45th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Sept. 20 is the 45th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played. Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969’s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series. Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

Only recently did Stevens get attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith. Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

Here’s the version of the Five-O theme used during the first season of the show:

Sept. 1 post: HAWAII FIVE-O’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY: COP SHOW WITH A SPY TWIST

Hawaii Five-O’s 45th anniversary: cop show with a spy twist

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Forty-five years ago this month, Hawaii Five-O debuted. While a cop show, it had an element of international intrigue from the start.

The two-hour television movie version version of the pilot, which first aired on CBS on SEPT. 20, 1968, concerned a plot where Red Chinese intelligence operative Wo Fat was torturing U.S. intelligence agents in the Pacific Rim and obtaining important information.

Steve McGarrett, the no-nonsense head of state police unit Hawaii Five-O is drawn to the case because the latest victim was a friend of his. The lawman, a former U.S. Naval intelligence officer, isn’t one to back down from official pressure to lay off.

The pilot immediately grabbed the attention of viewers. A short pre-titles sequence shows Wo Fat using a sensory deprivation chamber for the torture. That’s followed by a 90-second main title featuring a stirring theme by Morton Stevens.

The composer initially thought about re-using the theme he wrote for an unsold pilot, CALL TO DANGER. His wife, Annie Stevens, strongly advised against the move, according to a 2010 STORY IN THE HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER. As a result, Stevens created one of the greatest themes in television history.

The series was conceived by veteran television producer Leonard Freeman, who wrote the pilot. Freeman’s 1967 first draft had a team led by McGarrett, with a mid-20s Hawaiian sidekick, Kono Kalakaua, a third, heavy-set detective and Chin Ho Kelly, who was the Honolulu Police Department’s liaison with Five-O. In the final version of the story, the sidekick became the Caucasian Danny Williams; the Kono name was given to the heavier-set character; and Chin Ho was made a full-fledged member of Five-O.

Freeman & Co. were preparing to film the pilot with American actor Robert Brown as McGarrett. Rose Freeman, widow of the Five-O creator, told a 1996 fan convention in Los Angeles that CBS objected to the casting and, just five days before filming was to start, Brown was replaced with Jack Lord, the first screen incarnation of Felix Leiter in Dr. No. Brown ended up starring in another 1968 series, Here Come the Brides.

The pilot had Tim O’Kelly as Danny. When the series was picked up, Freeman recast the part with James MacArthur, who a small, but notable role in Hang ‘Em High, a Clint Eastwood Western film that Freeman had produced.

The international espionage aspect of Five-O remained throughout the show’s 12-year run, though less so in the later seasons. Wo Fat, played by Khigh Dhiegh, made a NUMBER OF RETURN APPEARANCES, including the 1980 series finale. As the U.S. and China began to normalize diplomatic relations, Wo Fat became an independent menace. In the ninth-season opener, Wo Fat attempts to take over the Chinese government.

Five-O matched wits with a number of other spies played by the likes of Theodore Bikel (who had tried out for Goldfinger), Maud Adams and Soon Tek-Oh. George Lazenby, the second screen James Bond, played a secondary villain in a 1979 episode filmed on location in Singapore.

Five-O wasn’t always an easy show to work on. Freeman died in early 1974, after the sixth season completed production. Zulu (real name Gilbert Kauhi), who played Kono left after the fourth season; he told fans at the 1996 convention about problems he had with Jack Lord. His replacement, Al Harrington as another detective, departed in the seventh season.

Nevertheless, Five-O had a long run. When it left the air, Five-O was the longest-running crime drama, a status it held until Law and Order, the 1990-2010 series.

Lord’s Steve McGarrett emerged as one of the most recognizable television characters. In 2007, 27 years after the final Five-O episode, THE NEW YORK TIMES’S OPINION PAGES summed up Five-O’s appeal.

“Evil makes McGarrett angry, but when he speaks, his voice is startlingly gentle, exuding a quiet control that a beleaguered generation of parents surely wished they had when facing the forces of social decay,” reads the commentary by Lawrence Downes.

The writer ends his piece describing what it might be like if McGarrett was president. He dispatches Kono and Chin to stop illegal immigration and tells Danny that he wants undocumented workers “legalized. Tell Congress to send me a bill. I want it tough, and I want it fair. And I want it on my desk Monday morning.”

Cast of the 2010 Hawaii Five-0

Cast of the 2010 Hawaii Five-0

In 2010, CBS introduced a new version of the show, with a slightly different spelling (Hawaii Five-0, with a digit instead of a capital O as in the original), a younger McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), a Danny with more attitude (Scott Caan) and a woman Kono (Grace Park).

CBS will begin televising the fourth season of the new Five-0 later this month. The show been shifted to Friday nights after falling ratings during the 2012-13 season, including a 25 percent decline for its season finale compared with a year earlier.

Even if the new Five-0’s ratings stabilize, it doesn’t seem likely editorial writers will muse what it’d be like to have McGarrett 2.0 as president. On the other hand, the producers were smart enough to keep the Morton Stevens theme music.

Five-0 `Hookman’ remake’s similarities, differences

Hawaii-five-O-new

Feb. 5: Updated with a correction about the credit fonts.

CBS’s new Hawaii Five-0 followed the 1973 version of “Hookman” pretty closely in the remake that aired Feb. 4. But there were some significant differences, as well. Here’s a sampling of the similarities and differences:

Episode title: The new Five-0 repeated “Hookman” as the episode titles. The new show, that debuted in 2010, usually uses Hawaiian words as titles while not actually showing those episode titles on screen. (CLICK HERE for an example.) Apparently, “Hookman” doesn’t have a good Hawaiian equivalent. Also, the title “Hookman” was shown on screen just before the main titles. The villain had prosthetic hands rather than hooks, but “Prosthetic Hand Man” wasn’t nearly as good a title as “Hookman.”

Credit fonts: It appeared that Five-0 used the same, or at least a very similar font for the credits as the one used in the original show. Presumably this was intended for a “retro” look that CBS had hyped in promoting the episode. (Shoutout to Mike Quigley, webmaster of The Hawaii Five-O Home Page for pointing out differences in the fonts.)

Car chase: In both the 1973 and 2013 versions, the villain takes off in a Ford Mustang. In the original show, Ford Motor Co. was the supplier of vehicles. In the new show, General Motors Co. has that role (McGarrett 2.0 tools around in a Chevrolet Camaro). It looked like the crew attempted to obscure the Mustang logo in the front grille of the Feb. 4 show.

Meanwhile, in the original, McGarrett chased after the villain by himself. In the Feb. 4 show, both McGarrett 2.0 and Danno 2.0 are in McGarrett’s Camaro. Naturally a “cargument” (a schtick of the new show) ensues between the two men.

Things not shown in the original: In the 1973 “Hookman,” we don’t see the villain send his car into the bay; we’re just told about it later. Such a scene was staged in the remake. What’s more, the Feb. 4 show had a flashback sequence showing how the villain lost his hands. In the 1973 version, McGarrett provides a quick recap. Also, in the new version, it was McGarrett’s father who was involved in that case, rather than McGarrett himself.

Score: Morton Stevens won an Emmy for his “Hookman” score. The score on the Feb. 4 story keeps with the general Five-0 background music by Brian Tyler and Keith Power that seems like it’s the poor man’s Hans Zimmer from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.

New ending: McGarrett 2.0 “meets” the ghosts of the villain’s victims, something that didn’t happen at all in the original.

UPDATE (Feb. 5): You can CLICK HERE to watch the Feb. 4 episode on CBS’s Web site.

New Hawaii Five-0 to remake “Hookman”

Hawaii-five-O-new

The new Hawaii Five-0 series is going to remake the “Hookman” episode of the original Hawaii Five-O, according to a story at ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’S WEB SITE.

The first “Hookman” led off the 1973-74 season. The story concerned a double amputee out for revenge against lawman Steve McGarrett and others. It won an Emmy award for composer Morton Stevens, who also wrote the Five-O theme and established the musical template for the original series.

Here’s an excerpt from the EW.com article:

Peter Weller (RoboCop) is set direct the episode and guest star as the title villain, taking over the role originally played by double amputee Jay J. Armes.

“It was a stand-out and a fan-favorite,” says executive producer Peter Lenkov of choosing the episode from a batch of many contenders. “It sort of came to everyone’s mind — everyone remembered ‘Hookman.’”

Part of the episode is on YouTube, at least for now. It provides a sample of the score that won Stevens his Emmy:

The Andy Griffith/Hawaii Five-O/007 mashup

Andy Griffith died this week at 86 and, naturally, obituaries detailed his work on the highly successful The Andy Griffith Show. He had one television guest appearance we’d like to note, one that had connections to James Bond movies as well as Griffith’s 1960-68 television series.

Andy Griffith as con man Arnold Lovejoy


That would be the fifth-season Hawaii Five-O episode I’m a Family Crook — Don’t Shoot! The episode, which first aired Dec. 19, 1972, is one of Five-O’s best and one of its most unusual.

Griffith played Arnold Lovejoy, patriarch of a family of grifters. The Lovejoys have arrived in Hawaii to ply their trade. Things go awry when they steal a briefcase belonging to a bag man for an island hood, Charlie Walters. It contains almost $100,000 and Charlies isn’t happy it’s missing.

Now this sounds like standard 1970s police television stuff. But the script by Jerome Coopersmith includes some dark humor mixed with sudden, brutal violence. For example, the hood abruptly shoots his bag man to death while the latter desperately tries to explain how the Lovejoys ripped him off. A thug asks Walters, “Hey Charlie, what if he was tellin’ the truth?…Supposin’ he was?” Charlie’s response? Without a hint of remorse he says, “Then I just made a terrible mistake.”

The score by Morton Stevens reflects the changing mood of the story. He has a “Lovejoys theme” that sounds very light but the music turns frantic as both crooks and the law (led by Five-O’s Steve McGarrett, of course) get closer to the family.

Griffith plays Lovejoy as a sort of darker, amoral Andy Taylor. He evokes his famous role without copying it. He may have gotten some help from director Bob Sweeney, who had helmed 80 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show from 1960 to 1963. Sweeney was supervising producer on Five-O during seasons four through seven and directed several episodes during that time.

The Lovejoys attempt to pull another con.


The 007 connections? With Five-O you start out with Jack Lord the first screen Felix Leiter in Dr. No. But another familiar face briefly shows up: Harold Sakata (sans his Oddjob hat), who plays a thug for another hood who’s a rival of Charlie’s. Sakata gets a couple of lines. Nothing memorable but more than, “Ah ah!” as he got to say in Goldfinger.

Hawaii Five-O’s final season: McGarrett’s kooky quintet

We checked out the DVD set of Hawaii Five-O’s 12th and final season. The show’s final campaign is almost universally reviled among fans. At the same time, it’s not shown as often in syndication as earlier seasons. For some, the last time they saw a 12th season episode was in the mid-1980s when they were shown with the title “McGarrett” on the CBS Late Movie.

Hawaii Five-O's season 12 cast


Indeed, the season isn’t up to previous ones. It’s not for lack of effort, though.

The 12th season often still has the Five-O ingredients. The production team even stepped up a bit on international intrigue story lines, including terrorists, assassins, fugitive Nazis and, in the series finale, the final appearance of arch villain Wo Fat, this time trying to develop a laser-based missile defense system/weapon (a couple of years before the U.S. publicly announced it would try to develop a “Star Wars” defense system). And the scores for episodes are mostly good, with Morton Stevens (composer of the Five-O theme and creator of Five-O music template), Bruce Broughton, Don Ray and Robert Drasnin, among others, contributing.

Yet, for the most part, something goes awry. It’s as if the ingredients are either mixed badly, cooked at the wrong temperature or contaminated. Part of it may have been the absence of James MacArthur as Dan Williams, the sidekick to Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett. MacArthur’s departure at the end of season 11 seems to have altered the chemistry of the show. Without Danno around, McGarrett, who already had a pious streak, breaks into lectures — about the U.S. constitution, the criminal justice system or the pathetic failings of individual characters.

Plus, the Danno-less Five-O team at times just across as just odd: loyal but bland Duke (Herman Wedemeyer), the only supporting character holdover from previous seasons; James “Kimo” Carew (William Smith), the blunt, revenge-driven ex-cop from Boston; Lori Wilson, revenge-driven present cop and first woman Five-O member (Sharon Farrell); and Truck Kealoah (Moe Keale), a frequent loaner from the Honolulu Police Department. McGarrett hires Carew and Wilson despite each showing questionable judgment at times in their debuts (being revenge driven will do that to you).

In Marvel’s Avengers comic book, there was a period now informally known as “Cap’s Kooky Quartet.” The title started out as an all-star collection of Marvel heroes. In issue 16, heavyweights with their own titles left the super hero team, leaving Captain America to cope with three reformed villains (Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver). Five-O’s final campaign can be considered McGarrett’s kooky quintet.

In previous seasons, there had been cast changes aplenty. But the McGarrett-Danno duo kept things steady. That steadiness just isn’t there in season 12. It seems like the writers and producers kept looking for chemistry. You never see all of the team at once. You get Kimo-Lori or Kimo-Truck matchups a fair amount. Duke floats in and out and never seems to have much to do. Sometimes, McGarrett takes the lead, sometimes he lets the others take the lead at least for a while. Behind the scenes, there apparently was some turmoil. Sharon Farrell is in less than half the episodes and departed.

The season actually started out with a very good two-hour episode, A Lion in the Streets, which included the return of Ross Martin as Hawaiian crime boss Tony Alika, a character introduced in the 11th season. Martin wonderfully crews the scenery and is an adversary worthy of McGarrett. Unfortunately, the show couldn’t maintain that level. Martin would return one more time a few episodes later. Alika was arrested yet again, taking away one of the season’s main positives.

For the finale, the producers didn’t even attempt to use any of the supporting cast as the series brought back Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh), last seen in the first episode of season nine. It was hardly the most satisifying of the McGarrett-Wo Fat encounters but it does remind viewers of better times for the show. Fittingly, Morton Stevens scored the final episode and his music is probably its best attribute.

’60s spy music to ease into Thanksgiving weekend

It’s time to chill out as the long holiday weekend (at least in the U.S.) approaches. A few selections:

U.S. television executives weren’t satisfied with Edwin Astley’s theme for the U.K. show Danger Man. So Johnny Rivers got the call when the show was re-named Secret Agent for U.S. distribution:

Various groups recorded a version of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Among them, the Gallants (who’d make an appearance in the first-season episode, The See-Paris-And-Die-Affair):

Stingray wasn’t really a spy show, but future 007 special effects expert Derek Meddings got to show off his stuff with this 1964 U.K. kids show (which was syndicated into the U.S.):

Meanwhile, some 007 fans would love this, while others would depise it. For 007 fans 48 or older, the actor stirs divisive passions while Edwin Astley’s theme is cool:

Finally, some music from the under-appreciated Morton Stevens:

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