Case study: rebooting an arch foe (non-007 spoiler)

The original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh) gloats when he momentarily has an advantage over Steve McGarrett

The original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh) gloats when he momentarily has an advantage over Steve McGarrett

James Bond fans are debating whether it’s a good idea or not for a rebooted Ernst Stavro Blofeld to be part of Bond 24. What spurred the discussion was A REPORT IN THE MAIL ON SUNDAY saying such a move would occur.

At this point, it’s not known whether that’s really happening or not. Even if it is, fans might know it for sure until Bond 24 comes out in the fall of 2015, similar to how Agent Eve in Skyfall turned out to be a rebooted Moneypenny.

That hasn’t stopped fan debates concerning a 21st century version of Blofeld. Some think it’d be great, especially if a new Blofeld were closer to the character depicted in Ian Fleming’s novels. Others say it’s best to leave Blofeld in the past.

A similar rebooting of an arch foe has been done, and completed, on the rebooted Hawaii Five-0. That series debuted in 2010 on CBS and its 100th episode was telecast Nov. 7. We’re talking about, of course, Wo Fat, who was Steve McGarrett’s greatest enemy in the original 1968-80 Hawaii Five-O.

This post is simply a look at the choices the new series made in rebooting Wo Fat. It’s not meant as predicting or advocating how Blofeld should be rebooted (if he is at all) in Bond 24.

The original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh) was very much the mastermind, manipulating events and spinning schemes. He left the rough stuff up to his flunkies. At times, he even displayed a sarcastic sense of humor.

Initially, Wo Fat worked for China. At the time the original series debuted, the United States didn’t have diplomatic relations with China. In the second half of the series, Wo Fat went independent and in one seventh season episode says the current Chinese government is too soft. In a two-hour episode in the ninth season, he plans to stage a coup, seize power and launch nuclear missiles at the U.S. Wo Fat thought big.

This version of the character didn’t show up all that often and there were some seasons where he didn’t appear at all. Each encounter between Wo Fat and McGarrett seemed more special (excluding a second-season episode where Wo Fat only made a cameo appearance.) Wo Fat gets captured in the final episode. There was no personal connection between Wo Fat and McGarrett (Jack Lord), although the villain came to despise his adversary.

Mark Cacascos, Wo Fat 2.0.

Mark Cacascos, Wo Fat 2.0.

For the new series, there’s a new mean, lean Wo Fat (Dacascos). This Wo Fat is an independent terrorist, though he appears to be welcome in North Korea, which he uses as his base of operations for one episode. He plots, engages in his own fighting and brutally kills people on his own. He also shows up a lot more often — 15 of the first 100 episodes. Wo Fat and the new McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) have a number of intense fights over those episodes.

And, it turns out, Wo Fat’s hatred of McGarrett turns out to be personal from the start, although this wasn’t revealed initially.

This McGarrett has a mother who is a U.S. spy. She had been assigned to kill Wo Fat’s father but killed his mother instead. Mom McGarrett initially tried to raise Wo Fat as her own but her U.S. intelligence bosses said that was a bad idea. As a result, Wo Fat has a big hatred of the McGarrett clan from the start.

For his final appearance, Wo Fat 2.0 tortured McGarrett (and not for the first time on the series). Eventually, McGarrett got free and the two had one last all-out fight. They’re laying on the floor, exhausted, each holding a gun on the other. Wo Fat sarcastically calls McGarrett brother. “You’re not my brother,” McG replies. No more Wo Fat.

Peter Lenkov, the show’s executive producer who also wrote the episode, TOLD TV GUIDE he didn’t initially plan to kill off Wo Fat but, “If he had gotten away at the end, I think it may have seemed ridiculous.”

Wo Fat: classic vs. reboot (spoiler)

Hawaii-five-O-original

Stop reading if spoilers give you anguish. (Although the episode has been out since Nov. 7.)

So, Wo Fat 2.0 met his demise in the 100th episode of the rebooted Hawaii Five-0.

Executive producer Peter Lenkov TOLD TV GUIDE:

When I wrote the outline [for the episode], he wasn’t dead in the outline. And when I started writing the script, it really felt like a natural end to the episode. I had always envisioned following the pattern of the original show, with the last show that we ever do being the capture of Wo Fat. But I felt, when I was writing it, that that felt a little predictable for people who watch the show and know the original one…I felt like if I was going to surprise the audience at any point, this would be it.

In the rebooted show, which debuted in the fall of 2010, Wo Fat 2.0 (Mark Dacascos) was used a lot more than the original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). Rebooted Wo Fat appeared in 15 episodes in less than five full seasons. By comparison, original Wo Fat appeared 13 times in 12 full seasons of Hawaii Five-O (which was how the original show was spelled). This counts his appearance in the pilot as only one appearance (even though the pilot was later re-edited as a two-part episode). We’re counting all other two-part episodes as one appearance for for each part. The original Wo Fat didn’t appear at all in seasons 6, 10 and 11.

Rebooted Wo Fat was supposed to be mastermind *and* terrific fighter. Thus, he was lean, mean and a master of martial arts. Portly original Wo Fat was content to be a mastermind who let others do the violence and generally manipulated events. It should be noted that Wo Fat 2.0 had virtual control of Hawaii (at the end of season 1 it was revealed the governor was under his control) but nobody knew it.

Anatomy of a television inside joke

Never let it be said television writers don’t have a sense of humor — especially when making inside jokes about their profession.

"Who's the funny guy?"

“Who’s the funny guy?”

We were watching an episode of Mannix from the 1973-74 season called Sing A Song of Murder. In it, intrepid P.I. Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) gets the drop on a guy who’s been tailing him. The interloper is a P.I. from Chicago named Anthony Spinner, who’s revealed later to be a hitman.

That caught our attention since another Anthony Spinner was the producer for the fourth, and last, season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and would go on to be producer for a number of Quinn Martin series, including The FBI, Caribe and Cannon.

The Mannix episode was written by Stephen Kandel, who wrote for a number of spy-related series including I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O and A Man Called Sloane. He also has a bit of cult fame as the writer of the two Harry Mudd episodes on the original Star Trek series.

Anyway, Kandel also wrote for a Quinn Martin series that ran during the 1970-71 season called Dan August, whose producer happened to be….Anthony Spinner. He later wrote for Cannon when Spinner was producer of that QM show.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but given the background, an inside joke for viewers seems the more likely explanation.

Hawaii Five-O complete (?) DVD set to debut

Hawaii-five-O-original

A 72-disc set billed as the complete set of the original Hawaii Five-O series (it had previously been sold on a season-by-season basis) officially goes on sale on Dec. 3. But customer reviews AT AMAZON.COM indicate deep skepticism it’s really a complete set despite the packaging and marketing.

The reason is Bored, She Hung Herself, the “lost” episode that has never been shown in syndication or issued on home video since its original broadcast on CBS on Jan. 7, 1970. It wasn’t part of the second season DVD set issued previously.

In the episode’s pre-titles sequence, there’s a character who hangs from a beam as part of a yoga technique without dying. He becomes a murder suspect when somebody else he knows dies by hanging. Rose Freeman, widow of Five-O creator Leonard Freeman, told attendees at a 1996 fan convention in the Los Angeles area that somebody killed themselves trying to duplicate the stunt.

As a result, the episode was pulled from circulation. At the same convention, though, a film copy of the episode was shown with a projector. It also showed up on YouTube in 2011 but was subsequently pulled.

As of Nov. 25, the complete set drew 10 reviews on Amazon.com, with seven of them for only 1 star.

“I would love nothing more then to order this box set of the original Hawaii Five O television series… And will, as soon as it becomes the “COMPLETE” series by adding the missing second season episode,” one of the 1-star reviews reads. “I will not pay for anything that advertises it is something it quite obviously isn’t.” The Amazon entry for the set doesn’t mention “Bored, She Hung Herself.”

The new complete (?) set has a list price of $349. Amazon has marked it down to $244.86 as part of a Black Friday special.

Earlier posts:
SEPTEMBER 2011: `BORED, SHE HUNG HERSELF,’ THE LOST HAWAII FIVE-O EPISODE

SEPTEMBER 2013: HAWAII FIVE-O’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY: COP SHOW WITH A SPY TWIST

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.

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.

Michael Ansara’s visits to ’60s spy television

Michael Ansara in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Michael Ansara in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Veteran actor Michael Ansara died last week, according to obituaries including one in one in the Hollywood Reporter.

Obituaries referenced how Ansara played a Star Trek Villain. However, the Syrian-born actor made guest star appearances in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., It Takes a Thief, Hawaii Five-O and Mission: Impossible. (To view his IMDB.com entry, CLICK HERE.

The actor, who passed away at age 91, received an unusual send off on Aug. 4: Bob Schieffer’s closing commentary on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Schieffer described what it was like as a 20-year-old college student interviewing Ansara and his then-wife Barbara Eden in 1957 in Fort Worth, Texas.

“They treated me with patience and good humor,” Schieffer said. “I hope I’ve learned to ask better questions. I’m sure they forgot the episode and I never saw them again. But I never forgot how kind they were to a kid who had no idea what he was doing. When you’re the kid, you never forget those things.”

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