Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend blogging: spies and fugatives

Joseph and I are long time fans of the show Burn Notice and both of us were very pleased with the series finale. If you have watched the show, even intermittently, you should definitely check it out. It offered a genuine resolution to the story with considerable resonance. Matt Nix, series creator and one of the best of a truly exceptional generation of show runners, wrote and directed the episode and delivered on all fronts. On top of all that, he provided one of my favorite series-ending lines.

Of course, given my diagnosed pop-culture affliction, all this talk of finales immediately got me thinking about Roy Huggins and the Fugitive.

Often working under the pen name John Thomas James, Huggins created one of the most memorable bodies of work in television. His specialty was casting some of the most charismatically masculine actors working in film and television  -- in shows like Maverick, the Fugitive, Run for Your Life, and the Rockford Files -- then carefully deconstructing the standard definition of a masculine hero. Heroes were supposed to be brave and invulnerable (the second somewhat undercutting the first) and to always fight fair,* none of which you could count on in a Huggins production.

James Garner was arguably the definitive Huggins hero, but it was David Janssen's Richard Kimble who veered the farthest from the macho standard. Janssen spent the run of the show being as forgettable and nonconfrontational as possible and running away at any sign of trouble. It was an extraordinary performance, balanced by nuanced and occasionally (and improbably) sympathetic work by Barry Morse as Lt. Gerard. Morse and show runner Alan Armer somehow managed to make Gerard obsessed with duty without having him lose his objectivity. Other than one obvious blind spot he kept a clear and realistic view of the man he pursued. In the end, he even... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In addition to an innovative and much imitated structure, Huggins had another groundbreaking idea. The Fugitive was always meant to be a story with an ending. After four seasons (hit shows had much shorter runs inn the Sixties), a two-part episode wrapped up all of the loose ends in a way that guaranteed that TV executives would take notice.
Part two of the finale was the most-watched television series episode at that time. It was viewed by 25.70 million households (45.9 percent of American households with a television set and a 72 percent share), meaning that more than 78 million people tuned in.
For those far too interested in television, here's Huggins' account of the unlikely origin of the show:

* as always, I reserve the right to unapologetically split my infinitives.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for pointing to The Fugitive. I've been enjoying re-watching the episodes - for the story itself and for a look back at the culture that existed then.

    (A 1960's computer in "The 2130"

    I presume I don't need to say SPOILER after 50 years ...

    It was great to see the ending because I never knew the story was resolved.

    At the very end, Gerard offers his hand to shake and after a hesitation Kimble shakes it. I don't know that I would have been able to - Yes, Gerard gives Kimble 24 hours at the end and he did save Kimble from being shot by the one armed man but does that really counter the 4+ years that Kimble was under intense pressure from Gerard's relentlessness?