TV Detective News: A Sex Change for 'McCloud'

— Help! Help! I woke up suddenly with Starsky & Hutch in theaters and a behind-the-scenes Charlie's Angels biopic on TV. Call MacGyver! I've been kidnapped and sent back in time.

To whoever put me in a time machine: I give up. I'll negotiate. I'll watch all your re-jiggered '70s-era crime shows one more time. Just don't make me relive puberty.

I know that sequels and Hollywood rehashes are as much a part of life as the never-ending war on terrorism, and neither are going away any time soon.

The focus on the '70s TV crime genre, however, is unexpected, and can't even be blamed on Robert Blake, who's going on trial for the murder of his wife, not for over-emoting on Baretta.

The crime parade will continue. The USA Network is talking about an all-new Kojak, with Ving Rhames as the lollypop-sucking chrome-dome detective.

McCloud may also ride back into town — and this time, he's saddling up for a sex change. Comic Brett Butler is developing the series, featuring herself as the cowboy detective originally played by Dennis Weaver in a Stetson and sheepskin jacket.

I decided it's high time someone investigated the great TV investigators — not for scandal, but for comic value. If the crime busters of TV yore are making a comeback, it's our right to put them under the microscope.

I'll leave Mr. Blake out of it, since he's been under the microscope just a little too long. As for rest, look what I found:

Kojak: Here's a big fat Greek coincidence: Telly Savalas was not just TV's most popular baldy. He also had ties to the boob tube's most famous hairdo. He was Jennifer Aniston's godfather. Her original family name is Anastassakis.

Savalas was so popular in his mid-'70s heyday as the tough-as-nails Manhattan detective with a heart of gold that he never had to use Kojak's catch-phrase — "Who loves ya, baby?" — off-screen. Everyone did.

A 1975 recording of Savalas singing "If," the popular song by Bread, rivals the William Shatner rendition of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" for worst-ever celebrity musical performance.

Still, the song rocketed to No. 1 in Britain.

A Las Vegas hotel paid the gravel-voiced actor $100,000 a week to work up a cabaret act, which proved moderately successful, although Savalas reportedly received a telegram that read, "I ain't worried. Signed, Ol' Blue Eyes."

Kojak's trademark lollypop sucking may seem like a stroke of genius. It's more of an accident. Savalas was struggling to give up smoking, so he turned to the candy as a distraction.

Savalas, who died of prostate cancer in 1994, nearly missed the boat to stardom. He was the Dirty Dozen's resident rapist, and served time with Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcatraz. He should have been the star of Cool Hand Luke, too, only he was at sea on an extended trip when the studio called. Producers had to settle on Paul Newman, a great second choice who would have made a lousy Kojak, had the situation been reversed.

It could have opened the door, perhaps, to a line of "Newman's Own" brand designer toupees.

Starsky & Hutch:

David Soul, the blond half of Starsky & Hutch, took some knocks for his campy '70s hit, "Don't Give Up on Us, Baby," but his real life turned into a fairly compelling courtroom drama.

Soul actually realized many an artist's dream: He sued a critic for slamming one of his plays — and won.

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