Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Magnum, P.I. -- The Secret of the 'Stache

I've discussed in previous installments of Nostalgia Theater how CBS in the 1980s had created for itself a pretty indomitable lineup of "gimmick" detective shows (many of which intertwined with each other). For Simon & Simon, the gimmick was to take two mismatched brothers and pair them up as detectives. For Murder, She Wrote, the gimmick revolved around having a mystery writer solve murders in her spare time. For Magnum, P.I., the gimmick was simply Tom Selleck. Well, Tom Selleck and his magnificent mustache.

Created by Glen A. Larson (yep, him) and Donald P. Bellisario, it went like this: Private detective Thomas Magnum (Selleck) lives on the Hawaiian estate of author Robin Masters (unseen, but voiced by Orson Welles), for whom he provides security in exchange for room and board. While he occasionally locks horns with Masters' assistant Higgins (John Hillerman), Magnum mostly spends his days racing around the island in his Ferrari, and chilling with war buddies Rick (Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley). Oh yeah, he sometimes pursues some private detective work too.

That's pretty much the entirety of the show, yet its mix of adventure, humor, and exotic locations managed to elevate it, helping it stake out a permanent place in a whole lot of people's headspace. And while the acting and writing played no small part in that (more the former than the latter), I'm sure, I'd also expect that, for many of the people reading this, their most vivid memory of Magnum, P.I. is the immortal theme music. And when the show debuted in December, 1980, audiences got their very first listen to...

Wait, what?

Oh. you must be thinking of the other title theme:

Yep, that's the good stuff, right there. I think a solid 40 percent of why I loved this show from the moment I first saw it as a kid in Saudi Arabia was because of that music alone.

That tune (by Mike Post) didn't actually show up until about halfway through the first season, but it stuck around all the way until the show ended its run in spring of '88 (racking up a substantial 162 episodes). At this point it's old news how Tom Selleck was George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's first choice to play Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but an overlapping commitment to Magnum (which hadn't premiered yet) cost him the gig. And while the talk usually centers on how well that worked out for Harrison Ford, I think it worked out pretty well for Selleck too, turning him (and the co-star on his upper lip) into a superstar virtually overnight.

The premise alone certainly wasn't enough to give Magnum the kind of longevity it enjoyed, and you realize watching it today (via DVD or Netflix) how much it comfortably coasts on Selleck's charisma. They've been talking about rebooting the show as a feature for seemingly ever now, and Selleck himself tried to get something going in the '90s, recruiting famed author and avowed Magnum fan Tom Clancy to pen a script. While that bid went nowhere (as did a try at having Sam Beckett leap into Magnum on Quantum Leap), I'm sure something will happen at some point. That said, I don't see how they can ever disentangle the character from the actor who played him so well.

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