Friday, December 02, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: The Fugitive Edition

Picking up from last time's conversation about TV shows that have been turned into movies then turned back into TV shows, here's another strong entry in that particular programming niche that also came and went before its time. Beginning its life in the 1960s as the brainchild of creator Roy Huggins and producer Quinn Martin, The Fugitive was that most archetypal of "quest" series, with its deceptively simple premise -- a falsely accused man on the run from the authorities, desperate to track down the key to proving his innocence -- serving as the thematic template for countless others that followed in its wake (Kung Fu being one example, and TV's Incredible Hulk another).

The original version, starring David Jannsen as Dr. Richard Kimble, the titular "fugitive" wrongly convicted for his wife's murder, and Barry Morse as Lt. Phillip Gerard, the detective who dogs his heels, ran for four seasons between 1963 and 1967, with its finale remaining one of the highest rated TV episodes of all time. The concept was then revisited in 1993's The Fugitive feature film, with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones as hunted and pursuer, respectively (and Jones winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his troubles). While the film's ending precluded any sequels, that didn't stop them from trying by having Jones reprise his role of Deputy Samuel Gerard in 1998's US Marshals, which isn't terrible, but is no patch on its predecessor.

When Marshals failed to ignite a franchise of its own, producer Arnold Kopelson, who shepherded the two features to the screen, gave the concept another go a few years later with a new series that re-envisioned Richard Kimble's pursuit in the age of the Internet and 24-hour news. Tim Daly (in his first post-Wings series) essayed the title role, with Mykelti Williamson as Gerard, now a Chicago detective. It also featured Avatar's Stephen Lang as the infamous "One-Armed Man" Kimble hunts across the country. Here's the opening title sequence (with theme by movie composer, James Newton Howard) below, as well as a promo trailer:

There was actually an intense bidding war for this series (which boasted one of the most elaborate, expensive pilots until that time) before it finally landed at CBS. When it debuted with much pomp and circumstance on October 6, 2000, every expectation -- by the network, the entertainment press, and me -- was that The Fugitive, powered by brand recognition and the quality of the show itself, would be a tentpole program for the network. Instead, a less-than-expected audience tuned in to sample the debut, and viewership quickly dropped off from there. Ironically, the show that was given the plum post-Fugitive slot on Friday nights without any real expectations was a little procedural called CSI -- whatever happened to that one, anyway?

As far as The Fugitive, I'm still not entirely sure why the audience for it never materialized, though I'd guess there was a feeling among many that the story had already been told to satisfaction -- twice. Had they tuned in though, they would have found a consistently engrossing drama that effectively married pathos and propulsion, and wove in a conspiracy that gave the whole thing a very X-Files feel. Daly, one of my fave underrated actors, was particularly effective at conveying the tremendous toll of the good doctor's life on the run. Although CBS picked it up for a full season of twenty-three episodes as a show of faith, the ratings just couldn't justify the cost, leading ultimately to its cancellation next spring.

In the end, the show closed out its first and only season with a two-part episode that upped the stakes considerably for our erstwhile hero, with a climactic showdown between the emotionally-wrecked Kimble, the increasingly-erratic Gerard, and the One-Armed Man that ticked down to one of the most frustrating cliffhangers of all time. By all accounts, the producers were rolling the dice that the unresolved plotline would prompt the net to offer some manner of reprieve, but sadly such was not to be. Instead, unlike its two prior iterations, this take on The Fugitive never reached an actual resolution, and May 25, 2001 was the day the running (forcibly) stopped.

While the 1960s version of the The Fugitive has been released in its entirety on DVD (with a complete set currently forthcoming), its successor hasn't been so lucky, consigned to the "Cancelled Series" scrap pile and, like last week's The Untouchables, forgotten by all but aficionados. Airing juuust before complete TV seasons on DVD became commonplace, 2000's The Fugitive has never hit the platter format (except for a repackaging of the first two eps for overseas consumption -- which the trailer above is promoting) in the ten years since its demise, and with its frustrating lack of resolution serving as a rather large impediment to it finding a new audience, I doubt it ever will -- which is a real shame.


MooseNinja said...

Hooray! So glad I was able to snag a copy of the Tim Daly series on DVD. =)

Zaki said...

Whoever got that for you is a hero. A hero!