The year of 1975 saw a dramatic change in prime-time television. It was that same period where the "television Western" became the age of the dinosaur,and from that came a slew of police dramas that were all over the place. Some of them are worth watching while others were unbelievable. The year 1975 saw new and violent crime shows and police dramas that conquered the prime-time landscape...the premiere shows like "Baretta", "S.W.A.T.", along with "Starsky and Hutch" dominated the schedule. And then came "The Blue Knight" which was a police-oriented cop show but it was in a genre of its own.
On November 11, 1973, a two-hour made for television movie premiered on NBC-TV that was based on Joesph Wambaugh's best selling novel based on the same title THE BLUE KNIGHT starring William Holden became a major hit. It was so successful that it won William Holden the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a dramatic role not to mention garnering awards right and left including the Emmy for Lee Remick for Outstanding Actress in a dramatic role. This special presentation that aired in prime-time for NBC proved to be a critically acclaimed success with the public that sparked interest in continuing the character in a weekly dramatic series. The producers really wanted William Holden to revised the title role,but Mr. Holden (Hollywood's Golden Boy) wasn't interested in doing a weekly series for television or was unacceptable to the terms. However, Mr. Holden was an established Oscar winning actor who won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1957 for "Bridge Over The River Kwai",not to mention a veteran of the Broadway stage and theatrical work to his esteem credits. William Holden was also a huge box-office draw whose last picture "The Towering Inferno" was one of the top ten biggest films of 1974.
So the production company, Lorimar Productions, and its producers Lee Rich and Philip Capice (who were also behind the television series "The Waltons"),along with creators Albert Ruben and E. Jack Neuman with Joesph Wambaugh as technical consultant,insisted George Kennedy for the part of Officer Morgan. However,George Kennedy was also an established actor of stage,and the big screen for his theatrical work not to mention his guest appearances on several television shows to name a few. George Kennedy was also a huge theatrical box-office draw mostly known for his role in the "Airport" movies and countless Westerns,but his biggest success came in 1967 when George Kennedy won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in "Cool Hand Luke"(that starred Paul Newman). On May 9, 1975, CBS-TV aired a two hour made-for-television movie based on Joesph Wambaugh's novel with George Kennedy in the title role of "The Blue Knight" as Officer Morgan with the series focusing on the cops of the Los Angeles Police Department circa-1975 to be exact. The TV-Movie became a huge hit which gave the powers that be over at CBS-TV to launched a weekly series starring George Kennedy in the title role. The series unfortunately, didn't make it on the air as a fall schedule in prime-time on December 17, 1975 as a replacement for another series that CBS had was canceled anyway. THE BLUE KNIGHT as a weekly series lasted a mere-season producing 24 episodes from December 17, 1975 until October 20, 1976.
And that was very unfortunate since George Kennedy brought an "everyday man" approach to his character as realistic as possible as he and his police buddies do battle with dangerous criminals, drug dealers, rapists, and the whatever else occurs within the mean streets of Los Angeles, circa-1975. Whether intentional or not, as a series, did provide some incredible stories not to mention like other cop shows of the mid-1970's,it provided lots of action and excitement in some of the episodes. It was not a bad series to begin with since the powers that be over at CBS put this show on its Wednesday night slot in prime-time opposite another cop series "Starsky and Hutch" over at ABC,and against "Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected" and "Petrocelli" that was over at NBC. While it stood up as a great series such of the great writers that contributed to the scripts consisted of Joesph Wambaugh, Albert Ruben, Del Reisman and top-notch Hollywood directors J. Lee Thompson, Ralph Senensky, Leo Penn, along with Gordon Hessler, William F. Claxton, Paul Krasny, Irving Moore, Charles S. Dubin, Harry Harris, and Robert Butler. During its mere-season run some top name guest stars appeared in various episodes ranging from future "Dallas" star Jim Davis, to Robert Hays, Lee Weaver, future "Simon & Simon" star Gerald McRaney, Vic Tayback, Robert Hoy, Bruce Glover, Harry Lauter, Sherry Jackson, Edward Binns, Glynn Turman, to Barbara Rhoades, Verna Bloom, Art Hindle, Howard Hesseman, to guest stars Ron Harper, Aneta Corseaut(of The Andy Griffith Show), Norman Fell, Anthony Eisley, and Vince Howard. When THE BLUE KNIGHT was canceled by CBS on October 20, 1976 it was replaced the following week with The CBS Wednesday Night Movie.
George Kennedy put his mark on a character that stood for honor and principals and stood up for his police buddies when they got into trouble. Even after 40 years, the question remains about this short- lived series that lasted a mere-season on the air is to why they can put the entire seasons of "The Waltons" and "Dallas" on DVD and not a good clean cop show like "The Blue Knight" which deserves that honor on its 40th anniversary.