Monday, September 27, 2010
Kojak: An Education in Criminal Conspiracies 101 (UPDATED)
We get RTV, the Retro Television Network, on our antenna here in Burlington, Ontario. It's channel 2.3, which is attached to Buffalo's local NBC affiliate WGRZ. I guess the digital age and low-tech can go hand-in-hand — no cable or satellite necessary!
Anyhow, one of the shows on the channel that I have found intriguing is Kojak. It had a unique way of setting up each episode, at least from what I've seen so far. Each show has as its foundation some rather sophisticated criminal plot or another, from which a crime — usually murder — develops. It's then up to Kojak to come to the scene, figure out rather early that it wasn't some random act of violence, then put the pieces together with uncommon policing instinct and charm.
What surprises me about this setup, and maybe that's why I don't think you see it anymore, is how complex this plot premise actually was. The original criminal conspiracies that are orchestrated aren't your average run-of-the-mill crimes. They involve intricate insurance fraud, orchestrated art heists, sophisticated financial schemes, and rerouted diamond scams. In fact, I doubt very much that many people who originally watched these episodes fully grasped the nature of these crimes. The shows were like An Education in Criminal Conspiracies 101.
UPDATE: I suppose I should note that, since writing the original blog post, my view of the series has changed somewhat. When I wrote the post, the reruns were passing through a stage where criminal conspiracies seemed to be the topic of the season. However, as I kept watching the show, various different plots, from kidnapping to burglaries, were standard and, admittedly, predictable fare — especially in comparison to the shows I mentioned in my original post.
However, it's still interesting to watch the Kojak series 35 years after it first ran. Unlike today's TV police dramas, the main character in Kojak, played by Telly Savalas, carried the show. I think he had the talent to pull it off. As for the rest of the cast, it's almost all white males, with any diversity coming in the form of European based ethnic identities such as being Greek — like Kojak and Stavros, played by Savalas' brother George— Irish, Jewish, Italian, and so on.
Now that I've watched more of the shows, the plot premise of the show appears to be as follows: A crime occurs, but it's often not what it seems to be, and sometimes not even first recognized as a crime. At some point, Kojak notices something isn't right. He sometimes does this right away. Sometimes it's just in the nick of time minutes before the end of the episode. But there's no doubt that his uncommon police instincts, supported by his bold and charming personality, along with a team of imperfect but capable detectives, are what most of the episodes were about. And, from where I stand over 35 years after first run, I think it pretty much worked.