Highway Patrol Rolls Again -- 10-4!

Highway Patrol TV show title shot

21-50 to Headquarters: The classic cop show is back on the air. Here's how to watch it.

Mention "Highway Patrol" to anyone who grew up watching TV in the 1950s or 1960s, and chances are the immediate response is "10-4". Starring academy award winner Broderick Crawford as Dan Mathews, the gruff, intense chief of a state police force, Highway Patrol was produced from 1955 to 1959, rerun endlessly in the 1960s and 1970s, and popular in 71 countries.

The classic Highway Patrol image is fedora-topped Dan Mathews leaning against a black and white patrol car, holding a radio mic, barking "21-50 to headquarters!". The invariable response is "Headquarters by" (standing by). Radio code "10-4", sirens, and guns are sure to follow. Highway Patrol is fondly remembered because it is, well, unforgettable -- different, compelling, fascinating, and a TV pioneer.

Highway Patrol is no longer just memories -- it is back on the air across the U.S.A. See the end of this article for details.

It started with California Highway Patrol

Highway Patrol was created by ZIV Television Productions in response to California Highway Patrol (CHP) wanting to be featured in a TV series, just as Dragnet featured Los Angeles Police Department. ZIV liked CHP's idea, but needed a wider variety of stories. So, while the 1950s CHP primarily enforced driving laws, the TV series portrays state police handling all types of crimes that use a car, however slightly. The show implicitly promotes CHP by being titled Highway Patrol.

To explain how Highway Patrol spans a broad range of law enforcement, the opening-title narration declares the show to be a tribute to all state police agencies: "Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action. It may be called the state police, state troopers, militia, the rangers, or the highway patrol. These are the stories of the men whose training, skill and courage have enforced and preserved our state law." (This wording varies slightly over the show's seasons.)

Despite the word "highway" in the title, there are very few of the car chases, crashes or other motor mayhem that is common in today's cop shows. Perhaps the production budget did not allow for expensive stunts and wrecks. Instead, the show focuses on tracking down and out-smarting crooks. Highway Patrol chief Dan Mathews is "plainclothes", wearing a business suit -- but he drives around in a hard-to-miss black and white patrol car.

Highway Patrol hits the road

Pilot episode Prison Break was filmed April 11-13, 1955. When it premiered October 3, 1955, the show immediately established a new style. While Highway Patrol's story pace might seem moderate by today's standards, it was considered revolutionary at the time. ZIV founder and producer Frederic W. Ziv said the brisk pace was adopted to match Broderick Crawford's agitated persona and rapid-fire dialog. Ziv claimed that quick cutting (many short shots) was new to television, and he believed Highway Patrol started a new trend.

Highway Patrol is a quality show, not glossy but always crisply acted and fast-paced -- notable considering how a typical episode was filmed: two days on location and one day at the studio. The budget for an episode range from $20,000 to $25,000 (in 1950s dollars), somewhat higher in episodes that used a Bell 47 helicopter for aerial pursuit of bad guys -- sometimes with Dan Mathews hanging out, shooting at crooks (a maneuver adopted a decade later by Steve McGarrett in Hawaii-Five-0). Over the years the Highway Patrol office set changed several times, possibly because it was dismantled after production ended, then rebuilt when the show was renewed for another season. Also, the production budget expanded as the show gained marketplace success.

Highway Patrol 10-20

Highway Patrol avoided Hollywood back lots and instead filmed exterior scenes -- most of each episode -- in the real world. The production company used locations in then-rural areas and small towns of San Fernando Valley, Simi Valley, and Santa Clarita Valley, along Ventura Blvd., and on US-101. Other notable Los Angeles shooting locations include Griffith Park, and Bronson Canyon and Bronson Cave just above Hollywood -- sites seen in many movies and TV shows.

Today the show's many locations provide a historic look at mid-50s California, cars, fashion (men wear fedoras), and lifestyle. For example, train travel is a common show element; second-season episode "Hired Killer" prominently features the Chatsworth train station in the opening scene. The show also filmed at railroad stations at Glendale (identified by a large sign), Saugus and Santa Susana.

Interior scenes were often filmed on sets at ZIV Studios, 7950 Santa Monica Blvd. ZIV Television Productions was started by Frederic W. Ziv in the 1950s, and quickly became a major producer of what are today considered "classic" 1950s TV series, including: Bat Masterson, Cisco Kid, Highway Patrol, Science Fiction Theater, Sea Hunt. In 1960 ZIV was acquired by United Artists, which later merged with MGM.

CHP style

The series got deep assistance from California Highway Patrol for the first two seasons. The opening sequence of shows from that period have this full-screen statement (with the show's Highway Patrol emblem as background): "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of Commissioner Bernard R. Caldwell and the California Highway Patrol for the technical advice and assistance which made the authentic production of this program possible."

Eventually California Highway Patrol became dissatisfied with how the show had evolved and ended its support. At this point, the opening statement changed to this: "This program is dedicated to the Highway Patrols throughout the nation and their contribution to the safeguarding of public welfare. We are deeply grateful for the technical advice and assistance which made the authentic production of the program possible."

In spite of the split-up, one CHP officer originally assigned to advise the show continued that job for the entire run. And whether the relationship was explicit or not, CHP was the show's model police agency in several ways.

Highway Patrol uniforms are the CHP style of the day. In seasons one to three, the shoulder patch is essentially the CHP patch with "California" and "Eureka" (state motto) removed; the California bear and other California state seal elements are retained. In season four the show adopted a uniform patch that matches its patrol car emblem.

The patrol cars in early episodes are actual CHP vehicles, with the show's Highway Patrol emblem covering the CHP car door emblem (sometimes a real CHP emblem is briefly visible on a background car). The 1955 Buick Century two-door patrol car used in the show was built exclusively for CHP (and today is a collector's car).

After California Highway Patrol dropped its support, the show had to create similar patrol cars from civilian models. CHP patrol cars of the era were distinctly subdued compared with many police agencies. Notably, CHP units did not have roof lights, preferring a lower profile on the road. (It was difficult to spot a "slicktop" style CHP car in the rear-view mirror.) Early CHP cars had only two police lights: a "takedown" solid-red driver-side spotlight in front, and a flashing-yellow light in the rear window. At some point CHP added a red rear-window light next to the yellow light, and so did the show. These color lights are barely noticeable in the black-and-white TV show.

Radio calls signs on Highway Patrol are CHP-style, except California Highway Patrol uses the first part to indicate the geographic region/office. Dan Mathews' unit "21-50" would be a CHP unit at office 21, which is in Napa County, California. (Some reports claim it was the call-sign of the CHP Commissioner of the time.) The show mixes a variety of CHP office prefixes; one episode has "21-50" working with "34-27" (CHP for San Francisco) and "36-32" (CHP for Red Bluff) to chase the bad guys around a single valley.

Where does Highway Patrol patrol?

Art Gilmore's narration gives Highway Patrol a documentary feel: "On August 7th, Highway Patrol responded to a bank robbery.." But details are superficial (month and day but no year), while other information is never mentioned.

Towns in the show have simple names like "Midvale", though sometimes a real place name is used because of a prominent sign. In some episodes Mathews uses an unlabeled wall map; based on the pattern of roads, it appears to be central Oregon, with the towns of Bend and Redmond on the map's left.

While described as a state police agency, the actual state is never stated. It is said to be a western state, but none of them are small enough to allow Dan Mathews to regularly drive from headquarters to every crime scene in just minutes. (TV shows commonly bend time and distance; modern show The Mentalist is about California cops based in Sacramento who seem to travel the entire state almost instantly.)

Dan Mathews is implied to be Highway Patrol chief of the entire state, but in an early episode he has a dispatcher telephone another agency, and she says the call is from "Highway Patrol District 12". Probably this was a writer error; script supervision is often lax during a show's early days as details are worked out.

Unless the plot involves a particular out-of-state car, show vehicles have anonymous state license plates that are actually the black-on-yellow California plate of the time, with a piece of tape covering CALIFORNIA (which sometimes is briefly visible).

Even without saying the name of the state, the show doesn't fool anyone (and doesn't really try). In one episode Dan Mathews drives in and out of Mexico twice, working with his Mexican counterpart to track a car theft gang. This could only happen in four southwestern states, but the scenery looks like Southern California -- not a cactus in sight. In fact, Mexico isn't in sight either, nor is U.S. Border Patrol. At the supposed border, there's just a little sign and nothing else. Likely this was filmed in the Hollywood hills.

Some episodes don't requiring guessing because explicit location identification can be seen and recognized by anyone familiar with Southern California. Episodes filmed at train stations often show the town name on the building. An episode set at Cabin Cafe shows a route 118 sign on the road in front, a classic California State highway sign, in the shape of a spade (still the shape used today, symbolizing the 1849 gold rush) with a bear image at the top (no longer on signs but still on the state flag). One episode has scenes at Saugus Cafe (a long-time filming location that is still in business); Saugus was a town that is now part of City of Santa Clarita. Another scene shows a STOP sign with "LAPD" (Los Angeles Police Department) at the bottom. In another episode, a very visible motel sign declares "Approved by Automobile of Southern California". Perhaps most blatant is an episode about crooks on motorcycles who hide in the hills, encounter a fireman on patrol, and steal his truck. Several shots of the fire truck show the large emblem on the door: "City of Los Angeles".

Lights! Camera! Action!

Because the show rarely has stunts or crashes, excitement is mainly generated by Broderick Crawford's urgent style, Dan Mathews barking orders, police cars blasting sirens, and everyone waving guns around.

Gun handling is typical of TV shows of the time -- unrealistic and sometimes absurd. Police officers often shoot from the hip, usually with amazing accuracy, even from moving cars and a helicopter. If a character happens to aim correctly, probably the actor had experience with real guns. But usually, any police shot fired in the general direction of a bad guy scores a hit. Even Highway Patrol chief Dan Mathews fires his 2-inch barrel gun from his waist, but still takes down a crook with one shot. In a shootout, the Smith & Wesson six-round revolvers used by officers often provide more than six shots without reloading.

Dan Mathews barks "10-4". The fedora rarely leaves his head.

A key element of the show is two-way radio communication among patrol cars and headquarters. Highway Patrol famously makes heavy use of police code "10-4" (message acknowledged). Late in the series the show added "10-20" (location). CB radio users probably adopted these codes after hearing them on Highway Patrol. Real police use many additional radio codes for brevity and clarity, but Highway Patrol did not, perhaps to avoid confusing viewers.

A silent co-star of the show is Dan Mathews' fedora hat. It's almost always on his head, while in the Highway Patrol office, driving, indoors, outside, even in a tussle. Though Broderick Crawford was a big man, 6'4" with considerable bulk, he did physical action. Mathews often climbs hills, tramps through woods, and sometimes grapples with a bad guy. But even rolling on the ground his hat rarely comes off.

It seems odd for a police show to always describe cars generically, only by color and style, but that's what Highway Patrol does, putting out an APB for a "blue coupe" or "gray sedan". Even though car makes and models are obvious to the viewer, TV shows of the time avoided mentioning particular brands.

While the show filmed on location, it often didn't travel much within a particular episode. An attentive viewer can spot the same road filmed from different angles to simulate different places. Given the episode production schedule of just two days in the field, this efficient method is understandable.

In some episodes, Dan Mathews drives only on private roads (often dirt roads) and parking lots, or is a passenger with an officer driving. According to show insiders, this was necessary during a period when star Broderick Crawford's driver license was suspended for DUI. It has been reported that the crew tried to film dialog scenes in the morning, before Crawford had "lunch".

Episode closings

Each Highway Patrol episode ends with show's star speaking to the viewer, providing a pithy traffic safety tip, including these:

"See Highway Patrol next week. Until then, remember...

  • Leave your blood at the Red Cross, not on the highway.
  • Those clowns, they're real funny at the circus … but on the highway, they're murder.
  • If you care to drive, drive with care.
  • Reckless driving doesn't determine who's right … only who's left.
  • A drunk driver doesn't drive their car … they aim it.
  • No matter how new, the safest part of your car is you.

...This is Broderick Crawford saying, see you next week."

Notable Actors

The only constant face on Highway Patrol is star Broderick Crawford (1911-1986) as Dan Mathews. Crawford had a long performing career before he slipped behind the wheel of a black-and-white in 1955. After stage and film roles beginning in 1932, he won the Best Actor Academy Award of 1949 for All The King's Men, and in 1950 starred in very funny film Born Yesterday. Some say Crawford's career progress was stunted by his rough-edged lifestyle and personality -- not unlike his Dan Mathews portrayal. As Mr. Ziv put it, "Broderick could be a handful."

Another constant is the voice of Art Gilmore as the never-seen narrator. Gilmore showed his face in other TV cop shows, playing a variety of roles on Dragnet, and Lieutenant (later Captain) Moore on Adam-12.

While Broderick Crawford was the only star of Highway Patrol, several supporting actors appear somewhat regularly, usually as police officers, but often their character names are not stated, or they have different names in different episodes. Presumably none of the actors were considered "names" at the time, but many familiar faces can be spotted -- often, very young faces of actors who later became stars. Notable actors appearing in Highway Patrol include:

  • Kirk Alyn played Superman in 1940s movie serials.
  • William Boyett made a career of playing cops. In 21 early episodes of Highway Patrol he is Officer Johnson. Later he appears frequently as Sgt. Ken Williams. Boyett went on to play various cops on Dragnet, then settled into the role of Sgt. MacDonald in TV series Adam-12. He also had police officer roles in other shows and movies.
  • Diane Brewster, also known as second-grade teacher Miss Canfield in Leave It to Beaver, plays the dispatcher in 1955 pilot episode "Prison Break".
  • Dyan Cannon (in credits spelled Diane Cannon) plays the girlfriend of a murderer. Later she became known for film work, and as a wife of Cary Grant.
  • Robert Conrad, later of Wild Wild West and Black Sheep Squadron, plays a murderer in 1959; later that year he became a star of Hawaiian Eye.
  • Pat Conway, later Sheriff Clay Hollister on western series Tombstone Territory, appears in 1955 episode "Radioactive" as Mel.
  • Clint Eastwood appears in a 1955 first season episode called "Motorcycle A". He was paid the standard rate of $80.00 a day.
  • Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame is in episode "Hostage Copter" (1957).
  • Ron Foster appears twenty-four times, mostly as Officer Garvey.
  • Joe Flynn later of McHale's Navy, appears in "Taxi" (1956).
  • Brett Halsey appeared in a 1958 episode as a life-saving sailor.
  • Ted Knight in a 1958 episode played a newspaper reporter. A decade later he played TV news anchor Ted Baxter in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • Tyler McVey portrays an engineer in "Blast Area Copter" (1956).
  • Joyce Meadows is Ella McKay in "Suspected Cop" (1957).
  • Ed Nelson is a bad guy in Highway Patrol. Later he appeared in many TV series and starred in Peyton Place.
  • Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock of Star Trek, plays Harry Wells in "Hot Dust" (1957) and Ray in "Blood Money" (1958).
  • Gregg Palmer appears in a 1955 episode.
  • Gilman Rankin of Tombstone Territory plays Vince in pilot episode "Prison Break" (1955).
  • Quintin Sondergaard of Tombstone Territory appears in Highway Patrol.
  • Olan Soule was in a 1958 episode, just one of his hundreds of performances in radio, film, animation, narration and advertising productions, including appearances in dozens of top TV shows.
  • John Vivyan was later television's Mr. Lucky.
  • Diane Webber is Woman in Episode 18, "Coptor Cave-In" (February 1959).
  • Stuart Whitman appears in several early episodes as Sergeant Walters, and went on to star in television and movies.
  • Guy Williams was Zorro in Disney's 1957 TV series, and starred in 1960s TV series Lost in Space.

Beyond TV

Highway Patrol was an international phenomenon, aired in 17 languages in 71 countries, including Argentina, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, US, UK. The show spawned toys, games, costumes, comic books and fan clubs.

Highway Patrol provided early experience to people who became big names in television. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is credited with writing five episodes, sometimes using pseudonym "Robert Wesley". Future producer Quinn Martin was sound supervisor in the show's early years; style elements of Highway Patrol are evident in his later productions, including: The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Barnaby Jones, The FBI, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon .

Highway Patrol's brassy march-style music made such an impact that it was released as a single (45) by various artists, and featured on record albums of popular TV show themes, notably Buddy Morrow's RCA album "Impact" (now on CD, highly recommended). The theme is credited to Ray Llewellyn, a pseudonym for composer/conductor David Rose (married to Judy Garland 1941-1945). (It's been said that Highway Patrol music is inspired by the theme of radio and TV series Dragnet. It's also been said that Highway Patrol music is echoed in the later CHiPs series theme.)

Off duty

Highway Patrol was produced for four TV seasons, 156 episodes. ZIV wanted to do a fifth season, but Broderick Crawford declined. In 1961-1962 he played diamond insurance investigator John King in ZIV series King of Diamonds, but the show did not attain Highway Patrol's success.

Highway Patrol entertained viewers long after its initial run because it was syndicated for many years, sometimes titled Ten-4.

When asked why still-popular Highway Patrol ended production, Broderick Crawford quipped, "We ran out of crimes."

Fast forward

Highway Patrol is more than an old TV show. It long-ago attained and today retains pop culture status. Among people who saw the show during its various runs it is unforgettable. Mention just one catch-phrase of the show, and the others will immediately pop out. Also, the show was frequently referenced in later shows.

Broderick Crawford was guest star in Get Smart season 5 episode "The Treasure of C. Errol Madre", a parody of classic film "Treasure of Sierra Madre". Filmed at Bronson Canyon's famous cave, a Highway Patrol shooting location a decade earlier. Crawford as a Kaos agent uses a horse-hoof phone, and begins "21-50 to Headquarters". He signs off "10-4".

In 1977, CHiPs hit the airwaves, explicitly identifying its TV cops as California Highway Patrol. In a first season episode, CHP motorcycle officers pull over a car and discover Broderick Crawford at the wheel. Actor Eric Estrada, playing officer Poncherello, recognizes Crawford, gets excited, gushes Highway Patrol radio terms (some incorrectly), then presses Crawford to say "21-50 to Headquarters." Annoyed, Crawford snaps back, "You know, I was making those Highway Patrol shows long before you guys were born." Actor Larry Wilcox, as CHP officer Jon, replies "Yeah, they don't make TV shows like that anymore." Crawford mumbles, "Yea that's right, they don't, do they." Certainly, lightweight CHiPs is nothing like intense Highway Patrol. (Also, the actual police nickname of CHP officers is Chippies, not Chips.)

Also in the mid-'70s, Broderick Crawford appeared on NBC show Saturday Night Live, reprising his Dan Mathews role in Highway Patrol parody skits.

Broderick Crawford's last performance was in a 1982 episode of TV series Simon and Simon. His character is murdered, and ironically (or perhaps intentionally), the killer is played by Stuart Whitman, who 27 years earlier played Sergeant Walters in several Highway Patrol episodes.

How to watch Highway Patrol today

After all these years, Highway Patrol is back on the air. Pristine quality episodes are shown on its ThisTV, a network which features classic shows and movies. Highway Patrol runs at 2:00AM Pacific time / 5:00AM Eastern time, just after Outer Limits and just before Sea Hunt. You can set your alarm, or record these shows every day for more convenient viewing.

ThisTV network is broadcast by many local television stations on a subchannel. Many cities now have two or three times more over-the-air (OTA) TV channels than were previously available, a major benefit of the switch to digital broadcasting. TV station subchannels carry all kinds of unusual and superior programs, including dozens of classic TV shows, and movies that don't seem to appear anywhere else. For instance, in San Francisco ThisTV is on KTNC-D2 channel 42-3. In San Diego ThisTV is on KSWB-D3 channel 69-3, a subchannel of main station KSWB-D1 which is the local Fox station.

Just like the main TV channels, OTA subchannels can be received using an antenna. Because the digital switch moved most channels to higher frequencies, today's TV antennas are small and inexpensive (check Costco). Depending on your distance to the station's transmitter, you might be able to pin the antenna to the wall -- some look like wall decorations. Or hang it out a window, or stick it in the attic. For maximum reception put the antenna outside, high on a wall or on the roof. RVers have been some of the first to discover the new channels because they use a pop-up antenna to watch local channels while camping. You might be surprised at how many stations you can pick up, how the main channels in HD look better over-the-air than on cable, and how interesting the subchannels are.

Unfortunately, subchannels are rarely carried on cable systems, though it's worth checking the cable box guide for new channel numbers you haven't noticed. For instance, in San Diego, Cox Cable carries all three digital channels of KSWB, a local station. The main KSWB (also known as KSWB-D1) broadcasts Fox network OTA on channel 69-1, which Cox carries on cable channel 5. KSWB-D3 OTA channel 69-3 is ThisTV, provided by Cox on cable channel 128. KSWB-D2 subchannel 69-2 is another classic shows network, Antenna TV (wanna watch The Monkees?), carried by Cox Cable on 127. If your cable company isn't carrying ALL your local stations including subchannels, complain.

Much of the programming on ThisTV is TV shows and movies owned by MGM. MGM Home Entertainment offers some episodes of Highway Patrol on DVD, using "Manufacture-on-demand" where copies are manufactured as needed using DVD-R discs.

Some episodes of Highway Patrol have been available online via Hulu.com.

However you view it, Highway Patrol is fun to watch. Check it out. 10-4!

Note: Portions of this article were adapted from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_Patrol_%28TV_series%29. In turn, portions of this article were contributed to the same Wikipedia entry.
I can underscore the comment about Broderick not having a license for a while. When Sgt. Paul Cleveland (badge #250) was a motor officer, he was assigned to the Hollywood Movie Detail. One of his responsibilities was to drive Broderick from home to the studio & back. Sarge also said that there were instances during filming when the Division of Highways (now CalTrans) would temporarily "un-dedicate" a bit of highway so Broderick could legally drive on it during filming, then "re-dedicate" it.