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Creator of 'The Fugitive' has hand in series remake

Thursday, October 05, 2000

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Roy Huggins never dreamed that "The Fugitive" would still be on the run after 40 years.

He invented the character in 1960, and ABC built a television series around him three years after that.

Huggins wrote a story line that was simple but compelling: An innocent physician is convicted for the murder of his wife. He escapes and races from state to state, both to avoid his death sentence and to find the real killer, a one-armed man.

With David Janssen in the title role, "The Fugitive" enjoyed four successful seasons. The original series ended in August 1967 when Janssen began running out of steam and his character, Dr. Richard Kimble, ran out of plots.

Janssen died in 1980 at 48, and "The Fugitive" lived only in reruns and memory banks. Then the story exploded again in 1993 with the "Fugitive" movie starring Harrison Ford as Kimble.

"We really didn't think of reviving the television series until the picture came out and was such an extraordinary success," Huggins said. "People who saw it were not over 35, so there was a whole new generation drawn to this concept."

"The Fugitive" movie received six Academy Award nominations. Tommy Lee Jones, who played Gerard, the lawman obsessed with Kimble's capture, won the Oscar for best supporting actor.

All three networks bid on the rights to the revived "Fugitive" series. CBS won, and its new show, starring Tim Daly as Kimble, debuts at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Cable network TV Land will air the two-part finale of the original series at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

Huggins, a screenwriting legend, created TV classics such as "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files." At 86, he is working on the new "Fugitive" in a limited role, helping to shape scripts and structure shows.

In the original series, Kimble's travels supposedly took him to outposts such as Helena, Mont., and big cities such as Pittsburgh and Chicago. In truth, almost every episode was shot in or around Los Angeles.

The new version will be more authentic. "When we say we're in Savannah, we're really in Savannah," Huggins said.

He also promises high-tech law enforcement twists and more fully developed characters, including a better understanding of the one-armed man.

The new Gerard, played by Mykelti Williamson, is black, another change that Huggins applauds. "I think that gives an edge to the whole thing. He is young and powerful and so different from Kimble. It's personal."

With the new "Fugitive" come old charges that Huggins used the suburban Cleveland murder case of Dr. Sam Sheppard as his inspiration for the story. Huggins says it's not so, maintaining that he had never even heard of Sheppard until "The Fugitive" was sprinting toward a spot on prime-time TV.

An osteopathic surgeon, Sheppard was convicted of killing his wife in 1954. He always maintained that an intruder with bushy hair committed the crime. Sheppard was acquitted in a 1966 retrial, and no one else was ever charged in his wife's slaying.

Huggins said it was not Sheppard but his love of Westerns that led to "The Fugitive." He wanted to do a series about a modern character who roamed the country the way a mythic cowboy did. But the only way to make that interesting was to take a big chance. The man on the move would have to be wanted for a capital crime.

Huggins made his fugitive a doctor so that he could help people in unexpected ways, even with his own life in shambles.

Most of TV's leading men get parts where they can be bold. Playing Kimble is a different story.

"It is in the nature of this man's predicament that he cannot be assertive," Huggins said. "If someone shoves him, he has to walk away. That makes it a hard role to play."

He likes what he's seen of Daly, and he predicts that the new show, like his original, will be a winner. Huggins avoids ranking the series of the 1960s and the one of 2000, but he confesses that Janssen -- good on the screen and well liked behind it -- remains his favorite.

"I don't like to make comparisons," he said, "but David was nonpareil."

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