Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson and airing on CBS from 1980 to 1988, Magnum, P.I. seemed at first glance to be yet another Action Series show, using the old Hawaii Five-O production facilities in Hawaii, with a handsome lead actor talented in comedic schtick and the usual buddies helping him solve his case-of-the-week. But it soon revealed its more dramatic plotthreads by alternating the comically-toned episodes with those concentrating on The Vietnam War background of Thomas Magnum and his friends. The concluding scene in the Season Three two-part premiere "Did You See the Sunrise" was the key moment that illustrated Magnum's darker side. It remained the most unexpected and controversial scene of the series' entire run.These deeper character-developing episodes became fan favorites, and helped to spur the series to a five-year stay in the top-20 rated shows on television between 1981 and 1985. Also, both Tom Selleck (Magnum) and John Hillerman (Higgins) won multiple awards for their work.Magnum was assisted ably by his friends TC and Rick, and alternately helped and hindered by Higgins, the manager of Robin Masters' estate where Magnum lived. Masters was only occasionally heard as The Voice of Orson Welles via telephone.Donald P. Bellisario (who unlike Larson had a lot to do with the series after the pilot) became known for his darker, almost fantastical overtones (see Quantum Leap), and they were introduced slowly into Magnum, P.I.'s storylines by way of prophetic dreams, psychic connections, and ghosts.A feature film adaptation is planned in the future. George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey, and even Selleck himself have been floated as possible big-screen Magnums.
Magnum, P.I. provides examples of the following tropes:
'80s Hair: Well, look at the production dates, but pretty much every female has big, BIG hair. Not to mention Magnum's perm.
Badass Moustache: Magnum, obviously, as he's played by Tom Selleck, a man who so defined the moustache in The Eighties that on the brief periods he shaved it off, he looked wrong. Higgins and T.C. had these to a lesser extent as well.
Band of Brothers: Magnum, Rick, and T.C. (not to mention poor, blown-up Mac) all served together in Vietnam - Magnum was a SEAL, while Rick and T.C were Marines with VMO-2. What they went through over there is precisely why Magnum would die for either of his friends, and they for him.
Big "NO!": in the two part episode that started off season 5, Echoes of the Mind, Thomas lets out one of these after the Dupre Sisters (Played by Sharon Stone), with whom he is in love with, kill themselves off screen just before the freeze frame.
Broken Record: "Work the lock, don't look at the dogs, work the lock, don't look at the dogs, work the lock, don't look at the dogs, work the lock, don't look at the dogs" ..... Looks up at Zeus and Apollo getting nearer .... "Damn it you looked at the dogs."
California Doubling: Generally averted (most notably in the sixth season premiere "Deja Vu," set and filmed in England).
Catch Phrase: Magnum narrating to the audience: "I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong/right."
Also: "Yeah, I don't believe it myself."
The Charmer: Rick, who usually has some bikini-clad girl in tow.
Would make that argument for Magnum and T.C. as well.
The memorable seventh-season finale "Limbo," in which Magnum apparently dies from a gunshot wound; originally intended as the series finale.
The actual series finale did end on a cliffhanger, albeit a much lighter-hearted one. Rick is getting married, but hesitates when it comes time for him to give his vow. Magnum, T.C., and Higgins all prompt him, "I do," and finally he opens his mouth and says, "I..." and the credits start rolling.
Cool Car: The Ferrari 308 (and the '29 Bugatti replica in "Flashback").
Fans sometimes say the Ferrari was the real star of the show.
Robin Masters, only seen onscreen once, and most definitely not from the front.
Icepick was only mentioned and never actually seen for the first few seasons.
Fanservice: Not just the unending stream of women who want Magnum, and not just the endless parade of near-naked beach babes in the background. This was Tom Selleck as a Memetic Sex God, often wearing a loose shirt and tiny shorts that showed off plenty.
Film Noir: Other than the bright sunshine in Hawaii, and the fact it's in color, the series follows the rest of this trope pretty straight.
Heroic BSOD: Each of the guys had at least one of these:
Magnum after the deaths of Mac and Michele.
Rick after the death of his sister.
T.C. when his friend gets killed getting him a soda.
I Just Knew: Magnum spends most of "Home from the Sea" trying to stay afloat in the ocean; T.C., Rick, and Higgins all have a bad feeling about him despite having no reason to think anything is wrong. When they acknowledge it and start looking, T.C. tells Rick — who turns out to be only a few hundred feet away from where Magnum is treading water — to stay right where he is until dawn, but can't explain why he does so.
Like Brother and Sister: Magnum and Carol Baldwin. She logged more time with Magnum throughout the series than any of his numerous love interests. Could possibly be seen as Will They or Won't They?, but if the show hinted at this at all, it was extremely subtle.
Over the course of the series, we come to learn that (a) Magnum met and married a woman in Vietnam, (b) she's still alive, and (c) she has a daughter.
Higgins's series of half brothers.
Man Child: Thomas can sometimes appear to be this. Higgins often assumes a parental role with him. Throughout the series it's established that Thomas' father died when he was very young, and that his military service caused him to feel he had never had a chance to be a young man.
Poorly Disguised Pilot: Model/actress Erin Gray appeared on first-season episode "J. 'Digger' Doyle" as a security expert hired by Robin Masters to evaluate Magnum. It was supposed to lead to a spinoff series for Gray, but the series never came to pass.
Season four's "The Return Of Luther Gillis," dealing with an old-time St. Louis PI tangling with Magnum, was another show planned as a spinoff. Unlike J. 'Digger' Doyle above, however, Gillis did make several appearances as a Drop-In Character - the PDP was a sequel to the same season's "Luther Gillis: File #521," the first of five episodes featuring him.
In season 3, "Two Birds of a Feather" featured a fellow Vietnam War aviator who crashes into Robin Masters' tidal pool. According to the Magnum Mania website, "it was a 'backdoor pilot' for a potential TV series about treasure hunter and ace combat pilot Sam Hunter and his family. The Mike Post and Pete Carpenter score that is heard when Sam comes home (and in the closing credits) was to be used as the theme song. The pilot went unsold. After the pilot failed to attract any interest, Donald P. Bellisario took the bare bones of the concept and eventually developed it into Airwolf (1984-1986). This is universally regarded as one of the worst Magnum P.I. episodes of the entire series!"
Porn Stache: Magnum himself of course, but Higgins and T.C. too. A very high facial-hair quotient.
Raiders of the Lost Parody: "Kiss of the Sabre" features a guest star who is an author working on an adventure novel somewhere between Raiders and James Bond, using Magnum and friends as her inspiration. Doubles as Actor Allusion, since Tom Selleck was considered for the role of Indiana Jones but had to turn it down because he was already under contract for Magnum.
This actually happens twice. In "Raiders of the Lost Art", a notorious villain is a huge fan of the old movies that Raiders was derived from, and plans all his crimes using elements of said films. Magnum, again cast as the Indiana type character, plans his countermoves by drawing on his own memories of said films.
Rancher: In one episode there is a teenage rancher who needs our heroes' help.
Replaced the Theme Tune: "Don't Eat The Snow In Hawaii" (the pilot movie) had a light jazz piece by Ian Freebairn-Smith that was used for the first nine post-pilot episodes; the show didn't have the Mike Post and Pete Carpenter theme we all know and love until "Thicker Than Water."
The original theme had a Mannix-like "early '70s action hero" feel, while the Post-Carpenter theme features an early '80s style persistent rock obbligato like (the four-years-later) Miami Vice.
Retired Badass: Higgins. Occasionally we get evidence that not everything about his stories is exaggerated.
Sacrificial Lion: Mac, Magnum's friend and fellow Vietnam veteran. He'd normally show up only when Thomas needed access to military information, but you got the idea that he was one of Magnum's closest friends and that while the two hung out together, it was always off-camera. And then came "Did You See the Sunrise."
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Magnum wasn't above simply running away from the bad guys if he got what he wanted or things got too hairy.
Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: Whenever Magnum contacted Mac (an active duty Naval officer) about some bit of classified information he needed for the current case, this was almost always how Mac gave Magnum the information. "Well, I'm gonna go get a soda. Whatever you do, do not read the file on my desk while I'm gone, okay? Because its classified, Thomas. I mean it. Do not read it, no matter what you do."
Twisted Echo Cut: The scenes in "Home from the Sea" are constantly cutting to these; for example, T.C. saying that he doesn't want to be out here all night cuts to Magnum, who's been out in the sea all night, which cuts to Rick saying he and his date will have to stay all night on his boat.
The one time we see Higgins' dad, he's also played by Hillerman.
The Unreveal: In the final seasons, Magnum suspects that Higgins was the real Robin Masters all along. This is never proven or disproven.
The Vietnam War: Forms a critical part of many characters' backstories. Magnum, T.C. and Rick all fought together in Nam, which is why their bond is so strong. The show itself was one of the earliest shows to portray Vietnam veterans as human beings instead of stone cold killers.
Vigilante Execution: Magnum, at the conclusion of season 3's two part premiere "Did You See the Sunrise?" One of the most memorable moments of the series.