permutation of the hard-boiled detective genre, Magnum, P.I.
aired on the CBS network from 1980 through 1988. Initially, the
network had the series developed to make use of the extensive production
facilities built during the 1970s in Hawaii for the successful police
procedural, Hawaii Five-O, and intended the program to reflect
a style and character suited to Hawaiian glamour. For the first
five years the series was broadcast, it ranked in the top twenty
shows for each year.
The series was set in the contemporary milieu of 1980s Hawaii, a
melting pot of ethnic and social groups. Thomas Magnum, played by
Tom Selleck, was a former Naval Intelligence officer making his
way as a private investigator in the civilian crossroads between
Eastern and Western cultures. In charge of the security for the
estate of the never-seen author Robin Masters, Magnum lived a relatively
carefree life on the property. A friendly antagonism and respect
existed between Magnum and Jonathan Higgins III (John Hillerman),
Masters' overseer of the estate. Though both men came from military
backgrounds, Magnum's freewheeling style often clashed with Higgins'
more mannered British discipline. In addition, two of Magnum's former
military buddies rounded out the regular cast. T.C.-- Theodore Calvin
(Roger Mosely) operated and owned a helicopter charter company,
a service which came in handy for many of Magnum's cases. Rick Wright
(Larry Manetti), a shady nightclub owner, often provided Magnum
with important information through his links to the criminal element
lurking below the vibrant tropical colors of the Hawaiian paradise.
originally dominated by an episodic narrative structure, Magnum,
P.I. moved far beyond the simple demands of stock characters
solving the crime of the week. Without using the open-ended strategy
developed by the prime-time soap opera in the 1980s, the series
nevertheless created complex characterizations by building a cumulative
text. Discussion of events from previous episodes would continually
pop up, constructing memory as an integral element of the series
franchise. While past actions might not have an immediate impact
on any individual weekly narrative, the overall effect was to expand
the range of traits which characters might invoke in any given situation.
For the regular viewer of the series, the cumulative strategy offered
a richness of narrative, moving beyond the simpler "who-done-it"
of the hard-boiled detective series that populated American television
in the 1960s and 1970s.
of the success of Magnum, P.I. stemmed from the combination
of familiar hard-boiled action and exotic locale. Just as important
perhaps, the series was one of the first to regularly explore the
impact of the Vietnam War on the American cultural psyche. Many
of the most memorable episodes dealt with contemporary incidents
triggered by memories and relationships growing out of Magnum's
past war experiences. Indeed, the private investigator's abhorrence
of discipline and cynical attitude toward authority seem to stem
from the general mistrust of government and military bureaucracies
that came to permeate American society in the early 1970s.
one level, Magnum became the personification of an American society
that had yet to deal effectively with the fallout from the Vietnam
War. By the end of the 1980s, the struggle to deal with the unresolved
issues of the war erupted full force into American popular culture.
Before Magnum began to deal with his psychological scars in the
context of the 1980s, network programmers apparently believed that
any discussion of the war in a series would prompt viewers to tune
it out. With the exception of Norman Lear's All in the Family
in the early 1970s, entertainment network programming acted, for
the most part, as if the war had never occurred. However, Magnum,
P.I.'s success proved programmers wrong. Certainly, the series'
success opened the door for other dramatic series which were able
to examine the Vietnam War in its historical setting. Series such
as Tour of Duty and China Beach, though not as popular,
did point out that room existed in mainstream broadcasting for discussions
of the emotional and political wounds that had yet to heal. As Thomas
Magnum began to deal with his past, so too did the American public.
of the show often point out, however, that in dealing with this
past, the series recuperated and reconstructed America's involvement
in Vietnam. While some aspects of the show seem harshly critical
of that entanglement, many episodes justify and rationalize the
conflict and the American role. As a result, Magnum, P.I. is
shot through with conflicting and often contradictory perspectives
and any "final" interpretation must take the entire series into
account, rather than concentrate on single events or episodes. The
constuction of this long-running narrative, riddled as it is with
continuously developing characterizations, ideological instability,
and milti-layered generic resonance, illustrates many of commercial
U.S. television's capacity for narrative complexity, as well as
some of its most vexing problems and questions.
Sullivan Magnum........................... Tom Selleck Jonathan
Quayle Higgins III..................... John Hillerman T.C.
(Theodore Calvin).......................... Roger E. Mosley
Rick (Orville Wright) ..................................Larry
Manetti Robin Masters (voice only) 1981-1985 ........Orson
Welles Mac Reynolds ............................................Jeff
MacKay Lt. Tanaka ................................................Kwan
Hi Lim Lt. Maggie Poole..................................Jean
Bruce Scott Agatha Chumley.........................................
Gillian Dobb Asst. District Attorney, Carol Baldwin.......
Kathleen Lloyd Francis Hofstetler ("Ice Pick") ................Elisha
Donald P. Bellisario, Glen Larson, Joel Rogosin, John G. Stephens,
Douglas Benton, J. Rickley Dumm, Rick Weaver, Andrew Schneider,
Douglas Green, Reuben Leder, Chas. Floyd Johnson, Nick Thiel, Chris
HISTORY 150 Episodes 6 2-Hour Episodes
December 1980-August 1981
Thursday 9:00-10:00 September 1981-April 1986 Thursday
8:00-9:00 April 1986-June 1986 Saturday
10:00-11:00 June 1986-August 1986 Tuesday
9:00-10:00 September 1986-May 1987
Wednesday 9:00-10:00 July 1987-February 1988
Wednesday 9:00-10:00 June 1988-September 1988 Monday
Anderson, Christopher. "Reflections on Magnum, P.I." In, Newcomb,
Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1976, 4th Edition, 1987.
Sandy. "Thighs and Whiskers: The Fascination of Magnum, P.I." Screen
Harry W. "The Pride is Back: Rambo, Magnum, P.I., and the Return
Trip to Vietnam." In, Mowies, Peter, and Peter Ehrenhaus, editors.
Cultural Capacities of Vietnam: Uses of the Past and Present.
Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex, 1990.
Richard. TV Detectives. San Diego: A.S. Barnes, 1981. Newcomb,
Horace. "Magnum: The Champagne of TV." Channels of Communication
(New York), May-June 1985.
Adventure Shows; Detective