In The Can and Out of the Loop


The following article appeared in the July, 1997 newsletter of The Iolani Palace Irregulars. Karen Rhodes is the author of Booking Five-O -- An Episode Guide and Critical History. Reprinted with the author's permission.

The Hawaii Five-0 revival series will not be in CBS' fall lineup. There are noises about a possible mid-season replacement slot for it, but don't hold your breath. Why did it not make the cut? A variety of reasons have been adduced.

For one thing, I received the following in e-mail from an individual giving the self-description "I work in Hollywood on another TV show and this is something that was told to me by someone who works in TV development." As with my other Hollywood sources, I cannot reveal the identity here; Hollywood's full of leaks, but I don't want my leaks getting plugged!

CAUTION: While my other two sources, quoted in previous issues, are known personally to me (I have been to the home of one, and had business dealings with the other), this one is not. While the information given is entirely plausible, it does come, through this source, from a third party whom I don't know at all. This is only, at this stage, a theory. You all know my dislike for rumors; however, there's at least a kernel of fact here, and probably the whole cob!

This source writes:

How's this for an item. Heard that one of the reasons, in addition to [Gary] Busey's illness [he had a tumor removed from a sinus cavity after the pilot was filmed] and the fact that the [Hawaii Five-0 revival pilot] movie was simply bad, was because -- of all things -- Detective Chin Ho Kelly.

"Sources say that [producer Stephen J.] Cannell was never a diehard fan of the show in its heyday, but to prepare for his new project, he screened dozens of the show's best episodes to get a "feel" for the series. Unfortunately, one ep he did not screen was Chin Ho's swan song in "[A] Death in the Family" . . . He therefore unknowingly thought the character was still alive and unwittingly wrote a fairly prominent supporting role for him in the new pilot.

"Apparently, Kam Fong was as shocked as anyone else when Cannell contacted him and asked him to reprise his role. From what I understand, Cannell's oversight became clear to Fong immediately, but in the interest of possible employment and a good paycheck, Fong agreed and said nothing about Chin Ho being dead! (He has been on record saying that he faced a long period of financial hardship, post Five-0).

"Amazingly enough, of the handful of people who knew, including, apparently, Herman Wedermeyer, Zulu, and Harry Endo, none of them said a word out of affection to their friend and former co-worker!

"Flashforward to mid April, principal photography is almost halfway completed and Fong has filmed almost all of his scenes. It comes to the attention of Cannell that Chin Ho is indeed dead! With a budget and deadline facing him, there is way he can go back and excise Chin Ho from the script without ending an additional 4 days minimum re-shooting to fill in the gaps. Cannell goes ballistic and lets Fong have it. But what can he do at this point? It's too late. Fong cashes his check and says so long.

"Cannell does the best he can and decides to complete the movie as planned, Chin Ho intact. He can only pray that the final product will be strong enough to impress CBS. Further, with the younger generation of network execs and the fact that there were over 200 hours of Hawaii Five-0 filmed, he hopes and prays that they won't notice the glaring error. As we both know, Cannell's hope is not totally crazy. One of the silliest things in the series' history was that the character was killed off suddenly and inexplicably in the final episode of season 10, and was never mentioned again, even in a brief line of dialogue! So what he's banking on is that they can't really remember that one episode out of hundreds.

"Unfortunately, CBS sees the pilot and is simply not impressed. The story is weak and contrived. Then the second strike: Busey needs surgery for a tumor and may not be available for months, should it get picked up. Then, adding the final nail to the coffin, a sharp and veteran employee at CBS notices what Cannell and Fong were hoping they wouldn't. Strike Three - yet out!

"As I was told, Fong really was the winner in this because he had nothing to lose. The way he figured it, if Cannell was launching a new series that included the old guys, then it was Cannell's responsibility to know Chin Ho was dead. It didn't necessarily fall on Fong to tell him. Best case scenario, if the show got picked up, then by keeping quiet and getting as much airtime as possible, he would thereby force Cannell into thinking up a way to bring Chin Ho back to life. Yes, it'd be a major headache, but one Cannell asked for. Worse case scenario, if it didn't get picked up (as is now the case), he got a wellpaying acting gig and got to catch up and reunite with a lot of old co-workers. In any case, he couldn't lose, particularly not with his old friends turning their heads the other way. If Cannell called them on it, they could all certainly claim ignorance.

"To sum it all up, I'm sure 5-0 didn't make the new line up for more reasons than Kam Fong, but his unexplainable presence certainly didn't help matters, and it made an already edgy Steven Cannell look very silly with the brass."

This doesn't mean that Kam couldn't have been in the movie, if Cannell and his people had really been paying attention to the characteristics of Hawaii Five-0. One of the prime characteristics was its repeated use of the same stock of actors. How many times and in how many roles did we see such wonderful talents as Doug Mossman (who played two semicontinuing characters during the run of the show -- HPD Lt. George Kealoha and Five-O's Frank Kamana -- as well as a number of other roles), Kwan Hi Lim, Tommy Fujiwara, and Daniel Kamekona? And just because Kam had played a major character, that doesn't mean he couldn't play someone else in this movie. After all, in the original series, Richard Denning had a major role -- all 12 years -- as the governor, yet in episode #6, "Twenty-Four Karat Kill," he played a U.S. Treasury agent, not the governor. All that was needed was for Cannell and his staff to pay attention to details. If you're going to play in someone else's backyard, you'd darn sure better know all their rules first.

Do you, as I do, get the feeling that Cannell went over to Hawaii with something less (to put it mildly) than the level of understanding with which Leonard Freeman approached the state and its people in 1967? It doesn't surprise me that, if Zulu and Herman and Harry did remember what had happened to Chin in the series, they didn't say anything to Cannell about it.

As my source said, there are more reasons that the revival of Five-0 didn't make the fall lineup. Bringing Chin Ho back to life was not Cannell's only elementary research error. Yes, Hollywood is full of leaks, and one of the leaks that has flowed my way is the February 24, 1997, draft of the script of the revival's pilot. Speaking of paying attention to details, here are some of the other research errors I found:

  1. They couldn't even spell McGarrett right! Throughout the entire script, it's spelled with one 't' at the end.
  2. Iolani Palace is described as a "white alabaster" building. It isn't white; it's sandy beige, almost grey, in color. It isn't alabaster; it's actually red brick covered over with cement (thanks to IPI member and lolani Palace docent Ursula Harris for that tidbit). (Alabaster is used for statuary and ornamentation, but not as a building material; it's too soft.)
  3. This may be a picky point, but Danno is spelled with 2 n's in the scripts from the original series, so I take that as an "official" spelling. In this script, it's spelled with one n, as it appears on some collectibles and in other places. Picky, but again, a bit of elementary research would have cleared this.
  4. Hawaiian words are misspelled; e.g., hapa-haole is spelled in the script with 2 p's, and Ala Moana is shown as one word, as well as misspelling Punahou (omitted the final u).
  5. This script characterizes Che Fong as a Five-0 detective who retired in 1968(!) rather than a forensic scientist who was with the team from early in the first season of the original series through the tenth season (1978).
  6. At two different points, Nick Irons (later changed to Nick Wong) remarks that the lead hood will get the death penalty. Hawaii does not have capital punishment, nor did it back in the days of the original series.
  7. The script describes Five-0: ". . .It was always a frontline computer center. . . Nope -- during the original series, both the mainframe that searched out identities of bad guys and the "Iron Brain" that performed feats not seen again until the World Wide Web were lodged at HPD. McGarrett made do with his maps and charts and blackboard. And the human brain.
  8. This draft of the script had Chin, Kono, and Truck speaking the most egregious Hollywood-version Pidgin! This was changed in a later draft -- after Kam Fong agitated with the producer about the way that made the original guys look. Good for Kam!

Bottom line: Cannell did not do his homework, on both major and minor points. It was his responsibility to know what had happened to Chin Ho Kelly. Not only that, but the story was weak and contrived. It reads a lot more like an episode of The A-Team than Hawaii Five-0. It has some decent action, I guess, but action was not the key to Five-0. The key to Five-0 was a strong moral base. A caring for humanity. Compassion -- sometimes even compassion for the wrongdoer. Responsibility. The idea that the Five-0 guys weren't perfect; they made mistakes, sometimes big ones. These guys in this script don't make mistakes. They don't face any real perils. There's no spark in this tale, unfortunately. True, there was (in this draft) the idea that Dan Williams had died and McGarrett been mortally wounded, and the new guys mention that from time to time. But there doesn't seem to be any real heart in the story, as there was in so many of the best Five-0 episodes. Cannell may have screened what he thought were the "best" episodes, but he got the form, not the substance. He missed the point entirely.

One of these days, someone is going to do it right. My money is on George Litto and Rose Freeman.