Tom Selleck’s ‘Magnum, P.I.’ Changed the Course of TV History: Here’s How

by Megan Molseed

It was in 1980 when the classic television detective series Magnum P.I. first hit the airwaves. And, with this premiere came a major moment in prime-time television history.

Sure, the 1980s was full of exciting action serial dramas similar to Magnum P.I. The A-Team, MacGyver, Airwolf, and Knight Rider – among others – were regularly pulling in some impressive ratings each week. However, there was something even a little more impressive about Magnum P.I. – and the show’s popular mustachioed star, Tom Selleck that turned it into the timeless classic we still enjoy today. A classic that forever changed the landscape of television action dramas.

Tom Selleck Makes Classic Television History As Iconic TV Detective Magnum P.I.

From 1968 until 1980, CBS found some major success with their series Hawaii-based action series, Hawaii Five-O. So much success, in fact, that when this series left the air, the network wanted to explore the development of a similar detective series set in the same tropical location. And, Tom Selleck’s Thomas Magnum answered the call.

A former Navy SEAL and Vietnam Vet, Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. private detective runs his offices out of Oahu Hawaii. Working with Magnum is Higgins, the caretaker of the estate on which Selleck’s character resides. Then of course, there’s the private investigator’s helicopter pilot/sidekick, T.C., and Rick, the owner of Magnum’s favorite hang-out spot.

Some memorable players, no doubt. However, one of the most timeless aspects of the hit 1980s series is the humor that follows the series throughout its entire run. The series is full of some hilarious wisecracks, running gags, and hilarious nods or winks to the audience during the investigations. But none of this could make Magnum P.I. the fan-favorite classic it quickly turned into if it wasn’t for the series star, Tom Selleck.

Tom Selleck Becomes The Iconic Magnum P.I.

When Magnum P.I. hit the airwaves in 1980, Tom Selleck was still a bit player in the business. He had started a career working on small parts appearing in various westerns, television shows, and commercials. But Magnum P.I. showrunners saw Selleck’s star-power almost instantly. Namely, Selleck’s uncanny ability to portray the charmingly suave and cool – yet seriously handsome – everyman. The kind of persona that women adore, and men want to become.

Initially, Magnum P.I. showrunners envisioned the television detective as a James Bond-like debonaire type character. However, this idea was quickly discarded when Selleck turned Magnum into his own. The Thomas Magnum we know would never be seen wearing a James Bond-style suit. Instead, the iconic television private investigator quickly became our favorite Hawaiian shirt-wearing, joke-making, and never faultless detective. A character that remains well-known in pop culture, even four decades after the series first premiered.