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Magnum P.I. Title Card
Title Card
Magnum P.I. is an American television show that follows the exciting adventures of private investigator Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV (Tom Selleck) and his three close friends as they live their lives on the beautiful island of Oahu in Hawaii. Thomas Magnum (often referred to as simply "Magnum") is an ex-U.S. Navy SEAL and ONI officer. His friends are Theodore "T.C." Calvin (Roger E. Mosley), an ex-U.S. Marine helicopter pilot and small business owner, Orville Richard Wright (Larry Manetti), an ex-U.S. Marine door gunner and private beach club manager, and British socialite and majordomo Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman), an ex-British Army Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) and MI6 intelligence officer.

Higgins and Magnum
Higgins & Magnum
The show also features a well-rounded, eclectic mix of secondary recurring characters. There is the affable English socialite Agatha Chumley (local resident Gillian Dobb), the quirky, baseball-loving police detective Yoshi Tanaka (former local lawyer Kwan Hi Lim), the good-natured Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Carol Baldwin (Kathleen Lloyd), the doughnut-munching Naval officer "Mac" MacReynolds (Jeff MacKay), the grizzled Marine Colonel veteran Buck Greene (Lance LeGault), the hardworking, idealistic Naval Lieutenant Maggie Poole (Jean Bruce Scott), the beautiful, mysterious undercover operative Michelle Hue (Marta DuBois), the light-hearted con man Jim Bonnick (also played by Jeff MacKay), the old-school Private Dick Luther H. Gillis (played perfectly by Eugene Roche), the friendly M.D. Doc Ibold (UH Theatre professor Glenn Cannon), and the elder underworld boss "Icepick" (Elisha Cook). The show even occasionally had the legendary Orson Welles providing voice-over work for the never-seen millionaire novelist Robin Masters!

Magnum P.I. was created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson, and was produced by Universal Studios. Glen A. Larson wrote the original script which was later heavily revamped by Donald P. Bellisario, blending elements from an unproduced script he was developing called "H.H. Flynn" ("a private eye on Rodeo Drive"). The filmed pilot was presented to CBS in May of 1980. The head of programming at CBS, Harvey Shephard, immediately ordered 22 episodes!

T.C. and Rick
T.C. & Rick
The show aired on CBS for eight seasons, from December 1980 to May 1988, producing an impressive 162 syndicated episodes (148 one-hour episodes, 7 two-hour episodes) and two "crossover" episodes (with Simon & Simon and Murder, She Wrote). For the first six seasons it aired on Thursday's at 8:00PM. During the last two seasons it jumped around to five different time slots. It was ranked in the Top 20 (Nielsen) for the first five seasons, reaching a high of #3 during the third season (1982-1983). Don Bellisario was the main executive producer, with Charles Johnson, Rueben Leder, Rick Weaver, Chris Abbott, and Jay Huguely heading a strong list of producers and writers. Tom Selleck also produced several episodes during the last two seasons.

The show won 14 awards (2 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes, 1 Edgar, 6 People's Choice) and received an additional 30 nominations (13 Emmys, 11 Golden Globes). Tom Selleck and John Hillerman both won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for their acting. The full list of awards and nominations can be seen here. The show has also been enshrined in the National Museum of American History and is one of only a small number of television shows, voted by an overwhelming majority, to have never "jumped the shark", according to the definitive source on the subject jumptheshark.com. In 1986, largely because of his work in Magnum P.I., Tom Selleck received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6925 Hollywood Blvd.

Magnum P.I. Crew
Magnum Crew
Magnum P.I. was shot almost entirely on location in Oahu, mostly on the southeast side of the island (Kahala, Hawaii Kai, Waikiki, the Honolulu metro area), although many other parts of the island were used as well. Most episodes featured a large contingent of local, Oahu-based actors. All of the indoor set scenes (Magnum's quarters, the main house at Robin's Nest, Rick & T.C.'s offices) were filmed on a soundstage (Stage One) at the Hawaii Film Studio (then known as "Diamond Head Studio"), located at the corner of 22nd Avenue and Diamond Head Road (at the foot of Diamond Head crater, next to Kapiolani Community College). The film studio was originally built for Hawaii Five-O in the 1970s. Stage One was originally known as "Five-O Stage", even though the soundstage was only used for the last three seasons of Hawaii Five-O (1976-1979). Many of the original Hawaii Five-O crew members went on to work for Magnum P.I.. Episodes for each season were filmed from August to late March or early April. Each episode was usually filmed on a tight schedule in eight or nine days, although the unpredictable Hawaiian weather sometimes extended that a couple of days. Many crew members worked 16-hour days. Magnum was filmed in Panavision with Panaflex lenses which gives each episode the look of a theatrical film in comparison to many other shows of the time (like Airwolf, The A-Team, etc.) which were shot on cheaper TV Betacam stock.

Magnum P.I. Soundstage (Stage One)
Magnum Soundstage
(Stage One)
Set in the cultural melting pot of 1980s Oahu, Magnum P.I. was primarily a character driven show about friendship which managed to successfully blend together action, drama, comedy and mystery elements, often incorporating all four in the same episode. The show was also groundbreaking in its use of unconventional storytelling devices, such as retrospectives, "fantasy" elements (dream sequence episodes), shared story lines that crossed over to other shows (Simon & Simon, Murder She Wrote), and breaking the fourth wall (by Magnum looking or smiling at the camera), which were seldom used in TV at the time.

The show moved beyond the simpler "who-done-it" plot lines of the traditional hard-boiled detective series and focused on building complex characterizations through a cumulative text. Most episodes were "stand alone" and could be viewed without understanding previous plots, but previous events would continually pop up in dialog creating a rich, comprehensive layer to the show. Backstories were also an important element of the show, often developed slowly as the series unfolded and with excellent attention to detail.

Guesthouse Set
Guesthouse Set
The Vietnam War was an important recurring theme in the show. Magnum, T.C. and Rick were all Vietnam Veterans. The show featured many flashback scenes to the war and dealt with many of the issues Vietnam Vets faced post-war. The show is unique in its positive portrayal of the American Vietnam Vet - indeed, it was the first show to take this stance. All three characters are upstanding citizens with laudable character traits, who look back on their military careers with pride, and seek no one's sympathy.

Typical of the time and genre, testosterone-fueled, suspension of disbelief action scenes were featured semi-regularly in the show, and to great effect. Car chases, chopper chases, fisticuffs (with little blood), explosive pyrotechnics, they were all there, and usually very well done. And the good guys didn't always win!

Robin's Nest
Robin's Nest
Because of its non-linear story lines, guest stars were an important element of show and several big names of the industry have made appearances. Some of the more famous guest stars to grace the show are Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett (twice), Sharon Stone, Cesar Romero, Ernest Borgnine, Jose Ferrer, Ted Danson, Pat Morita, Eileen Brennan, Ian McShane, Tyne Daly, and Mako, among many others. Several well-known local Hawaiian actors, singers, and entertainers have made appearances as well, including Kam Fong, Herman Wedemeyer, Tommy Fujiwara, Zulu, Dick Jensen, Sol K. Bright, James Grant Benton, Moe Keale, and Marlene Sai.

The show is also famous for its many iconic images, which will forever be assoiciated with it - the Hawaiian setting, the red Ferrari 308 GTS, the Hawaiian shirts, the sprawling oceanside estate known as Robin's Nest, T.C.'s helicopter, the "team ring", and Magnum's mustache and baseball caps. The red parrot Hawaiian shirt, the Detroit Tigers baseball cap and the Team Ring can be found at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C..

Ferrari 308 GTS
Ferrari 308 GTS
But without question the heart and soul of the show lies with the two central characters, Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins, and their ever evolving relationship. Higgins is a deceivingly complex character with a richly detailed personal history. Higgins' fascinating past, revealed slowly through "boring" orations, was one of the highlights of the show. Magnum, at the urging of Selleck, is a refreshingly fallible, self-effacing, sentimental, non-macho protagonist. Sure, he is a hunk of epic magnitude, but he doesn't always get the girl, he often screws something up, and he owes everybody money. And yet is also extremely likable, for both men and woman. He possesses high morals, is extremely loyal to his friends, has a good sense of humor and will bend over backwards to help people in need. Despite the differences in personality, age and background, and the neverending, lighthearted arguments and bickering, Magnum and Higgins develop a strong, unique friendship. Higgins, in a way, acts a quasi father figure to Magnum (who lost his real father when he was five). A large majority of the most memorable scenes from the show involve Magnum and Higgins together. Selleck and Hillerman are both superb in bringing these most interesting characters to life.

T.C.'s Chopper
T.C.'s Chopper
The final episode of the show, "Resolutions", aired on May 1st 1988 as a two-hour movie and was the highest rated show of the week. Magnum re-activated his Naval commission as a Commander and he became a full-time father to his daughter Lily Catherine. Rick finally sowed his oats and married an ex-prostitute named Cleo Mitchell, although we never actually hear him say "I Do". T.C. continues to run Island Hoppers and coach little league baseball. Higgins remains at Robin's Nest and is presumably still working on his memoirs. The issue of Robin Masters identity was intentionally left ambiguous. Higgins at first says he really is Robin Masters, but then, later, slyly says "I lied about being Robin Masters". By "lie", does he mean "I pretended to be Robin Masters all this time", or "I lied when I said I was Robin Masters"? You decide. After the closing credits, Tom Selleck, from the guest house set, gives a short "farewell/thank you" speech to the fans of the show. After his final "goodbye", Selleck points a TV remote at the camera and pushes a button - the screen goes blank, end of the series. Even today, "Resolutions" is the fifth most-watched television series finale of all-time, behind only M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Friends. It was watched by some 50.7 million viewers, and had a huge 32.0 rating (percentage of all television households) and a 48% share (percentage of televisions in use).

After its original run, the show found much success in syndication markets all over the world, particularly in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Australia where it has almost never gone off the air. For many, many years, the show was in syndication in over 100 countries!

The Team Ring
The Team Ring
In 1999, Larry Manetti published the first (and only) behind-the-scenes book about Magnum P.I.: Aloha Magnum: Larry Manetti's Magnum, P.I. Memories. The book is a wonderful, humorous, first-person account of what it was like to be involved in the iconic 1980's television show. Manetti discusses some of the development of his character, Orville "Rick" Wright, and some of his more memorable scenes and episodes. And there is a helpful episode guide at the end of the book. Manetti also tells some great stories about his life and some of the people he has met. A great read and a must for any serious Magnum fan. The book is still in print and can be purchased from Larry's website ($29).

In 2001, E! True Hollywood Story aired a documentary on Magnum P.I. that featured some excellent behind-the-scenes video clips and photos from the show, as well as interviews with Donald P. Bellisario, Larry Manetti, Jean Bruce Scott, Kathleen Lloyd, Chris Abbott, J. Rickley Dumm, Harvey Shephard, Glen Larson, and Fred Piluso. This episode pretty much never airs anymore on E! and is very difficult to find. The entire episode can be viewed here. To date, this is surprisingly the only real in-depth documentary that has been done about the show.

In 2004, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the The Complete First Season on DVD. By 2008, all eight seasons had been released on DVD (including a "Best Of" DVD release in 2011). For an older show, the DVD's have sold very well and has spurred a revival of interest in the show. Unfortunately, the DVD's are very thin in the behind-the-scenes/extras department. Only Seasons Seven and Eight contained any kind of relevant bonus material (commentary from writer/producers Jay Huguely and Chas. Floyd Johnson), and even that wasn't much. Hopefully they will include more if and when a box set is released.

Zeus and Apollo
Zeus & Apollo
Rumors of a Magnum P.I. movie have been swirling ever since the show ended. There were several failed attempts at making a made-for-television movie in the mid-90s, but they never materialized. Selleck & Co. were actually offered several opportunities to make one, but instead they (mostly Selleck) decided to lobby for a major motion picture release (with Tom Clancy writing the script), which ultimately never happened, mainly because of management turnover at Universal. In 2007, the "powers that be" decided that the original cast was too old to make a movie and announced that Rawson Marshall Thurber would write and direct a major motion picture adaptation of the show with a new cast. This never panned out and appears to have stalled completely. Recently, Tom Selleck has said several times that he would be willing revive the role of Thomas Magnum if the script is right and he is asked. Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley are eager to return to their roles, as well. So far, no one has asked them.

In October 2007, Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley guest starred in the Las Vegas episode "When Life Gives You Lemon Bars" with regular cast member Tom Selleck for a "mini Magnum P.I. reunion". The episode featured several sly references to Magnum P.I.; Roger's character has a Hawaii drivers license and owns an aviation company that started with one helicopter, Larry's character wore the Magnum P.I. "Team Ring" and owns clubs, there was mention of a British friend who couldn't make it to the poker game (and obvious reference to Jonathan Higgins), and a red Ferrari was briefly seen in the background. This was the first time all three had appeared together since Magnum P.I. ended almost twenty years earlier (in 1988).

Larry Manetti, Tom Selleck & Roger E. Mosley @ 2009 TV Land Awards
Larry, Tom & Roger
2009 TV Land Awards
In 2009, Magnum P.I. received a special "Hero Award" at the annual TV Land awards. The award "salutes a lead character whose crime-solving feats were astounding, yet remained thoroughly authentic, offering equal parts of street smarts, wit and charisma." Matthew McConaughey presented the award to Tom Selleck, Roger E. Mosley, and Larry Manetti (John Hillerman did not attend). During the acceptance speech, Selleck recited a poem from Maj. Michael Davis O'Donnell who was Killed in Action in Cambodia on March 24, 1970. After the show, Selleck gave an interview with Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin where he reiterated that he would love to do a Magnum P.I. movie if asked, and if the script was right.

In April 2012, Magnum P.I. was added to Netflix. All eight seasons are now available on the hugely popular streaming media provider!

Magnum P.I. 'Best Of' DVD
"Best Of" DVD
It's been almost twenty-five years since the show ended and yet it is seemingly as popular as ever! It is in almost constant syndication runs in numerous countries. DVD sales are strong. And now with its presence on Netflix, Hulu and other modern networks, it is clear that the show still resonates with a lot of people. The movie buzz and rumors are still out there. Hopefully a cast reunion of some sort is on the horizon!

If you are a fan of the show, you should check out Rick Romer's Blog! Rick was the lead set decorator on Magnum P.I. for Seasons 4-6 and was involved in many other aspects of the show. His blog provides a unique "behind the scenes" look at the making of Magnum P.I.!

For a scholarly analysis of the show, check out Christopher Anderson's excellent 1985 essay Reflections on Magnum P.I. (PDF) which originally appeared in the 1987 book Television: The Critical View. It's a most interesting and insightful read!

Viva Magnum!



The "Soundstage" and "Guesthouse Set" photos were generously provided by former Magnum P.I. set decorator Rick Romer.