On This Day: ‘CHiPs’ Aired Its Final Episode in 1983

by Joe Rutland

One of the 1970s more popular and, shall we say, unique television shows in “CHiPs” ended its six-season run on this day on NBC.

The show featured two California Highway Patrol officers chasing bad guys and rescuing people from wrecks. Larry Wilcox, who played Jon Baker, and Erik Estrada, who played Frank “Ponch” Poncharello, were the show’s top stars. But there was a lot of tension between the main stars, and Wilcox bailed on the show before its sixth and final season.

One of the biggest differences between “CHiPs” and other police shows was that, while approaching their duties seriously, they tried to instill a light-hearted feeling to the show. Viewers could pretty much expect joking banter between Jon and “Ponch” during each episode.

‘CHiPs’ Closes Out Run On NBC By Teaching Kids About Teamwork

The final episode, which aired on May 1, 1983, was called “Return of the Brat Patrol.” “Ponch” takes center stage as he teaches a group of what’s called “explorer scouts” about the value of teamwork. He does this in the framework of a basketball game that pits the “scouts” against their rivals.

Yes, there is some cop work in this last show. There’s a junior high shakedown ring running amok. But it gets snuffed out thanks to “Ponch” and his new partner, Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson, portrayed by Tom Reilly. “Hot Dog” was introduced at the start of the sixth season as Baker’s replacement. Fans, though, didn’t get a lot of warm fuzzies over this new pairing. They wanted Jon and “Ponch,” not “Ponch” and “Hot Dog.”

“CHiPs” originally aired on NBC on Thursdays, almost got canceled in its first season, then moved to Saturdays. The show consistently won its time slot until its final season.

Estrada Popularity Played Important Role In Show’s Ratings

While Wilcox didn’t like Estrada, fans of the show didn’t share his opinion. Many of them found Estrada’s character to be likable and really hooked into the “Ponch” role. Estrada didn’t mind appearing on different shows when his scheduled allowed him to do so.

He even became somewhat of a pin-up favorite for viewers, thanks to a shirtless photo of a smiling Estrada.

Actually, show producers originally had “Ponch” lined up to be Italian. But Estrada showed up and delivered a powerful audition. Once they decided to hire Estrada, the role was adjusted to fit his Puerto Rican ethnicity.

It also helped that Estrada played up his role in a macho way, giving off an air of confidence as a highway patrol officer. Wilcox’s character was more straightlaced and didn’t always go all rambunctious as “Ponch” would do week after week.

Those highway patrol motorcycles were parked for the final time, though, on this day.