Television Time Machine: 'Magnum, P.I.' (1980)


Ladies and gentleman! Mesdames et messieurs! Damen und Herren!

It's time for another slip-slide down the cathode rays on this edition of the...

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I'm your TimeLord Baddie and this week we're back in time to the 1980s!

What do you think of when you think of the 80s? Do you think of... shades? Bright colors? Flashy fashions? Even flashier cars? Amazing moustaches?

Well the reason for ALL OF THOSE THINGS is our focus for this week's column:


None other than Magnum himself! 'Magnum, P.I.' ran on CBS for eight seasons from 1980-1988. How big was this show? Well the series is enshrined at the National Museum for American History. For reals. Go and check out Magnum's trademark ballcap on display.

Magnum PI title cardThe series was an action-dramedy starring Tom Selleck (as Tom Magnum), John Hillerman (as Higgins), Roger E. Mosley (as T.C.) and Larry Manetti (as Rick). Together they are a team of private investigators based in the beautiful setting of Oahu, Hawaii. They work hard, they play hard, they catch the bad guys. Perfect recipe for American success!


'Magnum, P.I.' encapsulated America at the height of the "melting pot" hope. The series put all eyes on Oahu, focused on a cast of characters from diverse backgrounds, and featured several actors and celebrities local to the Hawaiian setting.

The eponymous Magnum is an ex-US Navy SEAL. He has assembled a team of ex-Marines and, in the British ex-pat Higgins' case, ex-MI6. After the pilot, the response from the audience was so overwhelmingly positive that CBS ordered a full slate of twenty-two episodes. Little did they know at the time, the series would successfully spawn 162 episodes, including seven two-hour specials. This kept the cast on the Southeast side of Oahu for eight beautiful years. The show was more than just action-based; each episode explored the friendship between the team members, featuring extensive character Team insignia ringdevelopment across the board. Hey, the team even had a special insignia ring! (also on display at the National Museum for American History).


Magnum, T.C. and Rick are all Vietnam War veterans and their experiences remained a major recurring theme in the series. The show tackled the issues that many vets faced post-war, including several flashbacks during the war itself. The show had an action-based whodunit style, with Magnum himself being a big Sam Spade fan. Most of the episodes were stand-alone cases that could be taken and enjoyed without being encumbered by ongoing narrative, however some larger plotlines lingered over seasons.


What set 'Magnum, P.I.' apart from other action series was the devotion to backstory and character in Ferrari 308 Magnumevery episode. Sure, there were car chases, helicopter explosions and ample fisticuffs, but the narration and backstory remained a constant companion to the hard-nosed action sequences. And, interestingly enough, the good guys didn't always win; 'Magnum, P.I.' managed to inject more pathos and drama into the series by allowing for the occasional misstep on the part of the heroes.


Magnum himself is famous for his moustache, his Hawaiian shirts, his baseball caps and his Ferrari 308 GTS. His best friend, British agent Johnathan Quayle Higgins III, is the physical opposite of the strong and handsome Magnum, but Higgins proved to be quite an interesting and complex foil to Magnum's brawn. Higgins' past was slowly revealed over the lifespan of the series, with each tidbit more surplrising than the last. Despite the endless comedic Higgins and Magnumbickering (and the fact that Magnum almost always owes Higgins money), the pair develop quite an engaging and interesting friendship.


The show remained popular throughout its eight seasons and the 1988 finale (entitled "Resolutions") remains the fifth-highest rated series finale of all time (behind 'M*A*S*H*,' 'Cheers,' 'Seinfeld' and 'Friends'). Just how popular was this series? Well everyone wanted to make a guest appearance on it! Some of the most noteworthy guest stars on 'Magnum, P.I.' were: Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, Carol Burnett, Sharon Stone, Ted Danson, Pat Morita, James Cromwell, John Ratzenberger, Mimi Rogers, Jessica Walter and even Scatman Crothers. Heck, Angela Landsbury didn't only guest-star on 'Magnum,' she appeared as her longtime character Jessica Fletcher TC and Rickin an official crossover event with 'Murder She Wrote!'


'Magnum, P.I.' was never critically-acclaimed, but the ratings proved that many Americans considered it a guilty pleasure, tuning in each and every week. It was unabashedly macho, celebrated military achievement, and delivered the Kicksplode (tm) on a weekly basis. Not only that, but Selleck's bronzed and muscular body provided endless gawker moments for female fans the world over. While cheesy to some, 'Magnum, P.I.' consistently delivered exactly what it promised, and the enduring popularity of this project proves that fans were happy with what they received.

Check out one of the series' most famous moments in the scene below, where Magnum confronts his old Soviet POW-camp torturer and tormentor, Ivan...


Selleck has stated on many occasions how he would love to revisit Tom Magnum in a feature film, however the proposed project has remained in development hell. After a failed attempt to remake the show starring younger actors, our only hope may be a TV-movie... but maybe we'll get the original actors back? Annnnd the original Chopper??

TC's chopper

Damn, that's a nice chopper.

This smash-hit series is now available on DVD. Go ahead and give it a shot, if you haven't--you may not tell anyone, but you may be surprised just how much fun you have...

Next time on Television Time Machine we find ourselves in the 1990s--a decade when most of our readers were born! You young whipper-snappers, you...

Where will the 1990s take us? Tune in next time!

- Your Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Baddie





- Tom Selleck
- Magnum, P.I.

Written by: bad_subject
Nov 24th, 2012, 1:13 pm

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