in Region 1 on March 22, 2005. Season 1 was also released in Region 2 on July 18, 2005 and in Region 4 on July 13, 2005. It is not known if the remaining seasons will be released.

DVD Name Episodes Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Season One 22 March 22, 2005 July 18, 2005 July 13, 2005
Season Two 25 N/A N/A N/A
Season Three 24 N/A N/A N/A
Season Four 25 N/A N/A N/A
Season Five 22 N/A N/A N/A


References

  1. "Thomas J. Cavanagh Jr., 82, Who Inspired 'Kojak,' Dies" published by the New York Times on Sunday, August 4, 1996
  2. cobraworld.net, French fan site of "Space Adventure Cobra"
The NY Times article contains a correction that notes that Kojak is a composite and not based on any one person.

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