He Was a Trooper, Turned Consultant, for TV Show CHiPs
Editor’s note: Sometimes a little innovative thinking at the right time can change a career. It doesn’t take long for most of us to accumulate an eclectic collection of workplace stories about things that didn’t go as expected or events that prompted a new career direction. We plan to include one such story in each edition of the Huntsman Post under the heading “When Theory Meets Practice – Stories From the Workplace.” If you have such a story to share, please send it to Steve Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Huntsman Associate Director Used to be On TV Each Week
By Robert Hayden, associate director & advisor of MIS Graduate Programs
It was a day that changed my career in law enforcement forever and I didn’t even see it coming.
In January of 1975, I went to work one day, expecting to spend another day as a California Highway Patrol officer, never imagining that I’d be involved in a fake motorcycle chase that would connect me to the most famous fictitious highway motorcycle troopers of all time. I could not have known that because of one crazy thing I did, footage of me riding my motorcycle would become the introduction to a weekly television show that ran for six years.
Larry Wilcox, (left), and Erik Estrada were stars of ChiPs in the 1970’s, but the man in the middle was a real California Highway Patrolman. Robert Hayden, who now works at the Huntsman School of Business, served as a stunt double for Larry Wilcox.
It all started after our afternoon briefing when my sergeant asked my partner, Bruce Wiedmer, and I to step into his office. There we met a man, Rick Rosner, who was planning on creating a new television show about California Highway Patrol officers.
My sergeant asked me to take the creator in a car on a regular patrol. Once we were out of earshot of the creator, my partner and I decided to stage a stunt. I was driving, with Rick as my passenger, in a cruiser and I told Bruce and Bill Anderson, another trooper, to go ahead of us on their motorcycles and pretend as if they were engaged in a high-speed chase. I followed in the cruiser so Rick could see them in action.
We went on an 18-mile fake chase through rush-hour traffic. When it was over Rick was looking straight ahead, ashen white, and clutching his clothing. After he settled down, we went to dinner where he said to me “that’s what I need in order to sell it to NBC.”
To pitch the idea they needed some footage, so with the help of a camera in a car and a helicopter overhead, Bruce and I swerved, banked and accelerated for hours while they filmed it. It gave them the three minutes they needed to pitch the show. NBC bought the idea for the TV series that would eventually be called CHiPs featuring Erik Estrada as Francis "Ponch" Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Jon Baker. The show would air 139 episodes over six seasons.
They ended up hiring me as a consultant and I took a leave of absence from my job for four years. When they showed the officers wheeling down the highway from afar, it was usually not Larry Wilcox, that you saw, it was me. (Some people say I even looked like Larry. See picture.) In fact there was more footage of me riding in the opening to the show than there was of Larry. The close ups of the motorcycle were of my bike and all the tight shots of hands and feet were of me. When they showed Larry, he was actually sitting on a Kawasaki 900 with the front attached to a flatbed trailer. You can see the opening by clicking here.
During the pilot, I worked with them for a month to get some initial footage they could use in the show. I had them modify my motorcycle so they could mount a camera on my bike on the front and side, and film me doing different maneuvers such as shifting, splitting traffic, and following speeding cars. Every day on location I would do my best to make sure the footage they shot was as authentic as possible.
The show was a public relations bonanza for the California Highway Patrol. Instead of police exchanging gunfire with legions of bad guys, it showed troopers in an entirely differently light. The main characters never even drew their guns while I was a part of the show. They dealt with everyday events that occurred in the Los Angeles freeways. Of course they made it interesting by developing story lines around things like an abandoned baby in a rest stop or troopers nabbing a moving van with stolen cars in it.
It’s not often that a practical joke leads to so much good and such a rewarding phase in a career. It taught me to be open to new possibilities which probably gave me the courage to go back to school and get my doctorate at age 45. But that’s another story for another time.