Movies & TV / Columns

Cult TV: Street Hawk Episode 1

February 27, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Street Hawk

Cult TV Issue #5: Street Hawk Episode 1

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest issue of Cult TV. I’m Bryan Kristopowitz.


Street Hawk was a short-lived action TV show that was produced by Universal Television and aired on the ABC network back in 1985. The show, created by Bruce Lansbury along with Paul M. Balous and Robert Wolterstorff (as I understand it, based on all of the online reading I’ve done, Lansbury created the general format for the show, what it was essentially going to be about, while Balous and Wolterstorff created the characters and the details of the show), aired for one season of 13 episodes. Originally, ABC had planned on airing Street Hawk on Monday nights at 8 PM in the fall of 1984, but the show was pushed to January of 1985 and ran as a mid-season replacement. If you listen to the behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD set put out by Shout! Factory, the show was “designed” to be a “Monday night at 8 PM” show, but when it was moved to mid-season and aired on Friday nights instead, the show was essentially doomed. Since the show’s cancellation in May of 1985, Street Hawk has developed a cult audience the world over. In fact, the show was apparently quite popular in the United Kingdom, Italy, and other parts of Europe and is still popular to this day. I’m guessing the show is still popular enough in the United States as the DVD set is still being sold and produced by Shout! Factory. Shout Factory TV even ran the show in marathon format once. Shout! Factory wouldn’t do any of those things if the show still didn’t draw a crowd.

I don’t remember watching Street Hawk during its original run. I may have, but back in those days I was a total Knight Rider nerd and the only thing I seem to I remember is watching that show on Friday nights. I do remember watching Street Hawk when it aired in re-runs on the USA network, though. It aired on the weekends. Early Saturday mornings?

Street Hawk starred Rex Smith as Jesse Mach, an LAPD motorcycle cop turned public relations “troubleshooter” who is recruited by a secret government project to test the Street Hawk weaponized motorcycle. Created by government scientist Norman Tuttle (Joe Regalbuto) to fight crime and whatnot, the government hopes, if the test proves successful, to supply Street Hawk bikes to police departments all over the country. Tuttle isn’t too keen on having Mach as the test rider, but his superiors are adamant that Mach is the best one for the job. So, because Tuttle is ultimately a team player, he agrees to work with Mach, and they establish a decent enough working relationship throughout the show’s run. Mach is a devil may care badass type, while Tuttle is more low-key, skittish, and by-the-book, so there’s a real tension between the two as they complete missions. A typical mission will have Mach on the bike, riding around Los Angeles while Tuttle is back at the Street Hawk headquarters, called the command center, which is in a somewhat depressed area of the city. I mean, there are cars and other people around the Street Hawk Command Center, but they don’t interact with Mach or Tuttle. Heck, no one is ever around when Street Hawk blasts out of the wall of the Command Center, so no one notices any of this stuff happening.

The rest of the show’s main cast consisted of Richard Venture, who played Lt. Commander Leo Altobelli, Mach’s boss at the LAPD, and Jeannie Wilson as Rachel Adams, Mach’s public relations partner. Wilson started on the show in episode 2, replacing Jayne Modean’s Sandy McCoy, who only appears in the pilot. There were various guest stars throughout the show’s run, including George Clooney, Christopher Lloyd, Marjoe Gortner, Dennis Franz, Bianca Jagger, Sybil Danning, M.C. Gainey, and the immortal Clu Gulager and Charles Napier. Clooney was apparently the producer’s original choice to play Jesse Mach, but the network wanted Smith instead. Had Clooney starred in the show instead, would he have become the big time hooha star he is today? Who knows? And would he have been able to generate a larger audience for the show? Again, who knows?

The “real” star of the show, obviously, is the Street Hawk motorcycle, which is essentially a suped up dirt bike. The bike has various weaponry on it, including a laser, machine guns, and missiles, plus plenty of other stuff (there are buttons all over the handlebars and Tuttle only knows what the hell they’re all for). The bike is also capable of going around 300 mph via “hyper thrust,” a mode that Tuttle has to activate via his computer back at the HQ command center. Mach’s suit, as far as I can tell, isn’t bulletproof or made out of any super-secret material (although at the very beginning Mach does have to stand in a giant plastic tube and be surrounded by foam so Tuttle can make a suit that’s specifically for Mach’s body. I’m just going to assume that that’s to help with the bike’s aerodynamics). Is the bike as cool as KITT on Knight Rider? Not really, as the Street Hawk bike is “just” a bike. It doesn’t talk to Mach or Tuttle or have a personality like KITT did. The Street Hawk bike is still cool, though. Cool in its own way.

Beyond the suped up motorcycle, the show is also known for the music created for the show by the group Tangerine Dream. Like all great TV show themes from the 1980’s, it’s catchy as hell and you will be humming it after the first time you hear it. That’s a guarantee. It’s also the only music the group created for the show, and the music is used throughout damn near every episode. Other music pops up every now and then, but the Tangerine Dream music is the one you will remember.

Street Hawk also features some top notch real stunt work, with plenty of car and motorcycle chase scenes and car crashes. Some of the crashes do feel a tad repetitive, as cars and trucks all tends to flip wildly when damaged, but it’s still amazing to think that a TV show in the 1980’s went to all of the trouble of staging so many jumps and explosions and whatnot. I’ll take repetitive flips any day of the week over the soulless CGI crapola “spectacle” we get today.

Now, various sources claim that the show was originally going to be called Falconer, but the title was changed because of either some other movie owned by Universal with that title or another pilot that was made at the same time with the Falconer title. Falconer may sound like a cool name, but is it better than Street Hawk? Hell no. Street Hawk is an awesome title.

So how was the show’s one and only season? Let’s find out.


Episode 1: “Pilot”


Director: Virgil W. Vogel
Writer: Paul M. Belous and Robert Wolterstorff

The pilot of Street Hawk is around 70 minutes long and, I’m assuming, would have run as a “movie of the week” kind of deal when it first aired. With commercials, the pilot episode easily could have been stretched out to 90 minutes. The episode starts with a brazen robbery of a police van by guys on dirt bikes right in the middle of Los Angeles. The van was transporting bags of cocaine to, I guess, an evidence depot somewhere, and it’s those bags of cocaine that the dirt bikers wanted. See, the dirt bikers work for scumbag drug dealer and crime gang boss Anthony Corrido, played with mega menace by a pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd. And what better way to get tons of cocaine than from the police?

The scene then shifts to Rex Smith’s Jesse Mach jumping over a series of cars in a big hooha stunt that his fellow cops actually bet on. Mach’s partner, Marty Walsh (the great Robert Beltran, who played Kayo, the partner of Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade), is Mach’s “partner in crime” in all of this, and it’s clear that Mach and Walsh are great friends. So it’s no surprise that Walsh ends up getting killed while riding dirt bikes with Mach out in the desert and they stumble upon Corrido doing a big drug deal in that same desert. Corrido drives a huge black truck that sort of looks like a monster truck with smaller wheels and if he comes after you with it you’re done. We don’t see Corrido go after Walsh with his truck but it’s obvious that’s what happened And that’s when Mach gets hit by the truck. Unlike Walsh, though, Mach survives his encounter with Corrido’s truck.

So Mach is rushed to the hospital, goes through emergency surgery and whatnot, and finds out that he’s been reassigned to the public relations department because of his now bum leg. Mach is pissed because he’s a motorcycle cop and wants to be out in the action and not tied down to a desk. At the same time, Mach is upset that internal affairs is investigating Walsh and suspects that he may have been a dirty cop. It’s nonsense, of course, but in this world the cops enjoy covering their ass when it looks like they’re incompetent. It’s at this point that Norman Tuttle makes his case to Mach about working on the Street Hawk project. Tuttle, personally, doesn’t want Mach involved in the Street Hawk project at all, but Tuttle’s superiors want Mach, so Tuttle does his best to convince Mach to get involved (Tuttle is, above all else, a team player. You already know this because I talked about it in the intro). At first, Mach isn’t interested, but he eventually relents when he sees the Street Hawk prototype bike and is given an experimental surgery on his bum leg, fixing it so he can actually ride the badass super bike.

So Mach agrees to work for the government, gets a new knee, endures an embarrassing foam bath in a big plastic tube, and then starts testing out the bike. And while he’s doing all of that, Mach is also still working for the police in the public relations department and he’s investigating Walsh’s death out in the desert. The bike testing is, as you would expect it to be, fun and thrilling and whatnot, while the public relations work is rather mind numbing and terrible., It’s essential work, sure, but Mach is just not suited for the gig. His partner, Sandy McCoy (Jayne Modean), seems to like her job, and the Lt. Commander Leo Altobelli (Richard Venture) believes in it because, well, he just does. As for the under the radar Walsh investigation, Mach is basically doing that on his own time.

Eventually, the story comes to a head when we find out that Thomas Miller, the police commissioner, played by perennial douchebag Lawrence Pressman, is in cahoots with Corrido and kidnaps McCoy because she went poking around. Mach finds out about this and goes after McCoy on the Street Hawk bike, despite Tuttle telling him not to. After some decent enough action scenes, the story heads to the desert and a big chase scene featuring Corrido’s big ass truck and the damaged Street Hawk bike. It doesn’t end well for Corrido at all. And then the episode ends with Commander Altobelli talking about how Street Hawk, who is known by the public at this point, is a vigilante and something that the LAPD will stop.

The episode strikes a good balance between Jesse Mach’s origins becoming Street Hawk and some of the most badass vehicle stunts in TV history. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous how it seems like Mach always has to jump over something in slow motion while riding the Street Hawk bike, but the jumps never look bad. There’s a terrific sequence where Mach chases after Corrido’s dirt bike goons and they go into a tunnel and all hell breaks loose. And, of course, there’s the final showdown between Mach on the Street Hawk bike and Corrido’s mega truck. This chase is really the only stunt sequence in the episode that doesn’t feature all in camera effects. As a result, that one sequence doesn’t really fit in with everything else that goes on. It does look good, though.

I was surprised at how much of a bastard Christopher Lloyd’s Corrido was. I mean, sure, he’s the bad guy of the story, but I wasn’t expecting such a sadistic portrayal. Corrido really freaked me out. That screwdriver scene is terrifying.

This episode also sets up the tone for the rest of the series. Street Hawk, despite its outlandish set up, is more serious minded than Knight Rider. Even when Mach and Tuttle get goofy with one another, it’s in the context of a buddy story more than anything else. The Street Hawk team is looking for drug dealers and other “real world” criminals. Well, as real world as a TV show about a secret government project that’s really just a suped up dirt bike can get.

The Shout! Factory DVD set has a different version of the pilot as a special feature, which is interesting to watch only to see what, specifically, was different about the pilot that was first made and then the one that was shown. I didn’t find the differences all that interesting. You can read about those differences on imdb and on the Street Hawk website.

Well, I’d say we’re off to a good start with the pilot episode. Damn good stuff.

Rating: 5/5


The Street Hawkimdb page
The Street Hawk Wikipedia page
Street Hawk Online

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Next issue: Street Hawk episodes 2-4!


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