It was a show so ridiculous, it’d make you wonder how it made the airwaves. It boasted some of the most out-there moments and uproarious sight gags on television. It was consistently funny, no matter how many times you watched an episode. Naturally, it was canceled.
I’m of course talking about Police Squad!, the madcap spoof of police dramas that aired for six episodes on ABC in the spring and summer of 1982. Despite its creative pedigree – it was created by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, the trio that wrote the hysterical comedies The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and Airplane! (1980) – the show could never seem to find an audience. And that was a damn shame – as Detective Lieutenant Frank Drebin, veteran character actor Leslie Nielsen led viewers through what frequently resembled a living Mad magazine, full of quick-fire puns, wacky cameos, and blink-and-you-miss-’em sight gags. Instant classic stuff today, but in 1982 audiences and executives were confused. (ABC Entertainment president Tony Thomopoulos famously told Entertainment Tonight that it was canned “because the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it,” which is interesting, as that’s usually how television’s supposed to work.)
Undaunted, the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team created several other successful comedies (Top Secret! (1984), Ruthless People (1986)) and then boldly decided to revisit the world of Lt. Drebin and company. Released in 1988, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! was a smash hit, and spawned two sequels: 1991’s The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear and The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult! (1994). All three films solidified Nielsen as a late-blooming comedy genius and the Zuckers and Abrahams as masters of the genre.
But a less-talked about result of the films is how prominent it made composer Ira Newborn.
The jazzy composer, who rose to prominence as a musical director for The Manhattan Transfer, is one of those composers with a distinctive style but without household name recognition. His light touch brings some grin-inducing bravado to films that are usually top-loaded with pop music instead of an actual score, films like The Blues Brothers (1980), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Mallrats (1995). (Newborn has tried to make sense of it all in interviews, though it’s easy to see how the business has turned him off of film scoring in recent years.) Newborn’s need to coexist with pop music, though, means that very little of his music has ever had much of a commercial release. There are a handful of tracks here and there – some cues on the soundtrack to 1985’s Into the Night, which also featured songs he wrote for B.B. King to perform, and a tune on the Weird Science soundtrack (credited to “Ira and The Geeks”) – but that’s almost it…except for The Naked Gun.
Newborn had been a part of the creative team for Police Squad!, and he was given a simple task by the ZAZ team: create a theme that parodies the swinging themes of police dramas past (namely M-Squad, which had a similarly swinging theme by Count Basie) without overtly mimicking the tunes. The result is arguably Newborn’s signature work, a larger-than-life piece of jazz that’s heard in other films and television shows to this day. Naturally, Newborn was utilized for the Naked Gun trilogy as well. But while the released music may be the only full Ira Newborn score album, it’s still woefully incomplete; the disc in question was released at the time of The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and included highlights from the first two films. The third film never even got a score release.
We can only hope that someday, original label Varese Sarabande can release more of the score (or put the original album back in print) so fans of these hilarious films can celebrate some scores as madly delightful as the movies they were written for.
- Beirut Vacation – 0:56 *
- Drebin – Hero! – 1:03
- Main Title – 2:01 *
- Meat Miss Spencer – 5:28 *
- There’s Been a Bombing – 0:47
- The Exciting Chase – 2:44 *
- Bad Bouys and Meinheimers – 2:44
- Miss Spencer – 1:01 *
- Hey, Look at These – 0:44
- On the Ledge – 1:06 *
- Thinking of…Him! – 2:33
- The Date – 0:56
- Roof, Roof!! – 4:14
- I Must Kill Frank – 3:10 *
- I Want a World – 1:47
- End Credits – 4:32
* denotes cue from The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)