‘A one-armed man (or more precisely, The Man With One Arm) knocked Kimble out and escaped from the house…’


The Fugitive, Quinn Martin Productions, 1963-1967

From London Review of Books:

Academics: beware of loving what you write about. Fandom can tempt intellectuals to take uncharacteristic risks with their primary sources. Even Stanley Fish, who as the author of Is There a Text In This Class? knows better than anyone how important the division of insider and outsider is for keeping amateurs at bay. In 1993, Fish-the-fan, enamoured of the American television series The Fugitive, joined the faithful at a convention in Hollywood to rerun, adore and discuss the episodes, to listen to actors and directors of the programme talk about their experience. There’s probably an internally understood hierarchy of TV series obsessives, but I don’t know where Fugitive-heads come in relation to Trekkies, Python freaks or Dynasty divas. On the other hand, and at the same time, Fish-the-intellectual wanted to write a book about The Fugitive as it ‘celebrated and anatomised the ethic of mid-20th-century liberalism’, and, without doing a Christopher Ricks, who unnecessarily upgraded Bob Dylan’s songs to Great Poetry rather than the more-than-adequate great lyrics that they are, also wanted to claim that there was enough serious and educated thought behind the creation of the series to merit his academic attention. It is central to his essay that the people who conceived, pitched and wrote The Fugitive were not simply writing popular fiction in a winning formula but, in setting up the drama series and conceiving each episode, had the conscious intention to explore the same ideas as Fish does in writing about it.

The result of the two Fishs, fan and philosopher, failing to keep out of each other’s way is instructive and, he says, ‘something I am still trying to understand’. When he attended the convention he ‘was ready to enter the world of diehard fans. I had thought I was one until I met the real thing.’ But he wasn’t there only as a punter. Before he left for Hollywood, Fish, the professor at Duke University who wanted to write about 20th-century liberalism in The Fugitive, contacted the show’s creator, Roy Huggins, who immediately offered to help him in any way he could. Huggins met Fish at the airport, chauffeured him to the events, had him round to dinner and arranged for him to interview writers, directors and actors who had worked on the series. Then the fan made his fatal move: Fish scribbled down an outline for a new film version during downtime in his hotel room, and instead of throwing it away or pitching it to HBO at a later date, gave it to Huggins to read the next morning. It was the last conversation or meeting he had with his enabler, the man who could confirm The Fugitive’s serious intent. Luckily, he had already got enough from Huggins to prove what he wanted: ‘Huggins was a summa cum laude graduate of UCLA who began graduate work in political science and wrote novels before he became a TV producer.’ Mortified by his exile, he asked other people from the series what had happened. ‘They laughed and said that the moment I showed Huggins the outline, I was no longer the Duke professor who was going to honour his creation by making it the object of an academic analysis. I had become instead a competitor trying to horn in on the action.’ He’d like to think, Fish says, that he wasn’t after a piece of the action, but honourably engaged and ‘wanting nothing for himself’, and in that way just like Dr Richard Kimble, the honourable, though much more reluctantly engaged fugitive.

The series ran to 120 episodes, and was on US television from 1963 to 1967. The finale had the highest ratings of any TV show until the answer to the question of who shot JR was revealed (can anyone now remember?). In 1993 The Fugitive was made into a huge action movie with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, and then briefly resuscitated in modern dress for TV and DVD in 2001. In the original, the story starts before the series begins. Richard Kimble, a paediatrician, got home one night, having left to cool down after an argument with his wife about her refusal to adopt a child, to find her dying; a one-armed man (or more precisely, The Man With One Arm) knocked Kimble out and escaped from the house.

“Save it for HBO”, Jenny Diski, London Review of Books