Cop shows are such a mainstay of television, and have been for so long, that turning on a TV and randomly clicking through four or five channels is guaranteed to lead you to at least one trip down the mean streets with a grizzled detective and a fresh-faced rookie. They're such a part of our daily lives that one can naturally assume that even people in fictional universes have their own multitude of police programs to choose from—CSI: Atlantis, perhaps, or Boise Beat, or The Hunk & The Geek.
Here, then, is a list of cop shows you might have missed owing to their never having existed—at least not in our world. But glimpses of them appeared in films and TV shows, where they naturally provided color and background activity to their respective realms, as cop shows always do.
Bannigan – Lookwell
The television show Lookwell, starring Adam West as a faded Hollywood actor, only lasted one episode, but those precious 22 minutes give us a wonderful taste of what might have been. In the show's best running gag, Ty Lookwell (West) is repeatedly recognized by people on the street for his role in the decades-old cop show Bannigan—but though people know the face, they can never remember exactly who he is.
“You were Bennigan!”
“No, that was George Kennedy.”
“That was Hugh O'Brian.”
Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The 2008 romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall featured a couple who worked together on a CSI-style show called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) is the show's star, and Jason Segel, her boyfriend—quickly turned ex-boyfriend—in the movie, composes the show's music. Before the film is over, Crime Scene has been cancelled. Judging from the clip, it's not hard to see why.
J. T. Lancer – The Big Chill
Sam Weber (Tom Berenger) is the star of the hit show J. T. Lancer within the universe of the 1983 comedy-drama, The Big Chill. Lancer could be a cop or a private eye—probably the latter, since he seems reminiscent of Thomas Magnum.
T. J. Lazer – Robocop
Since the letters “T” and “J” seem like go-to initials for crime fighters (I'm looking at you, William Shatner), it's only fitting that the most popular cop show of the near future—at least in the world of the 1987 action film Robocop—is called T. J. Lazer. Only three things are known about the character: He's a cop, he wears a ridiculous spandex outfit, and he spins his gun in a trademark motion before holstering it.
Oh, and the son of a Detroit cop named Alex Murphy gets a big kick out of it.
Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E. – Friends
New York actor Joey Tribiani (Matt Leblanc) lands the role of cop Mac Machiavelli who's partnered with a robot in the show-within-a-show Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E., which provides jokes for several episodes of the sixth season of NBC's hit sitcom Friends. Despite Joey's earnest performance, the show is deservedly cancelled in the middle of its first season (Joey's roommate Chandler calls it “one of the worst things ever…and not just on TV”), and Joey soon returns to the audition circuit.
Expose – Lost
By the third season of the mysterious television series Lost, the bloom was long off the rose, and fans that had raced home to catch every episode were now eyeing the buttons on their remote. Part of the problem was two characters named Nikki and Paulo, who didn't get anything like the fan love that the rest of the cast received. In an episode meant to provide their backstory, we learn that Nikki (Kiele Sanchez) appeared on a show called Expose, featuring detectives who posed as strippers. While the show looks like a lot of fun (it was supposed to be part of a multi-episode arc), the creators of Lost seemed as tired of Nikki and Paulo as the fans did, and the episode ends with the characters getting buried alive…or are they?
While television and film are littered with bad cop dramas, it seems like the world just can’t get enough of them. Let’s hope that instead of another version of CSI or NCIS or Law & Order, we reach back and greenlight one of these cop shows that never were.
Hector DeJean can frequently be found in comic stores, bookshops, and the Eighties. His serialized story of a private detective who only solves food-related crimes is no longer online.