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'60s counterculture cops return on DVD

December 17, 2007|From Newsday

It was originally to be called "The Young Detectives." Maybe if it had been, it would have gone the way of the short-lived "The Young Lawyers" and "The Young Rebels" that soon followed. But somewhere during the show's development, in that halcyon year of 1968, the title got changed to the catchier, kitschier "The Mod Squad," a name promising something other than young versions of our same old elders. Its first 13 episodes come out on DVD Tuesday, giving nostalgic boomers a chance to remember when they were the Young Whippersnappers.

A cop show for the counterculture, "The Mod Squad" starred Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton as a youth-culture undercover team for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Very loosely based on a 1950s LAPD narcotics squad headed by series creator Bud Ruskin, the show became a four-season hit on ABC. And for all its sanitized TV vision of hippies and Hells Angels, protesters and "pigs," it broke ground in giving the screen its first lasting counterculture protagonists -- something the ostensibly more sophisticated movies wouldn't do for another year, with the breakthrough film "Easy Rider."

"It was one of the earliest attempts to deal with the counterculture and the disillusioned-youth sensibility of the time," says David Bushman, curator at New York's Paley Center for Media. "It successfully drew in that young audience and made it feel it spoke to them -- and did it without alienating older viewers, since it had the trappings of a police drama. 'The Mod Squad' was remarkable for its time in what it addressed."

"It was the first TV drama to embrace the counterculture," says classic-TV authority Diane Albert, former editor and publisher of "The TV Collector." "The three lead characters were the vanguard of protagonists who weren't older people; it didn't look like shows five years or even a year before it. But, she admits, "I think anybody up to about age 39 is going to find 'The Mod Squad' a bit corny."

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