Question: I was a fan of The Mod Squad when I was a kid, even though I don't think I got much of it. I never saw the beginning, though. What were Pete, Linc and Julie originally arrested for? Thank you. Greg C., Medina, Ohio
Televisionary: They weren't very exciting crimes by today's standards, Greg: Rich-kid hippie Pete Cochran (Michael Cole) stole a car; ghetto-born Linc Hayes (Clarence Williams III) was arrested in the Watts riots; runaway Julie Barnes (Peggy Lipton) was brought in for vagrancy. Of course, I doubt audiences would've accepted heroes who'd committed more serious offenses back in September 1968, when the ABC series launched.
That said, the producers weren't all that worried about viewers accepting kids-gone-wrong as heroes after the trio were drafted into the police department's "youth squad." They were more concerned with offending the younger side of the audience, who weren't likely to take to three of their own betraying other young'uns. And with good reason.
"We were stuck with that stigma of the kids being undercover dragnets, kids finking on kids," Mod Squad executive producer Aaron Spelling told TV Guide in 1971. "We got letters before we went on the air saying, 'You dirty cop finks!'"
The heat came from at least one cast member early on, too. When Cole showed up to read for the part of Pete and discovered he was reading for the part of an undercover cop, he blew up. "I don't want anything to do with it!" he shouted. "I'm not going to take the part of a guy who finks on his friends!" Of course, after reading the script and seeing the setup, his business side took over. "I'm not going to apologize, but may I test for the part?"
Spelling and crew had an even tougher time with writers. When the pilot was screened for a group of scribe candidates, five or six veterans of the business got up and walked out. After it was over, one delivered a long speech about "excrement" and headed for the door, too.
For his part, Williams was more concerned with the issue of a black man playing a cop when cops weren't known for treating black people very well. Or rather, he was concerned with the other people who were so concerned about it.
"Yeah, yeah. They're always laying that one on me. About how do I feel about being black and playing a cop because of all the things that police do to black people in ghettos and blah, blah, blah," the actor said in 1970. "I spent 10 years to become an actor. I am an actor, and I play the part. When I leave this series, I may play a criminal. I'm gonna play that one. I'm an actor. Now if you're gonna ask me about my politics, deal with that. But I accept a part and I play it. Now when this show came along, I was not deluged with 75 scripts.... I was strutting around on Broadway. I'd do a show; it'd bomb; I'd go off Broadway; then I'd come back; the whole thing. Then came the offer to go into television. I looked at it from a straight point of view. I never saw the script.... They told me what it was about: 'There's three young people running through whatever,' and I said, 'That's groovy!'"
On the other side of the coin, Tige Andrews, who played youth squad commander Capt. Adam Greer, had an easy time playing a policeman. Matter of fact, he had such a commanding presence that people on the street often assumed he was one anyway.
"I saw this woman lying on the street, thrown out of her car after being sideswiped," Andrews recalled in 1970. "Right away, I start barking out orders to the crowd. 'Don't move the victim. Cover her with a blanket. Call for a stretcher.' One guy nods and says, 'Yes, officer.' It shook me up. Finally I said to him: 'And you'd better call the police, too.'"