About Blue Thunder
When director John Badham’s Blue Thunder soared to the box office stratosphere in the summer of 1983, ABC quickly ordered a TV spinoff as a mid-season replacement.
Changes were made as the tricked-out chopper made its journey from big screen to small. James Farentino takes over for Roy Scheider as Frank Chaney, the Vietnam veteran pilot. Dana Carvey (soon to be a star on Saturday Night Live) plays Frank’s goofy flight engineer, nicknamed JAFO (for Just Another Frustrated Observer). And Sandy McPeak is their exasperated chief Captain Braddock. Added for the series is the Rolling Thunder mobile unit, manned by Dick Butkus as “Ski” Butowski and Bubba Smith as “Bubba” Kelsey. In the show, as in real life, both men were retired NFL players
But the biggest change is in tone. By the time Blue Thunder got to TV, the cautionary tale about the dangers of a flying Big Brother in a major U.S. city (Los Angeles) had become a show about an airborne guardian angel. Action-comedy replaced social commentary as ABC sought a family audience for a Friday 9 p.m. timeslot. Despite the guiding hand of veteran producer Roy Huggins (The Rockford Files), Blue Thunder stalled after one short season.
Notable guest stars:
Richard Lynch, Ray Wise, George Gaynes, Gregory Sierra, Belinda Montgomery, Thalmus Rasulala, Tracy Scoggins, Kurtwood Smith, Frank Pesce, Liz Torres, Robert DoQui, Kelly Presto
Developed by Roy Huggins, based on the 1983 film written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby.