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Adam-12: On The Beat With L.A. Cops In Changing Times

Entertainment | July 18, 2018

Kent McCord as Officer James A. Reed, and Martin Milner as Officer Peter J. Malloy in the TV show Adam 12 (ran 1968-1975). Undated. Source: Bettmann/Getty

On the TV police drama Adam-12, Martin Milner and Kent McCord played two beat cops in Los Angeles in the late '60s and early '70s. The series purported to be a dramatic recounting of actual cases investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The show chronicled the daily shifts of Officers Pete Malloy (Milner) and Jim Reed (McCord) as they served to protect the city's streets in their patrol unit, 1-Adam-12.

The show was one of the last to depict uniformed cops as its central good guys. Televised police dramas in the years since have focused on special units, undercover work, detectives, and other specialized law enforcement officers -- regular policemen driving black-and-white patrol cars on the beat, responding to local crimes or emergencies, seemed less interesting as audiences hungered for mystery or psychological plot elements.

From The Team That Brought You Dragnet

Jack Webb wasn't just one of the lead actors in the detective show Dragnet -- he was also its co-creator (with Robert Cinader). Dragnet had begun as a radio show in 1949, then expanded to TV in 1951 (while still continuing on radio). Dragnet ended its first TV run in 1959, but returned in 1967. With Dragnet back on the air, and again a hit, Webb and his production company Mark VII Limited set about creating Adam-12. The series aired after Dragnet and shared its “names were changed to protect the innocent” claim. Adam-12 first aired in 1968 and ran through mid-1975.

Mark VII had one more show -- the fire and rescue series Emergency! All three took place in the same Los Angeles setting, and the series had numerous crossover episodes.

What Does 'Adam-12' Mean, Anyway?

The distinction of the unit No. (Adam-12) on the popular series is actually a combination of 3 separate elements. The “1” stood for Division 1 of the LAPD; "Adam" was the call word of the letter “A” which was the unit; and, "12" was representative of the last 2 digits of the patrol car number. In the case of Adam-12, on the series, Officers Malloy and Reed worked the “Rampart Division,” if you remember the program. In actuality, the Rampart Division was Division 2, meaning that the Adam-12 unit should have been known as 2-Adam-12. This may have been done for purposes of the television series because there was reportedly never an actual patrol unit known as 1-Adam-12.

The Show Was Instructional -- And Good PR

Adam-12 was created and intended to introduce the general population to police jargon and procedure. Officers Malloy and Reed were cast as LAPD police officers to give a real face and personal connection to police forces all over the United States. The show attempted to have viewers make a connection with law enforcement and was among the first of its kind.

Humanizing The Force

The '60s and '70s were a time of social upheaval and attempted reformation. Police forces were front and center in the media at political and civil rights events and started to be seen in a negative light, to some. Adam-12 was an attempt to humanize the day to day lives of police officers; American men and women just trying to do their jobs.

Adam-12 Showed A Different Perspective

Micky Dolenz (of Mokees fame) as a thug on Adam-12. Source: IMDB

Adam-12 portrayed police as helpful and diligent during changing times, exposing some of the urban crime that occurred as a by-product of the peace-and-love that was fashionable in the media. Adam-12's officers were young men who'd signed up with "the man" to keep the city clean -- not exactly the easiest sell as Woodstock was making headlines. But gangs, poverty, drugs and cultural changes were the reality in a city like Los Angeles, and it turns out that the public was fascinated with the largely untold story of the officers who voluntarily tried to keep the peace.

Tags: Adam 12 | TV In The 1960s | TV In The 1970s

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Torya Primrose


Torya spends her free time listening to music, reading great romance novels, and exploring Southern California. She loves hiking, beaches, and cold Canadian winter days.