Who loves ya baby: Kojak's creator dies
The mind behind "Kojak," perhaps the definitive 1970s NYC TV cop, has died. Abby Mann, who won an Oscar for writing "Judgment at Nuremberg", penned the 1973 TV movie, "The Marcus-Nelson Murders," which introduced the character of Theo Kojak to America. It was a huge hit, and spawned five seasons worth of one-hour episodic drama, ending when the ratings petered out in 1978.
The movie that brought Kojak's character to life was inspired by a real-life New York case -- the career girl murders of 1963, in which two women were brutally raped and killed, and the wrong man sent to prison -- a man who had confessed to a crime he did not commit. The character of "Kojak," however, appears to have been a composite. From a New York Times' correction on a 1996 obit for Det. Thomas Cavanagh, who had been credited as the inspiration for "Kojak": "The character was a composite, based on a number of detectives, lawyers and reporters -- including Thomas Cavanagh -- who were involved in the 1963 Wylie-Hoffert murder case. He was not its sole inspiration."
Mann was proud of the TV movie, but once Universal had to fill airtime with his character once a week, his view soured considerably. What bugged him may well have been the cops-and-robbers cheesy goodness that makes it a cult classic. The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago tells us:
Although he was not involved in the production of Kojak, Mann was unhappy with the treatment of the series by its producer, Universal Television, which, he argued, re-framed the police melodrama as a formulaic cops-and-robbers potboiler, whereas he had sought to show, in The Marcus-Nelson Murders, that law enforcement officials should be watched.
We enjoy "Kojak" reruns to savor Telly Savalas' work, and to enjoy glimpses of 1970s Gotham street life. One New York street icon the show captured frequently is those "snakehead" lamps that are the DOT standard. They were so ubiquitous whenever Kojak would drive his gas-guzzler around town that you might call them "Kojak" lamps.
Want to indulge a "Kojak" fix and revisit the character Mann created? Hulu has the first 22 episodes, complete and with limited commercial interruption.
-- Rolando Pujol