1960’s ‘The Fugitive’ Made Television History

In the early 1960s, television audiences were introduced to a new kind of crime drama with “The Fugitive.” The show followed the story of Dr. Richard Kimble, a man falsely accused of murdering his wife and relentlessly pursued by police lieutenant Philip Gerard. Kimble went on the run, traveling across the country and assuming new identities as he searched for the one-armed man he believed had committed the crime.

“The Fugitive” quickly became a hit with viewers, thanks to its intense and dramatic storytelling, strong performances, and innovative use of flashbacks and narrative structure. The show’s unique premise, with Kimble as both victim and fugitive, made for compelling television, and audiences eagerly tuned in each week to see if Kimble would finally clear his name.

But “The Fugitive” was more than just a hit show; it also made television history. In 1967, the series finale, “The Judgment,” aired, drawing a record-breaking audience of 72% of American homes with a TV set. This remains one of the highest-rated episodes of a television series ever broadcast, a testament to the show’s enduring popularity and impact. Additionally, the show’s format of a serialized story told over multiple seasons set a precedent for future dramas, paving the way for shows like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.”

“The Fugitive” was created by Roy Huggins and aired for four seasons from 1963 to 1967. David Janssen played the lead role of Dr. Richard Kimble, a man who is wrongly accused of murdering his wife and must evade capture while searching for the real killer, a one-armed man.

Other notable cast members include Barry Morse as Lt. Philip Gerard, the relentless police officer who pursues Kimble, and Bill Raisch as the one-armed man, who becomes a recurring character throughout the series. The show also featured many guest stars, including William Shatner, Telly Savalas, and Bruce Dern.

“The Fugitive” was known for its gripping storylines, intense action, and innovative use of flashbacks to tell Kimble’s backstory and reveal clues about the murder case. The show was also praised for its character development, particularly in the relationship between Kimble and Gerard, who becomes increasingly sympathetic to Kimble’s plight as the series progresses.

Despite its popularity and critical acclaim, “The Fugitive” ended on a controversial note when its final episode, “The Judgment,” aired on August 29, 1967. The episode revealed the identity of the one-armed man and ended with Kimble being cleared of the murder charges and finally able to live a normal life. However, many fans and critics were disappointed with the resolution, feeling that it was rushed and unsatisfying.

Despite its controversial ending, “The Fugitive” has remained a classic of television history, with its influence evident in many subsequent TV shows and movies. David Janssen’s portrayal of Richard Kimble has also become an iconic role, cementing his status as a TV legend.

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