Magnum P.I. (v 2.4)

Dr. Goldberg Delivers His Diagnosis—and it’s Murder

March 2023: Watching MAGNUM P.I. this season has been interesting from a story-telling and budget standpoint. I was hoping when the show moved from CBS to NBC, we’d see a creative retooling that abandoned the terrible bifurcated storytelling that I assumed was a side effect of COVID social-distancing and budget cuts.

Sadly, that was not the case. If anything, the bifurcated storytelling has gotten worse, with far more talky scenes on the standing sets, obviously to lower production costs even further.

Half the episode is still devoted to the mystery/crime, the other is a thin, boring, dead-end, “personal” story with the supporting characters. One episode had Rick and TC searching for a lost mouse in Magnum’s condo.

Honest to God.

Another had them playing darts in Rick’s bar and talking about Magnum and Higgins.

That’s TV writing malpractice.

The only way to watch the show now is with one finger on the fast-forward button to do what the producers and editors won’t: cut the padding and focus on the story that actually has stakes, conflict and forward-motion (ie: entertainment value).

Instead, MAGNUM P.I. has become a half-hour show padded to fill an hour-long slot. The studio could save a lot of money and the dignity of their supporting cast by giving up the ruse. And we’d get twice as many episodes that would be a lot more fun to watch, too.

Or give us an hour-long show with a compelling story that fills the time with conflict and stakes and that integrally involves the supporting cast in a meaningful way. But if you must have standalone B-stories without the two leads (to save $$$ and give the stars a break), the subplots need genuine conflict, stakes and narrative momentum that actually give the supporting cast something to play and viewers something entertaining to watch.

Playing darts and chasing mice doesn’t cut it.

One more MAGNUM P.I. note: three scenes in a row of characters leaning over a computer screen on a standing set reciting exposition isn’t conflict or entertainment. It’s dull, lazy, and bad storytelling.

End of rant.

• • • • •

Lee Goldberg is a New York Times bestselling author and TV writer and producer. The two-time Edgar nominee’s writing and/or producing credits include Diagnosis Murder, Nero WolfeSpenser: For Hire, The Cosby Mysteries and Monk, and his other off-kilter gumshoes include Charlie Willis, who works as a studio fixer/security guard, Harvey Mapes, a twenty-something slacker/security guard turned inadvertant private eye, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective Eve Ronin. He’s also co-written the Fox and O’Hare series with Janet Evanovich. His non-fiction works include Successful Television Writing and Unsold Television Pilots. In his spare time, he runs Brash Books, which has brought back more great lost books from the Shamus Game than you could shake a fedora at.
BY THE WAY: The shirt is from the official Magnum P.I. Collection from  Appropriately, it’s empty.
This piece originally appeared on Lee Goldberg’s Facebook page.  It is reprinted here with permission.

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