Shouldn’t ”The Fugitive” be exhausted by now? The wrongfully convicted Dr. Richard Kimble’s flight from the law began in 1963 with the hit TV series starring David Janssen. The chase resumed with the Oscar nominated 1993 feature film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Now CBS has revived the ”man on the run” saga – with ”Wings”’s Tim Daly as the harried hero – in a Friday night series (debuting tonight at 8 p.m.). Still, participants insist that Dr. Kimble’s story is far from tired. ”Not to get too pretentious,” Daly tells EW.com, ”but I think ‘The Fugitive’ is a truly existential drama. I think a thing we all share as human beings is a feeling of being slightly alienated, like Kimble.”
If TV viewers can tear themselves away from their usual Friday night discussions of Sartre (yeah, right), ”The Fugitive”’s new run looks promising. Media buyers say the show’s well known format (Kimble runs, saves lives, nearly gets caught, and runs some more) makes it especially attractive for flighty weekend audiences. Why? People are inclined to tune in to such self contained episodes even if they haven’t seen previous shows, says TN Media’s Stacy Lynn Koerner. ”Viewers aren’t home every Friday night, especially the adult audience [CBS] wants to reach. It’s good to know that they can be reached when they are home and they are not going to feel like they’ve missed something,” she says. ”And Daly’s not so bad to look at. So there you go.”
Tonight’s pilot reiterates the back story of how Kimble’s wife is murdered by a mysterious one armed man – and how the innocent but convicted doctor makes his escape, only to be relentlessly pursued by his nemesis, police detective Lt. Philip Gerard (played by ”Forest Gump”’s Mykelti Williamson). The first episode, which reportedly cost upwards of $2.6 million to produce, features the kind of harrowing and expensive stunts that helped make the big screen adaptation a $180 million hit. But Daly cautions that audiences can’t count on seeing dozens of such explosive sequences every week. The pilot ”is calculated to transition audiences from the movie, which has a lot of action, to the series,” he says. ”We will have some exciting chase sequences, but it’s not going to be an extravaganza every week.”
While the basic elements of Kimble’s plight remain intact, some aspects of the show have been updated to fit the times. The writers have had to account for new technologies in order to make the manhunt believable. For instance, Kimble uses the Internet to search for news of crimes committed by one armed men, and Gerard studies footage from an ATM surveillance camera to locate Kimble. ”After I got over the shock, I realized that [new elements] are not a bad idea,” says Roy Huggins, creator of the original ”Fugitive” and a coexecutive producer of the new series. ”Things have changed a lot since the ’60s. We didn’t have cameras in every grocery store back then.”
And then there’s the tricky issue of Kimble’s love life, says Huggins. (In the ’60s original, the tragic, secretive widower became adept at fending off the advances of sympathetic women.) In the pilot, the doctor’s never to be romantic interest is played by Paige Turco (recently seen as Scott Wolf’s girlfriend on ”Party of Five”). The actress’ performance in the pilot was so popular with producers that Huggins says they hope to bring her back for future episodes. But according to Daly, it’s unlikely that the hero will form any long term alliances. ”There will be women around,” says the actor. ”But the writers have assured me that Dr. Kimble will not get laid in the first season.” Sounds like a fate the Friday night TV crowd can understand.