35 Years Ago: ‘Magnum, P.I.’ Rises From Dead to Create Proper Finale
Thomas Magnum, the charming Vietnam veteran turned private investigator played by Tom Selleck for eight seasons, said goodbye to TV audiences for the final time on May 1, 1988. It could have happened sooner.
At the end of Season 7, Magnum was shot and left for dead in a warehouse gunfight. He was taken to a hospital where he remained in a coma, fighting for his life. Viewers watched as Magnum’s subconscious mind reconnected with the ghost of his dead friend, Mac. The series’ writers even went so far as to show Magnum's ghost saying goodbye to his friends and family and heading toward the light.
This was how the series was going to end, with the hero’s luck finally running out after years of risking his neck for others. Then producers made the last-minute decision to bring the show back for one more season. Why the change of heart? Short answer: Money. Long answer: Lots of money.
Selleck had become one of the era’s biggest stars thanks to the huge popularity of Magnum, P.I.. He’d parlayed that success to the silver screen, scoring hits with such films as High Road to China and Three Men and a Baby.
“Tom Selleck’s feature [film] career was heating up,” Magnum, P.I. executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson later told the Television Academy. “He used to say, ‘I’m not tired of the show, but I’m tired from it.’ And I think he wanted to go on and get new ground.”
Still, even though ratings had come down from their peak, Magnum remained a popular show. Fans, understandably, were upset to see their beloved hero die and voiced their displeasure to CBS. Meanwhile, the network wasn’t anxious to get rid of their golden goose, and Selleck – who at this point was making more than $500,000 per episode – was convinced to come back for an abbreviated eighth season.
Watch the 'Magnum, P.I.' Series Finale Credits
Magnum promptly emerged from his coma to go on new adventures, with his heavenly ascent waved away as simply a dream. Rather than a somber end like in its previous season, Selleck’s character would be given a hero’s goodbye.
The two-hour finale, appropriately titled “Resolutions,” saw Magnum reflecting on his life’s direction. His daughter Lily, who had been presumed dead, returned to Magnum’s life, and the mustachioed hero decided to give up working as a private investigator. Instead, he’d return to the Navy, giving Lily the stability she needed. The lives of Magnum’s cohorts also reached turning points, as helicopter pilot Theodore “T.C.” Calvin reunited with his estranged wife, while Orville “Rick” Wright tied the knot with his girlfriend, Cleo.
As the episode’s closing credits played, viewers were shown clips from throughout Magnum, P.I.’s eight-season run – everything from lighthearted joking among friends, to the controversial moment Magnum killed a Russian KGB agent in cold blood. A final shot showed Magnum and Lily walking on the beach together, hand-in-hand.
Though Selleck went on to success on many other TV series, including Blue Bloods and a recurring part on Friends, Thomas Magnum remains his most identifiable character. Selleck was so ingrained in the fabric of Magnum, P.I. that when CBS rebooted the show in 2018, producers reached out for his blessing.
"I just felt success is so hard to come by in this business, why do I want to root for somebody to fail?" Selleck TV Insider. "I just stepped back and said, 'I won't get in your way.'"