Jack Webb may have invented the cop show format with Dragnet, but it took a character actor named Jack Lord to take it to the pinnacle of its success with Hawaii Five-O. This classic program juxtaposed traditional cops-and-robbers thrills against the scenic backdrop of Hawaii to become the longest-running police show of all time. Twenty years later, this exotic action drama continues to justify its place in television history by remaining a top favorite in television syndication.
Hawaii Five-O focused on Steve McGarrett, an intense and dedicated cop who headed a division of the Hawaiian State Department known as Five-O. This elite unit reported directly to the governor of Hawaii and focused their efforts on eliminating the Hawaiian criminal underground. Assisting McGarrett in his war on crime were Danny “Dano” Williams, his top assistant, and Chin Ho Kelly. McGarrett’s main enemy was Wo Fat, the slippery criminal mastermind who always narrowly escaped major trouble before McGarrett could put him behind bars.
The beauty of Hawaii Five-O lay in its straightforward and reliable nature. This viewer-pleasing consistency had a lot to do with the fact that star Jack Lord was involved in most aspects of the show’s production. The episodes tended to be clear-cut crime dramas that were usually solved by the end of the show. Plots usually touched on pressing social issues of the day, like the Vietnam War or drug addiction. No matter what the situation was, we always knew that Jack Lord would remain unflappably cool throughout, there would be plenty of tantalizing Hawaiian vistas (the show was shot entirely on location), and justice would prevail by the end of the story.
Jack Lord’s performance as McGarrett was the other vital key to the show’s popularity. Looking dapper in a neat suit and an immaculately groomed, jet-black pompadour, this was one cool cop. Whether he was dealing with a government bigwig or the lowliest criminal scumbag, McGarrett never took guff from anyone and always got the job done. In true cop-hero fashion, he couldn’t have cared less about the ‘rights’ of the criminals he hounded: for instance, it wasn’t uncommon for him to begin the search of a bad guy’s living space with the words, “Gentlemen, I want this place turned inside out.”
The combination of unique locales and reliable action scenarios helped make Hawaii Five-O a long-running hit. The show also influenced other aspects of pop culture: for instance, the instrumental pop group The Ventures scored a smash hit with their surf-rock version of the show’s horn-driven theme song, and McGarrett’s oft-spoken phrase, “Book ‘em, Dano!” became a vital part of the American slang lexicon. After hitting it big in the late 1960’s, Hawaii Five-O remained popular throughout the entirety of the 1970’s and ended its run in 1980 after an extremely impressive 278 episodes. Appropriately, the final episode let McGarrett finally apprehend and imprison his longtime foe, Wo Fat.
Today, Hawaii Five-O remains deathlessly popular in rerun form. All over the world, this show continues to be a staple of syndicated programming. Meanwhile, Jack Lord has attained icon status in the world of hipster cool, and the show’s punchy theme song has become a perennial favorite on oldies radio. This long-standing success proves that Hawaii Five-O has surpassed its initial cop-show-with-a-gimmick status to become a vital part of American pop culture.
A just as popular as the original reboot has been on CBS since 2010.
“Book ‘em, Dano!”
USA / CBS – Leonard Freeman Prod./ 270×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 26 September 1968 – 26 April 1980
Creators: Leonard Freeman, Jack Lord / Theme Music: Morton Stevens / Executive Producers: Leonard Freeman, Philip Leacock, Douglas Greene
Jack Lord as Det. Steve McGarrett
James MacArthur as Det. Danny Williams (1968-79)
Kam Fong as Det. Chin Ho Kelly (1968-78)
Zulu as Det. Kono Kalakaua (1968-72)
Khigh Dhiegh as Wo Fat (1968-76, 1980)
Richard Denning as Gov. Paul Jameson (1968-80)
Al Harrington as Det. Ben Kokua (1972-74)
Harry Endo as Che Fong (1969-77)
Al Eben as Doc Bergman (1970-76)
Maggi Parker as May (1968-1969)
Peggy Ryan as Jenny Sherman (1969-76)
Laura Sode as Luana (1978-80)
Herman Wedemeyer as Edward D. “Duke” Lukela (1972-80)
Morgan White as Att. Gen. Walter Stewart (1968-69)
Glenn Cannon as Att. Gen. John Manicote (1972-77)
William Smith asJames “Kimo” Carew (1979-80)
Moe Keale as Truck Kealoha (1979-80)
Sharon Farrell as Lori Wilson (1979-80)
Danny Kamekona as Che Fong(1968-69)/Nick Noble (1974-75)
Douglas Mossman as Det. Frank Kemana(1975)
Joseph Sirola as Jonathan Kaye(1968-72)