Roy Huggins, creator of The Fugitive, thought TV could be better

He was critical of his own work, too.

You just can't account for taste. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and quality is up to the viewer. There's no hard-and-fast rule for what is and isn't good. While networks can absolutely quantify television with data using ratings and market research, there's still no equation for calculating what makes a series great. 

Someone who put a lot of thought into the quality of TV programs is Roy Huggins. Throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s, Huggins was the influential writer/creator of several hit series. Exciting dramas like Maverick, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files were all Huggins-assisted productions. He was a very effective screenwriter who knew how to hook audiences and keep them tuning in. 

However, Huggins was on record as stating that television was nowhere near as good as it could be. It was his belief that the medium never quite lived up to its potential. With such impressive credentials, Huggins definitely knew what he was talking about. In 1963, as a guest columnist in The Los Angeles Times, Huggins listed his thoughts regarding the quality of shows that were then on TV.

"I have never watched a show of my own, on the air, without noting a number of ways in which it could have been better," Huggins wrote. He then went on to list three primary reasons that TV, as an art form, was suffering.

The first reason Huggins gave was "Time." To him, a great character was as driven by deadlines as a newspaper would be. However, producers of any given show are rarely, if ever, given sufficient time to plan ahead to avoid rushed scripting. Sometimes, to deliver the best product, the creators of a show need more time than the studio would allow.

Reason #2, as listed by Huggins, is money. He noted that television was an efficient, but costly, way for advertisers to reach their customers. The producer then, in turn, spends more money than is available to shepherd the project onto the airwaves. "Putting a show together," said Huggins, "is a continuum of compromise from the purchase of the original material to the casting of the actors."

The third and final reason given by Roy Huggins for the (supposed) sad state of television affairs was social pressure. He first pointed toward how expansive the TV-viewing audience was. Every part of the population was accounted for. The audience "is so enormous, and devotes so much time to viewing, that television's content cannot be ignored as a social force of some significance," he wrote.

"At present, the tendency among conscientious and influential groups is to overestimate that significance. They tend to deal with concepts that assume the audience to be a passive mass acted upon in one context or tranquilized in another by television. There is no professionally-accepted evidence that television is having a measurable effect on the attitudes or development of the millions who make up its many audiences. There IS professionally-accepted evidence that the relationship is the other way around: that people use television, and have a measurable effect on ITS development. I believe there is truth in both views, but the far greater weight is on the side of the latter."

Huggins' opinions, though, were not widely held by his television peers. As a result, those executives made decisions out of fear and compromise, leading to lots of programming that underperformed. Luckily though, Huggins stayed in the TV business and continued producing high-octane, character-driven series to thrill for decades to come!

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12 Comments

Pacificsun 11 months ago
This is a truly interesting interview because there's so much depth. In reply, IMO RH was premature in his assumptions. Since there just wasn’t enough history behind television as of that writing (1963). And in terms of considering higher quality television which he was seeking, he wasn't referencing public broadcasting (PBS) at the time.

Huggins’ quality productions included massively popular dramas like Maverick, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files. Was well-crafted screen-writing (good stories, great characters, excellent timing, the actors' amazing chemistry). Yet he believed that the medium never lived up to its potential. Quantitively speaking, perhaps. But there were hundreds and hundreds of productions going on during those years. Many were testing acceptability among the public. And many took advantage of copying each other, hoping to repeat their magic.

My Gad, his interview was only in 1963. I wonder what he would say, looking back from now to that time? Doesn’t think TV had/has “enough” effect of the Masses? Really. It’s actually changed society. Artistically speaking, not enough time. For purely commercial purposes, is there ever. Aren’t genuine artists usually considered perfectionists? Yet compromise is the only way anything gets done, practically speaking. Otherwise development would be nearly an endless process of fine tuning.

A costly way for advertisers to reach their audience? Costly for whom? Well maybe for Networks, where it would take 3 seasons for a Series to produce a return on the investment originally made. But, that expense included the cost of labor (unions), materials (craft) and talent (upscaled). In truth, what advertisers were looking for (and wanted) was visibility. And 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕'𝒔 what they were paying for. They wanted the opportunity to reach “mass appeal.” And there was actually no other way to do it, other thru print. But not nearly as with as much impact. Where else could an advertiser be part of the viewing publics’ conversation the next morning, reviewing a hugely impactful episode (like MASH’s or Fugitive's finales.) which became unforgettable and classic climaxes.

In terms of his favored series, The Fugitive was and is unique and suspenseful. And yet, very formulaic. Another one where you can set your watch by the timing of what happens (or will) in each of the Acts. Repetitious (but not a criticism) is the distribution of the character-personalities (the victim, the hero, the savior, the antagonizer). How many times did Gerard “just” miss catching Kimble, meaning by a minute or two. Come ‘on Mr. Huggins (RIP). Thankfully, you enjoyably help set the stage for decades of classic TV for which we're all grateful.

But no disservice to your accomplishments should be allowed due to the hindsight of assumptions made in 1963.

JJ614 11 months ago
It's impossible to judge just on likes. What one person likes in a show, another hates. The main thing that matters is the writing. Without a depth in the writing, the rest is just money making or losing. And seriously, TV was in its infancy. Abrams' writing took TV/movies to a new level. Until, of course, he became distracted by the next shiny thing, and his writing for his last passion took a dive. Each of his projects has proven to be like that (obviously, IMO). LOST started out with a bang, and ended lazily - the exact way Abrams promised it WOULDN'T end.
DocForbin 11 months ago
Let's not forget that Huggins also created "Hawaiian Eye".
ncadams27 DocForbin 11 months ago
Huggins created Stuart Bailey in a 1946 novel, The Double Take, which was made into a 1948 Columbia pictures movie called I Love Trouble with Franchot Tone as Bailey. While with Warner Bros. he created Maverick. WB wanted to use his Bailey character, but would only use characters they “owned”, so they made a movie with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Stuart Bailey called Girl On The Run which played in one theater in the Caribbean. With this, WB claimed to “own” the Stuart Bailey character and used the movie as the first episode of 77 Sunset Strip. From this spawned Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, and Surfside Six. NOTE: Edd Byrnes played a villain in the GOTR movie and the audience liked him so much they kept him in the show, but now as a “good guy”. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. stepped out of character to explain this to the TV audience.
MrsPhilHarris ncadams27 11 months ago
Interesting. Thanks for that.
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Huggins is right about the "social pressure" even today. There is way too much of that on TV, IMO.
texasluva Runeshaper 11 months ago
Since the year 2000 I've watched totally like 2-3 tv shows from beginning to end. The District with Craig T. Nelson (2000-2004) about 3 years ago when it was playing (twice over). The Walking Dead (with a friend) 2010-2022 (twice). then various others 4 to a dozen episodes. There are 10,000 tv series/show in the past 2 decades. I am more apt to watch the classic ones that come on retro tv stations rather then current. Movies are a different scenario. I watch most all of them. Though a selective process.
Runeshaper texasluva 11 months ago
I hear that!
MrsPhilHarris texasluva 11 months ago
I watched Lost from beginning to end and Fringe. I also remember another sci-fi show Hereos that involved saving a cheerleader to save the world. Watched another show called Last Resort that had a US submarine hiding at a small French island because of ballistic missiles bombing Pakistan I think. Only lasted one season. I find that is I watch a show it gets cancelled.🤭
texasluva 11 months ago
I can tell you that is still a sought after TV Show to watch "The Fugitive" When you start watching it is " Hook Line and Sinker", your in. From one episode to another (sometimes being a two part", which you can not wait to see the end result. How is Dr. Richard Kimble going to scramble out of this one? With many of the famously known actors waiting in lines to perform the next one. You're sure not lacking from variety. Of course Lt. Philip Gerard lurking around most corners in wait for the capture of Kimble. Even Gerard's wife comes into play in one of the best episodes. TV was better because of this series and many others. All I can say is "Thanks for the memories"
MrsPhilHarris texasluva 11 months ago
I’m not sure I have ever seen the show. 🤔
texasluva MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
okay now get on over to the MQ. I might be able to send the files for it. Its a good place to start because all the episodes are great.
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