I’ve been watching Hawaii Five-O episodes on DVDs from Netflix, and I’ve been struck by how well that TV show represented the island of Oahu – and how well the portrayal has stood up for nearly 40 years.
The series, which ran from 1968 to 1980, was filmed on location. And I wouldn’t be the first to observe that Hawaii was as much the star of the show as Jack Lord was. For many of us, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, it was a first glimpse of that exotic part of America.
I can’t imagine that the plots had anything to do with what was really going on in Hawaii. But the show took every opportunity to showcase the lush splendor of Oahu, the open liveability of Honolulu and the thundering beauty of the Pacific. Also, it has the best TV theme music ever.
When I finally got to see Hawaii, just a few years ago, I recognized Waikiki, Diamond Head, the Iolani Palace and of course the Ilikai Hotel , where Jack Lord famously whipped his Elvis hairdo around toward the camera. Sure, things have changed a lot. And yet, in many ways, they haven’t.
I think TV may have influenced us more than we realize in relation to the places we visit. Miami Vice, LA Law and dozens of other shows have purported to give us a sense of a specific American place. I just don’t think any of them ever did it as well as Hawaii Five-O did.
More than showing the landscape, the show tried in its clumsy ’60s way to show something of native Hawaiian culture, and to explore its struggles with other ways of life.
Of course, if you want to see Oahu today on TV, you can watch "Lost" on ABC. But since the show is supposed to take place on an unidentified island, it actually tries to make Hawaii look like somewhere else. I love the show for its plot, but I can’t recommend it for the scenery.