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Let the Chase Begin (Again) With New 'Fugitive' Series

Q&A

The show's creator talks about the original and why it was a natural to bring back in the new century.

August 29, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thirty-three years ago tonight the running stopped. On Aug. 29, 1967, ABC aired the finale of "The Fugitive," and 72% of the viewing audience tuned in--a record for a single episode of a series that stood until the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas" 13 years later.

"The Fugitive," which aired on ABC from 1963 to '67, was created by Roy Huggins, the mastermind behind such classic TV series as the Western "Cheyenne," the first hourlong drama series; the lighthearted "Maverick," which made James Garner a star; the kicky detective series "77 Sunset Strip"; and the comedy-detective series "The Rockford Files."

But Huggins' crowning glory is "The Fugitive," which starred David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man falsely accused of murdering his wife. On the lam from the law, Kimble searched for the mysterious one-armed man who killed his wife. British actor Barry Morse starred as Lt. Gerard, the police detective who doggedly pursued Kimble.

"The Fugitive" found new life when it became one of the biggest commercial and critical movie hits of 1993 with Harrison Ford as Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar-winning performance as Gerard.

Once again Kimble is in hot pursuit of the one-armed man with Gerard hot in pursuit of Kimble in CBS' update of the classic series set to premiere this fall. Tim Daly ("Wings") stars as Kimble and Mykelti Williamson ("Forrest Gump") as Gerard. Huggins is one of the executive producers of the hourlong drama along with Arnold Kopelson and John McNamara.

Huggins began his career after World War II writing novels and such screenplays as "The Lady Gambles,' "I Love Trouble" and "Pushover." He also directed such films as "Hangman's Knot" before entering the fledgling TV industry in the early '50s.

Question: I can remember watching the TV finale of "The Fugitive" and especially recall that famous last line "August 29th, the day the running stopped."

Answer: [ABC] had no idea it would have that kind of an audience--the biggest audience in history at that time. If they had known, we wouldn't have done it at all. We would have made a movie immediately. As it turned out, the right thing happened. It wasn't made as a movie until much later. That got us a whole new audience. In fact, the only reason I believe we are [going] on the air right now is because of the movie. Every network wanted [this series]. CBS bid the highest.

Q: Is this "Fugitive" going to follow the format of the original--he's on the run, and every week he encounters a new and dangerous situation?

A: It's a continuation of the series in every way except it's in the 21st century. That means the Internet is everywhere, and that means his jeopardy is a little heavier than it was. There is a Web page [about him]. The Web page is the work of one of his supporters, so it doesn't do him any harm, but still, he is better known. Although he still isn't a household word. He's not O.J. Simpson.

It's rather unusual. Not many successful series went off the air, stayed off for a few years and came back precisely the same. I don't know when that has ever happened.

Q: The pilot of "The Fugitive" was shot in Chicago and Miami. Did the original series go on location?

A: The wonderful thing about Southern California is we have practically everything here. You don't have to go very far to get mountains, beaches, snow and little towns that look like the Midwest. It's all here. We never went anywhere.

Q: But you are now.

A: Now we are. All over. It is a very expensive show. When he is in South Carolina, we go to South Carolina. The plan is to shoot four shows at once like a movie and try to combine locales, but we are traveling. Our shooting headquarters is not in L.A., but in Seattle.

Q: Are you writing scripts for this new version?

A: No. I am working on scripts. I am reading the scripts and meeting with John McNamara a little more than I expected. It's fun, and John is very easy guy to work with. John has some ideas that make it a little different, and I think his ideas are good.

Q: Were you involved in the casting?

A: Only in saying "Yes. That's a good idea." They came and asked me what I thought.

Q: Both Daly and Williamson are so different than their original counterparts.

A: Tim is not that different than David, but Mykelti is sure different than Barry Morse. I think he brings a lot to it.

Q: Is "The Fugitive" really based on the infamous case of Sam Sheppard, the doctor who was accused of murdering his wife in the '50s?

A: No. I know I am sure it is the public's perception, and I don't really care. I don't think it has ever done us any harm, but it doesn't happen to be true. The Sheppard murder took place while I was directing films. I didn't remember anything about the Sheppard case until "The Fugitive" had been sold to ABC and was in production, which was when F. Lee Bailey got a new trial. The only reason people think it is based on the Sheppard case is because I made him a doctor.

Q: So how did you come up with the concept?

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