By David Flynn
In the 1970s, a legendary TV character was part of a hard-hitting cop show which featured rough justice for the first time on air.
Before Lieutenant Kojak was introduced in the tv movie, ‘The Marcus-Nelson Murders’ in 1973, television cops were a sedate group, but successful in their jobs, and they always got their criminals. An occasional exception was Barry Morse as Lieutenant Gerard in ‘The Fugitive’. However the Kojak character was a different figure. He fought the good fight and bent the rules along the way, and became world famous. He took no prisoners and could be forceful and less than honest with the bad guys to get what he wanted.
The character and series was created by writer Abby Mann, who had scripted the movie, ‘Judgement at Nuremburg’, for which he won an Oscar in 1962. The pilot movie of ‘Kojak’ was broadcast in March 1973 on CBS in America, and ‘Kojak’ went to series in October that year.
‘The Marcus-Nelson Murders’ was a hard-hitting story based on the true life investigation of a double murder of two young women in New York in 1963. Veteran actors Ned Beatty and Jose Ferrer guest starred in the movie.
The series was screened in America on Wednesday night at the late time of 10pm, and it had little competition which propelled it to No. 7 in the ratings. It was a time when ‘cop’ and ‘private eye’ shows were dominant on Stateside television and the only such programme ahead of ‘Kojak’ in its first year was the very popular ‘Hawaii Five-O’.
Marlon Brando was rumoured to have been originally cast as Kojak but actor Telly Savalas ended up with the role. Savalas had shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate in the movie, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ in 1965, and was a Bond villain in 1969’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.
‘Kojak’ got a late night airing in Ireland in RTÉ because of its adult content and it was also screened on Britain’s ITV network. The series was very popular on this side of the world, and Telly as Kojak also became famous to people who didn’t watch the hit series.