Had the good fortune earlier this year to be invited to take part in a TV party that’s been turned into a TV series. The show is called Switch and it premieres tonight at 9:30 on TVTropolis.
So--full disclosure--I'm in on this deal. This isn't the most objective review, but, hey, what can I say, I had fun and the producers at Buck Productions seem to have gotten it more or less right.
Switch gathers a team of so-called “pop culture enthusiasts” for a spirited discussion of all things TV. I was invited on a few episodes, including tonight's "Who Cuffs You Baby" half hour, along with two funny guys--Tim Steeves, stand up comedian and writer on The Rick Mercer Report and Nathan Rabin of The Onion’s A.V. Club. Former MuchMusic VJ Richard Cazeau (who now goes under the one word moniker “Caz”) hosts from a jazzy rat pack rec room of a set. Each episode is themed along Best Cop, Hospital, Spy or P.I. Show, Coolest TV Car, Best Second Banana, etc., with some actor or actress from TV's past in on the fun.
I had a blast with Erik Estrada, a.k.a. “Ponch” from the ‘70s highway patrol drama CHiPs. Estrada, like Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, Family Affair actress Kathy Garver, Michael Fishman (Roseanne) and others, were flown up across the border to Toronto last winter to pick up a cheque for swapping stories.
Estrada was a hoot, spinning as many TV tales off-camera as on- (read my initial report on hanging with him at the Switch taping here—and don’t miss his crazy Hawaii 5-0 yarn). The 60-year-old does not look or act anywhere near his age and had us all cracking up with stories of stomping off the set in a bitter salary dispute (he was replaced for half a season by Olympic face changer Bruce Jenner!), confrontations with the producers and designing his own too-tight pants on the series. Estrada makes you feel like you've known him all your life, which, come to think of it, some of us TV watchers have.
That easy-going camaraderie comes across on the series, which moves at a very brisk pace. The Top-10 cop, detective, hospital, whatever shows are named and start nit picking now. Me, there's no way I'd rank CHiPs ahead of Hill Street Blues, but I guess that would have been flipped had Charlie Haid (who would also be a hell of a guest) been flown up.
At the end, all of us throw around suggestions for the perfect amalgamation of all the best TV character traits. Kojak's lolipop, Columbo's wrinkled rain coat, that kind of thing. The result is an animated paste-up of the perfect TV cop, doctor, second banana, etc. It’s a gimmick I think they could drop, frankly, saving more time for stories from the guest stars. Hell, Estrada reading the phone book would be fun.
I was in on the second banana discussion, too. Holding court was none other than Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, Kid Dy-NO-Mite himself. Walker was more subdued than Estrada (so are fireworks) but came with just as many stories, although more had to be pried out of him. He was such a big deal back in his Good Times heyday guys like David Letterman wrote jokes for Jimmy at his comedy club dates. That’s why, to this day, you’ll see Walker on with Letterman, with the host being as loyal to his old club pals and anybody on television.
If TV was your baby sitter growing up—especially if you grew up in the ‘70s—Switch is a show you will want to spend a little time with. Again, it airs tonight at 9:30 on TVTropolis. Like me, you'll want to be invited back to this TV party.