Emilio Audissino
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Police Squad! The Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style versus the substance of early 1980s television
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The David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker trio – ‘ZAZ’ – gained wide attention with their disaster-movie spoof Airplane! (1980), showcasing their trademark surrealistic humour. Their next project was a TV series for ABC, Police Squad! (1982), that spoofed the police-detective shows. Police Squad! met an untimely demise, cancelled after only six episodes. TV in the early 1980s was still considered more like a household appliance and more akin to radio than cinema: a voice-led medium. ZAZ’s wordplays and nonsensical dialogue demanded more focus and elaboration than the TV shows of the time, and their sight gags and absurdist byplays were too demanding for the small size of an early 1980s TV screen. The chapter examines this landmark TV show in terms of the clash between the ‘audiovisual disjunction’ and ‘nonsensical accumulation’ strategies of ZAZ’s style and the expectations of the viewer accustomed to the sound-dominated substance of early 1980s network television. ZAZ’s show, although short-lived, would prove influential and contributed in a substantial way to the stylistic evolution of TV comedy: for example, theirs was one of the first comedy shows to discard the standard laugh-track. Police Squad! enjoyed a second life in the following decades, even becoming a cult show, when in the meantime TV had been transformed by shows like The Simpsons, whose sight gags owe much to ZAZ’s style. The key moment under examination is the iconic title sequence followed by the investigation of the crime scene in Episode 1, ‘A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)’.

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Substance / style

Moments in television


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