Live Car Chases Are No Trivial Pursuit to Television Viewers

Get ready for ACN, the next great breakthrough in television programming.

ACN, the All-Chase Network. Twenty-four hours of nonstop chases in which your favorite law enforcement agency tracks down a bad guy who could be heading your direction.

You think I'm kidding? You think they couldn't fill up a daily schedule? Have you been watching local TV recently? You think tire companies and auto parts stores won't advertise?

It's fast reaching the point where you can't watch your favorite morning talk show or daytime soap opera without an interruption for a car chase.

Who needs French Connection III? Who needs "Starsky and Hutch" reruns with choreographed chase scenes when we can see the real thing in our own neighborhoods?

This looks to be California's latest contribution to social decline. Luckily, it doesn't have the automatically violent aspect of the freeway shooting fad of a few years ago, but don't bet on that lasting. You know how TV is--it demands more and more action.

Already we've seen the bad guys dreaming up increasingly innovative plots. The simple lone occupant trying to elude police is already declasse . You can almost picture the TV news directors, while trying to decide whether to film the next chase or not, saying among themselves: "What's the twist? What's the twist?"

One caper last week featured the suspect abducting a citizen and forcing him to drive the getaway car. That was imaginative, freeing up the suspect to fire shots out the window. That chase involved both freeway and surface street action and ended when the suspect bolted from the car and leaped a couple fences in Santa Ana before giving up in someone's yard.

Then, yesterday, things really got going.

Tuesday morning's chase featured a man with his two kids in the truck with him, with one of the tots in a kiddie car seat. True to Hollywood, we got both action (the CHP smashing the window and pulling the bad guy out of the truck) and the feel-good ending (the kids getting teddy bears from the good guys).

Tuesday afternoon's chase was less dramatic, but it featured some outstanding driving by the suspects who somehow managed to split traffic numerous times without hitting anyone. And what about that nifty hook-and-spin maneuver the CHP used to abruptly stop the van? The only new wrinkle to this one was that it featured female suspects in supporting roles, something we hadn't seen in previous chases.

There's something irresistible about watching these things. I don't know if your office has TV sets, but ours does, and once these chases get going, the staff gathers around like people at ringside of a heavyweight championship fight. We ooh and aah as the getaway driver avoids oncoming traffic with a deft move, much as a fight crowd does when a boxer has just thrown a beautiful flurry of punches or escaped a pummeling on the ropes.

The tension is built in from the start and only mounts as the chase continues. It's the kind of guaranteed TV drama that programmers drool over, because the audience knows the end could come at any moment and that it could come violently. Look away, you might miss the ending. Therefore, you're riveted to the set. Even better, you know there's going to be a conclusion. There are no cliffhangers with police chases. You know you're going to get your money's worth.

I think we're also captivated by the thinking of these suspects. Do they really think they can escape the cops, or have they just played so many video games simulating daredevil escape tactics that they think they can do it behind the wheel of a real car?

Have they seen so much "reality-based" TV that they think they're just auditioning for the network executives? "Hey, c'mon, I changed freeways three times and eluded the CHP for 45 minutes! I deserve a guest shot!

Maybe the truth is that some people see no distinction between life and show biz. They watch the supposedly funny home video shows and figure that if people will laugh at someone dropping a birthday cake, they'll go bonkers watching someone lead cops on a 30-mile chase before giving up.

Already on TV, we can sit in our living rooms and watch real cops make drug busts, answer domestic disturbance calls with cameras rolling or burst into a hooker's hotel room after she's finalized the transaction.

But that stuff is taped. By going live, these chase suspects probably figure they're just advancing the art form.

Here's a prediction: You think the chases so far have been exciting? You ain't seen nothing yet. There's always a nut out there with a better idea.

ACN. The network that will make you forget HBO and Showtime.

Call your cable company now.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World