News & Features » Miscellany

CBS-TV's new version of "The Fugitive" follows the same formula that made the original ABC series a huge hit.

If it Ain't Broke…


Everybody knows the story of "The Fugitive" — whether we mean the movie or the 1960s TV show — so let's talk about why the premise works. And there's no doubt that it works. ABC-TV had a big hit with the first incarnation, starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble and Barry Morse as Lt. Phillip Gerard. On Tuesday nights at 10 from 1963 to 1967, "The Fugitive" was must-see TV in most U.S. homes. And the final episode, broadcast on Aug. 29, 1967, was seen by more people than any single episode of a regular series in TV's history. Its 72 percent share of all those watching TV wasn't exceeded until "Dallas" revealed who shot J.R. 13 years later. In 1993, Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones brought Dr. Kimble and U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (with a first name different than Gerard had in the TV series) to the big screen. Everybody saw the movie and it chalked up one Academy Award — Best Supporting Actor for Tommy Lee Jones — and was nominated for cinematography, effects, sound effects editing, film editing, sound, score and Best Picture. What both previous versions have had is lead actors with a certain chemistry together. The sum of their efforts was better than its parts, despite two strikes against them. First, they're rarely on-screen together. Second, the premise isn't good guy chases bad guy. The premise is good guy chases good guy. That's because we, the audience, know Kimble isn't guilty. In the past, actors Morse and Jones had a fine line to walk: Their character (Gerard) had to be earnest in his quest to bring Kimble down. But to give the part an extra fillip, they had to give Gerard the added dimension of being open to at least the remote possibility that Kimble might be innocent. The burden on the actors who play Kimble and Gerard is great. They are the only central characters in what is otherwise merely an empty and endless chase scene that inevitably ends with Kimble finding and exposing the one-armed man who really killed his wife. (It was tougher on TV: Kimble had to barely escape Gerard's clutches each week for five long years before they let him find and expose the real killer.) Now Tim Daly and Mykelti Williamson are taking on Dr. Kimble and Lt. Gerard (who is a "Philip" again) in a second television series. CBS says it's "updating the classic 1960s action series with the thrills and high-tech style of the 1990's Oscar-nominated hit movie." That may well be, although so far not quite to Oscar-nomination standards. But Daly and Williamson are all that really counts, and they seem to be developing a spark that may propel the new "The Fugitive" into something approaching the stature of its black-and-white

Add a comment