Kojak and Kojak (2005)


Kojak (1973-1978)
Kojak (2005)
Type: Revival

   Kojak started as a hard boiled 70's cop show starring Telly Savalas as the title character Lieutenant Theo Kojak. Kojak was a no nonsense tough guy cop. You didn't want to get mouthy with Kojak because he'd lay the verbal smack down on ya. Heck, if things were getting critical he'd likely snap at his friends. But it was always to the good, to trying to save the day.

   Standing in stark contrast to his tough guy image was Kojak's trademark lollipops. Kojak constantly sucked on lollipops because he - and I think Telly Savalas in real life - had quit smoking. He substituted the lollipops for the smokes.

   Kojak had other trademark that definitely came from Telly Savalas: his distinctive shaved bald head. So you have an already striking Greek actor who is also bald and sucking a lollipop. If that ain't the definition of an iconic appearance I don't know what is. Add in his patented catch phrase, "Who loves ya, baby?" and you have a TV classic.

   The show left the air in 1978. Savalas did return to play Kojak in a number of TV movies over the years up through 1990. Savalas died in 1994 and, it would seem, so did Theo Kojak.

   No way dude. Kojak is the one cop tough enough to whup the reaper. In 2005 Kojak was back in the black! No wait... make that Kojak was back AND black.

   In 2005 the USA cable network decided to revive the character of Kojak for a whole new series. Without Telly Savalas? Blasphemy! No one could possibly replace Savalas, right? As it turns out, wrong. USA hired the next toughest, coolest bald man around: Ving Rhames. So Kojak went through one, uh, minor change. Instead of Greek he was now black.

   Just like the original Kojak, the new Kojak was a tough as nails cop. He wasn't above roughing up some criminal - or at least threatening to - if it would help solve a case. But this Kojak was a little different. First off he wasn't afraid to let his soft side really show. He has a special soft spot for for kids. In the first season it seemed like every other episode Kojak was becoming emotionally involved in some poor kid's plight.

   Secondly, the new Kojak seemed a little more willing to not just bend but occasionally break the rules if it meant justice would be better served. For instance, in the first episode of the new show Kojak was trying to put away a serial killer. It turned out the bad guy was a cop, a cop who had helped convict many criminals. If Kojak arrested the guy, every case the guy had had a hand in would be looked into and most all of the convictions would be overturned. Cop arrested, other bad guys go free. Cop left alone, an evil killer is left on the streets. What's a cop to do? Why, simple. Kojak let the proof fall into the hands of the father of one of the victims, a military man and trained fighter. As luck would have it, that cop ended up being found beaten to death. What a coincidence! I'm not positive the original Kojak would have resorted to such illegal tactics

   The new Kojak had one final thing the original didn't have: an ongoing secondary plot. When he was a child, Kojak's father was murdered. The killer was never caught and the clues as to who did it were minimal. Kojak never stopped trying to solve the case. In one episode Kojak thought he had found the killer and was torn between his need to uphold the law and his deep desire to just frickin' kill the guy! As it turned out, he had the wrong man.

   So far there has only been a single season of the new Kojak. It seems like that is all there will ever be. But given that cable series can have very odd hiatus lengths, it could, possibly, return.

   There is one extra oddity about Kojak and that's his name. Many people seem to feel Kojak is a Greek name given that Telly Savalas was of Greek ancestry. So when Ving Rhames took over the role, people were confused. How can a black guy be named Kojak?

   The funny thing is, I believe the name Kojak is actually Polish. When the character was first conceived he supposedly was going to be Polish. Then they hired Telly Savalas and without any logical explanation Kojak became a Greek cop with a Polish name. Nobody blinked at that. In fact, as I said, many people just went with the idea Kojak was a Greek name. So why the fuss about a black Kojak? There are lots of black people whose last names aren't country-of-origin accurate. So what? As I recall, I believe they did throw a line into the first episode about Kojak's name coming from his having a Polish ancestor several generations back. So, if you know what's good for you, noooo Polish jokes around Ving Rhames. He's Polish and proud... sorta.


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