Not Kodak, “Kojak”

Spencer Doar

Why is the ‘70s law enforcement drama “Kojak” such a dope instance of cops and baddies? One name: Telly Savalas.  If y’all don’t know the man, get acquainted.  He was an integral part of the ensemble casts of two World War II classics, “Kelly’s Heroes” and “The Dirty Dozen,” showing up as a supporting actor in dozens of other roles in TV and film, frequently as the off-kilter psycho-type (see his role as Blofeld in the only George Lazenby-helmed Bond flick, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”). 

He gave bald guys a reason to feel proud—his chrome dome became a defining feature of his on-camera persona.  In “Kojak,” Savalas plays the no-nonsense New York cop Lt. Theo Kojak.  He just oozes tough guy (heck, his name sounds like a left-hook to the face).  He’s always impeccably dressed, sporting a series of custom-tailored suits that no police lieutenant could afford and hats to match (one of the few instances where the gritty reality of the show is put on hold for pure suavity).

Kojak’s other frequent props for musing over the details of a case: a variety of Styrofoam, Dixie cups and take-out soup containers.  That, the dinginess of the precinct offices and the grey reality of the New York streets further put the spotlight on Savalas’ shiny Kojak.  Oh, and ever heard his catchphrase, “Who loves ya, baby?” (Check out this hilarious use of the line when he reps Duluth in a tourism ad.)  Top it off with Kojak’s penchant for Lollipops, and you have one bad dude.  He knows the streets and its regulars…on a first-name basis. 

But here I am waxing about Telly, when the show itself is darn good (though without him…).  In the current age of overdone, CGI-laden, sunglasses-on-sunglasses-off, crime punned, orange- and blue-hued lensed, crazy technology filled cop/criminal shows, “Kojak” stands above as a true-to-the-badge police procedural, with a connect-the-dots through pounding the pavement aesthetic.  Check out Season 1, Episode 4, if only to hear the (coolest) delivery the word “swag,” in this case meaning robbery loot when a known fence is in town.  If anybody knows you only live once, it’s the hard-nosed Kojak.  (Note: Like many television shows, it does fade a bit over time, so stick to the early seasons.)

If you end up lovin' it, baby, then here’s a few other classic shows with great leading men to pop on the telly:

1)      Dennis Farina’s “Crime Story

2)      (Of course) Peter Falk’s “Columbo

3)      James Garner’s “The Rockford Files

4)      Bill Cosby and Robert Culp’s “I Spy

5)      Patrick McGoohan’s “Danger Man