To Borrow a Phrase . . .
Quality is Job One
The Ford Motor Company provided automobiles and promotional consideration for Hawaii Five-0 throughout its twelve-year run. In the year after Hawaii Five-0 went off the air and for the next seventeen years, the marketing slogan of the Ford Motor Company was “Quality is Job 1.” That, together with a total quality management program and a (reasonably) new inventory of downsized sedans and sportily designed mid-sized cars, gave Ford a strength that continues to this day.
“Quality is Job 1” might easily have been the slogan of the Five-0 production team. Jack’s letter in Variety magazine (April 2, 1980, page 61) reflects the philosophy behind Ford’s credo:
In a recent national magazine story a scriptwriter said Hawaii Five-0 was the
toughest show to work for. She’s right. It was. Perhaps this was because our
standards were so high and our demands for originality persisted.
Jack wrote his letter principally to thank CBS for giving Hawaii Five-0 and Leonard Freeman Productions twelve years of air time. Even so, he expressed thanks to the production team – including the “…writers, actors, directors, producers, and technicians…” – saying they “…supplied the creativity and did the daily chores that made it all work…”
Award Wins and Nominations
Achieving and maintaining quality and originality is a difficult job and a never-ending one. To do so for twelve years required Hawaii Five-0 to grab and hold onto the leading edge in television entertainment.
The Depth of Hawaii Five-0
So many other programs seemed to offer only entertainment. Hawaii Five-0 offered lessons in Hawaiian history and culture, poetry, morality, and more. It let us step into the lives of those who turned to crime as they struggled to make ends meet, became more successful than they could handle, suffered from emotional disorders and drug addiction, and went through the five stages of mourning and the twelve steps of recovering from alcoholism. They let us fly in helicopters, sail on ships, and scale Diamond Head. They let us visit Hong Kong and Singapore.
Hawaii Five-0 explored the socio-political issues that plagued Hawai‘i and, in too many cases, still do. We saw the Hawaiian people being moved out of Waikiki and into tract housing and efforts to clean up Hotel Street from drugs and prostitution. We met characters who had lived through Japanese internment during the second world war and others who had lost their fingerprints from working with pineapples in the canneries. We saw the cane fields being burned of weeds and waste for harvesting, even as they diminished in numbers as other countries gained the ability to provide sugar and pineapple at more competitive prices than Hawai‘i could offer. We saw the young Hawaiians struggling to earn a living in a world that was becoming increasingly competitive. We saw the problems wrought by the number of visitors increasing from two million to twelve million annually, and we learned about the difficulty of keeping Hawai‘i safe for tourists and soldiers on rest and recuperation leave. We watched neighborhoods being taken over by criminal element from the mainland and other countries and watched the Hawaiian people fight to retain control of the labor unions that had been put in place to protect them. We even saw representatives of various factions dump their problems on the governor and learned how patient he had to be to keep life on an even keel amidst the disagreements.
In the middle of the power struggles, we learned about the struggle to retain some semblance of respectability. We learned about the art world in “How to Steal a Masterpiece” (Season 7), about the need to return treasures to their homeland in “Ring of Life” (Season 7), and about the smuggling of works of art in “Wooden Model of a Rat” (Season 8). We even learned about a very valuable 1913 Liberty “V”nickel in “The $100,000 Nickel” (Season 6); the same nickel, one of only five still in existence, sold circa 2010 for $3 million.
Not to Be Too Serious
A quality that set Hawaii Five-0 apart from other series was the widespread use of ad libbing. Although this practice is common today, it was not in the day when Hawaii Five-0 was produced. Still, in some scenes, a character’s expression reflected surprise, letting us know that the previous line had not been expected. An example comes from “Sing a Song of Suspense” (Season 8), when Chelsea Merriman (Lois Nettleton) calls after McGarrett, “Call if you’re going to be late, dear.” The expression on McGarrett’s face said it all.
The Five-0 team kept a sense of humor. From the pilot’s showing Chin and Kono swiping McGarrett’s lunch and Season 1’s “Don’t look at me; bring him a bucket” to Season 12’s “You’re not supposed to talk to me. I’ll tell your kahuna,” we got to see the Five-0 detectives enjoy a good joke.
We were treated to the music of Melveen Leed, the Bee Gees, and Yvonne Elliman; the head-strong, yet endearing, personalities of Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick; the flirtations of Marj Dusay and Camilla Sparv; and the comedic pranks of Hume Cronyn and Robert Reed.
Returning Guests, Cast, and Crew
We saw notable guest stars return time and again. Hawaii Five-0 was graced with the acting skills of such names as Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick, Eileen Heckart, James Gregory, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Pat Hingle, Nehemiah Persoff, Theodore Bikel, Hume Cronyn, Joseph Sirola, Luther Adler, and William Windom – and those are just big Broadway names. Big names from the silver screen and television include Khigh Dhiegh, Milton Selzer, Andrew Duggan, James Olson, Simon Oakland, Charles Cioffi, Dane Clark, John Marley, David Birney, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Vaughn, Leslie Nielsen, Lew Ayres, Monte Markham, Ross Martin, Christopher Walken, Herbert Lom, Harry Guardino, Mark Lenard, James Hong, Loretta Swit, Philip Ahn, Michael Anderson, Jr., Nancy Kwan, Tommy Sands, Henry Darrow, France Nuyen, Bruce Boxleitner, and William Schallert – and the list goes on!
Khigh Dheigh made the most guest starring appearances with fifteen. Soon Tek Oh appeared eight times. Nehemiah Persoff, Andrew Duggan, and Ed Flanders made seven appearances on Hawaii Five-0. Milton Selzer and Don Knight appeared six times. Joseph Sirola, Luther Adler, Ross Martin, and Simon Oakland appeared five times. And the repeat visits don’t end there!
Some guest stars, like Pat Hingle and Lois Nettleton, were friends of Jack’s from his Broadway days. Some, like Robert Vaughn, Milton Selzer, Michael Anderson, Jr., and Harry Guardino, were friends from his television days. Some simply liked the show and wanted to be a part of it.
Similarly, the main cast remained incredibly steadfast through the years. Oh, some dropped out along the way, but some like Richard Denning, who portrayed Governor Paul Jameson, remained all twelve seasons. In fact, Mr. Denning worked without a contract! James “Danno” MacArthur remained for eleven years, while Kam Fong Chun remained for ten years. Herman Wedemeyer appeared in 152 episodes spanning all twelve seasons, even though he portrayed multiple characters. Harry Endo appeared in 115 episodes between Seasons 2 and 10, portraying forensic specialist Che Fong in 114. Similarly, Al Eben appeared in 54 episodes from Season 1 through Season 11, although he only began portraying Doc Bergman in Season 4 and was unnamed in his last few appearances. Peggy Ryan appeared in 49 episodes between Seasons 1 and 8. In Season 1, she portrayed the governor’s secretary, Mildred; beginning in Season 2, she portrayed Steve’s secretary, Jenny Sherman.
The list of returning local actors is impressive, as well, and features such names as Joe Moore, Kwan Hi Lim (who appeared in 25 episodes), Moe Keale (who became Det. Truck Kealoha in Season 12 and went on to portray a character by the same name in M Station: Hawaii), Derek Mau, Arthur Hee, Galen Kam, Yankee Chang, Bernard Ching, and many others. We were glad to see them each time, as though old friends had come home.
Similarly, the list of technicians remained amazingly consistent throughout the twelve seasons. They did not always perform the same duties; for example, Reza Badiyi, who designed the opening sequence titles, directed several episodes. Seeleg Lester, who wrote seven episodes, pulled technical detail, as well. Even the men who drove the equipment trucks, set up lighting, and styled hair came back year after year.
All This Despite…
If anything marks Hawaii Five-0 as the best of the best, it would have to be that all of the above was accomplished against overwhelming odds. Filming in Hawai‘i was still a rare thing when the series began. As a result, there was no studio or sound stage. There were no trained actors. There were no trained technicians. There were no experienced writers of screenplays. Nearly everything had to be imported from the mainland.
That wasn’t easy. Equipment was large, heavy, and expensive to ship. Writers never had been to Hawai‘i and didn’t know Kalakaua Avenue from Main Street. The team members in Hawai‘i did not see what they had filmed until it appeared on television; thus, there was no opportunity to make such corrections as having McGarrett leave, travel, and arrive in the same car.
And, yet, through dedication and hard work, the production team, both in front of and behind the camera, pulled it together and made it work. Yes, Quality was Job 1 on Hawaii Five-0. As Jack said, “Maybe that’s why we lasted for 12 years.”