After watching the pilot episode of Magnum PI, I can easily see why the show was a commercial success and how it cemented it’s place in television history with a long and storied run on network television. From the very first scene where Tom Selleck is swimming up to a beach and stealing a Ferrari, while flirting with large-breasted and attractive foreign girls while dealing with a ticking time bomb scenario, vicious attack dogs and a British chap who plays the role of villain, the show ticks off all the boxes; there’s a hero, a villain, dicey situations, speed, sex appeal, military appeal, action and suspense. When broken down and analyzed, it seems to me to be carefully executed and well planned out television with mass commercial appeal to cater to the most sets of eyes possible when viewed on American television screens in prime time. The show also touched on many themes of the day, as we discussed in class, making it culturally relevant to that time but also a great reference to go back and look at television history and how it was impacted by historical events and the era in which it was filmed.
As far as my actual opinion of the show is concerned, I found Magnum PI to be entertaining and of a high production value. It was very highly watchable, with a charismatic hero, well developed plot, plenty of action, and all of the other major ingredients of a good show. One aspect that I really appreciated on a personal level was that it was filmed on Oahu and so that I recognized so many of the locations used in the show and am constantly in awe of this beautiful place in which we live. To see Oahu nearly forty years ago offered an interesting glimpse into the past, and how the island has changed or hasn’t changed.
The show was made in the years immediately following the Vietnam war and that played a major role in the plot and overall show. The main character, Magnum, played by Tom Selleck was a Navy veteran of the Vietnam war and was portrayed in several combat scenes, alongside one of the other characters, Lt. Dan Cook. Having the main character of the show be a highly skilled and charismatic veteran is a move that was almost surely done as a nod to veterans around the country, of which there were many after the Vietnam war. Portraying Magnum was someone who was also both honorable and loyal to his comrade, Lt. Cook, portrays veterans in a positive light as individuals of the utmost character and moral courage; a great departure from the way that many veterans were portrayed and vilified during the Vietnam war when veterans were called “baby killers” and were spit on and under-appreciated due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, which was about as pointless as the Iraq war that I, and many others, in my generation fought in. In my own personal opinion, I feel that it was a sign of the times of a more progressive nation to recognize that even though these men and women fought in a war that was ill-conceived at best, that those who served were deserving of respect.
Detective shows have oftentimes been a hit when done well, and Magnum PI was no exception to that rule. Though I am not a television historian and don’t in fact even own a television, I would venture to say that Magnum PI played a significant role in cementing the place of detective shows throughout television history. Detectives are, by nature, forced to solve a crime. This only opens up the door for mystery and intrigue, foul play, complex plots, hero vs. villain scenarios, action scenes and other key ingredients to a compelling story line. Detective shows are likely one of the easier genres of television to write for as pretty much anything could lead to a possible exciting episode, giving free reign for writers and producers to let their imaginations run wild. With Magnum’s free-wheeling style, inflated ego and abundant skills, any twist in the plot, no matter how realistic, could merely allow Magnum to jump to another wacky conclusion and be proven right, thus landing him as the hero again. In the television detective and mystery show genre, there is almost always a character who consistently plays the role of hero and has an uncanny ability to solve crimes, and in this show it is clearly Magnum.
I appreciated the historical references that were so prevalent in the show. From the name of Lt. Cook to the Vietnam veteran theme to the shooting down of a Japanese plane on December 7, 1941 all being central themes, it is clear to see that the show was based on history in many ways and that they made that history come to life through bringing relevant story and plot lines into the fold by tying them to a historical event. In the wake of the Vietnam war and our country’s involvement there, I found it interesting and fitting that even the female cocaine drug lord was Vietnamese. I also appreciated the fact that with the Vietnam war in the past, she was portrayed as being a somewhat good and just person, as she was merely a ‘business woman’ by being a drug dealer, but actually one of the good guys who agreed to give Magnum information and therefore help him out. With gold being the single oldest form of currency on the planet, it was fitting that the producers chose to have gold bullion play a central theme in this episode. Two Naval Officers, Lt. Cook and Lcdr Cody, both lost their loves over the gold while everyone else was willing to risk their lives to get it.
While I did not find Magnum PI to be an entirely believable show, I found it to be entertaining. After all, entertainment and escaping reality is what many people tune into television for in the first place. By tying in so many different themes to the story line, the producers created a show which could find itself relevant to many different sets of viewers and therefore have a more broad-based commercial appeal to bring in maximum viewership and advertising dollars. The number of different themes and relevancies in particular is something that after being forced to view and analyze the show as deeply as we have, I have learned a great deal about television. If Magnum PI was a success and is considered good television, then it is clear to this viewer to see that one must carefully consider a great number of aspects and create a deep plot that will resonate with as many viewers as possible. When I do, I will also remain intrigued and impressed by the show and it’s ability to tie in so many different “moving pieces” to one script, while executing each of them. Shows have surely become even more complex in the 37 years since this episode was aired, and were surely less complex in television’s infancy. Whether in television, sport or any other realm, I find it fascinating that one can look at something from a certain time period and accurately place it in the period from which ti came.