Created by Rick Rosner, CHiPS initially followed the adventures of by the book Officer Jonathan Baker (Larry Wilcox) and his impulsive partner Officer Francis “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada). As a side note, Baker was among the first characters on a television series to be identified as a Vietnam Veteran and one of the few shown in a positive manner. Larry Wilcox had served in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine during the Tet Offensive. Overseeing them was Sergeant Joseph Getraer (Robert Pine). It ran for six seasons (139 episodes plus later one TV reunion movie – CHiPS ’99) between 1977 and 1983.
In the pilot episode which aired on 15th September 1977, Ponch’s probation is almost over as he teams with Jon to investigate how an auto theft ring smuggles hot sports cars past the Highway Patrol. Later cases involved a tow truck driver who robs stranded single women motorists, Ponch and Jon trying to keep a dog they rescued a secret from Sgt. Getraer, a mad driver who begins to take his car apart after receiving a ticket for speeding, a shipment of baby food that spilled from a truck and is contaminated with botulism, psychic twin sisters, who give Ponch some dire warnings about his impending future, cattle rustlers, fake officers, a teenager who has a grudge against the police, a reckless tow truck driver with a grudge against CHPs, searching a haunted house for a runaway boy and a whole lot more.
As mentioned above the show mainly followed Baker and Ponch, but during the fifth season Estrada went on strike over a dispute over syndication profits. As a result, he did not appear in seven episodes and was replaced by Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner as Officer Steve McLeish. Then by the time season six came around Wilcox fellout with show producers as he believed that Estrada was being favoured and getting the major promotion from the show. As a result he did not appear in the final sixth season. Wilcox was replaced by Tom Reilly as Officer Bobby Nelson with Bruce Penhall being also introduced as cadet–probationary officer Bruce Nelson, Bobby’s younger brother.
Unfortunately midway through Season 6 Tom Reilly (Bobby) was arrested for drug possession. This resulted in his role being reduced, with Bruce Penhall having his role as Bobby’s brother Bruce being increased. The California Highway Patrol also threatened to revoke the show’s use of their badge and related imagery, over the bad publicity, due to the arrest.
Other officers who appeared through the series included Officer Jebediah Turner played by Michael Dorn, Randi Oakes by Officer Bonnie Clark, Brodie Greer as Officer Barry Baricza, Paul Linke as Officer Arthur Grossman, and Clarence Gilyard Jr. as Officer Benjamin Webster.
Through its run CHipS highlighted many future talents as well as crammed in cameos from the likes of Reb Brown, William Smith, Katherine Cannon, Danny Bonaduce, Jim Brown, Cindy Morgan, Robbie Rist, Brion James, Peter Marshall, Leif Garrett, Don Stroud, Fred Williamson, Frank Ashmore, Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, Nick Pellegrino, Warren Munson, Tiger Joe Marsh, King Moody, Dana Plato, Dee Wallace, Michael Conrad, Phyllis Diller, Robert Donner, Anne Lockhart, Paul Nicholas, Ed Harris, Adam Roarke, Richard Roundtree, Dwight Schultz, Fred Dryer, Michael Bell, Paul Koslo, Jared Martin, Don Mitchell, William Lucking, John Quade, William Forsythe, Roosevelt Grier, Edward James Olmos, Martin Kove, Dominique Dunne, Doug McClure, Melody Anderson, Robert Englund, Don Most, David Caruso, Sonny Bono, Mickey Jones, Heather O’Rourke, Kelly Preston, Michael Swan, Chris Mulkey, Charles Napier, Stephen Furst, Phil Silvers, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston, Noah Hathaway, Miguel Ferrer, Markie Post, Robert Tessier, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Trujillo, Soleil Moon Frye, G.W. Bailey, Heather Locklear, Moon Unit Zappa, Keenen Ivory Wayans, George Peppard, Richard Hatch, Dan Haggerty, Rick Springfield, Conrad Bain, Gil Gerard, and Marc Singer.