Magnum PI

Magnum P.I.

1980 - United States

Another polished and glossy entry in the much mined Private Eye genre so beloved by television producers the world over, Magnum PI hit the CBS network in the US on December 11th 1980, and continued to be a firm audience favourite until it's final episode on September 12th 1988. 

The genesis of the series came from the prolific mind of veteran writer/producer Donald P. Bellisario in nineteen seventy-nine. However, although Bellisario's original script for a new TV series about an easy-going PI, contained what would become the familiar Magnum elements of a central character living in a guest house and driving the red Ferrari of the house owner for his investigation jobs, the actual location for the adventures was the exclusive money drenched area of LA known as Bel Air. 

The potential of Bellisario's concept was immediately apparent to the legendary action series producer Glenn A. Larson, who succeeded in interesting CBS executives in commissioning a series. The pitch paid off, but to get the go ahead, a number of key changes had to be made to the idea. Changes that ultimately, not only benefited CBS, but also helped ensure that Magnum PI became one of eighties television's greatest worldwide success stories. The first of these changes was the relocation of the central setting from the sophisticated Bel Air to the equally sun-drenched, breath-taking tropical beauty of Hawaii. At the time, following a sensationally influential twelve-year run, which had helped transform the face of the police drama series and produced a genuinely iconic character in the form of Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett, Hawaii Five-O had finally reached the end of its televisual life and CBS wanted an immediate replacement series which could continue to use the extensive, and expensive, custom-built Hawaiian production facilities which the network had had constructed in the mid seventies for the out-going series. The second key element was that of the selection of lead actor for the show. CBS had had the tall, dark, handsome and very personable actor Tom Selleck under contract for a TV series lead for sometime, the actor having caught their eye when playing smug gumshoe Lance White in The Rockford Files. With this new property, CBS executive's finally felt that they had the perfect vehicle for him. They were right. With the approval of both Larson and Bellisario, Selleck was handed a role that fit him from the outset as snugly as a well-tailored glove, and a pilot, "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii" proved successful enough for a series to enter full production. 

The same canny casting extended to the other regular characters with the key role of Jonathan Quayle Higgins lll, the arch and regimented English Major-domo at the estate of wealthy reclusive writer Robin Masters, going to veteran Texan character actor, John Hillerman, whilst the roles of Thomas Sullivan, Magnum's old army buddies Rick "Orville" Wright and Theodore "T.C." Calvin, were handled with wit and style by Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley respectively, and between 1981-1985 the voice of screen legend Orson Welles breathed telephonic life into the character of the oft-mentioned, but never seen estate owner, Robin Masters. The chemistry between the core characters was another winning aspect to a series that could switch effortlessly between high comedy and surprisingly serious and thoughtful drama. Indeed, the consistently high standard of performance amongst the leads was reflected by both Selleck and Hillerman receiving the prestigious Golden Globe Awards for their work on the series. Magnum PI was a prime example of the successfully glossy product being produced at the time.

Published on January 2nd, 2019. Written by SRH (December 2000) for Television Heaven.

Read Next...


Victorian policeman keeps the streets of London safe.

Also released in 1980

Hill Street Blues

US police series based around the dangerous professional and private lives of the officers who worked out of the aging, dilapidated, Hill Street Stationhouse.

Also tagged Us Cops

Fox TV series

Thirteen-part series centred on the lives of the titular Fox family, who live in Clapham in South London and have gangland connections.

Also released in 1980

I Spy

Spy thriller - the first to feature an African American alongside a white actor in a lead role.

Also tagged Us Cops


Allegedly based on the case-files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The F.B.I. was endorsed by none other than the Bureau's real-life chief of operations, J. Edgar Hoover.

Also tagged Us Cops

The Adventure Game

The brainchild of Patrick Dowling and devised with the help of Ian Oliver, The Adventure Game was inspired by the early text-based computer game of Dungeons and Dragons and had elements of Douglas Adams' radio comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Also released in 1980

Cannon TV series

Private detective Frank Cannon would get paid top dollar to investigate, which allowed him to indulge in his personal luxuries such as food, expensive cars and food.

Also tagged Us Cops


Fresh from a third-rate career in the music halls, forty-year-old Arnie Cole (Bob Hoskins) has turned movie pioneer, showing single-reel films in makeshift cinemas during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Also released in 1980


CHiPs an acronym for California Highway Patrol, featured cops on bikes as they patrolled the highways and byways around the vast Los Angeles freeway system.

Also tagged Us Cops