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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Make sure 'Hawaii Five-0' isn't 'Hawaii'

A smart script, slick production values and maybe a splash of nostalgia got the remake of "Hawaii Five-0" placed on the CBS primetime lineup this fall, but it will take more than beefcake and a remixed theme song to keep the show on the air.

Hawai'i's had plenty of shows in primetime since "Hawaii Five-0" faded out in 1980, but few of them have lasted beyond a season. And with "Lost" packing up after six years, Hawai'i's film and TV industry could use something more stable than Bo Derek in "Wind on Water."

"Lost" pumped an estimated $400 million into the economy and a network drama is worth at least $2 million in local payroll and production costs, so snagging a replacement for "Lost" is a big deal. The challenge now is holding on to it.

And so, with no qualifications beyond having watched a lot of TV, we offer these suggestions to the producers of the new "Five-0" for ensuring a long run:

The cast: There's already been grumbling about the lack of local faces among the stars of the new "Five-0" (sorry, Daniel Dae Kim, you don't count), but we're not hung up on that. It's not just about who gets top billing. Producers of the original show tapped a long roster of local performers and regular people, whose talents and authenticity added to the richness of nearly every episode. Whether it was Melveen Leed as a sexy nightclub singer, Jimmy Borges as a drug dealer or even Lippy Espinda as a taxi driver, their performances rooted the shows in the reality of Honolulu, not the fakery of some Hollywood back lot. So when you need a taxi driver, don't call the Mainland.

The stories: The dirty little secret of the original "Five-0" is that the quality of the stories and shows declined significantly after the death of series creator Leonard Freeman in 1974. Some of the episodes in the final seasons are almost unwatchable, they're so awful. Shows like the lightweight 2004 cop drama "Hawaii" and "One West Waikiki" were doomed by scripts that leaned on cliches and balsa-wood characters; no matter how beautiful the scenery, nobody's going to watch a show without realistic dialogue and clever, fresh story lines. "Law & Order" captured the grittiness of police and court work in New York City, so we hope some sharp writers can similarly make it happen with Honolulu, or "Five-0" will be going the way of "Marker."

The bad guys: Though he appeared in only seven episodes over 12 years, Wo Fat remains one of TV's most memorable and menacing villains, the perfect Commie adversary to Steve McGarrett's cold warrior. What made "24" a success, Jack Bauer or the cast of truly nasty evildoers he had to take down? Whether it's a murderous crime boss, a wily international terrorist or maybe even the sleazy, politically powerful owner of a hotel chain, the new McGarrett needs a witty, diabolical opponent to periodically threaten Hawai'i, and the world.

The characters: Less was more when it came to the original "Five-0" characters' home life and back stories, and that's a good guide for the new show. We never saw McGarrett's apartment, only met a few of his old flames. He played golf once with Frank Fasi. Occasional glimpses of a life beyond 'Iolani Palace were all we needed. The same approach worked for "Law & Order;" give us a few tantalizing hints, but we don't need to go on dates with Danno.

Remakes of popular TV series are notoriously unsuccessful, and the new "Hawaii Five-0" is lacking one major advantage of the original: Hawai'i isn't the exotic outpost it was in 1968. As "Hawaii" so disastrously proved in 2004, it takes more than a brand name to capture viewers' attention.