Magnum P.I. was a constant in my life through a tumultuous time, starting when I was just 8 and ending when I was 16, seeing me through the most chaotic years of young life. Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV’s (Tom Selleck) adventures in Hawaii were a center, a Thursday night oasis — Wednesday from series 7 onward — that always knew would be there.
Magnum lives in the guest house of an opulent 200-acre beachfront estate known as Robin’s Nest. At some point, he provided services for its owner, world-famous novelist Robin Masters (voiced by Orson Welles for all but the final time when Red Crandell spoke for the character) and he’s been allowed full run of the estate and use of the author’s Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS in exchange for some nebulous security detail. In between, he takes on cases that rarely pay and often put his life in danger.
His archnemisis is Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman). Like Magnum, he’s also ex-army, but he’s by the book while our hero is laid back. He’s in charge of Robin’s estate, patrolling it with his twin Doberman, Zeus and Apollo. The relationship grows and changes as the series progresses, going from antagonistic to near friendship by the close, as well as the suspicion that Higgins is Robin Masters.
Magnum has a near-perfect storytelling engine as it has the perfect setting (all manner of people come to Hawaii for vacation or to escape), the perfect characters (Magnum can be just as much a film noir hero as he can be a military man or a romantic leading man; he’s a comedic figure without losing his coolness) and the perfect job (being a detective is a reliable TV profession for this reason). Add in his friends Theodore “T.C.” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) — whose Island Hoppers helicopter can take Magnum anywhere — and Orville Wilbur Richard “Rick” Wright (Larry Manetti), whose King Kamehameha Club can be the origin for all manner of intrigue — and you can see why this series ran for so many years.
While T.C. and Rick are former Marines and Magnum is a former Navy SEAL — all served in Vietnam — none of them are shell-shocked zombies. They’re normal human beings who deal with their war experiences in their own way, which was a refreshing change for audiences — especially veterans — when the show started.
Magnum was such a big show that even other big shows crossed over with it, establishing a CBS detective show universe. In the episode “Ki’is Don’t Lie,” Magnum works with Simon & Simon to recover a cursed artifact, a mystery which had its conclusion in their show with the episode “Emeralds Are Not a Girl’s Best Friend.” Yet most famously, in “Novel Connection,” novelist Jessica Fletcher came to Hawaii — along with Jessica Walter and Dorothy Loudon — and then solved the case on her show, Murder, She Wrote, in the episode “Magnum on Ice.”
Speaking of guest stars, all manner of genre favorites appeared on this show, including Jenny Agutter, Talia Balsam, Ernest Borgnine, Candy Clark, Samantha Eggar, Robert Forster, Pat Hingle, Mako, Patrick Macness, Cameron Mitchell, Vic Morrow, John Saxon and many more.
Another reason why this show is so beloved is due to Selleck. He told producers, “I’m tired of playing what I look like.” His suggestion? He remembered having fun with James Garner on The Rockford Files and suggested making Magnum more of blue collar guy. This made him more identifiable with men, not just women.
One of the things that struck me as I caught up on the series was that the theme is different at the start! The original theme was written by Ian Freebairn-Smith and only lasted eleven episodes before being replaced with the iconic Mike Post and Pete Carpenter song that I hum all of the time.
At the end of the seventh season, Magnum died in a shoot out. I can’t even explain how upset everyone was. The letters page in TV Guide was aghast. Imagine if Twitter existed in the late 80s! Luckily, he came back for one shorter season.
Series creator Donald P. Bellisario — who created this show with Glen A. Larson — was born in North Charleroi, PA. I can probably see his house from mine. After fifteen years in advertising, he went to Hollywood, where he worked on the series Black Sheep Squadron and Battlestar Galactica before creating series like Tales of the Golden Monkey, Airwolf, Quantum Leap, JAG and NCIS. He was joined by writers like Richard Yalem (who made Delirium), Reuben A. Leder (A*P*E*, Badlands 2005), Jay Huguely (Jason Goes to Hell), Andrew Schneider (the “Stop Susan Williams” and “Ther Secret Empire” chapters of Cliffhangers!), Stephen A. Miller (My Bloody Valentine), J. Miyoko Hensley (who wrote the Remo Williams: The Prophecy pilot) and even notorious celebrity fixer and detective Anthony Pellicano, as well as directors like David Hemmings (yes, from Deep Red), John Llewellyn Moxey, Jackie Cooper and Robert Loggia, amongst so many others.
The Mill Creek blu ray box set of Magnum P.I. has all 158 episodes of the show, as well as new interviews with composer Mike Post, writer/producer Chris Abbott, author C. Courtney Joyner on the sixty year career of director Virgil Vogel and actress/writer Deborah Pratt (who was the voice of the narrator and Ziggy on Quantum Leap). Plus, you also get two Tom Selleck guest star roles on The Rockford Files, featurettes on The Great 80’s TV Flashback and Inside the Ultimate Crime Crossover (Magnum P.I. and Murder, She Wrote) and audio commentary on three season 8 episodes.
Much like how Magnum was a calming part of my young life, having this set on my shelf during these turbulent times is just as warm of a feeling. Get this set and let the 80s wash over you like the beaches of Waikiki.
You can get this set from Deep Discount.