The Fugitive

1963 | United States

The original, and still the best example of television's love affair with the 'Running Man' theme. The Fugitive starred David Janssen as Doctor Richard Kimble, a man wrongly tried and convicted for the murder of his wife, and his on-going quest to clear his name and bring to justice the real killer-the shadowy, ever elusive, one armed man. 

Between 1963-1967 Kimble's single-minded quest enthralled audiences world-wide as he traversed the USA in pursuit of his wife's killer, whilst trying to escape the clutches of the law himself, and in particular the man responsible for his capture; Lieutenant Gerard. 

Produced by the prolific Quinn Martin, the series boasted consistently tight writing and a commandingly understated central performance from Janssen, who imbued the Kimble character with a dignity and strength which elicited a strong sense of empathy and deep emotional attachment from the series legion of fans, and in the process helped define the basic winning formula for countless shows which followed in its incredibly successful wake. 

Another aspect which set the series apart from many which had come before it and would follow, was the fact that Kimble's quest was actually resolved. The two part special which saw Kimble finally bring his wife's elusive murderer to ultimate justice, and clear his own name, used a unique and unprecedented method to ensure that the series ending remained secret. The second part of the special was broadcast on the same day throughout the world (29 September 1967). The gamble paid off, and the finale was rewarded with a viewing share of the audience in the U.S. alone of 72 per cent, at that time the largest recorded for a single episode of an on-going series. 

The Fugitive
The Fugitive opening title

Janssen, who was raised to the status of international star by the series went on to front O'Hara, US Treasury and Harry O before his well publicised alcoholism brought about his premature death. In 1993 Harrison Ford portrayed Kimble in the highly successful and Academy Award nominated movie version which also inspired a sequel - (US Marshalls). 

The Narrator on the TV series was William Conrad who would go on to star in his own TV series, as the burly private detective Frank Cannon. (Another Quinn Martin production). A genuine television landmark, The Fugitive remains a fondly remembered series whose legacy is still very much a potent force in the basic format for many US shows created up to the present day.

Published on December 17th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.