Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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Obscure show paved way for Hawaii police dramas

By Lee Cataluna


That the reboot of "Hawaii Five-0" is doing so well at a time when scripted network dramas are desperate to come up with salable ideas says a lot about the durability of the cops-in-paradise genre.

But long before "Five-0" and "Magnum, P.I." showed up, a formulaic little drama called "Hawaiian Eye" plowed a path that all of the Hawaii-based TV shows would later follow.

Off the air for nearly 50 years and too obscure to be captured on some meticulously restored DVD set, "Hawaiian Eye" is hardly revered or even remembered by fans of Hawaii-based TV shows, probably because so little of it was actually shot in Hawaii.

But in four seasons on ABC, the show probably did more to plant the balmy idea of Hawaii in the minds of middle-class Midwesterners watching TV on wintry Wednesday nights than any glossy magazine spread.

From a tourism marketing standpoint, the timing of "Hawaiian Eye" couldn't have been more perfect. Premiering in October 1959, only months after statehood and simultaneous with the start of regular jet service, the show capitalized on the Hawaii craze that swept the nation.

The show, about a detective agency based at what was then the Hawaiian Village Hotel in Waikiki, followed the adventures of Anthony Eisley and future "Wild, Wild West" star Robert Conrad, punching out bad guys, rescuing beautiful guest stars and doing a lot of smoking.

To local audiences, there was an added treat. Comedic actor, singer and nightclub performer Poncie Ponce got co-star billing (along with Connie Stevens) as the resourceful cab driver Kim Quisado, whose far-flung collection of cousins, uncles and nephews could always be counted on to provide a crucial bit of information from the "street."

Ponce was one of the first Filipino-American actors to get star billing on a network drama.

A few clips of "Hawaiian Eye" are posted on YouTube, including the amazing opening credits that captured Conrad and Eisley surfing off Waikiki. (While Conrad was a natural athlete, Eisley looks a bit shaky on the board, making you wonder how many takes were required to get the shot.) Connie sits safely in a canoe. The scenes are long and slow and sometimes go on for minutes without lines of dialogue while the soundtrack plays.

Besides Ponce, the best part of the show is the most contradictory. While the old "Five-0" is beloved because it's shot on location, "Hawaiian Eye" is hilarious because it was shot on the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. Most scenes take place indoors. The set for downtown Honolulu, the scene of an armored truck robbery, looks suspiciously like Gotham City from "Batman."

The show may not have been faithful to Hawaii's scenery, but it got the genre started.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at lcataluna@staradvertiser.com.


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