8 fast, fascinating facts about The Fugitive

Run, Richard, run!

Image: The Everett Collection

"The name: Dr. Richard Kimble. The destination: Death Row, state prison. The irony: Richard Kimble is innocent."

So began the early episodes of The Fugitive. Networks had never aired anything like this television. As soon as the show premiered in 1963, audiences were hooked. Here was a hero who was not a lawman, rather on the run from the law. And not for a white-collar crime like tax evasion. He was pegged for murder!

The week-to-week action, as Kimble hopped around the country on the lam, wowed viewers, but it was the ongoing mystery that kept them coming back. 

If Kimble did not kill his wife, who did? 

Americans had to wait four years for the thrilling climax. Other dramas wrapped up their plots neatly in one hour. This tale took 120 episodes. The shocking finale was worth the wait. It's no wonder that The Fugitive has stuck in the mind of the public. Harrison Ford revitalized the Kimble character on the big screen in 1993, turning on a whole new generation. 

Let's run through some fascinating facts about The Fugitive.

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1. The train crash footage was from a 1938 comedy.

Kimble manages to escape when his train derails en route to Death Row. Locomotive crashes do not come cheap in Hollywood, so the producers lifted footage from an old flick, The Young in Heart, a Douglas Fairbanks Jr. romcom from 1938. Not only did the movie feature some nifty, futuristic cars, the characters survived a train derailment on a bridge. Here you can see the train in the TV show credits in color, and the original scene in black and white.

2. The series was somewhat inspired by Les Miserable.

Series creator Roy Huggins (Maverick, The Rockford Files) repeatedly denied that his series had been inspired by the real-life case of Sam Sheppard, a doctor accused of murdering his wife in 1954. (After ten years in prison, he was acquitted.) Make of that what you will. The over plot also has echoes of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, which featured a fugitive protagonist, Jean Valjean, eluding an inspector named Javert, who is not too far off from the "Lt. Gerard" of the TV show.

3. It pioneered narrative television.

Ongoing narratives are the norm for modern television. In fact, it's a rarity to find a drama in episodic form, like The Twilight Zone or Star Trek. Back in the day, if you missed an episode, you could easily tune in the following week and not miss a beat. It had to be that way without recording devices. The Fugitive boldly asked — demanded, really — audiences to tune in every single week. Yes, it told a different contained tale each episode, but the ongoing plot with the One-Armed Man and Lt. Gerard keep viewers on their toes. The network was initially skeptical to even try such a concept. It blazed a trail for similarly structured shows like The X-Files.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Nearly half of America watched the finale.

After four years, Kimble finally confronts the One-Armed Man, high atop a carnival tower. A whopping 45.9% of households tuned in to see the climax, which amounted to a 72% (meaning, of all the people watching TV at that time, about two-thirds of them were tuned in to The Fugitive). It would remain the most-watched episode until the 1980s, when it was surpassed by the "Who Shot J.R.?" reveal on Dallas and, eventually, the tearful M*A*S*H finale.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. The final narration had to be changed for Canada.

The stentorian voice of William Conrad made him the perfect narrator for The Fugitive. (Likewise, the Cannon star was the narrator for both Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Rocky and Bullwinkle.) At the end of the final episode, "The Judgement," Conrad declared, "Tuesday, August 29. The day the running stopped." That coincided with the original airdate on ABC, August 29, 1967. Only, the episode did not air until September 5 in Canada. Those perfectionists changed the narration to say "September 5." At least it was still a Tuesday.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. A lot of the music was recycled from other shows.

As brilliant, gripping and groundbreaking as the show was, it did recycle a good deal. We mention the train wreck, but there was a far for subtle reuse. Perhaps keen listeners picked up on it. Musical cues from The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone were pulled out of the library to accompany Kimble on his run. Music from 12 O'Clock High and Branded was also used.

7. Kimble's background was changed because of state laws.

At the show's conception, Kimble began his journey from his home state of Wisconsin. However, writers and producers soon realized that Wisconsin did not execute murderers. So, Kimble's backstory was shifted a couple states over to Indiana. His hometown, as seen on this wanted poster, was Stafford, IN. However, in the first-season episode "Glass Tightrope," Kimble's hometown is listed on a poster as Beloit, Wisconsin. They didn't entirely clean up the mistake.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. You can find a lot of famous faces in the show.

Star Trek fans can find beloved Enterprise crew like DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and William Shatner (pictured) on The Fugitive. Charles Bronson, Ron Howard, Kurt Russell, Leslie Nielsen, Suzanne Pleshette, Ted Knight, Carroll O'Connor, Mickey Rooney and dozens of other celebs turn up in Kimble's path, too.

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33 Comments

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Mikey1 27 days ago
What irony. The only 2 series that I was undyingly loyal to were The Fugitive and The Untouchables. Other than Alfred Hitchcock that preceded them, they were the only reason I watched MeTV and stayed up Sunday night until 4 AM. Then to see them both suddenly cancelled without warning. The Untouchables was one thing, but The Fugitive was progressing logically in chronological order in such a way that I calculated what night the final episode would air. I only had seen it once (8/29/67) and was looking forward to some graet nostalgia. I remember 8/29/67 very well--where I was (college dorm--standing room only) and remember Bill Cannon's final narrative lines. Well, I just found out that it's on once again, so there must have been a lot of complaints or heads must have rolled. Hopefully THIS time the remaining episodes will be aired, including the two-part finale. Right???
martha_howk 10 months ago
Bring it back! We were all cheated. We didn't get to see the end of The Fugitive. I had always heard about this famous show and finally got to see it just to be but cut off before it's famous conclusion. What a bummer!
Fugitive_Fan 10 months ago
I really, really hope The Fugitive will be put back on the air. Please, please do so. Such an unbelievably wonderful show and to be sure, removing it prior to its final season and final episode was a grave mistake. Thank you for your consideration.
BruceW 10 months ago
The Fugitive was one of the better shows. Why was it abruptly removed from the lineup? And The Untouchables was also eliminated. Who made the decisions? A supervisor needs to get involved immediately and reverse those decisions.
BruceW 10 months ago
Why has The Fugitive been taken of forever the air?

Anthony 10 months ago
Why Why could u have please let it play out to the Final Episode it was a classic was a classic and the final episode held the record really if this is the kinda of stuff u r going to pull and replace it with Thriller u pulled a great classic really...It should have a weekly slot if u wish to know the Truth love METV for the classics but when u make an unwise move like this...plus I don't normally make comments but this was so out of the blue...
apparently judging by the comments I am not alone-Like the Episode Ill wind
gregory_clay 10 months ago
WHAT happened to "The Fugitive" series? JUST abruptly ended after last week's episode. IT was one of the best shows on the ME TV network. AGAIN, WHAT happened?

Anthony gregory_clay 10 months ago
I so agree and just think somebody was paid to make this unwise and rude decision
TomDiCicco 10 months ago
I agree with others regarding "The Fugitive"... I see it abruptly ended after episode "White Knight" I think, season 3.... could you bring this back to finish the series through season 4? I have been watching this for at least a year.
Anthony TomDiCicco 10 months ago
I agree
I am really irritated about it
Billbell 10 months ago
Why pull the plug on The Fugitive with 36 episodes to go?? I’m heartbroken. please bring it back. it’s the greatest show of all time. Thank you!
Anthony Billbell 10 months ago
I agree
sooooo right so unwise and rude not even a warning and they pulled the "untouchables" too
Gyle 10 months ago
I didn't miss an episode, but now I find out the Fugitive is gone. It would have made more sense to end it after the FINAL episode. Tell me why I should invest my time in a series when you pull the plug with no notice. Other shows you keep running over and over again. Better to have ended Alfred Hitchcock, which has run over and over again, multiple times!
Anthony Gyle 10 months ago
I agree
what were they thinking
TC 10 months ago
The Fugitive and The Untouchables were the two shows I looked forward to watching on MeTV, and I usually stayed to watch the two episodes of Peter Gunn that followed. Now that The Fugitive and The Untouchables are gone (removed in midseason??), I likely won't be watching MeTV until they return. Why on earth were they chopped off like that? What a disappointment.
Anthony TC 10 months ago
Yeah I agree two great shows pulled and replaced with Thriller
SMH like Thriller but not at this expense
Terry72929 10 months ago
I’m so upset that I was sitting here waiting to watch The Fugitive and 2 minutes from when it should start I find out it has been removed from your schedule. I love that show and always looked forward to watching it on Sunday nights. You didn’t even let the entire series run. Why did you remove it from the schedule before you had shown the entire series?
Anthony Terry72929 10 months ago
I definitely feel u I thought my DVR was tripping when it had not record
very disappointing
spinner 11 months ago
Why have you stopped showing The Fugitive in the middle of season 3?
Anthony spinner 10 months ago
I agree
Why is the question?
whipsnade13 11 months ago
I was enjoying watching The Fugitive on MeTV, but suddenly it's been removed from the schedule. What happened? I was looking forward to seeing this series all the way to the end, but as of 5/5/19, it's gone. What a dirty trick to play on your audience.
Anthony whipsnade13 10 months ago
It was dirty
Dennis 12 months ago
IT WOULD BE NICE INDEED IF TODAYS PRODUCERS COULD BRING US A NEW "FUGITIVE" BASED ON SOME (OR EVEN ONE) CASE SIMILAR. JUST THINK HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE (OR HAVE BEEN) IN PRISON FOR CRIMES THAT THEY DID NOT COMMIT! OR HOW ABOUT A NEW "GUNSMOKE"? IT RAN FOR TWENTY YEARS! OH WELL AT LEAST WE CAN WATCH THE RERUNS (AND IN GUNSMOKE'S CASE THAT IS 52 TIMES 20, OR 1040!). THANKS ME TV FOR KEEPING US OLD TIMERS HAPPY!
Anthony Dennis 10 months ago
Yeah but they just pulled the old one and it would be nice update it for today's generation I bet it would be a definite hit...
Michael 14 months ago
From The Fugitive to Law & Order - some seventy-two stars and guest stars on the Law & Order universe appeared with David Janssen on his television series and films.
Anthony Michael 10 months ago
Man can u believe they just pulled the show
Greg 17 months ago
Production companies often recycle props, music and scenes. They get paid a flat rate per episode by the broadcasters. So as usual it all comes down to making money.
PeterGuerin 17 months ago
Later on, Barry Morse, who played Lt. Gerard, played Professor Victor Bergman in Season 1 of the now cult classic sci-fi series "Space: 1999".
daDoctah 17 months ago
Later on, Janssen would star as both O'Hara and Harry O. There's just something about that guy that makes you think of names that sound like that.
PeterGuerin daDoctah 17 months ago
Janssen's last role was the title character in the made-for-TV movie "Father Damien: The Leper Priest". Sadly he died in the middle of filming and he was replaced by The White Shadow himself, Ken Howard.
MrsP58 PeterGuerin 17 months ago
Are you and I the only ones who know this? I clearly remember hearing of Janssen's death and the fact that he was making the movie of Father Damien while driving home.
Joe 17 months ago
I watched this entire series from its debut to its denouement.
Dennis Joe 12 months ago
GOOD FOR YOU JOE! THE ENTIRE SERIES IS FOR SALE NOW FROM CRITIC'S CHOICE ON DVD (BUT DON'T ORDER FROM THEIR WEBSITE. GET THEIR CATALOG AND BUY ALL EPISODES FOR $43. + SHIPPING.)
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