Magnum, P.I. was a hugely successful series starring Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private investigator living on Oahu, Hawaii. It ran from 1980 to 1988 on CBS. It consistently ranked in the top twenty U.S. TV shows in its first five years on the air.
Private Investigator Thomas Sullivan Magnum lived in the guest house of a luxurious, 200-acre beachfront estate called Robin's Nest, in Hawaii, at the behest of its owner, Robin Masters, the celebrated-but-perpetually-absent pot-boiler novelist. This was supposedly quid pro quo for Magnum's services and security expertise. The series pilot and several early episodes imply that Magnum also did Masters some kind of favor, possibly at the time Masters hired him for a case. The author's voice, heard only a few times per season, was supplied by Orson Welles.
Robin's Nest is actually a private residence owned by the Hawaiian politician Eve Glover Anderson, stepdaughter of Cox Communications heiress Barbara Cox Anthony. The property is known locally as “The Anderson Estate.”
The Anderson Estate is located on the east shore of Oahu at 41-505 Kalanianaole Highway, near Waimanalo Beach. It was built in the early 1930s, and consists of a large main house, a boathouse (in Magnum P.I. it is Magnum's guest house), a gatehouse, a private tennis court, a beach front and the tidal pool.
With Magnum living the good life on the Estate and assuming the P.I. role on cases which appealed to him, the only thorn in his side was Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman), an ex-British Army Sergeant Major, an outwardly stern, “by-the-book” ex-soldier who often clashed with the more easy-going Magnum. Higgins patrolled Robin's Nest with his two "lads", a couple of Doberman Pinschers named Zeus and Apollo.
Magnum often had to bargain with Higgins for access to the estate's perks (i.e. the tennis courts, wine cellar, expensive cameras and so on) other than the guest house and the Ferrari 308 GTS in what amounted to a running gag. Higgins initially served as something of a "friendly nemesis" for Magnum, but as the show continued an abiding respect and fondness of sorts emerged between them, and many episodes gradually invested more screen time to this “odd couple” aspect of their relationship.
A recurrent theme in the last two years (starting in the episode “Paper War”) pertained to Magnum's dawning suspicion that Higgins was, himself, actually Robin Masters — it was Higgins who always opened Robin's mail, and, Higgins, who called Robin's Ferrari “his car” — even though this supposition ran counter to events depicted earlier in the series (phone calls from abroad; and the fact that Robin was recognized by famous people). Although the three of them had previously been together at the same time, Magnum came to believe that Higgins had procured the services of an actor to “play” Masters.
Magnum's two other main compatriots on the islands are Theodore “T.C.” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley), who runs a local helicopter charter service, Island Hoppers — who often finds himself importuned by Magnum to fly him around during various investigations; and Rick Wright (Larry Manetti) (who refused to use his birth name — Orville), the owner of a local bar. In the series pilot, this was “Rick's Place”, inspired, of course, by Casablanca, where Rick appeared in appropriate 1930s attire. After the pilot, CBS executives doubted that audiences would fully connect with this artifice, and shifted Rick to the plush beachside King Kamehameha Club — an exclusive enclave with Higgins on its board of directors, through which Magnum strolls habitually, making use of the facilities and running up a never-paid tab — which, of course, only exacerbated the Magnum/Higgins feud.
T.C. and Rick were both former Marines from VMO-2, with whom Magnum had served in Vietnam. Magnum P.I. was among the first shows to deal with Vietnam veterans as “human beings” rather than shell-shocked basket-cases or killers, earning praise from veterans groups. And though Magnum often duped, tricked or bribed T.C. and Rick into assisting him on his cases (much to their annoyance and frustration), the mens' deep friendships were one of the key strengths of the show.
Magnum lived what can only be called a dream lifestyle: he came and went as he pleased, worked only when he wanted to, had virtually unlimited use of a Ferrari (a 308 GTS Quattrovalvole), kept a mini-fridge with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of beer (“Old Dusseldorf in a long neck”), wore his father's family heirloom Rolex GMT Master watch, and surrounded himself with beautiful women (often they were crime victims, or clients, or in some other way linked to his cases).
Nearly every episode was narrated, in voice-over, by Magnum at some point. He and Higgins also often broke the fourth wall by locking eyes with or even directly addressing viewers — as did other characters in the show, though not as often.
At the end of season seven, the show's writers had marked the series for termination and Magnum for death. The series' final episode, “Limbo”, depicted Magnum wandering around as a ghost, closing with him seeming to walk off into heaven. Viewer outcry ensued, and led to an eighth season, and Magnum was brought “back to life”. Interestingly, several other series episodes referred to supernatural phenomena.
The show also acknowledged the existence of the fictitious elite police unit of Hawaii Five-O. In the Magnum pilot, Magnum explicitly references the unit's chief, Steve McGarrett — a tribute to Jack Lord's long-running show.
Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV (Tom Selleck) Magnum was a Detroit-born third-generation naval officer, the son of a deceased naval aviator killed in the Korean War, who called Tidewater, Virginia, his home. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967, and played quarterback for the Academy football team. He served as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, where he was trained in counter-insurgency, as a sniper, in lock-picking, safe-cracking and various and sundry firearms (including his preferred sidearm, the Colt M1911 pistol at the time). His last post was in Hawaii with the “Naval Intelligence Agency” (NIA), a fictitious version of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).
Theodore Calvin — “T.C.” (Roger E. Mosley) — Calvin was a helicopter pilot who ran a tourist charter business called Island Hoppers. A former Marine Corpsman and helicopter pilot in Vietnam, T.C.'s combat-trained flight skills are often solicited by Magnum and put to good use in the course of his cases. T.C. is also physically powerful, a fact which benefits Magnum when he expects to — and does — run into trouble.
Orville Wilbur Richard "Rick" Wright (Larry Manetti) was a debonair playboy who managed the the exclusive beachfront and members-only King Kamehameha Club. Rick maintained several underworld contacts (one of them being gangland figure Francis “Icepick” Hofstetler). Rick, an ex-Marine, was an expert in weaponry, whose specialties were sub-machine-guns and pistols. He was T.C.’s door gunner in Vietnam, when both served in the Marine Corps.
Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman) The chief steward of “Robin's Nest,” Higgins had a storied military history as a sergeant major in the British Army's Yorkshire Regiment, revering order above all else. Because of this, he and Magnum often clashed over petty things, which often lead to his frequent use of his favorite phrase “Oh my God!” in response to the latest outrage perpetrated by Magnum. An inveterate teller of “old war stories” Higgins was once awarded the Victoria Cross. His Doberman Pinscher guard dogs, Zeus and Apollo, are his frequent companions.
Lt. Yoshi Tanaka (Kwan Hi Lim) — Homicide-division police lieutenant with the Honolulu PD, known for his casual dress and ironic sense of humor. Like Magnum, a Detroit Tigers fan. (Seasons 2–8)
Agatha Chumley (Gillian Dobb) — Higgins' English lady friend. First appears in the episode "Black on White." (Seasons 3-8)
Colonel “Buck” Greene (Lance LeGault) — Marine Corps intel officer, and often Magnum's nemesis. (Seasons 2–8)
Carol Baldwin (Kathleen Lloyd) — Assistant DA. (Seasons 3–8)
Lieutenant "Mac" MacReynolds (Jeff MacKay) — Doughnut-munching Navy Intelligence Agency (NIA) lieutenant, killed by a car bomb planted by “Ivan”, a KGB officer and foe of Magnum. Mac returns as a ghost for three episodes (“Mac's Back”, “Limbo” and “Infinity and Jelly Doughnuts”) and later as a look-alike character. In the series pilot, MacKay was “Ski,” a guard working at the Pearl Harbor entrance gate. (Seasons 1–3 and 7–8)
Jim Bonnick (Jeff MacKay) — Con man and ex-Navy pilot released on a medical discharge, who was also a MacReynolds look-alike. In “Mac's Back” MacKay starred in both roles. (Seasons 5–8)
Francis “Icepick” Hofstetler (Elisha Cook, Jr.) — German American loan-shark and underworld figure from Chicago... Rick Wright’s father figure.
Dr. Ibold, M.D. “Doc Ibold” (Glenn Cannon) — Minor supporting character appearing in many episodes when plots needed a physician. Known to prescribe opiates for just about everything. (Seasons 2–8)
Michelle Hue (Marta DuBois) — The love of Magnum’s life. She and Magnum married in Vietnam but the union was invalidated, both legally, and in Michelle's eyes, when her first husband (a North Vietnamese general once presumed dead), resurfaced. Magnum thought Michelle had died in the 1975 evacuation of Saigon. (Seasons 2–8)
Lieutenant (later Lt. Commander) Maggie Poole (Jean Bruce Scott) — Successor of the deceased MacReynolds. Disliked her superior, Col. Greene. (Seasons 3–8)
Luther H. Gillis (Eugene Roche) — Mock-film noir private dic out of St. Louis, and narrator of the five episodes in which he appeared. (Seasons 4–8)
Lt. Nolan Page (Joe Santos) — Hard-nosed, no-nonsense Honolulu PD lieutenant with a New York accent who helps Magnum on several cases.
Moki — King Kamehameha Club Bartender in Season 1... replaced later by Keoki. (Seasons 1-2)
Keoki — Bartender/server of the King Kamehameha Club starting in Season 2... Arrested by Lt. Tanaka for a robbery against the club. (Seasons 2-4)
In addition to the reoccurring stars and the weekly appearances of minor actors to fill the roles of victims and crooks, dozens of notable actors appeared on the show, including Lew Ayres, Dennis Weaver, Elisha Cook Jr. as Ice Pick, Mercedes McCambridge, Norman Fell, Larry Pennell, Romy Schneider, Ian McShane, June Lockhart, Eugene Roche as Luther, Robert Loggia, Dana Wynter, Rebecca Holden, Anne Lockhart, Cameron Mitchell, Barry Nelson, Fritz Weaver, Carol Burnett, John Saxon, Andre Philippe, Ed Lauter, Darren McGavin, Peter Davison, Kim Richards, Robert Forster, Meredith MacRae, Vera Miles, Vincent Caristi, Sylvia Sidney, Geoffrey Lewis, Ted Danson, Noah Beery, Jr., Barry Van Dyke, Richard Johnson, Morgan Fairchild, James Doohan, Angela Lansbury (as Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote), Charles Lucia, Erin Gray, Alfonso Ribeiro, Katherine Cannon, Nehemiah Persoff, William Windom, John Ireland, Christine Belford, Kathleen Nolan, Leslie Uggams, Sharon Stone, Dana Delany, Norm Compton, Ernest Borgnine, Michael V. Gazzo, Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker (as Rick and A.J. Simon from Simon & Simon), Jimmy Borges, Tyne Daly, Barbara Rush, Pat Hingle, Jose Ferrer, Frank Sinatra, Samantha Eggar, Scatman Crothers, Miguel Ferrer, Vic Morrow, Beverly Garland, Jill St. John, Gretchen Corbett, Judith Chapman, Joseph Wiseman, Marcia Wallace, Michael Spilotro, Red West, and Kathleen Lloyd as Carol Henry Gibson, among others.