Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon: Kojak: How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars

This blog post is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon hosted by The Classic TV Blog Association. Check out the blogathon schedule here and make sure to check out all of the great MeTV holiday programming here!

Call me crazy, but I normally do not associate Christmas season programming with gritty cop dramas. I’m funny that way. Luckily, my hesitancy was quickly put to rest just a few minutes into Kojak’s How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars, which manages to capture all of the bleakness of a holiday in a crime ridden city while also catching some of the magic of hope and happiness that permeates the season.

The depressing setting of a NYC police department is brightened up slightly by a Christmas Eve party, but these cops aren’t going to be drinking spiked eggnog tonight, as they are all on duty and covering several potentially dangerous situations. Kojak (Telly Savalas) is on the lookout for a man who randomly shot at a pretty and sassy brunette in a low rent bar, one of his underlings who is mourning the death of his wife has developed an itchy trigger finger on a stakeout, and Detective Stavros (Telly’s brother George Savalas) is looking after a privileged but kindhearted heiress who thinks her unemployed boyfriend might commit a crime so he can afford to give her an extravagant gift. Although all lives do not perfectly collide on the eve of Christmas, there are strange intersections where love and is both captured and lost, and Telly ends the episode proclaiming to the streets of New York City, “Love thy neighbor, baby!"


Abby Mann, who created Kojak, was no stranger to courting social dramas and was probably most famous for writing Judgment at Nuremberg. He won an Emmy for his Kojak pilot TVM script, The Marcus Nelson Murders, and the series became a staple of television for five seasons, running from 1973-1978. Granted, it was often full of a stark sense of gloom and doom, but that melancholy was punctuated by brilliant dialog and a masterful performance by Savalas, who commanded every frame he appeared in.

According to Savalas, he wasn’t acting at all. In an interview he remarked, “Savalas and Kojak - we’re the same guy. Hey, you think it’s going to be different, baby, you’re wrong. You don’t walk onto a TV set and create a character like me in five minutes. Even I know that. I have to be Telly. I have to play myself by whatever name. Otherwise, I’m in trouble.”

And boy, was Savalas great at being himself. The character of Theo Kojak charmed his way into our living rooms, and left us with that fantastic tagline, “Who loves ya, baby?” which can apparently be used for people you actually care about or criminals, depending on your situation. Kojak's got your back... uh, baby!

And, the supporting cast was just as good. I remember Kojak introduced me to Kevin Dobson, who I would later fall in love with on Knots Landing. In this holiday episode you can also grab an early look at both John Larroquette (credited as Sailor) and Veronica Hamel who plays a woman much too young for the lollipop addict. But mostly, Kojak is matched up with the ready-to-party Loretta (Jesse Welles), who, despite her superficial veneer of living a life of dances that never end, finds her own bit of sadness amongst the falling snow and Latin music.

Originally airing on December 21, 1975, this episode might have been one of the more poignant looks at Christmas that year. And certainly one of the most memorable. Catch Kojak on MeTV tonight (December 9) at 9 PM EST and PST and 8 PM CST and MST. I promise, he will love ya, baby!


Rick29 said...

I'm looking forward to this KOJAK episode; I'm also hoping that the series makes its way to MeTV's primetime schedule. It was a fine gritty copy show and, as you wrote, the cast is wonderful (especially Telly Savalas and Kevin Dobson, whom I also remember from the excellent KNOTS LANDING). Really, Kojak was one of the mostmemorable TV characters of his era--he had a great catch phrase and a cool habit (those lollipops)!

Lisa said...

What a show! Definitely need to catch this one! Somehow the grittiness of the show has perhaps dated it more than some others, but a great example of that NYC vibe. Even hard-boiled detectives need a little Christmas!

Great article!

Joanna said...

"Love Thy Neighbor, baby." Hahahaha! classic. Another fantastic read Amanda. Thanks for doing this :)

Rick W. said...

"Kojak", I believe, is run on Cozi TV, an NBC digital subchannel. It had a good New York vibe, although only its fourth season was shot entirely in the Big Apple.