By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
18 February 2011
HONOLULU — Tourists and locals mix on the wharf, some stopping at food stands, others basking on a bench in the warm morning sunlight. A steady breeze tempers the heat. Boats bob in the nearby marina, with Waikiki’s huge hotels glimmering in the background. It’s the perfect Hawaiian advertisement, especially for snowbound mainlanders. And then —Ka-boom!
A 20-foot fireball engulfs a car, black smoke rising into the clear blue sky. The beauty is Hawaii; the explosion is Hawaii Five-0.
That contradictory blend, serene paradise and window-rattling action, has helped the first-year series become the No. 2 new drama in viewers (behind CBS’ Blue Bloods), the top-rated new drama with young adults and the most played-back series on DVR. The explosion, and the episode about a mad bomber, airs Monday (CBS, 10 ET/PT).
The story of this elite crime-fighting task force — Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan), Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park) — is based on the classic Hawaii Five-0, which ran from 1968 to 1980, but it diverges from the original in many ways. The new Five-0 delves deeper into the characters’ backgrounds and their relationships with one another.
Producing a successful remake is no easy task. Numerous recent redos have failed, including The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider and Melrose Place. What makes this one work?
Executive producer Peter Lenkov credits the casting. “I think those four characters have come to life very early in the process. It takes a long time sometimes for characters to find their voice and become people you want to tune in to week to week. From the beginning, these guys made their characters three-dimensional.”
The show has struck the right balance, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler says. The producers “looked at the original show and what elements worked well, the setting, the cases and stories indigenous to Hawaii. Then they took a very hip, more modern twist on it by looking at the Danno-McGarrett relationship,” she says.
Golden Globe nominee Caan puts comparisons to classic Five-0 out of his mind. “I never really paid attention, nor do I care. Not in a negative, pompous way. I never saw the original. I care about the original because of the history, the roots of the show. But I’m not trying to top anything. This is our own show.”
Ratings have been good — 12.4 million viewers, ranking 20th — but not spectacular, especially for the level of promotion. The show has been helped by strong lead-in programs, but it also faced ESPN’s Monday Night Football juggernaut early in the season, and the 10 p.m. ET/PT slot has faced increasing competition from cable and DVRs.
Tassler is pleased with the numbers and hopes the show can follow the growth track of such CBS hits as NCIS and The Big Bang Theory, which grew substantially over the years. “The tradition of successful CBS shows is you establish your beachhead and continue to develop.”
Roots and region
Moments after the blast, McGarrett, Chin and Kono look for evidence near the mangled hulk of the Dodge Intrepid. Plane traffic, an all-day nuisance, interrupts some takes. “There are so many things in the sky,” says O’Loughlin. “Surely something’s going to bump into something.”
But O’Loughlin understands the importance of shooting in Hawaii, rather than trying to fake it elsewhere. “Look at this,” he says, motioning to the surroundings. “Where else are you going to have this color palette and this light, with the backdrop we have here? It’s one of the most extraordinary parts of the planet.”
Shooting in Hawaii is important for authenticity, Park says. “It would be a detriment if you tried to move it somewhere else because we live and breathe it,” she says. “We hear the inflection and the pidgin, we know the way of life, the pace, the energy of the people, the Aloha spirit. … I can ask one of the camera assistants, ‘How can I pronounce this word correctly?’ “
On the subject of scenery, Park says her bikini scenes as ex-surfer Kono make sense in the tropical locale, but she wouldn’t mind if the guys shed clothing more often. “I keep telling them to put the boys in these really small outfits. Why don’t the three guys go undercover as Chippendales?” she jokes.
Besides the locale, the show acknowledges the first Five-0 in other ways. There’s the thumpingly iconic theme song. Wo Fat, the intriguing archenemy of the original, is back. McGarrett’s meticulously arranged office contains nods to the past, such as a painting of a clipper ship, and the show features a vintage Mercury Jack Lord used in the original. Al Harrington, a recurring actor on the original, has appeared, as has Dennis Chun, the son of Kam Fong, who played the first Chin.
The trademark “Book ’em, Danno” has made appearances, too, although most of the references have been playful and have lessened as the show progresses. “It’s sort of faded away. It was obnoxious in the beginning. It makes it goofier than it should be, but now it’s fine,” Caan says. “I think they did it just right. They brought it back, people know about it, it’s a good thing. But they didn’t overdo it.”
As time passes, the show is establishing itself in its own right, Kim says. “Having a brand name like Hawaii Five-0 only helps you out of the gate. It won’t keep you in the race if you don’t have quality. The local people (are) embracing this version of the show. We’re forging our own identity.”
That comes in part from delving into the characters’ backgrounds. O’Loughlin describes Lord’s McGarrett as “a man without a past.” In today’s Five-0, so much more is known about the character. Both of McGarrett’s parents were killed, driving their son in search of answers. His sister has visited — and been kidnapped. The Navy lieutenant commander, a former SEAL, even has a little romance on the side.
Danny is a reluctant islander who moved from New Jersey to be near his young daughter, Grace. Grace often appears; she and Danny’s ex-wife were carjacked in an episode. On Monday’s episode, his brother, Matt (Dane Cook), arrives, but the nature of his visit is more than just a brotherly get-together.
In a late-night scene shot on the edge of Honolulu International Airport, the two confront each other in front of a G-3 jet. Despite the hour, Caan is full of nervous energy, flipping his gun expertly, moving about, running in place. Again, plane traffic interrupts the action. “This is really bending reality,” he says.
Kim and Park hope to see more development of their characters, but that can take time. “There’s room to do more, but also the first year is a great year to establish the team, how they work together, what everyone’s role is,” Park says.
Using humor like ‘NCIS’
Both O’Loughlin and Caan favor the deeper elements: the character relationships, the back stories, the ongoing arcs, such as the story of the $10 million in drug money the Five-0 team stole to save Chin’s life.
They have helped anchor the first-year show, O’Loughlin says. “I think you can start to see the show. Toward the end of the first year is when a show comes into its own. You can tell the tone and the rhythm and the flavor and the characteristics, (and) I really feel we’re moving into that space now. And it’s a relief.”
Kim, whose Chin left the Honolulu Police Department under a cloud, likes the back stories but says the series must honor the procedural element, wrapping up a case each week.
Neither O’Loughlin nor Caan loves the crime-of-the-week procedural scenes. Caan says he’d like a season that is one grand arc instead of weekly stories. “The shows have character arcs, story arcs. They’re the ones that are really satisfying to fans,” O’Loughlin says. “The week-to-week stuff is boring, formulaic. For some reason, people tune in because they can tune out when they tune in. The arc is the stuff we love as actors.”
David Stapf, president of CBS Studios, which produces the show, says the mix of drama, action and humor was part of the appeal of doing the remake. The example of NCIS‘ use of humor helped a bit in the decision, too. “We were hoping to have that same blend of drama and humor. A completely different show and much more of an action-oriented show, but still where we could derive a lot of humor from the characters,” he says. “And the song didn’t hurt.”
Caan praises the writers for developing the McGarrett-Danno relationship and says he and O’Loughlin have chemistry. “I think they’re opposite but that they get along good. I think our relationship in life is similar — not the combative part, just our energy and who we are.”
That chemistry is apparent in the signature car scenes, with all the bickering and bantering. “I love the ‘carguments,’ “ says O’Loughlin, who says the buddy/brother relationship is crucial. “If you take that away, the show would fall over.”
In the middle of the shooting day, he and Caan have one of those carguments. McGarrett and Danno are in the former’s black Silverado, tailing Danny’s brother. Danny, as usual, complains about McGarrett’s driving. (In reality, the car is locked in place in a cavernous helicopter hangar. In a technique called “poor man’s process,” rear-projection screens are on two sides of the vehicle, playing images of Hawaiian streetscapes filmed previously from another car.)
“What are you doing? Slow down, you’re getting too close,” Danny says.
They reshoot the scene. Caan improvises. “All right, Andretti, go easy. You’re getting too close.”
As the season progresses, executive producer Lenkov promises new twists, including more details on Chin’s story. “There are things we’ve done through the year that as cops with immunity and means allowed us to stretch the law. There’s a price to pay,” he says. “If you watch the show regularly, there’s going to be some great payoffs in the last few episodes.”
In addition, Larisa Oleynik (The Secret World of Alex Mack) joins in a recurring role in March as Jenna Kaye, an ex-CIA analyst helping in the pursuit of Wo Fat.
O’Loughlin says there will be huge changes for each character. “You’ll never believe how McGarrett ends up. … One of the things we’ll be looking at is a fracture and a separation of the Five-0 team,” he says. “They’re going to shake everybody up.”
PS. Most caps are from Episode 1.18