Marathon Man: David Janssen's pursuit of excellence on 'The Fugitive'

Janssen pushed hard to make the best show possible.

CBS Television Distribution

A television set sure can be a frenzied workplace. Especially when the stakes are high, as they are in making a weekly prime-time network thriller, efforts and attitudes might strain under the pressure. All that desire to succeed, and the financial security that comes with it, would make any job on a TV set stressful. Your paycheck is in the court of public opinion, and if you don't do your job well enough, folks just might not tune in.

Projects like that demand a strong central figure who can set the tone for the work ahead. If everybody on a set can look at that one leader, and feel a contagious focus, then the show just might work. On the set of The Fugitive, the spiritual figurehead that drove everything forward and buoyed the show was David Janssen.

As Dr. Richard Kimble, Janssen was in nearly every scene of The Fugitive. So, while he was right there in the middle of every story, he was also central to production every day. A 1964 article in The Indianapolis Star stated that Janssen worked, at minimum, 14 hours a day, five days a week. He was fully committed to making The Fugitive the best show it could be.

"I'm walking in my sleep," Janssen told the Star reporter. He'd grown hagride in his nonstop schedule and gave the interview in a hoarse, overworked voice. "A TV show isn't all bottles, bangles, and beads."

The article revealed that Janssen was motivated by a three-season goal. If he was The Fugitive's motor for three seasons, it would all be worth it when he and his co-workers would later rake in the residuals. Everyone involved would be better off, financially, when the series reached that three-season mark. Janssen knew he'd have to adapt to make The Fugitive compelling, long-term.

"For one thing, we found out that we needn't always make Richard Kimble so furtive," he said.

The creators of the series found that the audience connected most with Kimble's hope.

"We can make him a little more positive," said Janssen.

Another important discovery was that, while viewers loved the action, they tuned back in again because of the story. It was Kimble, more so than explosive stunts, that kept the audience coming back for more.

"We also found out that the show doesn't have to be a chase week after week."

The Fugitive would produce four seasons, in total. 

Watch The Fugitive on MeTV!

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Mannixishot 1 month ago
I like The Fugitive but the last season seems so uneven. The only thing that doesn't seem to be impacted is David's performance as Dr. Kimble.
SDWriter 1 month ago
What the heck is “hagride?”
Do you mean haggard? Hire an editor.
AgingDisgracefully 1 month ago
Before becoming HarryO, David starred in the Jack Webb comedy (redundant?) O'Hara, US Treasury.
Bring it back, MeTV.
Perhaps during a Bad Career Move Seminar.
“O'Hara, U.S. Treasury” was a crime drama, not a comedy. Jack Webb was not exactly Mr. Laffs.
He is if you see him that way. And I can't help it.
Have a well-behaved summer.
ncadams27 1 month ago
Many of the episodes were about the characters he met (similar to Route 66), with the storyline about him be captured woven through it. The Mad magazine parody said Kimble took the jobs that the Route 66 guys quit.
ncadams27 1 month ago
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I gotta look that up, thanks for pointing that out.
I am a huge Route 66 fan, at our old Yahoo site, every year we'd send George Maharis
birthday cards.
George would hand write thank you letters and send autographed photos to every single
person who had sent him a card!
When some of the guys included their phone numbers one year, George called them
up to say thank you, and to record the 'welcome' greeting on their phones.
Anyway we continued our own Route 66 club after Yahoo folded, and one of the guys
was in touch with George and his people.
So though the media didn't pick up on it, we were apprised super proud Marine Maharis
left the Marines his entire estate which was considerable.
My neighbor wrote a book Eternal Route 66 Get More then Kicks! It is written based on the 66 Books Of The Bible by Chuck Williams. He has taken that trip a few times back and forth with family. Many of the mile makers and places they visited and stayed. It is over 200 pages long and a great read. Lives directly across the street from me.

Your story is really awesome. Must have been great to know about George Maharis and have communications with him.
texasluva 1 month ago
One of the best TV Series ever. So many stars came to act in it. Hardly a boring moment most every episode. I have the series. Time to watch again 👀.
Amen Texas, a great series.
My father was giving a lecture at a New Hampshire college and we kids were restricted to the dorm rooms the college housed us in.
My parents went off to some dinner with the Dean - we promised not to leave our room -
so my older brother, wanting to see the last episode took us to some kind of rec hall,
where we watched the finale with all the incoming college kids back for the new year.
It was a HUGE event, it was fun sharing it with the so much older college kids,
as they were making funny cracks, often with very blue language so I felt very naughty
and somehow cool hanging out with the first hippies I ever knew.
One Dolly Parton like girl kept asking "you liking all this little dude?" and bear hugging me
for a full 60 seconds plus, the answer to her question was "oh yeah"!
My twin sister kept giving me the evil eye during this, which made it better, but I also
knew she'd rat me out to my parents, which she did but my mother thought it was hilarious.
Best moment of the 60's for me. That and seeing the Lincoln memorial for the 1st time very
late at night - ALWAYS go then, its deserted and mystic - and the next week the Gomer
Pyle episode set there played, so I was all excited we were where Gomer was.
In either the first or second episode of the Fugitive, the end shot is of him in back of a bus,
the window reflecting the camera crew.
Ed Asner episode where town welcomes returning politician, in Ed's crummy apartment,
on the wall is same photo of him in his high school football uniform as hangs in Mr. Grant's
office on Mary Tyler Moore Show.
MikefromJersey 1 month ago
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MsRockford74 1 month ago
He worked himself to death. He was so talented! The Fugitive is my very favorite show.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Props to Janssen for keeping the show alive for 4 seasons!
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