Friday, July 19, 2013

Classic TV: Airwolf (1984)

Universal, which already had a hit series about a talking car (NBC's Knight Rider), sold one about a high tech helicopter to CBS, created by producer Donald Belisario (Magnum, P. I.).

Airwolf was a mid-season replacement, bowing in the spring of 1984, and spent three seasons on CBS before shifting over to USA Cable for one final season on a smaller budget.

The concept was simple. Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent, ex-Danger Island) had been a test pilot for the government, but after flying one mission aboard Airwolf, decided to keep the 'copter as a sort of collateral until they located his brother, St. John, who was reported missing in action. The funny thing was, after the series ended its CBS run, and was revived, St. John miraculously returned. We'll get to that soon. Hawke was joined by his mentor and family friend, Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine, ex-McHale's Navy), who'd served with Hawke's dad in World War II. In season 2, the producers added some girl power in the form of Caitlin (Jean Bruce Scott), but missed the boat on making her a potential romantic interest for Hawke, in this writer's opinion.

In 1987, The Arthur Company, an independent studio which had its series distributed by MCA (then-parent to Universal), acquired Airwolf, one of four series the company revived (the others were revivals of Dragnet, Adam-12, & The Munsters, all in syndication), and sold it to USA. Barry Van Dyke was cast as St. John, and previously established continuity was ignored. The cast included two future stars in Geraint Wyn Davies (later of Forever Knight) and William B. Davis (The X-Files).

Here's the intro everyone knows:

I think most people tuned in for the climatic firefights at the end of each episode.

Rating: B.


magicdog said...

I remember watching this show back in the day and enjoying it - JMV was eye candy and Earnest Borgnine was just frosting on the cake - they made a great pair.

I wasn't too keen on the Caitlyn character - I have a hunch some suits insisted she be included.

The USA series was a joke, but Barry Van Dyke was OK - I REALLY hated it when they killed off Santini though! Using an unconvincing stand-in no less!

IIRC, this was in competition with another super copter series - "Blue Thunder", based on the film of the same name.

hobbyfan said...

You're right about the rationale for adding Caitlin---it was a network request to draw the female demographic. Anyone notice that Jean Marie Scott, because she was so cute, could've been separated at birth from Katie Couric? Just sayin'.

Blue Thunder had the movie pedigree, but ABC stuck it on a bad night. Casting was odd---Dana Carvey (pre-SNL), Bubba Smith & Dick Butkus?! No disrespect to those guys, but what was the thinking here?

magicdog said...

Actually, Butkis and Smith were often paired together in TV productions. I thought they had believeable chemistry as friends. They may very well have been IRL, I don't know.

I don't remember Dana Carvey being in this but it didn't hurt his career any.

hobbyfan said...

Butkus & Smith started teaming in those Miller Lite commercials, and also did some separate acting projects, like Smith in the Police Academy series, for instance.

Carvey's name was in the credits, according to sources I've accessed, but it must've been a small-before-he-made-it-big gig.

Wolfman said...

There still seems to be some interest in the show. I found and, both of which seem to have a pretty good following. Who knew?

hobbyfan said...

Hey, it's nearly 30, dude. Ya gotta expect that. Thanks for the tips.