The 2006-2007 television season marks the 40th anniversary of the fourth and final season of The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-1967), the landmark series starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder, who barely escapes an unjust death sentence when the train carrying him to his scheduled execution accidentally derails. Amidst the confusion, Kimble slips away, and soon he embarks on a desperate search for the real killer—a mysterious one-armed man—while also trying to avoid the detection of law enforcement officials nationwide, including the implacable police lieutenant Philip Gerard (played by Barry Morse), whose relentless search for Kimble becomes an all-consuming obsession. After four years of thrills, chills, and near misses, the running finally stopped for Kimble on August 29, 1967, when our hero coerces the one-armed man into confessing during the concluding moments of the historic two-part final episode (Part One aired the previous week, on August 22, 1967). The Fugitive finale remains the third most-watched television episode ever, capturing 72% of the American viewing audience that night, a figure topped only by the final episode of M*A*S*H in February 1983, and the “Who Shot J.R.?” resolution on Dallas in November 1980. Marking the occasion of this anniversary season are two new books on The Fugitive. While the volumes are similar insofar as they focus primarily on the review and discussion of episodes, each goes about the material uniquely enough so that they truly complement each other.
First up is Following The Fugitive: An Episode Guide and Handbook to the 1960s Television Series (McFarland, 2006), a fans guide to the series meticulously compiled by Bill Deane. An acclaimed Major League Baseball analyst and statistician who has written several books and hundreds of articles on the sport, Deane is also a devoted fan of the Fugitive and—disclosure here—one of many people I met by way of Rusty Pollard, whose excellent monthly newsletter, On the Run, served as a network for Fugitive watchers worldwide in the days before the Internet. Besides sharing an interest in baseball, I came to know Bill as a scrupulous keeper of facts related to The Fugitive (no surprise, given his background), and his book certainly reflects that care.
Originally published as a hardbound edition in 1996, Following The Fugitive is not a behind-the-scenes history with interviews—but then again, it never proclaims to be one. Deane does purport, however, to have compiled “the most accurate information” about the series in terms of episode details. On that count, he may be right. Following The Fugitive is a thoroughly assembled program guide featuring the kind of information that fans of The Fugitive crave, including detailed plot summaries; indices of episode writers, directors, and guest actors; complete lists of every name assumed, occupation taken, locale visited, and injury sustained by Richard Kimble during his four seasons on the run, plus a host of interesting factoids and offbeat observations about the show.
In many respects, Following The Fugitive is precisely the kind of factual “bible” that television series routinely put together today to ensure continuity from season to season. For example, the book points out discrepancies as to the date given for the night Kimble’s wife was murdered, as well as the manner in which she was killed. But it also notes lots of fun things, such as the similar surnames of Kimble’s love interests in both the very first episode (“Welles”) as well as one of the very last (“Wells”). Deane does this all with great diligence and an overriding sense of fun. As a complementary companion to, say, The Fugitive Recaptured, it’s well worth the investment.
The same can also be said for The Fugitive Views and Reviews, Volume One: Analysis and Critique of All 30 Episodes of Season One (1963-1964) (Wasteland Press, 2006), an offshoot of the Yahoo! discussion group of the same name, which also spawned a popular radio program devoted to discussion of The Fugitive. Two of the book’s authors, Bob “Bobbynear” Nearenberg and K.J. “Kitty” Batten, co-moderate the Yahoo! group, while the third, Ken Ardizzone, is a longtime group member and contributor. All three co-host Talking Fugitive, heard twice monthly on Internet radio station KSAV.org.
The Fugitive Views and Reviews is, as its complete title suggests, a collection of critiques of the first 30 episodes of the series. What makes the book (and by extension, the Yahoo! group and radio program) stand out from all other Fugitive forums is that it approaches the series not as a show that has been in circulation for over four decades, but as if it were airing on television for the very first time. Episodes are discussed one at a time, in the order in which they were broadcast. Analysis of any and all aspects of the series—from the characterizations of Kimble and Gerard, to Kimble’s relationship with his family, to sociological issues such as Kimble’s motivation for helping people, or the portrayal of women on the series—is limited only to those episodes that have been “seen” and discussed at that point. In the case of this volume (the first of four projected Fugitive Views and Reviews books), conversation does not exceed that which is known beyond the first season of the series. It’s an interesting perspective, one that succeeds in putting a fresh spin on what might otherwise be considered well-tread ground.
All three authors contribute reviews and opinions for each episode, with Ardizzone pulling double duty as the book’s editor. He does a yeoman’s job paring down the numerous member responses for each episode into a readable form that also maintains the flavor of the discussion group. While some observations may seem far afield, that’s also part of the fun. When it comes to favorite episodes or favorite TV series, there are no right or wrong answers. More to the point, the passion that all three authors have for The Fugitive is clearly evident and makes for lively reading.
The Fugitive Views and Reviews also features results from various polls of the discussion group’s members on topics relating to the first season, including Favorite Male and Female Guest Star, Most Suspenseful Scene, Favorite Villain, Favorite Heroic Figure, and Most Heartbreaking Moment to Date. Like Following The Fugitive, The Fugitive Views and Reviews is a book that definitely belongs in the collection of any serious Fugitive fan.