Magnum, P. I.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents




A permutation of the hard-boiled detective genre, Magnum, P.I. aired on the CBS network from 1980 through 1988. Initially, the network had the series developed to make use of the extensive production facilities built during the 1970s in Hawaii for the successful police procedural, Hawaii Five-O, and intended the program to reflect a style and character suited to Hawaiian glamour. For the first five years the series was broadcast, it ranked in the top twenty shows for each year.

The series was set in the contemporary milieu of 1980s Hawaii, a melting pot of ethnic and social groups. Thomas Magnum, played by Tom Selleck, was a former Naval Intelligence officer making his way as a private investigator in the civilian crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures. In charge of the security for the estate of the never-seen author Robin Masters, Magnum lived a relatively carefree life on the property. A friendly antagonism and respect existed between Magnum and Jonathan Higgins III (John Hillerman), Masters' overseer of the estate. Though both men came from military backgrounds, Magnum's freewheeling style often clashed with Higgins' more mannered British discipline. In addition, two of Magnum's former military buddies rounded out the regular cast. T.C.-- Theodore Calvin (Roger Mosely) operated and owned a helicopter charter company, a service which came in handy for many of Magnum's cases. Rick Wright (Larry Manetti), a shady nightclub owner, often provided Magnum with important information through his links to the criminal element lurking below the vibrant tropical colors of the Hawaiian paradise.

Though originally dominated by an episodic narrative structure, Magnum, P.I. moved far beyond the simple demands of stock characters solving the crime of the week. Without using the open-ended strategy developed by the prime-time soap opera in the 1980s, the series nevertheless created complex characterizations by building a cumulative text. Discussion of events from previous episodes would continually pop up, constructing memory as an integral element of the series franchise. While past actions might not have an immediate impact on any individual weekly narrative, the overall effect was to expand the range of traits which characters might invoke in any given situation. For the regular viewer of the series, the cumulative strategy offered a richness of narrative, moving beyond the simpler "who-done-it" of the hard-boiled detective series that populated American television in the 1960s and 1970s.

Part of the success of Magnum, P.I. stemmed from the combination of familiar hard-boiled action and exotic locale. Just as important perhaps, the series was one of the first to regularly explore the impact of the Vietnam War on the American cultural psyche. Many of the most memorable episodes dealt with contemporary incidents triggered by memories and relationships growing out of Magnum's past war experiences. Indeed, the private investigator's abhorrence of discipline and cynical attitude toward authority seem to stem from the general mistrust of government and military bureaucracies that came to permeate American society in the early 1970s.

On one level, Magnum became the personification of an American society that had yet to deal effectively with the fallout from the Vietnam War. By the end of the 1980s, the struggle to deal with the unresolved issues of the war erupted full force into American popular culture. Before Magnum began to deal with his psychological scars in the context of the 1980s, network programmers apparently believed that any discussion of the war in a series would prompt viewers to tune it out. With the exception of Norman Lear's All in the Family in the early 1970s, entertainment network programming acted, for the most part, as if the war had never occurred. However, Magnum, P.I.'s success proved programmers wrong. Certainly, the series' success opened the door for other dramatic series which were able to examine the Vietnam War in its historical setting. Series such as Tour of Duty and China Beach, though not as popular, did point out that room existed in mainstream broadcasting for discussions of the emotional and political wounds that had yet to heal. As Thomas Magnum began to deal with his past, so too did the American public.

Critics of the show often point out, however, that in dealing with this past, the series recuperated and reconstructed America's involvement in Vietnam. While some aspects of the show seem harshly critical of that entanglement, many episodes justify and rationalize the conflict and the American role. As a result, Magnum, P.I. is shot through with conflicting and often contradictory perspectives and any "final" interpretation must take the entire series into account, rather than concentrate on single events or episodes. The constuction of this long-running narrative, riddled as it is with continuously developing characterizations, ideological instability, and milti-layered generic resonance, illustrates many of commercial U.S. television's capacity for narrative complexity, as well as some of its most vexing problems and questions.

-Rodney Buxton


Thomas Sullivan Magnum........................... Tom Selleck

Jonathan Quayle Higgins III..................... John Hillerman

T.C. (Theodore Calvin).......................... Roger E. Mosley  

Rick (Orville Wright) ..................................Larry Manetti  

Robin Masters (voice only) 1981-1985 ........Orson Welles  

Mac Reynolds ............................................Jeff MacKay

Lt. Tanaka ................................................Kwan Hi Lim

Lt. Maggie Poole..................................Jean Bruce Scott

Agatha Chumley......................................... Gillian Dobb

Asst. District Attorney, Carol Baldwin....... Kathleen Lloyd

Francis Hofstetler ("Ice Pick") ................Elisha Cook, Jr.


Donald P. Bellisario, Glen Larson, Joel Rogosin, John G. Stephens, Douglas Benton, J. Rickley Dumm, Rick Weaver, Andrew Schneider, Douglas Green, Reuben Leder, Chas. Floyd Johnson, Nick Thiel, Chris Abbot


150 Episodes

6 2-Hour Episodes


December 1980-August 1981   Thursday 9:00-10:00

September 1981-April 1986   Thursday 8:00-9:00

April 1986-June 1986    Saturday 10:00-11:00

June 1986-August 1986   Tuesday 9:00-10:00

September 1986-May 1987   Wednesday 9:00-10:00

July 1987-February 1988   Wednesday 9:00-10:00

June 1988-September 1988   Monday 10:00-11:00 


Anderson, Christopher. "Reflections on Magnum, P.I." In, Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976, 4th Edition, 1987.

Flitterman, Sandy. "Thighs and Whiskers: The Fascination of Magnum, P.I." Screen (London), 1985.

Haines, Harry W. "The Pride is Back: Rambo, Magnum, P.I., and the Return Trip to Vietnam." In, Mowies, Peter, and Peter Ehrenhaus, editors. Cultural Capacities of Vietnam: Uses of the Past and Present. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex, 1990.

Meyers, Richard. TV Detectives. San Diego: A.S. Barnes, 1981. Newcomb, Horace. "Magnum: The Champagne of TV." Channels of Communication (New York), May-June 1985.

Donald Bellisario on the genesis of Magnum, P.I. 
Glen A. Larson on creating Magnum, P.I.
Mike Post on writing the theme song to Magnum, P.I.
Who talked about this show

Donald P. Bellisario

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Donald Bellisario on the genesis of Magnum, P.I. 
Donald Bellisario on creating the pilot for Magnum, P.I.
Donald Bellisario on setting Magnum, P.I. in Hawaii
Donald Bellisario on "Magnum"of Magnum, P.I.  being a veteran of the Vietnam War
Donald Bellisario on "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii", the pilot episode of Magnum, P.I.
Donald Bellisario on the Magnum, P.I.  episode "China Doll"
Donald Bellisario on the Magnum, P.I.  episode "Did You See the Sun Rise?"
Donald Bellisario on the Magnum, P.I.  episode "Home From the Sea"

Charles Floyd Johnson

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Charles Floyd Johnson on Magnum, P.I. being a show about Vietnam veterans returning home
Charles Floyd Johnson on getting brought in to produce Magnum, P.I.
Charles Floyd Johnson on working with Don Bellisario on Magnum, P.I., moving to Hawaii, and changes he made to the show - bringing writers to Hawaii, and on working with the cast and crew
Charles Floyd Johnson on writing several episodes of Magnum, P.I.
Charles Floyd Johnson on co-writing the "Limbo" episode of Magnum, P.I. -- at one point it was supposed to be a series finale
Charles Floyd Johnson on the "Did You See the Sunrise?" episode of Magnum, P.I. -- an episode that Standards & Practices and sponsors had concerns about
Charles Floyd Johnson on Magnum, P.I. crossover episodes with Simon & Simon and Murder, She Wrote
Charles Floyd Johnson on Frank Sinatra appearing in an episode of Magnum, P.I.
Charles Floyd Johnson on Magnum, P.I. ending after eight seasons
Charles Floyd Johnson on the identity of Robin Masters on Magnum, P.I.
Charles Floyd Johnson on the success, popularity, and ratings of Magnum, P.I.
Charles Floyd Johnson on not being consulted on the reboot of Magnum, P.I.
Charles Floyd Johnson on shooting Magnum, P.I. at the same studio where Hawaii Five-O had just shut down production

Glen A. Larson

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Glen A. Larson on creating Magnum, P.I.

Gene LeBell

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Gene LeBell on stunt work with Magnum P.I. lead Tom Selleck 

Horace Newcomb

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Horace Newcomb on Magnum, P.I.'s cumulative narrative

Mike Post

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Mike Post on writing the theme song to Magnum, P.I.

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