Magnum P.I.

Magnum P.I.

Synopsis of TV Show

After Hawaii Five-O went off the air, CBS had very expensive production facilities on the U.S.’s tropical fiftieth state, but no show to produce in those facilities. So, the network took a contracted actor named Tom Selleck (who at the time was best known for guest appearances on The Rockford Files) and writer Donald Bellisario’s pilot about a P.I. in Los Angeles, and put the two of them on an island-bound plane.

Now, private investigators don’t exactly rake in the cash, but when you looked as good as Selleck’s Thomas Magnum and you lived on gorgeous Oahu, things had a way of coming together. Heard from but never seen writer Robin Masters—voiced by none other than Orson Welles—hired Magnum to check out the security system on his sprawling island estate. And as a Vietnam vet, an ex-Navy SEAL and an all-around lucky guy, Magnum did such a good job that Masters hired him to live on the property for free and keep an eye on the grounds’ security. Since that duty didn’t take up too much of his time, Magnum's schedule was freed up to bicker with officious caretaker Higgins, occasionally get bitten in the rear by Higgins’ two Dobermans, Apollo and Zeus, and of course, solve his share of crimes as a private investigator. And while no one likes a dog bite in the rear or a gadfly caretaker, all things considered, Magnum still had it pretty good.

When he left the mansion, usually behind the wheel of Masters’ red Ferrari and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, Magnum conducted his private investigation business (as he insisted it be called—not “private eye” and not “P.I.” either, thanks very much) with a perfect combination of comedy, brawn and sensitive-guy earnestness. Female viewers were hooked for obvious aesthetic reasons—the tropical scenery and the lead actor—and both genders loved the idea of a returned soldier making good on his wartime skills and generally enjoying things, instead of wading through the dementia and night sweats and drug abuse that usually torment movie and TV vets.

Magnum’s buddies included fellow vets T.C., who now chartered an island helicopter service, and Rick, who was obsessed with all things Humphrey Bogart and ran a bar fashioned after Rick’s Café from Casablanca. Frankly, caretaker Higgins should be labeled a buddy too, because at the end of the day, after all the barbs had been exchanged, he and Magnum always looked out for each other.

With his charming and homey voice-over narration, Magnum had a way of not making you incredibly jealous or dubious about his lot in life. He knew how outrageously lucky he was, and both he and the show were always ready to poke a little fun at themselves. At the close of the 1986-87 season, believing the series to have been canceled after a nice long seven-year run, the writers concocted an episode wherein Magnum was shot, killed, and heaven-bound. But then the network unexpectedly renewed the show for one more season, so the ubiquitous ‘it was all just a dream’ device was trotted in to explain things.

The real finale came in 1988, in which Magnum re-joined the Navy and strong hints were dropped that Higgins was actually none other than the mysterious writer-benefactor Robin Masters. A sneaky trick indeed, but if a person has the run of a Hawaiian estate and a Ferrari to drive, that person doesn’t split hairs about the long-hidden identities of estate and car owners.

Release History of Prime Time Show

12/11/80 - 9/12/88 CBS

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Television Studio


TV Cast

Thomas 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 (1981-85) Orson Welles
Mack Reynolds (1981-82, 1984-85, 1987-88) Jeff MacKay
Lt. Tanaka (1982-88) Kwan Hi Lim
Lt. Maggie Poole (1982-84, 1986-88) Jean Bruce Scott
Agatha Chumley (1982-88) Gillian Dobb
Asst. D.A. Carol Baldwin (1983-88) Kathleen Lloyd
Francis "Ice Pick" Hofstetler (1983-88) Elisha Cook, Jr.

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