Last year - to coincide with the release of the Robocop remake - Starburst Magazine ran a series of articles looking at the various aspects of Robocop's history in various media. Among the articles up for grabs was the chance to write a piece about the Robocop TV series. Now, being something of a fan of - mostly naff - 90's TV (I think it's more nostalgia than quality sometimes) I jumped on the chance to revisit the series.
Below is a reprint of the article I wrote with the help of (Robocop himself) Richard Eden. I had a fantastic time rewatching and getting reacquainted with a slice of wonderfully 90's TV sci-fi and getting to talk (via email) with Richard Eden about the series. The article originally appeared in Starburst Issue 397.
A FUTURE TO THIS LIFE: THE ROBOCOP TV SERIES
In 1994 Robocop made the jump to live action TV. Along with Richard Eden, the man who is Robocop in the series, we take a look back at ROBOCOP: THE SERIES
“Robocop was the furthest thing from my mind.” recalls Richard Eden “I was in Toronto shooting a television guest spot when The Characters Agency called me and asked if I was interested in the role. I barely remembered the movie at that point but, as luck would have it, I was staying at a director’s house while he was away and I noticed that amongst his video collection was a copy of Paul Verhoeven’s original movie. I watched it and was impressed and entertained by the film.”
“I loved the humanity, the action and the dark, sardonic humour of the movie. Something about Robocop as a series piqued my interest so I put myself on tape moving a little like Robocop. Mainly I tried to convey the confused inner life of the human we knew as Murphy. The robotics was secondary to me. It was the last day of casting and my agent Ronda Cooper ran down to the casting office as they were closing up and put my tape into the casting director’s hand!”
The Robocop series came about as a result of the declining finances of Orion Pictures who, despite having a large number of successful films in their back catalogue, were struggling to stay afloat by 1993. In a bid to balance the books, Orion started optioning the rights to their various properties, including a deal that secured Skyvision Entertainment the rights to make a Robocop TV Series.
After discovering a clause in the contracts for Michael Miner and Edward Neumeier, Skyvision hired the writers of the original 1987 Robocop film to write the pilot, which they did by reworking their unmade script for Robocop 2. The series picked up a few years after the original film, with Delta City now built and Robocop back in the Metro South Precinct.
“I found myself having lunch with the executive producer at his home and he said ‘we want you’. I was cast at that luncheon, pending network approval” Eden says of being cast. “His passion convinced me and my imagination saw the role clearly. It was his salesmanship however that truly sold me.” With the network signing off, Eden became the third actor to don the Robocop suit. Eden inherited his suit from Peter Weller from Robocop 2. The suit was heavier than the one Weller wore in the original film, weighing in at 95 pounds, plus another 25 for the helmet. “The joke on set was that I got the part because I fit into the suit and had good lips – since that is all you see of me.”
“The producer alluded to the fact that unlike Peter Weller, my stamina would be a key factor since I would be in the suit for many hours each day. I actually hold the record for the longest time suited-up, something insane like 12 hours. You have to convey through the suit. Peter Weller did it flawlessly for me in some scenes, especially what we Robocop’s call ‘the helmet off scenes’. Obviously this is not Hamlet, but the role does have its own unique demands, trust me.”
“There was an inner life and a very obvious outer life to Robocop. My job was to make Murphy my own. My father flew in the R.A.F. in WWII and something about him flying a Spitfire defending London helped me with the role. That confined space and a war happening in front of you. Murphy was a man inside a machine like my father. I had an organic way in.”
“Soon I was training in the gym and taking movement classes with two teachers from Cirque de Soleil. I couldn’t wear heavy clothing underneath the suit as there was no room, so I started walking around in light clothing to get ready for stiff mobility and freezing temperatures. I was given a one piece leotard with a zipper and a hood to wear under the suit.”
“I was told that throughout the series we would flashback to ‘Murphy the man’, giving me the actor some fun and respite from Robocop. Sadly, with the exception of the episode ‘Tin Man’, we never got to do that. I enjoyed playing that back story, but the series is called Robocop not Murphy. I was aware of what I’d signed up for”
Unlike the ultra violence of Paul Verhoevens original film, the series was designed to appeal to the child and family demographic. “Robocop 3 and the times set the tone of the series” Eden says of the tonal shift. “This was the time of George Bush Snr and the slogan was ‘A kinder, gentler America’. I heard that and thought ‘Damn!’ politically it was a great idea, but for the series it was a mistake in my opinion. At that first meeting in Los Angeles, I wasn’t aware what the tone of the show would be.”
The toning down meant that Robocop no longer killed, which opened the door for Robocop to find non lethal ways of fighting crime. It also allowed for the series to have recurring villains; most notable of which was ‘Pugface’ Morgan, a thug who had been disfigured in a chemical accident (prior to the series) following an encounter with Robocop. He was essentially a less gory version of Paul McCrae’s character from the first film (had he not been killed).
What the series did keep from the films was the satirical humour, albeit toned down for a family audience, with the Media Break news bulletins and OCP Product adverts put into each episode. Amongst these was the recurring animated adverts featuring OCP’s mascot Commander Cash, who was delivered questionable messages to the children of the Robocop world.
Rights issues meant that all of the characters (with the exception of Robocop/Alex Murphy) had their names changed for the TV series. So Anne Lewis became Lisa Madigan (Yvette Nipar), Sgt. Reed became Sgt. Parks (Blu Mankuma), Ellen Murphy became Nancy Murphy (Jenn Griffin) and - although he is referred to as The Old Man in some episodes - The Old Man became The Chairman (David Gardner).
As well as these versions of the characters from the films, the series added Andrea Roth as Diana Powers, a murdered OCP employee who becomes the hologram appearance of OCP’s Neuro-Brain supercomputer. The series also added the character of Gadget, played by Sarah Campbell who was described as the unofficial police station mascot and was designed to have a character that the younger audience could engage with.
By following the story on from the first film, the series kept the plot point that only a handful of people within the police station knew that Robocop was Alex Murphy, meaning Murphy’s family believed he was dead. This gave Eden the chance to explore the inner pain of Robocop interacting with his family with them being unaware of who he actually is.
The series even introduced Murphy’s parents, including his former police officer father, for a couple of episodes. The second of which gave Eden the opportunity to play a side of the Robocop character that no other actor had been able to up to that point. In the episode ‘Corporate Raiders’, Robocop is confronted by Murphy’s father – played by Martin Milner – who has figured out that Robocop is actually his son. It’s a beautifully played scene by both actors.
“That episode with Marty was my favourite. I remember we were under a tank together and I marvelled at how specific his questions were regarding some incendiary device we were to disarm. That device was real to him. His craftsmanship was top-notch. He was also one of the two famous actors from the hit 60s series Route 66 and George Maharis, his co-star, is friend of mine. I put them on the phone together while on set. They hadn't spoken in years.”
While the series didn’t prove to be that popular with the fans of the first two movies, Robocop proved to be a hit with the Toronto kids while the series was being made. “When we were on location we did draw the awe of children, so I guess that was the audience at the time. I got a kick out of the children and their joy at seeing Robocop! If we were in a shopping mall, I made it a point not to break character when children were around. Santa Clause didn’t stand a chance in a shopping mall if Robocop and a crew of 50 turned up!”
Unfortunately, the viewing figures weren’t high enough and with a price tag of around a million dollars an episode, the series was not picked up for a second season. “We didn’t know we were being cancelled. It was a difficult series to shoot. Toronto was having its worst winter in years and we had two crews shooting around the clock. There was a lot of heart put into the work and the entire team worked really hard. I was tired at the end of the first season, but after a week of rest I was ready to go again.”
For those who have rediscovered the series, it has become a cult favourite and one that is definitely worth another look. The series is very much a product of the 90’s; at times corny, over the top and a little heavy handed with its messages, but it also has a huge amount of charm, wit and, in Eden, one of the best portrayals of Robocop in the history of the franchise. “Robocop is still an iconic role for any actor, in my opinion. I wish the best of luck to Joel Kinnaman and all of the fans I’m sure he’ll draw in.”
“There’s a pathos to the character that makes him a superhero unlike any other and I’m sure the new film will capture all that and more. A superhero should have feminine appeal. I think they’ve addressed the wider appeal issue in the new film. He looks more human than we previous Robocop’s. And his sleek, muscle ripped suit is an obvious plus for any demographic. Had we done a second season, I would’ve had a suit that was fitted to me. We were talking about a sleeker look for the suit, something similar to the suit in the new film.”
Since the series ended, Eden has appeared in front of the camera in various projects, but he has mainly been focused on working behind the camera. “My wife Shannon Hile – whom I married a week before heading off to make Robocop – and I are now fulltime screenwriters. We have written two television features, the most recent of which is a comedy called Merry Exmas. We also have two other tent pole features ready; a supernatural romance called The Afterward and a horror film based on actual events, that is being written now.”
But would Eden ever be tempted back to the Robocop universe?
“I was approached to reprise the role for the Prime Directives mini –series, but I was getting busy with screen writing projects and a production of a horror film Shannon and I wrote called The Intervention, which is represented by our manager Kailey Marsh of Kailey Marsh Management. But I would love to be involved in the Robocop universe again someday.”