Did ‘CHiPs’ Stars Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox Get Along? The Answer Isn’t So Simple

CHiPs was one of the hit TV shows of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It followed two California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers on the job. It became one of the many popular cop dramas thanks to the two main characters. Fans enjoyed watching Officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello and Jon Baker, whose opposite personalities and good looks made for great TV. 

Leading actors Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox portrayed the two protagonists. But even though their characters become close, the stars had a complicated relationship off-screen. 

What was ‘CHiPs’ about?

Erik Estrada as Officer Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Officer Jon Baker on the TV show 'CHiPs'
Erik Estrada as Officer Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Officer Jon Baker on the TV show ‘CHiPs’ | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In 1977, CHiPs debuted on NBC. The show aired for six seasons and ended in 1983. There was also a reunion TV movie released in 1998. Over the years, the series became a popular crime drama

The action follows two motorcycle cops — Jonathan Baker and Francis “Ponch” Poncherello — as they patrol LA streets for the California Highway Patrol. Those familiar with the CHP (hence the show’s title, CHiPs) are aware that its troopers mainly work alone. However, the series explains why the two main characters work as a team. 

Many of the episodes depicted criminal investigations such as hijackings. Jon and Ponch also dealt with traffic accidents like pile-ups. But there were also comedic situations involving problems like stranded motorists. CHiPs made use of the classic good-guy, bad-guy dichotomy.  

Though the show depicted the two main characters’ workdays, viewers also got a glimpse into their personal lives. Fans easily grew attached to the two attractive actors who played Ponch and Jon. 

Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox starred in ‘CHiPs’

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Estrada is an actor and real-life police officer who grew up in New York. He made his film debut in 1970’s The Cross and the Switchblade. A couple of years later, he starred in The New Centurions. But his most notable role was Ponch on CHiPs. In 2016, he actually joined law enforcement. 

According to IMDb, Larry Wilcox served in the Marine Corps until the ’70s. Afterward, he made his first guest appearance in the TV show Room 222. The actor continued to make TV guest appearances. He’s best known for his role on CHiPs

On the cop show, Estrada played the rambunctious and hotheaded Ponch. The character was more trouble-prone and on probation most of the time. In fact, his probation status is the reason why the CHP officers worked as a pair. 

Wilcox played Ponch’s partner, Jon Baker. His personality was staid and laidback compared to Ponch’s. He was level-headed and tried to keep his partner out of trouble. 

But their clashing personalities created a strained off-screen relationship that persisted for years.

Wilcox and Estrada weren’t fond of each other off-screen

Some cast members get along well, while others are not on friendly terms off-screen. In fact, the two CHiPs stars often had tension between them on- set. 

According to People, Wilcox made it clear that Estrada was not his friend. The tension began around the time the series started. Wilcox was cast first, and he felt Estrada was chosen purely for his good looks: “I thought it was asinine to pick someone just for being photogenic,” Wilcox said. He had wanted someone else to play his partner. 

“It was an ego problem,” Wilcox added. “That first year we talked our problems over, sober and drunk. We’d get things squared away for a week or two, then the whole thing would start over.”

Over time, their strained relationship became more apparent. At one point, Wilcox was blunt when discussing why he didn’t invite Estrada to his nuptials. “Erik didn’t invite me to his wedding four months ago nor to his recent birthday party,” the actor told People. “I wanted to show more class and invite him anyhow, but it went against my grain.”

At times, Wilcox feared their friction would be obvious in front of the camera. But the tension lessened a bit after Estrada was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident on location. Wilcox rushed to Estrada’s side, “holding his hand to minimize the shock and telling him, ‘I really love you,'” People reported. “Still, when Larry tried to visit Erik in the hospital, he wasn’t among the close friends and family allowed in.”

Later, the two stars became “chums” when they returned for the TV movie, the Sun-Sentinel reported. 

But in the end, Wilcox admitted, “Erik and I are just totally different human beings.”