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.

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.