Popular culture has always played a major role in sharing the beauty and culture of Hawaii with the rest of the United States and the world. Counted amongst the pop culture ambassadors are Elvis Presley, Don Ho, Magnum PI, Bruddah Iz, the University of Hawaii Football Warriors and of course, Hawaii Five-O. "Book em Danno" is familiar to the millions of regular viewers of this TV show airing from 1968 to 1980, one of the most popular and longest continually running police dramas on television. The show's influence is apparently timeless as younger generations who may have never seen the show at all refer to any police as "Five-O".
So a quick synopsis for the young'uns. The show's title refers to the fictional elite Hawaii police unit that handled the most important and sensitive cases in paradise. The great writers played up the international flavor of Hawaii and its relative proximity to Asia and included a healthy portion of international espionage, assassination attempts by foreign agents and lots of "Red China" centered plots mixed in with standard law enforcement grist like murder, organized crime and the like. Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) was the top man and Danny "Danno" Williams (James MacArthur ) was his second in command. The top brass was supported by the rest of the Five-O team, many played by local actors such as Chin Ho (Kam Fong), Kono (Zulu), Duke (Herman Weidemeyer) and Ben (Al Harrington), and the usual supporting characters such as HPD, the medical examiner, and the district attorney. Giving a nod to the small town character of Hawaii and Five-O's position as the "state police", McGarrett had a close relationship with the governor rather than the more typical mayoral relationship. Appearances by prominent guest actors such as Helen Hayes, Ricardo Montalban, Leslie Nielsen, Herbert Lom and Hume Cronyn raised the profile of the excellent series. All in all, excellent standard police fare with a local flair. For more interesting information then you could ever possibly need, visit this website that I really like: The Hawaii Five-O Home Page
For the people of Hawaii, what really set Hawaii Five-O apart from other police dramas was the masterful use of beautiful Hawaiian scenery, culture and imagery. Hawaii Five-O was made almost entirely on location in Hawaii, and the directors capitalized on the spectacular scenery of lush greenery, verdant mountains and turquoise ocean. The show brought swaying palm trees, sandy beaches and majestic mountains into the living rooms of America, to Midwesterners dreading the chore of scraping ice off the windshield and shoveling snow out of the driveway the next morning. The impact of the natural beauty was even more effective when it served as the backdrop to normal everyday activities like driving home from work, running errands or evading local syndicate thugs. Who wouldn't want to trade salt and slush covered roads for a route to the grocery store that took you through Waikiki and past Diamond Head? Local viewers know that the scenery was 'misplaced' and you really drove to the grocery store on boring asphalt roads with lots of traffic, just like everywhere else in the country, but that makes poor TV and would not have gotten anyone interested in the show or Hawaii.
Consider that the aloha spirit of the local people was woven into almost every story, further enhancing perceptions of the unique nature of the islands, and it is pretty easy to understand how viewers in the then faraway mainland dreamed about a once in a lifetime vacation to exotic Hawaii, and many probably fulfilled their dreams at some point. Today's reader may consider vacations to Hawaii rather pedestrian, but at the time the show initially aired, airlines were still regulated (meaning flights were very expensive) and a trip to the islands was indeed very special to middle America.
The innumerable reruns and the recent release of the first several seasons of Hawaii Five-O on DVD
is a testament to the enduring appeal and popularity of Hawaii Five-O, and the show continues to be an international ambassador for Hawaii. As an added bonus for locals, it is absolutely fascinating to watch the episodes and see how much and how little Hawaii has changed in 40 years. Frequently used backdrops like Magic Island, Hawaii Kai, The Ilikai, and Chinatown will be covered in future articles.
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