The cars, the women, the cases, the moustache.
Tom Selleck is Magnum, P.I., a smirking vision of masculinity, kicking ass in Hawaiian shirts and helicopters. The title sequence to the action-adventure series of the same name introduces viewers to the private investigator’s dangerous paradise, taking us on a high-tempo tour of beaches, babes, and badassery.
When it comes to 1980s television, Magnum, P.I.’s title sequence is about as iconic as it gets. The fast-paced intro was emblematic of the genre and set the bar for the countless imitators and pretenders to the action-adventure throne. But the title sequence that most viewers have come to identify the show with (embedded above) was not its original opening.
The first version of the show’s title sequence was centered around a Cross of Lorraine motif, a reference to the rings that Thomas Sullivan Magnum III and his Vietnam War comrades wore. The show’s jazzy original theme song (composed by Ian Freebairn-Smith) was only featured in the two-part pilot and first nine episodes of the series.
As the first season progressed, Magnum’s title sequence was slowly refined into the form most people now recognize. Episode 3 retained the Freebairn-Smith theme, but dropped the cross motif in favour of a montage of scenes from the pilot.
The original intro was eventually removed altogether from syndicated versions of the show. By episode 12, the sequence featured a completely new edit as well as the first instance of the now iconic Mike Post/Pete Carpenter theme song. Surprisingly, this new theme – with riffs by Grammy-winning guitarist Larry Carlton – became a Top 40 hit in 1982, eventually peaking at #25 on the pop charts.
After the first season, the intro remained largely unchanged for the rest of the show’s eight season run, except for minor shot replacements. One of the few notable alterations was to its typography. In the third season the typeface used for the title and credits was changed to an oblique version of Serpentine*, a font now forever associated with fast cars, chest hair, and Hawaiian shirts.
Titles and Opticals: Universal Title