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The Break Down of Ponch And Jon

May 22, 2008
CHiPs was arguably the most popular action crime drama of its time. The CHiPs TV show ran from 1977-1983 over a course of six complete seasons. The premise of the show was chronicling the daily life of two California Highway Patrol motor officers who worked for the central Los Angeles office. The crime drama starred Erik Estrada as the macho Officer Frank Poncherello, otherwise referred to as Ponch. His partner was Officer Jon Baker, played by Larry Wilcox. It was very unusual for highway patrolmen to travel in pairs like Ponch and Jon and they addressed that issue when the series began. Ponch was put on a probationary status for always getting into trouble while on duty and Jon was assigned to work with him as his field training officer. Jon always took on the role of the more responsible, level headed one and Ponch was the silly, trouble prone officer of the pair.

Eventually, Ponch was taken off of his probationary status, but the audience was so accustomed to seeing the two act as a pair, that they kept this sub plot alive. An interesting, behind the scenes fact is that Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox did not always get along when the cameras stopped rolling. In season five, the two had a falling out and Estrada was replaced by Bruce Jenner for five episodes while they settled their contract dispute. Bruce Jenner played Officer Steve McLeish, but the audience never took to him as they did to Estradas character. The on screen chemistry between Ponch and Jon was too strong by that point in the series.

However, by the close of the fifth season, Wilcox was so displeased with the favoritism that the shows producers showed Estrada that it ultimately resulted in his not returning for the sixth season of the show. It was not just the staff on the show, but the fans continuously paid more attention to Estradas character as well. Ponch was the entertaining and theatrical character of the series and it was always thought that his partner could be easily replaced, and that is exactly what happened. In the sixth and final season, the character of Jon Baker was replaced by Officer Bobby Nelson played by Tom Reilly.

However, to no ones surprise, Estrada had conflicts almost immediately with Reilly as well. He was unhappy with his lackluster work ethic and his battles with the law off camera; he felt it was bad publicity for the show. Ultimately, Reillys character was fazed out and replaced yet again by Bruce Jenner, who finished the series with Erik Estrada.
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