One of the most popular television series of the ’80s, Magnum, P.I. stood out among other action-packed, glossy programs like Miami Vice because of its lush Hawaiian location and easy-going charm of star Tom Selleck in a career defining role. As Thomas Magnum, he cruised around Oahu in his employer’s bright red Ferrari, solving cases as a private investigator.
When he wasn’t righting wrongs, he was dealing with the security at the sprawling estate of famous and reclusive writer Robin Masters, who let him live in his guest house as well as avail himself of all his luxury items. Magnum was aided by old Navy buddies T.C. and Rick, as well as by Masters’ stuffy British butler Higgins. You may recognize the mustache and be able to hum the theme song, but here’s 10 facts you might not know about Magnum, P.I.!
10 HE WAS INITIALLY SUPPOSED TO RESEMBLE JAMES BOND
When the character of Thomas Magnum was first written, he was supposed to be similar in personality and looks to James Bond; dashing, debonair, with a girl on each arm and a martini in his hand. Tom Selleck had issues with that take, since it didn’t allow for him to stretch as an actor, and wasn’t very interesting because he was too perfect.
Selleck pitched a different angle to the writers; have Magnum be more of a laid-back average joe that male viewers could relate to. More like Jim Rockford on the Rockford Files. The writers initially didn’t want to accept it, but Selleck would have done Raiders of the Lost Ark if they hadn’t, so Magnum became the conciliating jock he is today.
9 THERE WAS ALMOST A MAGNUM PI MOVIE
After the series ended in 1988, there was briefly talk of Thomas Magnum making the leap to the big screen. Tom Selleck would be joined by the original cast, and it would focus on Magnum’s return to the Navy and his subsequent missions. Tom Clancy wrote the script and it was pitched to Universal Studios.
Universal didn’t feel that the cast would be a big enough draw, even with Tom Selleck’s popularity in previous films like Three Men and a Baby and Lassiter. Though it was never made, it did free his schedule up to appear in the Australian Western Quigley Down Under, which Selleck has said is his favorite film role.
8 IT HAS A STRONG CONNECTION TO HAWAII FIVE-O
Hawaii Five-O, one of CBS’s most popular television series went off the air in 1980, the same year that Magnum P.I. debuted. Unwilling to let its Hawaiian Production facilities lay dormant, CBS executives decided that Thomas Magnum should be solving cases in Hawaii, and made use of many old Hawaii Five-O sound stages.
Magnum, P.I. became synonymous with the lush, tropical backdrop of Hawaii, from its beautiful beaches to the laid back attitude of its main star. Magnum even makes references to Detective Steve Garrett, played by Jack Ford on Hawaii Five-O, though he never ended up filming a cameo.
7 MAGNUM ALMOST DROVE A DIFFERENT CAR
As iconic in some respects as Magnum’s mustache, his red Ferrari became one of the signature stars of the show. Before producers settled on exactly what wheels Magnum would have, they originally wanted to put him in a Porsche. At the time, the company refused to make modifications to their cars, which meant that all 6’4″ of Tom Selleck wouldn’t be able to fit in their front seats.
As it was, the red Ferarris 308 GTS Selleck drove in the series had to have padding removed, tops cut into, and seats permanently removed so that he could fit comfortably. Ferarri experienced a big boost in sales after the series began gaining popularity, which Porsche probably regretted not getting a piece of.
6 YOU CAN SEE MAGNUM’S ICONIC LOOK AT THE SMITHSONIAN
Fans of the series and American pop culture history can gawk at Thomas Magnum’s signature style at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. There you’ll find, amidst Archie Bunker’s chair from All in the Family and a Kermit the Frog puppet, Magnum’s “Jungle Bird” Hawaiian shirt. The loud red shirt, featuring banana leaves and bright blue parrots, is the most famous of the Hawaiian shirts he sported on the show.
You’ll also find his Detroit Tigers baseball cap and the signet ring that Magnum and his team of friends wore to commemorate their time serving in the Vietnam War. Tom Selleck himself presented the collection to the Smithsonian in 2011.
5 IT’S REGARDED AS THE FIRST POSITIVE DEPICTION OF A VIETNAM VET
At the time that Magnum, P.I. came out, the Vietnam War was still very much fresh in America’s memory. It was a conflict that dragged on for many years, and both the reasons for America’s involvement and the highlight of its controversial machinations left a sour taste in the nation’s mouth. Vietnam vets weren’t depicted in a positive light in the news media, and certainly not in primetime television.
By depicting the character of Thomas Magnum as an easy going, relatable guy who happened to be a Vietnam Vet, the series subverted overly aggressive stereotypes. He used his experiences in the Navy to inform his private investigating methods, and involved his fellow veteran friends on cases, creating one of the first positive depictions of a Vietnam Vet on screen.
4 ALL THE DETROIT TIGERS GEAR WAS SELLECK’S
Tom Selleck is a huge Detroit Tigers fan and worked with the writers of the series to introduce his favorite sports team into Thomas Magnum’s daily wear. While at first the writer’s didn’t know what to make of an aesthetic that included loud Hawaiian shirts, blue jeans, and a ubiquitous Detroit Tigers baseball cap, their initial anxiety was quelled the moment it became revered by the public.
Thrilled to wear his Tigers cap whenever he wanted, Selleck went one step further and sought to have an episode filmed in Detroit and feature real Detroit Tigers players. While the series didn’t go on location there, several real players appeared in cameos interacting with Magnum.
3 IT HAD CROSSOVERS WITH FAMOUS SHOWS
As was popular in the 80s, CBS had its most popular programs participate in frequent crossovers to boost their ratings. In the Magnum, P.I. episode “Novel Connection”, and the Murder, She Wrote episode “Magnum on Ice”, Jessica Fetcher (dame Angela Lansbury) is the only one who can prove Magnum’s innocence when he’s arrested for murder.
Magnum also crossed over with the private investigator stars of Simon & Simon, where the three investigators searched all over Hawaii for a mysterious artifact that brought death to all who found it. There were talks of a Quantum Leap crossover, but Magnum, P.I. was off the air before it could happen.
2 ITS THEME SONG WAS ON THE TOP BILLBOARD CHARTS
Famed television composer Mike Post, responsible for such earworms as the A-Team theme, The Rockford Files theme, The Greatest American Hero theme, and the Quantum Leap theme was the man who made the Magnum, P.I. theme song infiltrate the Hot 100 Billboard Chart at Number 25. It could be heard on actual radio circulation since 1982.
The original theme song wasn’t as catchy, prompting CBS producers to bring in the King of 80s theme songs, Mike Post. Later on, he was responsible for the iconic “dun, dun” sound of a gavel coming down numerous times in every Law and Order episode.
1 IT’S REBOOT IS CURRENTLY ON CBS
In recent years, there’s been something of an ’80s nostalgia in the air. Shows like Stranger Things have been incredibly successful due to capitalizing on classic ’80s paraphernalia, music, and fashion. CBS decided to team up with the producers of the Fast and the Furious franchise to deliver a reboot of Magnum, P.I. starring Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum.
So far, the series has only had one season, but CBS plans to pick it up for a second if fans demand it. Featuring all the same action and comedy as the original, with a few notable changes (the role of Higgins has been gender-swapped), it remains to be seen whether or not it will improve on the iconic series.
NEXT: Magnum P.I.: 5 Things That Are the Same As the Original (And 5 That Aren’t)