He spoke about his former series fondly in an interview with TV Insider. CHiPs helped launch his career, but before he was cast as Ponch for the series, he didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle. That changed, and he still rides them today.
When asked the series is still popular today, Estrada said the following:
“Visually, it’s fun to watch. It’s two cowboys on motorcycles. It’s flashy, it’s exciting. Everybody likes motorcycles, everybody likes car chases and crashes and so forth. Then you got the relationship between the street kid and the country kid. One is by the book, knows the book and the other one read the book, but gets in trouble and then he goes, “Oh, I made a mistake.” Then he’s always in trouble with the sergeant, with the authority. That’s very attractive to young people. They like that and it’s funny and it’s fun.”
The series is still aired in countries around the world, and the actor feels like he opened the door for other Latin Americans to become more noticeable on television. He revealed the following about his being cast on the NBC series:
“Up until then I played the Latino with the gun, the knife, the brick, the pimp, the bad boy. All the time, stereotypical casting on all the TV [shows]. On Mannix I was the junkie. I was a murderer on Hawaii Five-0. I was an arsonist in Kojak. Then when CHiPs came along, NBC said, “No. We know this kid. We saw him last week on Medical Center. He was an arrogant tennis player.” The producer says, “Well, look. Let’s screen test him in our final choice. We’ll screen test it to him.” Once they put me in the uniform, I was neutral, so it made me look like a good guy, right?
Then I got the part. Once I got the part, I walked in to the producer’s office and I said, “We need to change something.” Right away the producer looks at you like, “Oh, man. This guy’s going to be a pain in the butt.” I said, “No. No. No. No. No. Please, don’t look at me that way. This makes sense. So many years I played the bad guy, stereotypical Latino. Why don’t we take Poncherelli, who was an Italian/American cop,” the [name of the] role was written “Poncherelli,” and I said, “Let’s change the name to Poncherello. Make it sound more Latin and let’s make my character Hispanic/American motor cop.” They went for it. Ever since then, you got Jimmy Smits, Eddie Olmos. It helped open the doors and change perspective of the stereotypical Latino in television back then.”
Were you a fan of CHiPS? Did you catch Estrada on Liv and Maddie on Sunday night? Tell us what you think.