Detective shows set in Hawaii

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I live in Canada, so the winters are long and cold. And when it gets to be the middle of winter, I start dreaming of my next vacation. It’s not always possible (especially this year) to get away somewhere tropical. In such circumstances, my favorite way to immerse myself in a tropical setting is to watch detective shows that take place in hot climates.

In the post below, I profile the detective shows that have been set in Hawai’i, starting with the oldest to the most recent.

Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963)

Along with 77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat, and Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye was one of several early detective series set in warm climates. The show debuted just over one month after Hawaii was awarded statehood, and thus was crucial in popularizing Hawaii as a destination and film setting. The series consisted of 134 episodes spanning four seasons, from October 1959 until April 1963.

The series followed partners Tracy Steele (played by Anthony Eisley) and Tom Lopaka (played by Robert Conrad), the two owners of ‘Hawaiian Eye’, a detective agency and private security firm located in Honolulu. They are often assisted in their cases by Cricket Blake (a photographer and singer played by Connie Stevens) and Kim Quisado (a cab driver and ukulele player played by Poncie Ponce). Their principal client is the Hawaiian Village Hotel, and the hotel social director (played by Troy Donahue) eventually joins the agency, along with a former engineer (played by Grant Williams).

As far as I know, it is currently not possible to find the series on DVD or streaming services.

Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980)

The original Hawaii Five-O series debuted just five years after Hawaiian Eye ended. The show consisted of 247 episodes spanning over 12 seasons from 1968 until 1980, and at the time it was the longest-running police drama in American TV history.

The series followed Steve McGarrett (played by Jack Lord) — a former US naval officer who was now working as a detective captain appointed by the Governor to oversee the state police department. As the state police department was small, it was often assisted by members of local Honolulu Police Department.

Unlike other TV series that had aired prior to Hawaii Five-O’s premiere, the show emphasized filming on location (as opposed to in the studio) and emphasized hiring local actors to appear in the series.

Currently, the show is available to stream on CBS All-Access and through Amazon Prime. The complete series is also available on DVD.

Magnum, P.I. (1980-1988)

As soon as Hawaii Five-O went off the air, a new Hawaiian detective appeared on TV screens. Magnum, P.I. starred Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, private investigator living on Oahu.

Magnum lives on an estate known as Robin’s Nest. The estate belongs to the mysterious novelist, Robin Masters, who hired Magnum as his security expert. As such, Magnum gets to enjoy the benefits of living in the estate’s guest house, as well as driving Robin Masters’ red Ferrari convertible. Magnum is constantly butting heads with Higgins, the Major Domo of the estate played by John Hillerman.

Many of the episodes deal with Magnum’s past as a former US Navy officer who had served in Vietnam. While working as a private investigator, he often gets help from his former squad members: T.C. (a helicopter pilot played by Walter Mosley) and Rick (the manager of the King Kamehameha Club, played by Larry Manetti).

Thanks to scenes featuring Robin’s red Ferrari and T.C. “Island Hoppers” helicopter, the show gave the viewers more than just a glimpse of the islands.

The show ran on CBS for 162 episodes, spanning eight seasons, from 1980 until 1988.

Currently, the show is available to purchase and stream through Amazon Prime. The complete series is also available on DVD.

Hawaiian Heat (1984)

Magnum, P.I. was highly popular, and so it’s not surprising that other networks tried to jump on the bandwagon of its popularity. Hawaiian Heat was one such show, which aired on ABC in 1984. The show followed the adventures of two Chicago cops (played by Robert Ginty and Jeff McCracken), who quit their jobs on the mainland to become undercover detectives in Hawaii. Their boss at Hawaii Metro Police was played by Mako Iwamatsu.

The show consisted of only a pilot movie and ten episodes, which ran from September to December 1984, before the show was cancelled.

As far as I know, it is currently not possible to find the series on DVD or streaming services. However, thanks to some dedicated fans, a few episodes of the show (of varying quality) can be accessed via the internet archive.

Jake and the Fatman (1987-1992)

Jake and the Fatman wasn’t always set in Hawaii, but it did move there for a significant portion of its run. The show followed tough prosecutor J. L. “Fatman” McCabe (played by William Conrad) and his happy-go-lucky special investigator Jake Styles (played by Joe Penny). It was a spin-off based on a character that William Conrad played in a couple of episodes of Matlock. The show consisted of 106 episodes, spanning 5 seasons from 1987 until 1992.

During its first season, the show was set in Los Angeles as “Fatman” worked for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. When Magnum, P.I. was cancelled in 1988, the series was moved to Honolulu. This was not too much of a stretch for the show since “Fatman” was Hawaii-born and formerly worked as an officer for the Honolulu Police Department. The series continued to be filmed in Honolulu during it’s second, third, and half of its fourth season, before moving back to Los Angeles.

The complete series is available on DVD.

Raven (1992-1993)

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s difficult to make a distinction between an action-adventure show versus a detective-mystery show. Raven is one such show. This short-lived drama ran for 20 episodes, spanning two seasons from June 1992 until April 1993.

The show followed Jonathon Raven (played by Jeffrey Meeks) as he searches for his long-lost son. The show incorporates lots of martial arts and secret societies, as Raven is a ninja-trained former Special Forces agent trying to avoid being assassinated by the Black Dragon Clan. He is assisted by his former military buddy, Herman Jablonski (played by Lee Majors, of The Six Million Dollar Man fame), who is now working as a private investigator.

The complete series is available on DVD.

One West Waikiki (1994-1996)

Another short-lived drama set in Hawaii that debuted in the 90s was One West Waikiki. It ran for 19 episodes, spanning two seasons from August 1994 until May 1996.

The show was actually created by Glen A. Larson, the man behind Magnum, P.I. It followed the adventures of Dr. Dawn “Holli” Holliday (played by Cheryl Ladd) who moved from Los Angeles to Hawaii to work as a medical examiner. She’s often butting heads with Honolulu’s top homicide detective, Lt. Mack Wolfe (played by Richard Burgi).

As far as I know, it is currently not possible to find the series on DVD or streaming services.

Baywatch: Hawaii (1999-2001)

Baywatch is another one of those shows that’s probably more of an action drama rather than a mystery show. However, when the show was first being developed, it was envisioned as a crime drama with lifeguards solving the mysteries that washed up on shore. This makes sense given that its earliest cast included David Hasselhoff (known for having starred in the 80s crime drama Knight Rider) as well as Parker Stevenson (known for playing one of the Hardy Boys in the 1970s).

When Baywatch first started on NBC in 1989, it was initially cancelled after the first season. One year later, it was revived in syndication and from then on it aired steadily from 1991 until 1999. It even gave rise to its own spin-off titled Baywatch Nights (1995-1997), which was a more traditional crime drama.

Although the show was initially set in Los Angeles County, in 1999 the producers moved it to Hawaii in order to take advantage of lower production costs. And so, a slightly rebranded Baywatch: Hawaii was born. The show continued in this way for 44 episodes spanning two seasons from 1999 until 2001. However, although the location had changed and only David Hasselhoff was retained from the original cast, the same main premise still held.

After the cancelation of the show in 2001, a reunion movie titled Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding was released in 2003. This complemented an earlier Season 6 two-part episode/TV movie from 1995 Baywatch: Forbidden Paradise, which was also set in Hawaii.

The original 9 seasons of Baywatch can be streamed on Amazon Prime, although the Hawaiian seasons are missing from the streaming service. Similarly, it is not possible to find the Hawaiian seasons on DVD (at least not in the US/North America). However, the Baywatch: Forbidden Paradise two-part episode can be streamed as part of Season 6; and the Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding TV movie is available on DVD.

Hawaii (2004)

Another short-lived series set in Hawaii was rather unimaginatively called Hawaii. Only 8 episodes of the series were made, and only the first 7 actually aired. The show debuted in August 2004 and was cancelled in October 2004.

The show centered around a fictional elite crime unit of the Honolulu Police Department, whose members included a veteran detective and local legend (played by Michael Biehn), as well as a police detective transferred from Chicago (played by Sharif Atkins).

Unsurprisingly, it is currently not possible to find the series on DVD or streaming services. However, I have been able to find an upload of the show’s intro on YouTube.

Hawaii Five-0 (2010-2020)

Starting in 2010, producer Peter M. Lenkov started on his mission to revive many of the classic adventure/detective shows from the 70s and 80s. His first show was Hawaii Five-0, which was a reboot of the original Hawaii Five-O series from the 70s. (Notice the original series title had a capital letter “O”, while the reboot has the number “0” in the title.)

The show was a fairly straight remake, with the characters from the original 70s show being recast with newer/younger actors following more updated storylines.

In total, 240 episodes of the show were produced, spread over 10 seasons from 2010 until 2020. The final episode of the show aired on April 3rd 2020.

Currently, the show is available to stream on CBS All Access and through Amazon Prime. The complete series is also available on DVD.

Magnum P.I. (2018-present)

Given the success of the Hawaii Five-0 reboot, Lenkov went on to make Magnum P.I., which was a reboot of the original Magnum, P.I. series from the 80s. (Notice the original series had a comma in the title, whereas the reboot does not.)

Once again, the show is a fairly straight remake, with the same characters from the original 80s show being given slightly updated personalities.

The show premiered in September 2018 and is still ongoing.

Currently, the show is available to stream on CBS All Access and through Amazon Prime.

EDIT: Additional shows

I learn about new (to me) detective shows all the time. Some of these are less well-known older series, while others are newly produced. Since writing this post, I have come upon the following series that I learned are/were also set in Hawaii:

  • Follow the Sun (1961-1962)

Do you know of any other Hawaii-based detective shows? Let me know in the comments!

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