Magnum, P.I.’s Short Shorts and the Golden Age of Television

Recently, we were watching an episode of Magnum, P.I. and several thoughts occurred to me:

1) Magnum’s shorts were really, really short. I’m talking ass cheeky-Daisy Duke short;
2) Higgins’ shorts were pulled up incredibly high, as in all-the-way-to-the-sternum high. Even so, that man certainly knew how to rock a pair of khakis;
3) Magnum’s jeans appeared to be made of a denim-like substance that probably wasn’t denim. They looked like the faux-jeans that you can buy in the back of Parade magazine;
4) They easily contrived a way for Mangum to strip off his shirt, giving the ladies a little extra something for their viewing effort.

But what occurred to me most of all was that the ‘80s truly were the golden age of television dramas. Now, I know that it’s popular to say that today is the golden age of television – with your Mad Mens and your Deadwoods and your Sopranos - but, sorry, I don’t buy it.

Think about Magnum, P.I. Here’s a show that had it all: action, adventure, comedy, bromance, Hawaiian scenery and a fussy Brit and was still able to deliver some deft post-Vietnam social commentary while dazzling us with exciting mysteries. And a helicopter!

Just imagine being a writer on Magnum, P.I. and having to figure out a way to work a giant brown and orange colored helicopter into each and every plot. How often do helicopters come into play in our daily lives (outside of useless traffic reports)? And yet they pulled it off brilliantly every time. Now that’s a TV show.

The problem with today’s TV dramas is that they’re too realistic. They’re too gritty. Who wants grit? Not me. I like shows that ask me to suspend my critical thinking faculties. For example:

I like shows where guys live on a houseboat and solve mysteries (Riptide). I like shows where a fat D.A. friend can help you solve mysteries (Jake & the Fatman). I like shows where people can run from the government in a van, act crazy, make tanks out of the very same van and solve mysteries (The A-Team). I like shows where even old people can solve mysteries (Murder: She Wrote, Matlock). I like show where Glenn Frey can play a villain who solves mysteries (Miami Vice).

And I’ll always love Kojak best of all.

I could go on and on and on. Do you know why? Because Donald P. Bellasario went on and on. None of this “I’m an auteur who can only make 10 episodes every two years” crap. Donald P. Bellasario or Stephen J. Cannell could shit out more episodes of a TV show before lunch than Matthew Weiner could make all year. And their shows had staying power – often running for 5 or 6 seasons before William Conrad died or Joe Penny violated his parole.

I’m pretty sure that Hill Street Blues was the turning point. Sure, it was a great show, but it was too realistic. Well, except for the kooky cop that called everyone “dogbreath.” But aside from that, I think the success of Hill Street marked the end of the golden age of 80s dramas.

Ah, Theodore “T.C.” Calvin, we hardly knew ye.


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