Tom Selleck said the most important thing Magnum, P.I. accomplished was to normalize Vietnam veterans. To treat those servicemen who’d come home from a losing war with respect and dignity in an era when that was hard to find.
Tom Selleck’s character in Magnum P.I. was a Vietnam Veteran, and he struggled with that. But it wasn’t his defining worldview. And that’s what was different than the media of the time, that showed soldiers returning home used up and alone.
“Magnum started in 1980, and the subject of Vietnam which is maybe some of us have seen the Ken Burns documentary going on, the subject was death, and (co-creator) Don Belisario and I fought to make that a very much a part of that characters life on the serious side of Magnum,” Selleck said. “I did 163 hours of (Magnum, P.I.), and we ended up in the Smithsonian Institution as the first show that really recognized Vietnam veterans in a positive light, which is important to me. Because we treat our veterans a lot differently now than we did in 1980. And to be part of that legacy is a really big deal. We don’t blame our veterans anymore for the mission that somebody sent them on.”
Bellisario said he and Selleck received baskets of letters from Vietnam veterans thanking him for treating them like human beings and not defective machines.
“When I created Magnum, I got thousands of letters from Vietnam veterans thanking me for portraying Vietnam veterans as something other than killers, and drug addicts, and crazy, and unable to function in society,” show Bellisario told the Television Academy Foundation in 2008.
Bellisario said Hollywood has started to return to that model of showing the military as made up only of killers and broken men and women. “And that’s just not fair, and it’s not the case,” he said.
Selleck Analyzes Shows’ Similarities, Differences
Tom Selleck’s characters in Magnum P.I. and Blue Bloods have more in common than you’d suspect at first glance, Selleck said. Both Frank Reagan and Thomas Magnum are problem solvers and outside-the-box thinkers. They carry the burden of each decision themselves. And they’re lone wolves.
“Frank is a widower,” Selleck explained of his Blue Bloods character. “He’s still wearing his wedding ring. Magnum, for all his hype, wasn’t very successful with women and still considered himself married, ironically.”
“They’re not the same guy,” he hastened to add. “I’m an older guy [on Blue Bloods], I’m a grandpa, which I am in life.”
Still, Selleck said that leading characters must have a certain quality that draws in audiences, and Magnum and Frank Reagan both seem to have that hold on viewers.
“I just find, with lead characters, that there is a certain common denominator,” he said. “Maybe it’s just the audience must, in a character-driven show, want to see the story unfold through your eyes.”