George Clooney’s Pre-Fame TV Show ‘Sunset Beat’ Is So Bad It’s Great


Everyone has to start somewhere. The best surgeon in the world was once a frightened first-year resident. The best lawyer in the world spent a few summers getting coffee and making copies. This is especially evident with actors, because even their earliest roles leave a footprint. We saw Jason Alexander in a McDonald’s commercial and Leonardo DiCaprio in Growing Pains before they made it big, to name two. There are plenty of other examples. It’s a fun YouTube rabbit hole to tumble down.

It also brings us to our topic: Back in 1990, four years before he would land his star-making role on E.R., George Clooney scored the lead in a short-lived series called Sunset Beat. The show aired a two-hour pilot that year, then was shelved, and then ran for seven more episodes two years later. (Imagine that “Previously on…” segment.) We’ve discussed Sunset Beat at least once before. We might discuss it again. We are definitely going to discuss it now, though, because two things have happened since that first post:

  • After I complained loudly and repeatedly about not being able to find the two-part series premiere anywhere, a reader named Seth tracked down an old VHS copy on eBay and put it on YouTube.
  • George Clooney mentioned the show himself during his recent sit-down for David Letterman’s new Netflix show.

The time has come to discuss Sunset Beat.


The first thing you need to know about Sunset Beat is that George Clooney plays a Harley-riding undercover cop named Chic Chesbro who moonlights as the lead guitarist in a rock band called Private Prayer and wears a leather jacket over a denim jacket despite living in Southern California. You can tell he’s good at guitar because people are always asking him how he played and he always replies “Great. I always play great.” All of that is true, I promise, as is the fact that his ex-girlfriend used to be the group’s lead singer before she got hooked on drugs. She storms the stage in the opening scene. A riot breaks out outside the China Club. As she is getting arrested, she says — I’m almost sure of it — “Don’t be a hero, nosewipe” to the cop. Sunset Beat was a good show.

(There are lots of one-liners like that in the show, with my favorite being Clooney-as-Chesbro’s response to an FBI agent’s question about why he has long hair: “I have long hair so I don’t get confused for guys like you and Dan Quayle.” Find me one person who has ever confused George Clooney for Dan Quayle.)

And we will get back to the trials and tribulations of Chic Chesbro and Private Prayer in a moment, but first: A tractor-trailer is barreling down a winding cliffside road. Its driver is lost and confused and looking for a person he’s supposed to meet, who will arrive in a helicopter. He follows the road around a tight bend and then h-


Whoooaaaa we got a helicopter explosion. I think I should note here that we are less than 10 minutes into the episode. You know you’re watching a good show if there’s a rock riot at the China Club and a helicopter explosion before the first commercial break. And I should also note that the tractor-trailer is filled with somewhere north of a billion dollars in cash, which we learn when Chic Chesbro stumbles across the scene moments later and a massive pile of money tumbles onto him.