The TV Show “Car 54, Where Are You?”, is an American situation comedy show that ran on National Broadcasting Company (NBC) from 1961 to 1963. The show was about two New York police officers that are based at the 53rd precinct of the fictional in The Bronx. Their patrol car was Car 54. The various episodes of the comedy show had different directors (Al De Caprio and Stanley Prager are the most recognized ones). Nat Hiken, a series creator also directed most of the episodes. The location of the film was at Biograph Studios in The Bronx.
The sitcom show occupies a unique place in the history of television. It is usually remembered as a classic comedy show with a catchy opening theme song filled with amazing performers from other series. The show focused on patrol-car partners, Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) and Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross) as they attempted to render their service to the citizens of New York. Toody was short, stocky, usually slow-witted, and a talkative cop, while Muldoon was tall, gangly, often laconic, and intelligent. Episodes of the show were filled with the usual situation comedy fare as the partners’ bumbling led to misunderstandings within their squad, like the time Toody made an attempt to prepare a plaster cast of the aching feet of his fellow patrolman and chaos ensued. Every week the pair provoked Captain Block, their superior as they caused more trouble for the Bronx than they solved.
Car 54, Where Are You? Is similar to the popular 1950s situation comedy “You’ll Never Get Rich”, which is also called The Phil Silvers Show. The series was created by Nat Hiken, a writer-producer-director and it starred Phil Silvers, the comedian, as Sergeant Bilko. The sitcom concentrated on the misadventures of a soldier’s oddball assembly at Fort Baxter, a forgotten outpost located in Kansas. Nat Hiken was highly gifted in writing and he had worked on the Radio show of Fred Allen and he later contributed to the “Texaco Star Theater” of Milton Berle. The Phil Silvers show had been a mega hit as Sergeant Bilko and his motor pool staff gambled, schemed, and tried to avoid every kind of work. When the Silver series came to an end in 1959, Hiken took a decision to translate its comic sensibility to a different setting. Car 5, Where Are You? Like its predecessor, was all about servicemen who failed to live up to the expectation of the people. Unlike the Fort Baxter schemers, however, the 53rd precinct’s police were trying their best—though usually failing. The series was filled with many performers that featured on the earlier show. Joe E. Ross played the role of Mess Sergeant Rupert Ritzik (the Company B’s Lucretia Borgia). The Gunther Toody’s character was an exact replica of the character of Ritzik even down to the trademark of his expression of “oooh-oooh-oooh. Lucille, the nagging wife of Toody was played by Beatrice Pons, the actress who appeared as Mrs Ritzik. Fred Gwynne, a Harvard-educated advertising man, was also featured on the Bilko show.
The core of the Car 54 sitcom series was the great friendship Muldoon and Toody had forged from the many years they patrolled the streets in Car 54. Their contrasting natures made them mesh perfectly despite the fact that they had nothing in common. Most of the episodes took place in the partners’ home lives away from the police station. Toody and his frustrated wife usually included the shy bachelor into their usual evening plans. One of the best episodes of the series centered on the mistaken idea of Toody that Muldoon and Lucille were having a secret affair. They were surrounded by a cast of top character actors which includes Paul Reed, Charlotte Rae, Al Lewis, Nipsey Russell and Alice Ghostley. Most of these performers had later graduated to become stars in their own TV shows. All the characters on Car 54 series depicted a reality of ethnicity little seen on early TV. Muldoon’s Irish-Catholic background and Toody’s Jewishness were more realistic than the indiscernible heritage of bland characters seen in other programs. Hiken’s decision to film the TV show on the streets of New York also distinguished it. For street scenes, the patrol car of Muldoon and Toody was painted white and red to indicate to New Yorkers that the car wasn’t actually a police vehicle. Car 54’s unique black-and-white colors make it look identical to the real New York police vehicles.
In 1961, when the sitcom premiered, it caused some controversy after several associations of police claimed it presented a picture that is demeaning to the police officers. However, most people understood the intention of the series as a satire that bore little relation to the real lives of police officers. The affection of viewer for the TV series was evident in Nyack, New York, where a police patrol car that was stolen from the police station was nicknamed “Car 54.”
In 1963, the series came to an end after failing to match the success the Hiken’s earlier Phil Silvers program’s success. Neither Hiken, who passed away in 1968 nor Joe E. Ross, who died in 1982, ever again achieved the success they found with the Car 54 sitcom. Following the cancellation of the show, Al Lewis (who played Sgt. Schnauzer) and Fred Gwynne achieved the immortality of TV playing “Grandpa” and “Herman” on the monster situation comedy called The Munsters. Fred Gwynne died in 1993.
The situation comedy “Car 54, Where Are You?” is an energetic series that never attained a mass audience. Its presentation of the misadventures of Officers Muldoon and Toody gained a few cult audience that only grew after the series started to be replayed on the Nick at Night cable network. The updated version of the awful 1994 movie of the show, filmed in 1991, starred John C. McGinley and David Johansen as Muldoon and Toody. It also featured rising stars like Fran Drescher and Rosie O’Donnell. Furthermore, after the viewing of the original Car 54 sitcom, it will be almost impossible to forget its opening theme, which started like this: “There’s a holdup in the Bronx /Brooklyn’s broken out in fights /There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights….”
Full episode Toody and Muldoon crack down