“The Fugitive”

This blog is not about the ’90s movie. It is about the original, Emmy-winning tv show, which came along before anyone had ever heard of Harrison Ford. I have yet to see the movie, and whether I will remains to be seen. I doubt it, though. I’m sure I would constantly compare every aspect of it with the TV show, and be too critical. It was twenty years ago this month when I saw an episode of “The Fugitive” for the first time. The A&E network was airing episodes daily in the afternoons, and with the way I had my college schedule set up, the timing was perfect for me.

My Mother had talked about the show off and on through the years. It was one of her favorites, one she watched from junior high thru college. I do not remember the title of that first episode, just that it was from season one. Kimble was working for the Guthrie family, and there was a serious issue of sibling rivalry going on between two adult sisters. I was intrigued. It was a really good show. Mom was right. Within the new few days, I would become addicted.

Many of the storylines were downright captivating. I was often on the edge of my seat, wondering how in the world Kimble was going to get out of THIS mess! You knew he would escape, but HOW?? The presence of the driven Lt. Philip Gerard only made things worse. His whole mission in life was to capture Kimble, which he almost did a time or two. I remember the time the two were on a train, in different cars, when Gerard saw Kimble. He couldn’t get from car to car fast enough, giving Kimble time to jump out of the moving train to safety. All Gerard could do was look out of the train, into the night, in disgust. He stayed on his trail, always showing up unexpectedly.

This is the story. Richard Kimble, an Indiana pediatrician, was falsely accused of murdering his wife, Helen. The two had an argument, which the neighbors heard. He angrily left. The two were fighting about the possibility of adopting children, following a recent miscarriage. He was for it, she was against it. After cooling off, Kimble was driving back home, when a large man with one arm accidentally ran in front of his car. The two made lengthy eye contact. The one-armed man ran off, while Kimble hurriedly raced home. When he ran inside, he found Helen’s body on the floor. All of this was shown for the first time in episode number 12. Kimble was tried and convicted of murder, and sentenced to die. In Gerard’s custody, headed to his appointment with death, the train they were aboard suddenly derailed, giving Kimble the opportunity to escape, which he did. He dyed his hair black, and went from town to town, in different states, working various odd jobs. He used many names, and often made friends along with way, all which he had to leave behind sooner or later. In addition to running for his very life, he was determined to prove his innocence.

 “The Fugitive” ran for four years on ABC, from 1963 to 1967. In 1965, it won an Emmy for best dramatic series. The part of Dr. Richard Kimble was played by the wonderful David Janssen, a brilliant and dynamic actor. He had a way of being able to convey a sense of sadness, mixed with honesty and integrity in his portrayal. As a result, he easily garnered sympathy and compassion from the viewers. Lt. Gerard was portrayed by Barry Morse, while the one-armed man was Bill Raisch, a WWII veteran, who had really lost an arm in combat. “The Fugitive” was a huge ratings success, airing Tuesday nights at 9 o’ clock CST. It always came in first in its time slot, except once, in December of 1965, when a Frank Sinatra special over on CBS, hosted by Walter Cronkite, beat it in the ratings. The first three years were in black and white, with the last season being in color. Honestly, I find the black and white episodes more appealing in a way, although the last season is just as good.

ABC wanted the show to go on for a fifth season, but David Janssen was exhausted, and rightfully so. Working on an hour-long dramatic series, which includes a certain amount of physical activity (Kimble ran a LOT), where you are in mostly every scene, would wear a lot of people out. The network also suggested giving Kimble a teenage son to be on the run with him. I can’t see that idea having worked out very well. The end came in August 1967, in the dramatic two-parter titled “The Judgment”.  The one-armed man is arrested for another crime. Kimble heads back to Indiana to face him, and get his name cleared once and for all. Gerard eventually catches Kimble, and takes him back into custody. In part two, which aired on August 29, 1967, Kimble, Gerard, and the one-armed man have an unforgettable showdown at a closed amusement park. Kimble and the one-armed man have a fight atop a tall building, with Gerard shooting the one-armed man. He falls to his death, after having admitted he killed Helen Kimble. However, no one except for Kimble hears this confession, so it won’t help him. In a twist of events, there was a witness to the murder, a friend and neighbor of the Kimbles, who had kept quiet all of this time. In the end, he confesses he saw the one-armed man kill Helen. Therefore, Richard Kimble is finally exonerated. He has a new woman in his life, Jean, who assisted him in the two-part finale. Gerard is waiting for Kimble outside of the courthouse. He extends his hand to Kimble, and the two shake hands. Narrator William Conrad, who had the ideal voice for this show, and always spoke the most fitting words per episode, says at the end, as Kimble and Jean walk down the sidewalk in the sun, “Tuesday, September 5th- The Day The Running Stopped.” The finale of “The Fugitive” was a ratings bonanza. It became the most watched episode of the television show in history, with 72% of all households watching. This record would stand until 1980, when the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas” took its place. The finale of “The Fugitive” is among the best of all time.

Among those households watching that night were my family. I had not been born, but my Mom, along with her brother, and parents, were glued to the set. My Mom and Grandmother were at choir rehearsal that night, and it went over. At 9 when “The Fugitive” was coming on, they were still there, along with a hosts of others, fidgeting in their seats. After all, they had waited four years to see how this would end. The pastor called them out on it, saying he knew they want to get home to see the show, but church business was more important. Around 9:15, they were finally free to leave, with everyone literally running out of the church. My Grandmother, never a very fast driver, rushed home, where the TV was already on. Fortunately, they did not have very far to go, nor did they miss too much. Meanwhile, the pastor, who lived right next door to the church, simply walked across the grass, and later admitted he too turned on “The Fugitive”.

 David Janssen would return to network television twice, in “O’Hara U.S. Treasury” in 1971, and in “Harry O” in 1974. I first became familiar with him in reruns of “Harry O”, which aired late nights on CBS, after the 10 o’ clock news. Sadly, he passed away in 1980 of a heart attack, at the age of 48. I still remember Walter Cronkite telling the news, and my Mom’s shock. Bill Raisch passed away in 1984, and Barry Morse in 2008, at the age of 89. There was a remake of the show, starring Tim Daly, which aired on CBS for a season (2000-01). We gave it a chance, but the pizzaz of the original was just not there.

All four seasons of “The Fugitive” are on DVD. It is a timeless classic, which is not dated, and never grows old. In 1993, TV Guide named it the best tv show of the ’60s. The decade was filled with terrific shows, but I agreed then, and I agree now.


~ by kmnnz on January 13, 2010.

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