Afterthoughts: McGarrett's Makeover

A reader requests we save CBS from a ratings fiasco. We’ll see what we can do.

Photo: Linny Morris

We get a lot of requests from our readers, searching for everything from our “Grading the Public Schools” chart (check out our May 2010 issue) to old articles featuring their long-lost relatives. We like to think of ourselves as a concierge to the city, with the insider scoop, so helping readers connect with what they are looking for is usually a pleasure. One reader, though, recently gave us a real challenge; I’ll share her excerpted letter.

I am writing this as a passionate fan of Hawaii Five-O. No doubt, you have heard that CBS has given orders for the production of what has been called a re-boot of the original series. You may well share my concerns and the concerns of other Five-O fans around the world. The problem is that the new synopsis and characterizations depart so dramatically from the original that it seems a sacrilege. No respect is given to the back stories of the original characters, nor to the enormously difficult, yet enduring, work of those who made the original the outstanding series that it was. If there is any way it is possible for you, the people in Hawaii, to influence this, please do. Otherwise, the remake is doomed for failure.”

That’s a pretty tall order, but I’ll try. Hey, CBS, I hope you know what you’re doing!

As for the “people in Hawaii” part, Five-O certainly has rabid fans on Oahu, where the show shot for 12 years. After all, it seems every resident appeared in one episode or another. HONOLULU Magazine even had a cameo in the show’s pilot, which aired six days before the regular series premiered on Sept. 26, 1968. Called “Cocoon,” the two-hour pilot is really sharp, reminiscent of James Bond films of the same era, with daring camera angles and elaborate sets. Viewers meet the villain, Wo Fat, who will plague Steve McGarrett for the next decade-plus. And when one of Fat’s henchman attacks McGarrett, the leather-gloved baddie grabs his knife off a copy of HONOLULU, which is laying there on the coffee table doing an Emmy-worthy portrayal of a magazine.

HONOLULU Magazine made a guest appearance in the pilot episode of Hawaii Five-O. It was a killer issue.

Still: Vintage Hawaii Five-O

But devotees of the show know no geographic bounds. The Hawaii Five-O Fan Club, for example, has a membership spanning six continents. Virginia Tolles, the author of the letter I quoted earlier, lives in Nacogdoches, Texas. Her Web site,, has gotten visitors from 50 countries. You don’t have to live in the Islands, you don’t even have to have been alive to watch the show when it first aired, to admire its casting, locations, storytelling, and yes, let out the occasional hoot when things get campy.

I’d love to see another hit show here in Hawaii, of course. Local actors and production crews could certainly use the work with Lost ending. The rest of us are going to miss the location-spotting fun “oh! That’s the bank at the corner of…” But it seems foolish to try to remake Hawaii Five-O. As The New York Times media reporter Bill Carter noted, “In the history of network television, no remake of a previous hit series has ever become a hit itself on network television.”

And they’ve cast some 33-year-old Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, which does not bode well. Jack Lord was three months’ shy of 49 when he started Hawaii Five-O. He had gravitas. He had lines on his forehead, and he wasn’t about to get a facial, Danno. Contemporary casting directors are so obsessed with beautiful young people, we never get to see actual adults with actual skin on TV anymore.

From what I can gather, it doesn’t matter to fans like Tolles who plays McGarrett, because it won’t be Jack Lord. Time will tell, they say, if the new show should even bear the Hawaii Five-O marquee.

Hopefully, CBS will tread lightly, and if not, well, Virginia, we tried.

UPDATE: CBS has ordered fall episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

For more of Wagner’s writing, see her “Guilty Pleasures” blog.