‘Magnum P.I’ Season 5 Showrunner on Giving Their Fans A Satisfying Ending

The Big Picture

  • The fifth season of Magnum P.I. will be its last, but the finale was crafted to give both closure and potential for a Season 6.
  • Showrunner Eric Guggenheim is proud of what they were able to accomplish with a smaller budget and filming challenges during Season 5.
  • Guggenheim discusses the decision to finally get Magnum and Higgins together romantically, noting that it added a new dimension to the show.

The fifth season of the NBC series Magnum P.I. will ultimately be its last, but until then, there’s still plenty of action and plenty of relationship dynamics to explore among Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez), Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks), TC (Stephen Hill) and Rick (Zachary Knighton). While continuing to take on cases of all kinds, Magnum and Higgins’ love for each other is strengthening and the brotherhood is stronger than ever.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Crumpe, showrunner Eric Guggenheim talked about their season finale becoming a series finale, leaving some things unresolved while giving a satisfying end to fans that have been loyal, the disappointment in not getting to explore the ideas they had for Season 6 but being proud of what’s still to come in Season 5, what he learned about shooting an ensemble series in Hawaii from his time on Hawaii Five-O, why finally getting Magnum and Higgins together romantically was the right decision, the most challenging moment they pulled off this season, and what stands out about working with this cast.

Crumpe: You’ve previously talked about how you think the ending of this season is satisfying and that you’re really proud of the finale. Are you the kind of showrunner and storyteller that approaches each season finale as a possible series finale, meaning that maybe you leave a couple of threads, but also give a sense of resolution?

ERIC GUGGENHEIM: It’s a good question. In the case of this season, the finale was not written to be a series finale, but because we hadn’t gotten a pickup, we did take that possibility into consideration as we were crafting it. When you watch it, you’ll see that we were clearly teeing up some stuff for a Season 6. But first and foremost, we wanted to make sure we covered our bases and that the episode worked as a series finale, if need be. The last thing we want is for the viewers who have been so wonderful and who have stuck by the show for almost 100 episodes to go away frustrated. That would not be fair. They don’t deserve that. So, while a couple of things are left unresolved, I do feel like there is enough closure that it works as a finale.

Image via NBC

If you weren’t satisfied with it, do you feel like you would have pushed to be able to do any additional shooting? Would that have even been an option, if you’d felt like it was necessary?

GUGGENHEIM: We went in knowing this might have to work as a series finale, so we needed to build it with that in mind. You always wanna leave some things unresolved, that you can pick up, if there’s another season. I won’t lie, it was a very tricky needle to thread. I do think we managed to do it and I do think that, if this has to work as a finale, it does and it rewards the fans who have invested so much time in the show.

You’ve said that this is not necessarily how you would have chosen to end the series, if you had gotten to do a Season 6, or even more seasons beyond that. Did you have a concrete idea for some bigger ending in mind that you were working toward, or had you never gotten that specific?

GUGGENHEIM: We certainly had no shortage of exciting ideas. I can honestly say that I feel like it had the potential to be our strongest season. We were really excited about some of the ideas that we were kicking around. It was gonna take the show to some interesting places. As far as an end game, I did have some ideas. It wasn’t quite locked into anything for Season 6, but there were plenty of ideas and it’s disappointing, certainly. But it is what it is and I don’t want to dwell on it too much because there are still eight more episodes to air and I hope people will continue to enjoy them. Also, I’m really hopeful now that we finally have a streaming deal in place, so that viewers who haven’t seen the show will get curious and check it out. That’s what I’m focused on right now.

What can you say to tease what fans can expect from the finale? Would you say that everyone is left in a good place by the end of the season? Will fans be left with a sense of being reassured that these characters will be okay?

GUGGENHEIM: Yeah, I would say that I think we’re leaving the characters in a good place. I wanna be very careful here because I don’t want to give away too much. We’re not gonna have a “Who shot JR?” style ending. There have been so many shows that have gotten burned on cliffhanger endings, whether it’s the original Quantum Leap or ALF or Legends of Tomorrow or Lucifer, before they got rescued by Netflix. This finale is not one of those endings. There’s some unresolved stuff, but there is closure. I do think that the fans will leave happy. It’s a tough question for me to answer because I really don’t wanna give away too much, but I also wanna answer your question.

Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum in Episode 512 of Season 5 of Magnum P.I.
Image via NBC

You worked on Hawaii Five-O prior to doing Magnum P.I. Was there anything you learned about shooting in Hawaii and doing a series that has a team and action and big moments, that you were able to carry over to Magnum? Are there challenges unique to doing a show like this, in this location?

GUGGENHEIM: Yeah, there was. I learned a lot. That was five seasons on Five-O, co-running it for two seasons. And a lot of the crew who worked on Five-O followed us over to Magnum, so I’ve been working with a lot of that crew for 10 years now. Even Dave Wolkove, who was a writer on Five-O for that entire run, came over in Season 3. So, I did learn a lot on that show. It’s Hawaii and it’s Oahu, which really is paradise on earth. You wanna be outdoors as much as possible, and it can be a little tricky, especially for us this season. We cross-boarded most of the season – 14 out of 20 episodes were cross-boarded – and we shot 6 and a half days. Most shows shoot eight days. So, we had this very accelerated schedule, but I don’t feel like it affected the quality of the show, in any way. I feel like we had as much scope as we’ve always had. Just knowing that island and knowing those locations so well really helped. We were able to move really fast because we do know that island so well, which was enormously helpful. If you work on a show for any length of time, you’re gonna make mistakes and you’re gonna learn from them. Things that may not have worked out on Five-O, we learned from that. Things that worked out really well, we were able to duplicate. Five-O was an incredible experience. In some ways, it did make making this show a little easier because we had a crew that knew how to shoot on that island, which can be tricky. By the time Magnum started, it was a pretty well-oiled machine, and that has a lot to do with the fact that so many of us came over from Five-O.

You made the decision to finally get Magnum and Higgins together in Season 5, which definitely changed the dynamic, and I think it did so in really positive ways. It often adds a playfulness between those characters that a show like this needs to balance out some of the seriousness of the jobs they’re hired to do. Were you ever hesitant about getting them together, or did it feel like you had kept fans waiting long enough?

GUGGENHEIM: First of all, thank you for saying that it seems to be working out. I’m very happy to hear that. Honestly, day one of Season 4, the very first question I posed in the writers’ room was, “Is this the season we get them together?” That started a discussion before we committed to it, which we really didn’t do until the middle of Season 4. We had a lot of conversations about what it would look like. I didn’t wanna just go ahead and do it without knowing what it would look like, and the more we talked about it, the more excited we got. It gave the show a new dimension. I do think it’s one of the best decisions we’ve made. I talked about it with Jay [Hernandez] and [Perdita Weeks] a lot, before we committed to it, so by the time we did, we knew what it would look like and we knew the possibilities that it offered. The main thing was that I felt like we were getting to a place where we were starting to repeat ourselves, and that made me very nervous. I remember saying to Jay and [Perdita], “I feel like I’m writing scenes that are just versions of scenes that we’ve done before on the show.” If we hadn’t gotten them together, things would have gotten a little stale. More than that, all the new possibilities that getting them together offered us were just so enticing and so exciting that I felt really confident about the decision we made to put them together. It was 76 episodes of, will they or won’t they? That’s quite a while. Also, storytelling on network television has changed. I don’t think you can get away with keeping characters separate, who you think should be together, for six or seven seasons. I don’t think you can do that anymore. So, it definitely felt like it was time. Most people agree that it has worked, but we spent a lot of time talking about it and making sure that it would work, before we committed to it.

They have such a fun, easy chemistry that it really helps the audience to be all in with them.

GUGGENHEIM: Yeah, I would agree with that. And now that they are together and they’ve said, “I love you,” now is when we’re gonna start to see some obstacles put in their path. You’ll see that perhaps they’re not as in sync as they may have thought. The first half of the season was the honeymoon phase, and now they’re in the “we’re really a couple” phase. Couples have ups and downs, and challenges, and there’s conflict, and that’s been really fun to explore.

Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum and Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins in Episode 512 of Season 5 of Magnum P.I.
Image via NBC

There are a lot of challenges in pulling off a show like this. You’re rebooting a show that people have certain expectations for, you have an ensemble cast to service, you want to keep the weekly cases interesting, you have action going on, and you want to keep it all fresh. What are you most proud of, when it comes to what you’ve been able to accomplish with this series?

GUGGENHEIM: There are so many things. From a production standpoint, this past season was very difficult. We cross-boarded most of our episodes, so we were shooting two episodes at once, we were in six and a half days, we were doing constant double-ups, and this was the smallest budget that we’ve had on the show, by far, and yet I feel that there was no dip in quality. I don’t think we cut any corners. I think it still feels like the same show that we’ve been making for five years. We had less money and fewer resources and less time, but everyone really gave it their all this season and I’m enormously proud of our cast and crew, and what we were able to accomplish under difficult conditions. And then, also, I feel like this version of the show honors the original version that Don [Bellisario] and Glen [Larson] created. They created a show that was about veterans returning home, and it was an optimistic and hopeful portrayal of vets. We’ve tried to continue that with this show. It is still a show about starting over. All these characters have had trauma in their lives and they came to Hawaii, and there’s a rebirth for each of them. So, I’m really proud that we’ve been able to honor the original while, at the same time, I do feel like it’s its own thing. I think a lot of that has to do with some of the new characters we added to the show, and then the decision to make Higgins female and to add the potential for a relationship between Magnum and Higgins. That separated it from the original series and gave it its own dimension. It added an extra layer and hopefully allows this version to stand on its own.

Is there a specific scene or a moment from this season, that you’re surprised you were actually able to pull off and have it turn out as well as it did?

GUGGENHEIM: This is a small one, and it’s on my mind because the episode recently aired, but the scene where Magnum and Higgins are just on the beach. You wouldn’t think that would be tough to pull off, but having that scene take place on the beach with the sunset was so hard. It kept bouncing around the schedule. Shooting two episodes in 13 days, and on that 13th day, you’re also starting two more episodes, to try to get it all done and to try to get it with the sunset, I’m still amazed we pulled it off. I really thought that we were gonna have to compromise and shoot it on a stage, but we were stubborn and we knew that it was a big moment in the series. They’re saying “I love you” to each other. That was a big moment at the end of the midseason premiere, and we had to get it right. Somehow we pulled that off. And we were shooting that in January, so you lose the light faster and you’re racing. It’s not like when you’re shooting during the summer and you can shoot eight o’clock at night. You’ve gotta be done by 5:30, or you’re just not gonna get it. And if you punt one scene, it just creates this domino effect that makes it so hard to make up ground. That’s just one example. Every episodes, honestly, had its challenges.

What will you take with you, from working with this cast? You had a lead actor, in Jay Hernandez, who was also a producer who directed a couple episodes, and you had a cast that’s had such great chemistry. What will you take from working with them?

GUGGENHEIM: This cast bonded almost immediately, and that bond only grew stronger over time. They would hang out with each other on the weekends and on their days off. They would surf together and cook together. It was just such an incredibly tight group, and you don’t always see that. They were genuinely really fond of each other and they were all really good friends who supported each other. When Jay was directing, everyone rallied around him, when [Zachary Knighton] was directing, everyone rallied around him, and when [Perdita] was directing, everyone rallied around her. It was such a nice thing to see because you don’t always see that on shows. This group was very special. I enjoyed a lot of lunches and a lot of dinners with them. They’re just really good people and a lot of fun to be around.

Magnum P.I. airs on Wednesday nights on NBC.

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