One of the cool things about traveling to LA is getting to watch KDOC, a local station that unearths old TV shows and airs them. For some reason, whenever I’m in town I get to tune in to old episodes of “Hawaii Five-O.”
The show is fascinating to me for several reasons. It fit my early attraction for TV action shows (“Dragnet” just didn’t cut it) with its tire-squealing car chases and gun fights, and the cool, noir-hero cop Steve McGarrett, played by the square-jawed Jack Lord. It had one of the all-time greatest theme songs, which was recorded by the pioneering instrumental guitar-rock band the Ventures. It’s a cultural snapshot of a transitional time in post-war U.S. culture, when the generation gap produced by the baby boom was bulging into college age, and pop style was evolving from ’60s mod to ’70s avocado and harvest gold. Most of the men still had Brylcreemed hair, and the women had big poofy hairstyles when the show debuted in 1968 (it ran all the way to ’80).
Most important, “Hawaii Five-O” was shot in the beautiful and then-still-exotic locale of Oahu, and featured a cast of Asian and Polynesian Americans. OK, so the two lead characters, McGarrett and Danny (“Book ’em, Danno”) Williams, played by Jams MacArthur, were Caucasian. But so many of the supporting actors were Asian and Polynesian that it was like a feast of faces I could identify with.
The top support parts were Det. Kono Kalakaua, played by Zulu, and Det. Chin Ho Kelly, played by Kam Fong.
It makes me wonder what the hell happened to all those actors after the show ended its run — clearly, they didn’t get other acting offers. But then again, neither did Lord or MacArthur. (For the record, Fong was in a couple of episodes of “Magnum PI” in the ’80s and a small film, “Goodbye to Paradise,” in 1991; and Zulu cameoed on “Magnum PI,” “Charlie’s Anels” and “Brian Keith Show.”
Because the ensemble didn’t make an impact in other shows, it’s as if “Hawaii Five-O” exists in a sealed vacuum, like an uncontaminated time capsule of its era.
And believe it or not, that era is about to come back to life without having to tune into KDOC — you can now pre-order the first season of “Hawaii Five-O” on Amazon.com.
I can just hear McGarrett barkig at me, “book ’em, Gil-o.”