It sounded like a can't-miss when the team behind Airplane! migrated to TV in 1982 for the half-hour cop-show parody Police Squad!, but the series floundered in the ratings, and was cancelled after only six episodes. Then, six years later, the characters returned in the hit feature comedy The Naked Gun. Why did the Police Squad! concept work as a movie and not as a TV show? According to star Leslie Nielsen, the problem was that people don't really watch TV, they just have it on in the background, and Police Squad! was a series that demanded attention. When Nielsen tells a pair of uniformed cops to run a suspect in, and they all line up in a three-point stance to wait for the starter pistol—well, as this sentence proves, that's the kind of joke that needs to be seen.
In a way, though, Police Squad! may have been well-served by its abbreviated run. Even with a collaborative team that included director Joe Dante and gag writers Pat Proft and Robert Wuhl, how many more weeks could creators Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker have concocted the dozens of visual puns (like the Japanese garden stocked with actual Japanese people, standing in flowerpots) and random absurdity (like the roast-beef carving station next to the coffeepot in the squad room) that Police Squad! required? Sure, every episode followed a rigid format, including Nielsen's deadpan voiceover, a "Who's On First"-like exchange between Nielsen and his partner Alan North, a few recurring characters (like the ridiculously in-the-know shoeshine boy and the so-tall-he's-out-of-frame detective), and a concluding fake freeze-frame. But even with that, ZAZ and company had to come up with real crimes and real solutions, since part of what made Police Squad! work is that it was so foursquare.
This was something the Police Squad! team gradually forgot, and by the end of The Naked Gun movie series, Nielsen often reacted too broadly to the weirdness going on around him, effectively killing the joke. Here, though, at his comic peak, Nielsen delivers every word with utmost sincerity, including the recurring line that applied to the way ABC treated Police Squad!: "They ran him out of town like a common pygmy."
Key features: An insightful Nielsen interview, plus chuckly commentary tracks by the ZAZ-ers.