Created by Tom Mankiewicz
Women in bikinis, studly Robert Urich in a wetsuit, tropical settings, a pro-ecology message for the kiddies — this show seemingly had something for everyone. Or thought it did — it didn’t even last a full season.
Hot on the heels of Urich’s succesful three-year run as Dan Tanna in ABC’s Vega$ (1978-81, ABC), NBC figured they’d give him another whack at it.
But by this point, straight up private eye drama was on the wane, and the idea of a private eye (à la Rockford, Cannon, Mannix et al) just solving cases simply wasn’t enough–a wrong-headed notion that seems to have taken root in the minds of American TV producers. No, in this post-Charlie’s Angels/Magnum P.I. world, you had to have a hook. And look pretty.
So ROBERT GAVILAN wasn’t even really a “private eye”. He was a former CIA operative who worked for the California-based Oceanographic Institute as an inventor, consultant and — get this! — a special troubleshooter for problems “on the high seas.” It’s the last bit of his curriculum vitae that the show really zeroed in on, of course. It gave him an excuse to mess it up with pirates, smugglers, killers and the like on a regular basis, indulging in fistfights, shootouts and all the usual P.I. shenanigans, plus high speed boat chases, underwater knife fights (Galivan’s weapon of choice was a knife), speargun attacks and, this being the eighties, lots of things blowing up.
And just in case institute business didn’t lead to enough action, there were always some old pal from his CIA days asking for help, which allowed him to toss his flippers into his suitcase and jet off to England, the Virgin Islands and Cuba.
Certainly more fun to watch than some scientist gawking at plankton through a miscroscope, doncha think?
Of course, there also had to be a quirky supporting cast, so the institute was run by an officious Higgins-type, Marion Jaworski, played by Kate Reid, and Gavilan’s life was frequently made miserable by an old family friend, Milo Bentley, who came to visit Gavilan and apparently never planned on leaving. Originally the part was to be played by Fernando Lamas, but after his unexpected death, his scenes were reshot with The Avenger‘s Patrick McNee taking over the role.
Magnum was the most obvious influence, with perhaps a little Sea Hunt tossed in. Hunky Urich spent a lot of time running around in swimming trunks, of course, and even the opening credits aped the Magnum formula, although the theme song itself was an incredibly cheesy bit of faux disco that dared anyone to ever take the show seriously.
It only lasted ten episodes, with three episodes left in the can, not even aired.
- In Quentin Tarrantino’s Death Proof (2007), Kurt Russell’s character brags about being Robert Urich’s stunt double on Vega$ and recalls that after that, Urich “did a show called Gavilan, and I doubled for him on that too.”
- Blame him! The person responsible for the painfully cheesy theme was Steve Dorff, father of the actor Stephen Dorff.
13 episodes, not all of them aired
Premiere: October 26, 1982
Created by Allan Cole
Writers: Allan Cole, Chris Bunch
Directed by Corey Allen, Charlie Picemi
Executive Producers: Leonard Goldberg
Music by Steve Dorff
Starring Robert Urich As GAVILAN
with Patrick Macnee as Milo Bentley
and Kate Reid as Marion Jaworski
Guest stars: Heather Menzies, Dennis Lipscomb
- “Sarah and the Buzz” (October 26, 1982)
- “Pirates” (November 9, 1982)
- “By the Sword” (November 16, 1982)
- “A Matter of Geography” (November 23, 1982)
- “The Hydra” (November 30, 1982)
- “A Drop in the Ocean” (December 7, 1982)
- “Designated Hero” (December 14, 1982)
- “The Best Friend Money Can Buy” (December 21, 1982)
- “The Guns of Harry August” (December 28, 1982)
- “The Midas Keys” (March 18, 1983)
- “The Diamond Goddess” (unaired)
- “The Proteus Affair” (unaired)
- “Rios En La Mar” (unaired)