S.W.A.T. - 10 Things You Might Not Know about the 1970s Show
S.W.A.T. is one of the most unusual shows in TV history. The mid-1970s action drama about a “Special Weapons and Tactics” team was a pop culture phenomenon and spawned a franchise, despite an extremely brief network run.
Now, more than 40 years later, S.W.A.T. is back. A new network series headlined by Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) is one of the most anticipated shows of the fall season. And getTV viewers can see how the saga began when old school S.W.A.T. takes over primetime with a marathon this Sunday, October 29 and joins our overnight lineup starting Monday, November 13.
As original series star Steve Forrest might say, Let’s roll with some surprising facts about this iconic franchise.
1. The 1970s series was a spinoff.
Viewers who tuned in to The Rookies on ABC on February 17, 1975 may have been surprised to see a two-hour episode focusing on a character they’d never met: hard-nosed Lt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Steve Forrest). It all made sense a week later when Harrelson headlined his own spinoff, which conveniently followed The Rookies on Monday nights for the remainder of the season.
2. Steve Forrest was the only cast member in the pilot.
Only Forrest appeared on The Rookies, as Hondo locked horns with Officer Terry Webster (Georg Stanford Brown). The rest of his team – young cop Jim Street (Robert Urich), Sgt. David “Deacon” Kay (Rod Perry), former narc Dominic Luca (Mark Shera), and marksman T.J. McCabe (James Coleman) – were introduced in the first episode.
3. It was more violent than you remember.
In his essential reference book Total Television, Alex McNeil calls S.W.A.T. “one of the most violent shows of the decade” and that’s not hyperbole. Early episodes include no-holds-barred depictions of terrorism, organized crime, and assassinations of police - all issues still plaguing law enforcement today. There are also frank depictions of cocaine and heroin use, hardly the norm on network TV at the time. While these factors give the show an unusual relevance for contemporary audiences, they placed S.W.A.T. in the crosshairs of a backlash against television violence during its original run.
4. It was produced by Aaron Spelling. Yes, that Aaron Spelling.
You don’t necessarily think gritty and violent when you think of Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, or Beverly Hills 90210, but the man behind S.W.A.T. was the same genius who brought us those campy classics. Spelling, the medium’s most prolific producer according to The Guinness Book Of World Records, died in 2006 after entertaining TV viewers for more than half a century. Leonard Goldberg, his producing partner on S.W.A.T. (and other hits), is still with us as of this writing at age 83.
5. It inspired a flood of licensed products.
Despite a weekly body count higher than your average slasher film and the fact it was shown during the "family hour," S.W.A.T. was like catnip to kids and Spelling and ABC responded with a toy box-full of licensed products. There were action figures, lunchboxes, board games, play sets, puzzles, Matchbox-style cars, and a View-Master set, many of which can be found today on eBay and/or in the basements of dudes in their mid-to-late 40s. As the series progressed, stories were softened to better cater to younger viewers.
6. The theme song was a hit.
Composer Barry De Vorzon’s theme became an unlikely Top 10 radio hit, in a version performed by Rhythm Heritage on their 1976 album Disco-fied. It was also extremely hummable by 6-year-old boys playing S.W.A.T. in their backyards in New York (some of whom still have a scar they got while “rappelling” off the roof of the garage).
7. It was only on the air for a year.
After a wildly successful first season in which it ranked sixteenth in the Nielsen ratings – against top ten hits Maude and Rhoda on CBS – S.W.A.T. moved to Saturday nights for season two. Sadly, the show fell out of the top 30 and was not renewed for a third season. On April 3, 1976, after just 37 episodes and 13 months on the air, the series concluded with the inventive, Roshomon-style finale Officer Luca, You’re Dead.
8. It was rebooted as a movie in 2003.
Feature film reboots of classic TV shows often fail because writers meddle with proven premises, but S.W.A.T. (2003) hews pretty closely to the TV origin story. Five years before he became Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson plays Hondo with the same world-weary gravitas that made Steve Forrest so unforgettable. And Colin Farrell is excellent as the cocky but damaged Jim Street, more than a decade before playing a similar character on HBO’s True Detective. Add LL Cool J as Deke, Josh Charles as McCabe, and Michele Rodriguez as Sanchez (a gender-swapped variation on Luca) and you have a solid cast.
9. There multiple homages to the TV show in the movie.
At the dinner celebrating the completion of their training, the new S.W.A.T team hums the theme song to the S.W.A.T. TV show, which also happens to be the theme of the movie they’re in. And if that’s not meta enough for you, one of them watches the original S.W.A.T. on TV, and we see Steve Forrest playing Hondo, the same role Sam Jackson is playing in the film. Rod Perry also has a cameo as the father of the character he played 38 years earlier, and Forrest pops up at the end as the driver of the mobile unit. (Sadly, it was Forest’s final role before his death in 2013). Two sequels followed: S.W.A.T. Firefight (2011 - also airing on getTV October 29) and S.W.A.T. Under Siege (2017). Neither is connected to the narrative of the 2003 film or the 2017 TV series.
10. S.W.A.T. rolls again.
The TV reboot of S.W.A.T honors the franchise’s legacy by retaining many of the original characters – and reviving one character excluded from the film. Moore’s Hondo sounds like a cross between Sam Jackson and Steve Forrest, with way more shirtlessness. Jay Harrington’s Deacon and Kenny Johnson’s Luca are both considerably older than their 1970s predecessors, which will put an interesting spin on team dynamics. Alex Russell’s Jim Street is still the youngest member of the crew. And there are new team members: Victor Tan, played by Asian-American actor David Lin, and Chris Alonso (Lina Esco), who seems to be based upon Michele Rodriguez’s character from the film. Stephanie Sigman plays Hondo’s on-again, off-again love interest and Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn is Deacon’s wife. “We’re gonna go out there and put some real stuff in your face,” Shemar Moore said of the reboot, in which he plays an L.A. native torn between his loyalty to the streets and his brothers and sister in law enforcement. Forty years later, it sounds like S.W.A.T is returning to its torn-from-the-headlines roots.
Join us for a night-long salute to the franchise on Sunday, October 29 starting with S.W.A.T. Firefight at 6 pm ET and a marathon of the original series starting at 8 pm ET. More classic episodes of the original S.W.A.T. will air Monday-Thursday at 4 am ET beginning November 13. For more, visit the getTV schedule.