About that 1997 unsold Five-O pilot

The original Hawaii Five-O ran for 12 years and a reboot ended this year after a 10-year run. In between is a mysterious 1997 unsold and never televised pilot for a revival.

Bits and pieces have shown up on YouTube (see embedded video above). But I finally had a chance to watch it. The pilot supposedly is awful and that’s why it has never had an official release.

I’m not sure about that. But it’s more like another 1980s/1990s cop-detective show that happens to be called Hawaii Five-O.

Background: CBS hired Stephen J. Cannell to write the pilot. Early in his career, he worked as a writer-producer at Universal, where his credits included co-creating and being a producer of The Rockford Files.

Cannell later started his own production company. The logo for that company showed Cannell furiously typing, then casually tossing a script page into the air.

Cannell was involved in producing such series as The Greatest American Hero, Riptide, Tenspeed and Brownshoe, Wiseguy, The A-Team and The Commish.

The writer-producer had no experience working on the original Five-O but presumably somebody was impressed with Cannell’s track record and he got the job. The title page for his Five-O script indicates he did the final scripting while it was co-plotted with Kim LeMasters.

Cannell originally wrote that Steve McGarrett was now governor while Dan Williams, aka Danno, was head of Five-O. In that original script, Gov. McGarrett is shot and Danno killed (!) by an assailant in a car that shows up in the middle of a public event. Cannell’s script also misspells McGarrett’s name as McGarret.

Story: In the filmed version, Danno (James MacArthur) is governor. It is stated he had succeeded McGarrett as head of Five-O prior to being elected governor. Danno’s successor at Five-O, Alex Bowland, is present and he is killed in the attack.

The public event was held to honor FBI agent Nick Wong (Russell Wong), who led efforts to rescue Danno’s daughter, who had been kidnapped. The bureau gave Wong a leave of absence for him to work with local law-enforcement officials.

Following the attack, Wong and Jimmy Xavier Berk (Gary Busey), who had been Bowland’s second in command, are appointed temporary co-chiefs of Five-O.

Jimmy getting the co-chief job is partly because former Five-O members Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong), Kono (Zulu) and Truck (Moe Keale) led lobbying efforts on behalf of Jimmy. It turns out they still have friends in Hawaiian state government.

Cannell now sets up an “Odd Couple” dynamic.

Wong is by-the-book, almost always wears a tie and gives orders ending in “and I want that 10 minutes ago!”

Jimmy, meanwhile, is a typical Cannell protagonist. He favors Hawaiian shirts follows his hunches, and isn’t afraid to break the rules.

Naturally, this duo will quarrel before, by show’s end, developing mutual respect.

Five-O’s lead suspect is Napoleon DeCastro, Hawaii’s current reigning crime boss. Five-O receives an anonymous recording fingering DeCastro and a subsequent search at the criminal’s home finds the murder weapon.

Of course, Jimmy’s gut tells him this is all too easy. (As an aside, it’s always too easy when the case appears to be solved in Act II.)

Without telling Wong, Jimmy has DeCastro freed from jail while Chin, Kono, Truck, Duke (Herman Wedemeyer) and retired lab man (!) Che Fong (Harry Endo) perform surveillance in old taxis.

Wong isn’t happy when he finds all this out. But the rigid lawman bends because Jimmy, despite being unorthodox, is capable and really does know what he’s doing.

Eventually, it turns out that a former KGB colonel is behind all this. He wants to frame DeCastro and take over Hawaiian crime himself. DeCastro had also just hired a woman tutor for his son. She, of course, is another former KGB operative who can mimic a flat, Midwestern accent.

The climax involves a big shootout. There is even a patented A-Team style car flip. The ex-KGB colonel and his men are taken into custody.

In the epilogue, Gov. Danno has recovered but will be on the mend for a while. The lieutenant governor appoints Wong the new permanent chief of Five-O. But Wong tells Jimmy privately they’ll continue as unofficial co-chiefs.

Problems: The biggest problem is that Chin Ho had been killed off at the end of the original show’s 10th season.

My guess is the other original Five-O cast members were fully aware of this. James MacArthur and Herman Wedemeyer were in that episode and Chin’s death was the major plot point. But, I suspect, there was no way they’d ruin a payday for Kam Fong.

Less jarring is when Che Fong says he’s “pulled the pin in ’68.” (“Geez, that’s almost 30 years ago,” Wong grumbles.) That sounds as if Che is saying that’s when he retired. Che also states this right after Duke says he retired six years earlier.

But 1968 was the year the original show began. Different actors played the part until Harry Endo took over. Che Fong made his last appearance in 1977.

Review: This is essentially a Stephen J. Cannell show that happens to be called Hawaii Five-O. You could take Jimmy Xavier Berk and put him in any other Cannell series and it’d work just as well.

Reinforcing that is the score. The version I saw had no credits but it sounds like Mike Post, who worked on a number of Cannell shows. But whoever worked on the music, there is a decent version of the Hawaii Five-O theme by Morton Stevens.

Cannell could produce snappy dialogue and does so here in spots.

It was nice to see the old Five-O gang get a final curtain call. If you view this as a Stephen J. Cannell program with Five-O cameos, it’s easier to watch.

One Response

  1. I liked everything Mr. Cannell wrote in terms of original (and unique) premises. Good instinct about action adventure series. Especially great characters equaling good chemistry! But it’s always tricky trying to extend the life of any show when it’s (prime) time has passed.

    Interesting backstory, thanks!

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