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.

New Hawaii Five-0 swipes plot of two episodes of original series

We finally had a chance to catch up with the Jan. 23 episode of Hawaii Five-0. It turns out the show centered around a false tsunami alarm, which was the plot of not one, but *two* episodes of the original show.

One of the original episodes that utilized the plot was called Forty Feet High And It Kills!, which was one of the Wo Fat episodes. That installment involved Wo Fat triggering a false tsunami warning to kidnap an important scientist. The other was just titled Tusnami and aired during the orignal series’ 10th season (scroll down to episode 224 of the preceding link).

We suspect the Jan. 23 episode will be related to the unfolding storyline involving Wo Fat 2.0. But we’ll see. The Jan. 23 episode included a second appearance by Al Harrington, one of the few surviving members of the cast of the orignal series.

The Night of The Wild, Wild West/Hawaii Five-O Music Crossovers

The Wild, West West and the original Hawaii Five-O were set about a century apart. Aside from both being on CBS, you wouldn’t think they’d have that much in common. But during the 1968-69 season, if you listened closely, you could hear dramatic scores in one show being reused in the other other.

The 1968-69 season was the final season for The Wild, Wild West and the the first for Five-O. Both were in-house productions of CBS and that meant the network’s music library could be tapped for those episodes not slated to have an original score.

Here’s a sampling of how the same scores showed up on the two shows.

The Night of the Big Blackmail, Sept. 27, 1968: TWWW’s season opener had a Richard Shores score. At various times (including the pre-credits sequence, Act I and Act IV), Shores has what we’ll call “sneaky” music as James West and Artemus Gordon poke about at the embassasy of an unfriendly European power. The embassy is run by Baron Hinterstoisser (Harvey Korman, getting a chance to perfect the German accent he’d use in Blazing Saddles), who’s out to ruin the reputation of the United Sates.

The Box, Jan. 29. 1969: The Five-O episode starts with stock footage of Hawaiian sights (with Morton Stevens music composed earlier in the series) but whgen we cut to Oahu State Prison, Shores’ “sneaky” music comes up as cons (including future series regular Al Harrington) go through a metal detector. They get through fine but they’ve got a weapon hidden elsewhere. This eventually leads to a situation where Five-O has to bargain to release hostages.

The Night of the Kraken, Oct. 25, 1968: West and Gordon investigate reports of a giant kraken terrifying the San Francisco waterfront. When we see what’s supposed to be a giant tentacle, Shores provides “spooky” music that’s also used at the start of Act I with the episode’s credits. The intrepid agents eventually discover it’s a fake devised by a mastermind played by a pre-Ted Baxter Ted Knight.

The Big Kahuna, March 19, 1969: Five-O’s last episode of the season concerns Sam Kalakua (“one of the last descendants of Hawaiian royalty still on the islands”), who believes that Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire wants to destroy him. The Shores “spooky” music is used for the appearances of Pele. It turns out Sam’s nephew and his wife are trying to drive him insane and get his money. Stevens gets the music credit for the episode and it appears to be mostly from episodes he scored earlier in the season, with the exception of the Shores piece.

Strangers In Our Own Land, Oct. 3, 1968: The Hawaiian land commissioner is murdered at the Honolulu airport. At the end of Act I, McGarrett (who has been out interviewing people who knew the commissioner) is told that a man has come to Five-O’s offices, claiming he did it. As McGarrett drives away, Stevens provides a big, dramatic crescendo of music leading to the commercial break.

The Night of the Winged Terror Part II, Jan. 24, 1969: At the end of Act II, James West tries to nab Tycho, the giant-headed chief of Raven, a group trying (as you might surmise) trying to take over the world. West falls for a decoy and Tycho summons his thugs to subdue west. The same Stevens crescendo-sounding piece is used to go into the commercial break. The two-parter had an original score by Robert Prince but this piece, and other Stevens’ music from Five-O also show in Part II (including the end of Act III and an Act IV fight scene). Perhaps Prince didn’t have time to fully score both parts of the story, the only two-parter for The Wild, Wild West.

Al Harrington makes cameo on new Hawaii Five-0

Al Harrington, one of the few surviving cast members of the original Hawaii Five-O, made a cameo appearance on the new Hawaii Five-0 on Jan. 3.

Harrington, who celebrated his 75th birthday last month, played Ben Kokua in the fifth through seventh seasons of the original show. He was also in earlier seasons, usually playing a thug or hitman. In the new show, he played somebody Steve McGarrett 2.0 knew from his youth as the intrepid detective sought to find his kidnapped sister.

You can catch some glimpes of Harrington in this promo for the fifth-season opener of the original show:

You can get a longer look at him here in what was probably his network TV debut, also on CBS on To Tell The Truth: