As word spreads of the death of Richard Hatch, remembrances pour in from all corners regarding his work in SF properties. In addition to being a major character in both iterations of Battlestar Galactica, Hatch also was involved in other properties, such as the online YouTube series Silicon Assassin and the Star Trek fan-film Prelude to Axanar. His genre credentials are unparalleled and will be the foundation of his long-term legacy.
And yet, the stop he made before becoming Captain Apollo on the first Battlestar Galactica is worthy of attention. At any other time, a few years before or after, he might never have seen a spaceship and been better known for his work in crime dramas, having taken on one of the more difficult follow-ups an actor could face.
Premiering in 1972 on ABC, The Streets of San Francisco was a crime procedural produced by the prolific Quinn Martin, who had a steady string of series production credits from The Untouchables through Barnaby Jones, with a host of made-for-TV movies thrown in for good measure.
The distinguishing characteristic of all of Martin’s shows was a protagonist who got involved in solving a crime, more often than not by profession as a law enforcement officer or detective (the big exceptions to the formula being the status of the protagonists on The Fugitive and The Invaders).
Martin’s shows were also distinguished by the title cards after coming in from commercial or credits, announcing the beginning of the “act”; thus, the first segment would have an on-screen credit that would announce the title of the series, and also state that this is “Act One”.
The Streets of San Francisco hewed closely to the formula Martin established. Derived from the novel Poor Poor Ophelia by Carolyn Weston, the show followed Lt. Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and Assistant Inspector Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) as they solved crimes for the San Francisco PD.
The San Francisco portrayed in the series was the one that had seen the Summer of Love give way to rot and decay — many years before the Castro led to urban renewal and anchored the emerging Silicon Valley, the same city that hosted ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan in Clint Eastwood’s series of films.
It was also an authentic look at the city, as the production shot not only all exteriors and location work in the SF area but set up studios in a converted warehouse near Telegraph Hill, while the principals embedded themselves in the SFPD for the sake of authenticity, which the police appreciated during the five-year run of the series.
By 1976, however, circumstances forced changes to the series. As the fourth season wrapped up, Douglas was getting noticed in Hollywood, especially as producer of the Oscar-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. With Hollywood beckoning, the show could no longer hold him, and as a result, Stone needed a new partner.
He ended up with Hatch’s Inspector Dan Robbins, a beat cop who rose through the ranks but was years younger than Stone and still green. That, and Robbins’ proclivities for spending his free time pursuing hiking in the woods and ingesting health food, set up points of conflict with Stone that tried to keep the same veteran-and-follower dynamic Stone had with Keller, maintaining some continuity with the prior four seasons.
And with Hatch in place for season five, the series had a run that tried to maintain momentum all the while inviting some surprising guest stars.
The fifth season began with the two-part “The Thrill Killers,” in which group of terrorists modeled on the Symbionese Liberation Army are so desperate to keep their jailed leaders from being convicted that they kidnap the jury during the proceedings.
Douglas’ Keller has a near-fatal encounter with one of the terrorists, which encourages him to retire to a teaching position and opening the way for Robbins to partner with Stone.
Before that can happen, the jury, which included Norman Fell, Doris Roberts, and Dick Van Patten, had to be liberated from the clutches of the desperate Patty Duke Asten, Ron Glass, and Susan Dey, the later the terrorist who shot Keller and made it possible for Robbins to move in.
Their pursuit of justice is complicated when Dobbs offers a $1 million bounty on Wilton’s head, making him a potential victim as well as a sleeze (which there were plenty of in cop shows during this period).
This doesn’t sit well with her father, who hunts down and kills every man she’s met on that path.
Speaking of going over to the dark side, in “Innocent No More,” there’s a rash of home invasions, one of which results in a homicide. The perpetrator of that particular crime, Billy Wilson (Mark Hamill), is a mean rotten punk whose father attempts to buy his way out of the consequences of his actions, which may not be enough to save him when his victim’s husband decides to seek vigilante justice.
In contrast, we have a lot more sympathy for Josef Schmidt (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the perp from the episode “Dead Lift.” Playing against very much to type, the future action star/governor plays a competitive body builder who has emotional issues and goes on a rampage when he feels people are laughing at him for his profession.
Even his patron, Judith Winters (Diana Muldar), isn’t safe from his fury, despite showing nothing but respect for him. (Interestingly, the term “roid rage” is never once mentioned or suggested in the show.)
Not all guest stars were criminally minded, mind you. In “Hot Dog,” we get Officer Larry Wilson (Don Johnson), a procedure-breaking motorcycle cop who’s anxious to go after a motorcycle-riding gang of armored car thieves (which included as a member Gerald McRaney).
Not that he’s not a threat, as he’s the guy Stone’s daughter Jeannie (irregular cast member Darleen Carr) brings home to meet Dad, and like most dads when it comes to their daughter, well…
The celebrity-fueled rampant crime wave, however, was soon to come to an end, as season five was the last set of shows for the series. ABC waited two weeks to announce the cancellation until after the last episode, “The Canine Collar,” premiered on June 7, 1977, which suggests that despite the drop in ratings after Douglas left, the network had enough faith to wait and see how the series would do during the full term of the run.
The cancellation leaves many to presume that Hatch just could not save the show and blame him for the series’ demise. While at times his interaction with Malden may have seemed uneven, the established star being an overwhelming presence that kept the new guy in check, this could have been addressed in the writers’ room had there been a moment to reflect.
But The Streets of San Francisco was a prime example of the ’70s-cop-show genre, all action and outrage between commercial breaks, a genre that had been under criticism by viewer advocacy groups and researchers looking at violent media for years before cancellation, which eroded the public’s desire to watch such shows before the decade’s end. Had Hatch come on duty a few years earlier, he would well have found his place in the series.
It’s conceivable that either with some retooling in San Francisco or getting a chance on another beat on his own program, Richard Hatch could have had a career in cop shows. However, fate and the Lords of Kobal had other plans, and the cancellation of Streets left Hatch free to take the next gig given him by Glen Larson, as Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica.
Once he started filming the new series, he turned in his gun and badge and never looked back.