Home Television Drama Magnum P.I.

Magnum P.I.

1 9 8 0 – 1 9 8 8 (USA)
162 x 60 minute episodes

When CBS replaced Hawaii Five-O after a 12-year run, they kept the Hawaiian production facilities and simply exchanged the skinny ties, blue suits and shoulder holsters for Hawaiian shirts, mixed drinks and a borrowed Ferrari.

Magnum P.I. had the same beautiful backdrop, it was about the same time period, had a lot of action and let CBS continue to use the expensive facilities it had constructed in the 1970s for Hawaii Five-O.

Characters on Magnum P.I. even referred to Steve McGarrett and his team on occasion.

Former Naval intelligence officer Thomas Sullivan Magnum took up a security position at Robin’s Nest –  the estate of wealthy mystery novelist Robin Masters (who was never seen but heard as the voice of Orson Welles) – in return for free luxurious living quarters at the sprawling beachfront mansion on Oahu’s north shore.

Masters was always away, leaving his uptight British butler, Jonathan Quayle Higgins, to run the estate. Magnum’s laid-back lifestyle was nothing like the military discipline of Higgins. Magnum’s presence rankled Higgins (John Hillerman), the very British former military commando, to no end.

Higgins, forever writing his memoirs of years in military service in Africa and Asia, regarded Magnum as a nuisance. They were constantly at each other’s throats – although, deep-down, they really did care greatly for each other.

When Magnum was not driving around the island in Master’s $50,000 Ferrari or chasing a pretty lady, he was a traditional detective. When he was in need of assistance, he used two of his war-time buddies.

Theodore “T.C.” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) was the owner and pilot of Island Hoppers, a helicopter charter service. Rick Wright  (who hated his real name Orville), ran a Honolulu nightclub patterned after the club in the movie Casablanca run by Humphrey Bogart – hence, the name Rick.

Early in the series, he sold the club and became the managing partner, with Robin Masters, of the exclusive King Kamehameha Beach Club.

Both T.C. and Rick did the legwork for Magnum, with Rick’s underworld connections, including his relationship with the semi-legal businessman Ice Pick. Other cast members included Assistant D.A. Carol Baldwin, a friend of Magnum’s, who talked him into taking cases that never seemed to pay any fees and Agatha, Higgins’s English friend.

The most unusual semi-regular cast member was Mac Reynolds, Tom’s navy buddy. Early on in the series, Mac was a Lieutenant stationed at a local navy installation. He provided Tom with information until he was killed in a 1982 episode.

Buck Greene also showed up here-and-there to provide extra challenges for Magnum. Zeus and Apollo were the two Doberman Pinschers who helped Higgins provide security for the palatial estate – often taking bites out of Magnum!

While Magnum was not the first series to feature Vietnam vets, it was the first to have Vietnam as a subtext, and the show set off a mid-1980s trend of heroes with Vietnam backgrounds, including The A-TeamRiptide and Miami Vice.


Previously portrayed mostly as victims of post-traumatic stress, the success of these series changed the way Vietnam was viewed, at least in popular culture.

Magnum became much more than a standard-issue action drama due to co-creator Donald Bellisario, himself a former Marine (who would later create Quantum Leap and JAG). Bellisario turned the series into a meditation on Vietnam and friendship.

Glen Larson had created Magnum as an ex-CIA agent, a playboy freeloading on the estate, much in the mould of his other successful action series, Knight Rider. Bellisario was brought in when Selleck objected. Bellisario changed Magnum into the Vietnam veteran of Naval intelligence and added Rick and T.C.

Once Bellisario left during the sixth season and Selleck and other producers took over, Magnum became a more traditional detective show. Anticipating that the series was going to be cancelled in the spring of 1987, the producers filmed a dramatic and surrealistic two-part finale, using almost all of the occasional characters, in which Magnum was shot and killed and went to heaven.

When the series was unexpectedly renewed for a last season, it was explained that he had not died but had instead dreamed of going to heaven in his confusion. The series’ real finale aired as a two-hour movie on 1 May 1988 and was one of the season’s highest-rated programmes – but it still left a lot of loose ends.

Magnum was reunited with his long-lost young daughter, Lily, and quit the private eye business and rejoined the navy, while Rick was married (or was he?) and Higgins was finally revealed to be Robin Masters (or was he?).

Thomas Sullivan Magnum 
Tom Selleck
Jonathan Quayle Higgins III 

John Hillerman
Theodore “T.C.” Calvin 

Roger E. Mosley
Orville “Rick” Wright 

Larry Manetti
Col. Buck Greene 

Lance LeGault
Voice of Robin Masters 

Orson Welles
Mac Reynolds 

Jeff MacKay
Lieutenant Tanaka 

Kwan Hi Lim
Lt. Maggie Poole 

Jean Bruce Scott
Agatha Chumley 

Gillian Dobb
Asst. D.A Carol Baldwin 

Kathleen Lloyd
Francis “Ice Pick” Hofstetler 

Elisha Cook, Jr.