I remember when my Dad took me to see “The Naked Gun!” back in the eighties. I was 10 years old, and to me, I had just discovered the meaning of life. Any movie that featured a man inadvertently broadcasting himself peeing to a crowded courtroom was, by all measurements, brilliant. The movie was a huge hit for the writing and directing team of Jerry Zucker, David Zucker (brothers) and Jim Abrams.
The three had previously collaborated on a number of other popular comedies, including Airplane! in 1980. But before then, the guys were just like any other struggling aspiring filmmakers. Their first feature “Kentucky Fried Movie!” consisted of a series of random and hysterical sketches. John Landis directed and they wrote. The movie developed a cult following, even though numerous producers warned them against making a feature film that was just a bunch of sketches.
With “Airplane!” they established themselves as a comedy powerhouse. Then, in 1982 they developed a TV series for ABC called “Police Squad!” It was a deadpan comedy about a clueless cop named Lt. Frank Drebin. Sound familiar? Yes, Police Squad! was the precursor to the “Naked Gun!” franchise. It has the exact same style of humor. My favorite gag, featured in the clip below, makes fun of those “freeze frame” endings from sitcoms that were so popular in the 1980s. In their version, the Zuckers didn’t actually freeze the image, but had Leslie Nielsen and company simply freeze themselves. Hilarity ensues.
“Police Squad!” only aired 6 episodes before it was cancelled. WHAT?! It’s true. Audiences were just a lot dumber back then. In all seriousness, I think it proves that the Zuckers were ahead of their time. Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons, was quoted as saying: “If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”
I concur. And since Mr. Nielsen has passed on, and there will sadly be no more Frank Drebin movies, I invite you to check out these early gems that are often overlooked. You can all the episodes on DVD through Amazon. Or, you can just do a Youtube Search. I actually found someone that had uploaded episode 1 right here, as you can see below.
The path of Writing and Directing is always unpredictable. Who could have guessed that 6 years after their TV show was cancelled, the Zuckers would be able to resurrect their core concept into a smash comedy movie like “The Naked Gun!” For whatever reason, 6 years later and in movie form versus TV, audiences responded wildly to their sense of humor.
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