Popularly known as the longest chase sequence in television history, The Fugitive ran through 118 episodes before a climactic two-part episode brought this highly regarded series to a close--with all the fundamental story strands concluded. The wrap-up ending was a rather rare and unusual decision on behalf of the producers as well as something of a television "first". Premiering on ABC on Tuesday 17 September 1963, The Fugitive went on to present some of the most fascinating human condition dramas of that decade, all told in a tight, self-contained semi-documentary style. By its second season the program was number 5 in the ratings (27.9) and later received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series of 1965. For its fourth and final season the program was produced in color, having enjoyed three years of suitably film noir-like black and white photography, ending on a high note that drew the highest TV audience rating (72 percent) up to that time.
Based on a six-page format, inspired by Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, by writer-producer (and Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip creator) Roy Huggins, ABC brought in executive producer Quinn Martin to supervise the project. He in turn brought on board line producer Alan Armer (who went on to oversee 90 episodes) and hired David Janssen to play the title character. While Huggins' original outline saw the wrongly-convicted character behave like an oddball, since society was treating him like one anyway, Martin's concept of the character was something less bizarre: a put-upon but basically decent person. At first, however, ABC executives worried that perhaps viewers would feel the only honourable thing for Kimble to do would be to turn himself in. Martin's production expertise, evidenced in the footage they viewed, changed their minds. In the pilot episode, "Fear in a Desert City", the audience was introduced to the story of Dr. Richard Kimble, arriving home in the fictional town of Stafford, Indiana to witness a One-Armed Man running from his house, leaving behind his murdered wife. In the same episode "blind justice" saw fit to charge Kimble himself with the murder and sentence him to the death house. This narrative was assured immediately of viewer sympathy and interest. That the train enroute to the prison where Kimble was to be executed was accidentally derailed, rendering his captor Lt. Philip Gerard unconscious and thus allowing Kimble to escape, propelled the hero into a "willed irresponsibility without a concomitant sense of guilt", as Roy Huggins put it. In other words, the (mid-1960s) TV viewer felt perfectly at ease with this particular "outlaw" because what was happening was not his fault.
Not unlike the Western hero, which U.S. television had embraced since the 1950s and with which it still had something of an infatuation, Kimble had the appeal of the rootless wanderer whose commitments to jobs, women or society were temporary, yet who at the same time deserved our sympathy as something of a tragic figure. The series' and the introspective character's success lay largely with the appeal of actor David Janssen's intensity in the part (Janssen's first television hit had been as the lead in the slick Richard Diamond, Private Detective series of 1957-60). The drama of the stories came not so much from the transient occupations of the fleeing hero, such as sail mender in Hank Searls' "Never Wave Good-bye" or dog handler in Harry Kronman's "Bloodline", but from the dilemma of the Kimble character himself, something Janssen was able to convey with an almost nervous charm.
The other principal members of the cast were Canadian actor Barry Morse as the relentless Javert-like Lt. Gerard, who only appeared in about one out of four stories but who seemed always ominously present, Jacqueline Scott as Kimble's sister Donna Taft, Diane Brewster as Kimble's wife Helen, in occasional flashbacks, and the burly Bill Raisch as the elusive One-Armed Man Fred Johnson. Raisch, who had lost his right arm during World War II but nevertheless went on to become a stand-in for Burt Lancaster, may have been the show's "MacGuffin", the prime motivation for Kimble to stay one step ahead of the law, but his character was rarely seen on screen; during the first two years of production Raisch worked on the program only four days.
Using the general format of an anthology show, but with continuing characters (in the manner of the contemporary Herbert Leonard series Naked City and Route 66), the producers, writers and directors were given license to deal with characters, settings and stories not usually associated with what was in essence a simple man-on-the-run theme. Under various nondescript aliases (but most frequently as "Jim"), Kimble traversed the United States in pursuit of the One-Armed Man and along the way became involved with ordinary people who were usually at an emotional cross-roads in their lives. The opportunities for some magnificent guest performances as well as interesting locations were immense (in the early years of production the crew spent six days on each episode with about three of them on location): Sandy Dennis in Alain Caillou and Harry Kronman's "The Other Side of the Mountain" (West Virginia), Jack Klugman in Peter Germano and Kronman's "Terror at High Point" (Salt Lake City, Utah), Eileen Heckart in Al C. Ward's "Angels Travel on Lonely Roads", parts. I & II (Revenna, Nevada and Sacramento, California), Jack Weston in Robert Pirosh's "Fatso" (Louisville, Kentucky). The series also featured a number of different directors, including Ida Lupino, Laslo Benedek, Walter Grauman, Robert Butler, Richard Donner, Mark Rydell, Gerd Oswald, and Joseph Sargent; Barry Morse even got an opportunity to direct an episode.
Then in 1967--Tuesday, 29 August--the day the running stopped. It was actor William Conrad's final Fugitive narration after four years of keeping viewers tuned in to Kimble's circumstances and thoughts. By the fourth year of production Janssen was physically and nervously exhausted. When ABC, which had grossed an estimated $30,000,000 on the series, suggested a fifth year Janssen declined the offer and Quinn Martin, in a move quite unorthodox to series television, decided to bring Kimble's story to a conclusion. The definitive two-part episode, "The Judgment", written by George Eckstein and Michael Zagor, and directed by Don Medford, saw Kimble track the One-Armed Man to an amusement park in Santa Monica where in a climactic fight, with Kimble about to be killed, the real murderer is shot down by Gerard. The final episode pulled a Nielsen score of 45.9. Now, with Kimble exonerated, both he and Gerard were now free to pursue their own paths. Janssen, too, continued his own career; after The Fugitive he starred in O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971-72) and Harry-O (1974-76).
While other series with similar themes followed (Run for Your Life, the comedy Run, Buddy, Run) it is to The Fugitive's credit that it remains one of the more fondly remembered of the 1960s drama series. Harrison Ford starred as an energetic Kimble in Warner Brothers' successful 1993 feature remake, The Fugitive, with Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard.
Dr. Richard Kimble............................... David Janssen
Lieutentant Philip Gerard.......................... Barry Morse
Donna Taft........................................ Jacqueline Scott
Cooper, John. The Fugitive: A Complete Episode Guide. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Popular Culture, 1994.
Dern, Marian. "Ever Want to Run Away From it All?" TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 22 February 1964.
Harding, H. "Rumors About the Final Episode." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 27 February 1965.
Marc, David and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.
Robertson, Ed. The Fugitive Recaptured. Los Angeles: Pomegranate, 1993.