Thomas Magnum

Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson

magnumI just don’t get it. Never has such a so-so figure had such a large impact on a genre as the MAGNUM, P.I. television show. A watered-down and beefcaked up Rockford Files wannabe,utilising Hawaii 5-O‘s discarded props, it was created as a vehicle for then-rising star (and former cigarette commercial star) Tom Selleck…

Okay, okay, I know. You probably loved the show.

And you aren’t alone. But it was all too cheesy and erratic for me. Maybe I’d been spoiled by the glut of great TV eyes from the previous decade, but Magnum never did it for me.

It wobbled from wink-wink fantasy to heavy drama and back again, and utilized voice-overs, dream sequences, characters playing multiple roles, fantasy episodes, cameos and other such gimmicks. The casual warmth and sly wit of Rockford was replaced by some by-the-numbers male bonding and a certain smug cleverness, more intent at appearing clever than actually being clever. And despite all their attempts at humanizing the main characters, they never really came to life for me. They merely became smirky props with backstories.

Too bad. Tom Selleck was certainly affable enough, and to his credit, he played against type, insisting that things wouldn’t always come easy for his character. THOMAS MAGNUM was a former SEAL and Naval Intelligence officer, who had seen action in Vietnam, working as a private investigator (he’s got a pet peeve about being called a private detective or, GASP! a private eye) in Hawaii.

His drop-dead good looks were a lot easier to swallow when it was revealed he was all too human, and it helped that he usually didn’t get the girl. He certainly didn’t dress for success, either. Jeans, Hawaiian shirts, and baseball caps were his basic wardrobe for the entire run. Despite this, though, somewhere along the line, he still managed to land a plush gig as live-in security at the Oahu estate of wealthy, best-selling (but never seen) novelist Robin Masters. Not only does Magnum get to live rent-free in the guesthouse, but he has access to all the estate’s many facilities, including a Ferrari or two. Or three.

The only catch? Masters’ major domo, Jonathan Higgins, a pompous, stiff upper lip prig, and his two Dobermann Pinschers, Zeus and Apollo, who seemed to dislike Magnum even more than Higgins himself. Fortunately, he had his pals from ‘Nam, Theodore “TC” Calvin, who does helicopter tours, and Orville “Rick” Wright, who runs a bar, to keep him company.

Ian Freebairn-Smith did the music for the premiere and the first few episodes of the series, but Mike Post, who went to high school with Selleck, and Pete Carpenter, who together had done the music for The Rockford Files, soon took over.

In fact, although it was no spinoff, The Rockford Files played a large part in setting Selleck up for the role of Magnum, thanks to a handful of popular appearances on that show as squeaky clean (and annoyingly perfect) private eye Lance White. One Magnum episode, “Tigers Fan” (November 4, 1987), even opens with two cops on a stakeout discussing an episode of The Rockford Files one had seen the previous night, and how much he enjoyed watching this Lance White guy bust Jim’s chops.

Not that Magnum resembled Lance in any way — if anything, he seemed like a smoother, less complicated version of Rockford, a hanger on crashing at a rich man’s estate, not unlike Rockford living in a trailer under the Malibu cliffs, both with a sort of everyman veneer. But Jim never drove a Ferrari.

Another part of the show’s (questionable) charm were the countless nods and sly tributes to other shows and films. Hawaii 5-O and Steve McGarrett were often mentioned, and both Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, and the Rick and A.J. Simon from Simon and Simon showed up. “Murder By Night” (January 14, 1987) was a black and white homage to classic detective films; most notably The Maltese Falcon, wherein a cast of characters strangely resembling Magnum, T. C., Rick, and Higgins attempt to solve a 1940s murder . Another episode, “A.A. P.I.” (October 22, 1986) featured TV cops Columbo, Kojak, and Detective Mike Stone (from The Streets of San Francisco) attending a convention. Stephen J. Cannell also makes an appearance.

Despite the show and its star’s popularity, it all ended, not with a bang, but a prolonged whimper. The last few seasons, in particular, were full of the sort of gimmicky shows and “very special” episodes that usually indicate creative wheel-spinning, The series finale, “Resolutions” (May 1, 1988), written by Stephen A. Miller and Chris Abbott, and directed by Burt Brinkerhoff, was a letdown almost any way you looked at it.

But it was fun while it lasted. Selleck went on to a relatively successful film career, before returning to television to play Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone.

* * * * *

And that was it. I thought of Magnum P.I. as okay, but nothing special, and certainly no Rockford. Or even Mannix. Still, a lot of people I know and respect remember it fondly, and for many folks of a certain age, Magnum was THE private eye.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been totally surprised when, almost forty years later, CBS took another whack at it.

By then, Selleck was already busy playing a cop in the network’s Blue Bloods (and selling reverse mortgages in commercials), and he was probably a little long in the tooth for what CBS had in mind anyway. After all, they weren’t going to just bring the show back — they were going to “re-imagine” it. Which means, in these days of warm-spit groupthink creativity, half-hearted tweaking that’s all surface. The basics are all still in place, without any real evidence that the showrunners any idea (or cared) what made the original tick. Vietnam is now Iraq and Afghanistan, but other than that, not much has changed. They cast a good-looking pretty boy (Jay Hernandez) as Magnum, cast some decent looking dudes as Rick and T.J., and in their only slightly daring — if predictable — bit of casting, decided that cranky, stick-up-his-ass Higgins would be played by a good-looking young woman (Perdita Weeks) who just happens to be a former British intelligence agent. The only problem? She’s the only interesting character in the show — and the only one who comes off as actually competent and tough. If they’d really wanted to “re-imagine” the show, they should have cast her as Magnum. She makes Magnum and his pals look like weenies.

But what do I know? The show’s slick and full of big loud action pieces, everyone’s affable and pleasant looking enough, there’s plenty of carefully crafted man-stubble, the plots aren’t particularly complicated, and the showrunner has a good track record, reheating leftovers like Hawaii 5-0 and McGyver and turning them into successful reboots. Very special crossover episodes were threatened with the revamped Hawaii 5-0, and promptly delivered.

Maybe it’ll grow on me, but it hasn’t happened yet.

TELEVISION

  • MAGNUM, P.I.
    (1980-1988, CBS)
    Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson
    Writers: Donald P. Bellisario, Glen A. Larson, Frank Lupo, Babs Greyhosky, Joe Gores, Roger E. Mosley, Tom Selleck, Philip DeGuere, Ken Pettus, Frank Lupo, Craig Buck, Chris Bunch, Allan Cole, Rogers Turrentine, Robert Hamilton, Tim Maschler, Jeff Wilhelm, Diane Frolov, Alan Sutterfield, Andrew Schneider, Reuben Leder, Caroline Elias, Del Reisman, Robert Van Scoyk, Bob Shayne, Reuben Leder, Rob Gilmer, Alan Cassidy, Steven Hensley, J.Miyoko Hensley, Julie Friedgen, Louis F. Vipperman, Jeri Taylor, Stephen A. Miller, Chris Abbott, Stephen Miller, Kimmer Ringwald, Maryanne Kasica, Michael Scheff, Deborah Dean Davis, Richard Yalem, Jay Huguely, Nick Thiel, J. Rickley Dumm, Louis F. Vipperman, Chris Abbott-Fish, Judy Burns, Jill Sherman Donner, Deborah M. Pratt, J. Miyoko Hensley, Steven Hensley, Phil Combest, Sybil Adelman, Martin Sage, Don Balluck, Reuben Leder, Bruce Cervi
    Directors: Donald P. Bellisario, Roger Young, Larry Doheny, Douglas Heyes, Robert Loggia, Stuart Margolin, Roger E. Mosley, Leo Penn, Ray Austin, Rick Kolbe, Ron Satlof, Michael Vejar, Sidney Hayers, Alan Levi, Gilbert Shilton, Rod Daniel, Robert Totten, Lawrence Doheny, James Frawley, Ivan Dixon, Michael O’Herlihy, Jeff Hayden, Burt Kennedy, Jim Frawley, Virgil Vogel, Harvey Laidman, Reuben Leder, Ray Danton, Russ Mayberry, Burt Brinkerhoff, John C. Flinn, III, Corey Allen, Jackie Cooper, Jerry Jameson, Tony Wharmby, John Flinn, III., Joan Darling, Alan J. Levi, Harvey Laidman, Bernard Kowalski, Harry Falk, John L. Moxey, Georg Stanford Brown, Vincent McEveety, Arthur Seidelman, John Patterson, Peter Medak, David Hemmings, Harry Harris, Reuben Leder, Jerry Jameson
    Theme composed and performed by Mike Post
    .
    Starring Tom Selleck as THOMAS S. MAGNUM
    With John Hillerman as Jonathan Quayle Higgins
    and Roger E. Mosley as T.C.
    Larry Manetti as “Rick” Orville Wilbour Wright III
    and Orson Welles as The Voice of Robin Masters
    Recurring roles included Jeff MacKay as Mac Reynolds
    Gillian Dobb as Agatha Chumley
    Kwan Hi Lim as Lt. Tanaka
    Elisha Cook, Jr. as Ice Pick
    Eugene Roche as Luther Gillis
    Gwen Verdon as Katherine Peterson, Thomas’ mother
    Robert Pine as Thomas S. Magnum III, Magnum’s father
    Guest Stars: Robert Loggia, Lee De Broux, Ian McShane, Anne Lockhart, Miguel Ferrer, Scatman Crothers, Gretchen Corbett, Noah Beery, Stuart Margolin, Joe Santos, Andrea Marcovicci, Ted Danson, Erin Gray, Jacquelyn Ray, James Whitmore Jr., Marta DuBois, Soon Tech Oh, Paul Burke, Gillian Dobb, Tyne Daly, Mimi Rogers, Pat Morita, Phyllis Davis, Candy Clark, , Joe Regalbuto, Alan Hale, Dick Butkus, Eileen Brennan, Margaret Colin, Shannon Dougherty, Jean Bruce Scott, Kathleen Lloyd, Ernest Borgnine, Seth Sakai, Annie Potts, James Doohan, Norman Fell, Frank Sinatra, Dana Delany, Carol Burnett, Jillie Mack, Carol Channing (cameo), Chuck Mangione, Patrick MacNee, Deborah Pratt, Sharon Stone, Pat Hingle, John Ratzenberger , Cesar Romero, Shannon Doherty, Dennis Weaver, Paul Verdier, Gerald McRaney, Jameson Parker, Morgan Fairchild, Ronald Lacey, Laurette Spang, Jenny Agutter, Sharon Stone and Jill St. John.

    • Season One Buy this DVD set
    • “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii” (December 11, 1980)
    • “China Doll” (December 18, 1980)
    • “Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones, Too” (December 25, 1980)
    • “No Need to Know” (January 8, 1981)
    • “Skin Deep” (January 15, 1981)
    • “Never Again, Never Again” (January 22, 1981)
    • “The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii” (January 29, 1981)
    • “Missing in Action” (February 5, 1981)
    • “Lest We Forget” (February 12, 1981)
    • “The Curse of the King Kamehameha Club” (February 19, 1981)
    • “Thicker Than Blood” (February 26, 1981)
    • “All Roads Lead to Floyd” (March 12, 1981)
    • “Adelaide” (March 19, 1981)
    • “Don’t Say Goodbye” (March 26, 1981)
    • “The Black Orchid” (April 2, 1981)
    • “J. “Digger” Doyle” (April 9, 1981)
    • “Beauty Knows No Pain” (April 16, 1981)
    • Season Two Buy this DVD set
    • “Billy Joe Bob” (October 8, 1981)
    • “Dead Man’s Channel” (October 15, 1981)
    • “The Woman on the Beach” (October 22, 1981)
    • “From Moscow to Maui” (October 29, 1981)
    • “Memories are Forever” (November 5, 1981)
    • “Tropical Madness” (November 12, 1981)
    • “Wave Goodbye” (November 19, 1981)
    • “Mad Buck Gibson” (November 26, 1981)
    • “The Taking of Dick McWilliams” (December 3, 1981)
    • “The Sixth Position” (December 17, 1981)
    • “Ghost Writer” (December 24, 1981)
      Elisha Cook Jr.’s first appearance. Later he takes over the role of Ice Pick.
    • “The Jororo Kill” (January 7, 1982)
    • “Computer Date” (January 14, 1982)
    • “Try To Remember” (January 28, 1982)
    • “Italian Ice” (February 4, 1982)
    • “One More Summer” (February 11, 1982)
    • “Texas Lightning” (February 18, 1982)
    • “Double Jeopardy” (February 25, 1982)
    • “The Last Page” (March 4, 1982)
    • “The Elmo Ziller Story” (March 25, 1982)
    • “Three Minus Two” (April 1, 1982)
    • Season Three Buy this DVD set
    • “Did You See the Sunrise?(September 30, 1982)
    • “Ki’i’s Don’t Lie” (October 7, 1982)
      Crossover, written by Philip DeGuere, Bob Shayne. Concluded in the Simon & Simon episode “Emeralds Are Not A Girl’s Best Friend”.
    • “The Eighth Part of The Village” (October 14, 1982)
    • “Past Tense” (October 21, 1982)
    • “Black on White” (October 28, 1982)
    • “Flashback” (November 4, 1982)
    • “Foiled Again” (November 11, 1982)
    • “Mr. White Death” (November 18, 1982)
    • “Mixed Doubles” (December 2, 1982)
    • “Almost Home” (December 9, 1982)
    • “Heal Thyself” (December 16, 1982)
    • “Of Sound Mind” (January 6, 1983)
    • “The Arrow That is Not Aimed” (January 27, 1983)
    • “Basket Case” (February 3, 1983)
    • “Birdman of Budapest” (February 10, 1983)
    • “I Do?” (February 17, 1983)
    • “Forty Years From Sand Island” (February 24, 1983)
    • “Legacy From a Friend” (March 10, 1983)
    • “Two Birds of a Feather” (March 17, 1983)
    • “…By Its Cover” (March 31, 1983)
    • “The Big Blow” (April 7, 1983)
    • “Faith and Begorrah” (April 28, 1983)
    • Season Four Buy this DVD set
    • “Home From the Sea” (September 29, 1983)
    • “Luther Gillis: File #521” (October 6, 1983)
    • “Smaller Than Life” (October 13, 1983)
    • “Distant Relative” (October 20, 1983)
    • “Limited Engagement” (November 3, 1983)
    • “Letter to a Duchess” (November 10, 1983)
    • “Squeeze Play” (November 17, 1983)
    • “A Sense of Debt” (December 1, 1983)
    • “The Look” (December 8, 1983)
    • “Operation: Silent Night” (December 15, 1983)
    • “Jororo Farewell” (January 5, 1984)
    • “The Case of the Red-Faced Thespian” (January 19, 1984)
    • “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (January 26, 1984)
    • “Rembrandt’s Girl” (February 2, 1984)
    • “Paradise Blues” (February 9, 1984)
    • “The Return of Luther Gillis” (February 16, 1984)
    • “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” (February 23, 1984)
    • “Holmes Is Where the Heart is” (March 8, 1984)
    • “On Face Value” (March 15, 1984)
    • “Dream A Little Dream” (March 29, 1984)
    • “I Witness” (May 3, 1984)
    • Season Five Buy this DVD set
    • “Echoes Of the Mind, Part 1” (September 27, 1984)
    • “Echoes Of the Mind, Part 2” (October 4, 1984)
    • “Mac’s Back” (October 11, 1984)
    • “The Legacy of Garwood Huddle” (October 18, 1984)
    • “Under World” (October 25, 1984)
    • “Fragments” (November 1, 1984)
    • “Blind Justice” (November 8, 1984)
    • “Murder 101” (November 15, 1984)
    • “Tran Quoc Jones” (November 29, 1984)
    • “Luther Gillis: File #001” (December 6, 1984)
    • “Kiss of the Sabre” (December 13, 1984)
    • “Little Games” (January 3, 1985)
    • “Professor Jonathan Higgins” (January 10, 1985)
    • “Compulsion” (January 24, 1985)
    • “All For One” (January 31, 1985)
    • “The Love-For-Sale Boat” (February 14, 1985)
    • “Let Me Hear the Music” (February 21, 1985)
    • “Ms. Jones” (March 7, 1985)
    • “The Man from Marseilles” (March 14, 1985)
    • “Torah, Torah, Torah” (March 28, 1985)
    • “A Pretty Good Dancing Chicken” (April 4, 1985)
    • Season Six Buy this DVD set
    • “Deja Vu” (September 26, 1985)…Buy this video
    • “Old Acquaintance” (October 3, 1985)
    • “The Kona Winds” (October 10, 1985)
    • “The Hotel Dick” (October 17, 1985)
    • “Round and Around” (October 24, 1985)
    • “Going Home” (October 31, 1985)
    • “Paniolo” (November 7, 1985)
    • “The Treasure of Kalaniopu’u” (November 14, 1985)
    • “Blood and Honor” (November 21, 1985)
    • “I Never Wanted to Go to France, Anyway” (January 2, 1986)
    • “Summer School” (January 9, 1986)
    • “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (January 23, 1986)
    • “All Thieves On Deck” (January 30, 1986)
    • “This Island Isn’t Big Enough” (February 13, 1986)
    • “Way of the Stalking Horse” (February 20, 1986)
    • “Find Me a Rainbow” (March 13, 1986)
    • “Who Is Don Luis, Higgins, …And Why Is He Doing These Terrible Things To Me?” (March 20, 1986)
    • “A Little Bit of Luck … A Little Bit of Grief” (April 3, 1986)
    • “Photo Play” (April 10, 1986)
    • Season SevenBuy this DVD set
    • “L.A.” (October 1, 1986)
    • “One Picture is Worth…’ (October 8, 1986)
    • “Straight and Narrow” (October 15, 1986)
    • “A.A. P.I.” (October 22, 1986)
      Columbo, Kojak, and Detective Mike Stone attend the A. A. P. I. convention. See them in the audience. Stephen J. Cannell guest stars.
    • “Death and Taxes” (October 29, 1986)
      Joe Santos’ first appearance as Lt. Page.
    • “Little Girl Who” (November 5, 1986)
    • “Paper War” (November 12, 1986)
    • “Novel Connection” (November 19, 1986)
      A cross-over. The story continues in the Murder She Wrote episode “Magnum On Ice”. Angela Lansbury guests.
    • “Kapu” (November 26, 1986.
    • “Missing Melody” (December 3, 1986)
    • “Death of the Flowers” (December 10, 1986)
    • “Autumn Warrior” (December 17, 1986)
    • “Murder By Night” (January 14, 1987)
      Popularly known as the black and white episode, or the “Sam Spade” episode. A 1940s murder involves a cast of characters strangely resembling Magnum, T. C., Rick, and Higgins.
    • “On the Fly” (January 21, 1987)
    • “Solo Flight” (February 4, 1987)
    • “Forty” (February 11, 1987)
    • “Laura” (February 25, 1987)
    • “Out of Sync” (March 11, 1987)
    • “The Aunt Who Came to Dinner” (March 18, 1987)
    • “The People vs. Orville Wright” (April 1, 1987)
    • “Limbo” (April 15, 1987)
      Tom Selleck is co-writer of this “very special” episode. Magnum is heavily injured after a shooting. In coma, Magnum roams the island and finds his former wife. He helps her when she is pursued by killers…
    • Season Eight |  Buy this DVD set
    • “Infinity And Jelly Doughnuts” (October 7, 1987))
    • “Pleasure Principle” (October 14, 1987)
    • “Innocence … A Broad” (October 28, 1987)
    • “Tigers Fan” (November 4, 1987)
    • “Forever In Time” (November 11, 1987)
    • “The Love That Lies” (November 18, 1987)
    • “A Girl Named Sue” (January 13, 1988)
    • “Unfinished Business” (January 20, 1988)
    • “The Great Hawaiian Adventure Company” (January 27, 1988)
    • “Legend of the Lost Art” (February 10, 1988)
    • “Transitions” (February 17, 1988)
    • “Resolutions, Part 1+2” (May 1, 1988)
  • MAGNUM, P.I.
    (2018, CBS)
    Developed by Peter M. Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim
    Based on characters created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson
    Premiere: September 24, 2018
    Writers: Peter M. Lenkov, Eric Guggenheim
    Directors: Justin Lin
    Theme composed and performed by Mike Post
    .
    Starring Jay Hernandez as THOMAS HIGGINS
    Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins
    Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright
    Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvi
    Also starring Amy Hill,Tim Kang, Domenick Lombardozzi 
    Guest Stars: 
    Kimee Balmilero, Taylor Wily, Alex O’Loughlin

    • Season One
    • “I Saw the Sun Rise” (September 24, 2018)
    • “From the Head Down” (October 1, 2018)
    • “The Woman Who Never Died” (October 8, 2018)
    • “Six Paintings, One Frame” (October 15, 2018)
    • “Sudden Death”  (October 22, 2018)
    • “Death Is Only Temporary”  (October 29, 2018)
    • “The Cat Who Cried Worl” (November 5, 2018)
    • “Die He Said” (November 12, 2018)

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Respectfully Submitteed by Kevin Burton Smith.

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