Nobody in the world knew how ''The Fugitive'' would end

The writers didn't even know whether the one-armed-man would be brought to justice.

The Fugitive is one of the greatest crime dramas of all time. Throughout four seasons, the wrongly accused Dr. Richard Kimble evaded the law, a man on the lam after the murder of his wife. Even though he didn't do it, he gets arrested anyway as the primary suspect in the homicide case. But destiny intervenes, and while he's being transported to death row, Kimble's train derails, and he's able to escape into the night. As he eludes capture, Dr. Kimble also pursues the mysterious "one-armed man," the real killer.

You'd think a story like this would have a clear beginning, middle and end. But, according to those involved with the show, that wasn't necessarily the case.

In a 1965 interview with the Sunday Mirror's Matt White, TV's Dr. Kimble (real name: David Janssen) couldn't spill the beans, even if he wanted to. It turns out the actor wasn't aware of his character's fate. Janssen had no clue how the saga would unfold.

"Not even the writers know if Dr. Kimble will ever catch the one-armed man he believes murdered his wife," said Janssen. The interview occurred in July of '65, during the summer before the third season's premier. So with two years of a story already told, this is the midway point of the series. "Maybe [Kimble] will be exonerated of the murder conviction. Maybe the one-armed man will be caught. Maybe we will never ever know."

It's an issue that has plagued many shows since. If the mystery is the engine, and the intrigue is what drives the series forward, a resolution spells the show's end. Take, for example, Twin Peaks. The show is built around a central quandary: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" As soon as the audience knows the answer, the show is pretty much doomed.

Janssen, nonetheless, was able to draw motivation from the story, even without knowing its ending. "To me, as an actor, the concept of the show is not so much a chase but that of a man's survival." To him, the conclusion was (at least at that juncture) irrelevant. Janssen was able to perform believably because his character didn't know what would happen either.

"I don't think it's important whether he finds the one-armed man or not," said Janssen. "What is important is how he exists."

Watch The Fugitive on MeTV!

Sunday Nights at 2 AM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

34 Comments

Robertp 9 months ago
Great story with fantastic writing and actors. Ahead of its time.
SaJohn37 9 months ago
I've always loved the fugitive, however, Cannon and Perry Mason I could watch all day. Thanks ME Tv.
CaptChris 9 months ago
Next to Leave it to Beaver this was the first TV show to have a conclusion. Which I remember just like everyone I knew.
Ajax 9 months ago
Too good of a show to be on at 2am eastern time.
grogan81 9 months ago
Tbh if the series finale revealed that Kimball was the killer and the hunt for the one-armed man was a ruse to deceive the audience would have been great. As bizarre as it sounds, it would still be talked about as one of the greatest tv reveals of all-time.
Mblack grogan81 9 months ago
But by then, everyone had gotten used to Richard Kimble. Even if they thought he did it, by the series ending likely most had changed their minds.

I never saw it new, so it was just a "wagon train to the stars" on earth to me.
Wufferduck 9 months ago
I thought David was also excellence in Harry O. Sadly, it only lasted two years. I thought it was well written, and well acted.
MrsPhilHarris 9 months ago
I can’t remember ever watching it. 🤔
JeffPaul76 9 months ago
Hello. That's something. I think maybe watched one or two episodes of The Fugitive, but I was pretty young at the time. I don't even know what time or night it was on in our area. I probably watched other shows that were more suited to my age. Like cartoons, Leave it to Beaver, et al.
Runeshaper 9 months ago
Wow 😯! That’s truly something off the cuff!
Mblack 9 months ago
Most shows had no anticipation of an ending. They weren't written that way, or planned. You just keep going until cancellation. Tnere often isn't a chance to finish things off
justjeff 9 months ago
I agree with Pacificsun, as almost nobody else caught the fact that the MeTV writer-wannabes called Dr. Richard Kimble "Robert"!

Then they write: "Maybe the Kimble will be exonerated of the murder conviction..." "The Kimble"... as opposed to the "Non-Kimble"???
daDoctah 9 months ago
I have to wonder if the makers of "Brisco County Jr" ever expected their series to run beyond a single season. They caught and disposed of the initial bad guy (played by the creepiest actor in Hollywood history, Billy Drago) halfway through season one, at which point the show just coasted to its inevitable cancellation. The show airing on Fox, if it had come out a bit later, they probably thought it'd just get cancelled right then and there.

You also wonder what the makers of "Run for Your Life" (including Roy Huggins who also created "The Fugitive") with Ben Gazzara were thinking when they started out with the premise that their main star had only eighteen months to live at the most. The show lasted three full seasons.
Pacificsun daDoctah 9 months ago
Unless the Producer/Creator/Writer combination has a long history of success. In the day, most of the offerings were never convinced of their longevity! Contracts were usually 3 years with an option of 5 years. But, competition among only 3 networks was brutal. Even when the Series had merit, the numbers ran the game. Because it was a selling point for advertisers, which translated into network revenue, which sustained (they guessed) the certainty of their own programming positions. (Wrong). It's sad to think the success of one Series, depended upon the failure of the one, opposite. And what we have today, appearing on Classic TV, are amazing success stories. Whether we think there's too much of one, or not. They deserve recognition and appreciation.
Bapa1 daDoctah 9 months ago
Remember the show called "The Immortal"?
daDoctah Bapa1 9 months ago
At least that one did just the opposite of building an ending time-frame into the initial premise; if he was immortal, they could keep doing the show as long as the ratings held up, and could only write an ending into the series by having him run over by a train or something.

I'm also remembering that the original Star Trek explicitly stated every week that they were on a "five-year mission" and at the time wondered how they planned to wrap it up at the end of that time (not anticipating that NBC would pull the plug after only three years). I imagined a finale where Kirk remained on the ship in orbit as they beamed the rest of the crew down in bunches until he was left alone with no one to operate the controls to get him back to earth with the others.
DocForbin 9 months ago
From what I understand if Quinn Martin had it his way The Fugitive would have ended a lot differently than it did. Martin wanted a final scene where Dr. Kimble discards an artificial arm along a beach, proving that he was actually the one-armed man he claimed had killed his wife.
Load previous comments
Bapa1 Peter_Falk_Fan 9 months ago
I don't think that would work, because his arms worked quite well.
Pacificsun Peter_Falk_Fan 9 months ago
An attempt at being facetious no doubt. Once realizing, how the Fugitive just put him on the map. For television history. There's a problem though. In betraying a character. Difficult to toss out 4 years of establishing a (fictional) and yet, authentic character. Hitchcock could do it; the point of his intentional quirky anthology. Because it's what viewers expected, and therefore accepted. Am not sure though if a Seventies generation of viewers could as well. They couldn't even handle "Bobbie Ewing's dream" giving him a year-long hiatus. Ya know, it all depends on what the Series was always intending to achieve. Just not sure if credible talent, really wanted to take that risk. JIMO, they were "selling" suspense above everything. And a morality tale speaking to "Justice, being truly blind." It was a tricky premise to handle, weekly. And the writers worked hard, to keep it as fresh as possible.
Bapa1 Pacificsun 9 months ago
Like David Banner in The Incredible Hulk.
Peter_Falk_Fan Pacificsun 9 months ago
I remember that 'dream year' from "Dallas". But the series finale of "Newhart" had a funny surprise ending.

cperrynaples 9 months ago
Well, we do know the end of the story! In a planned move, ABC ran a final episode where the one-armed man is killed after confessing he did it! That remains the second-highest hour-long broadcast after "Who Shot JR?"
Pacificsun cperrynaples 9 months ago
No Spoiler Alert, huh. For those who haven't finished the run. During owl-watchers hours overnight.
Pacificsun cperrynaples 9 months ago
But we've had 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 discussion here before, too. Those records need to be parsed out. If not by decade, then format. MASH was intended to be an hour's-worth of farewells. Except that in the day, programing didn't easily give up an hour of their regular prime-time programing. Because in the day, MASH was viewed as a quality Series, obviously. But not of the historical value which it has today. It has become an hour long feature, to celebrate occasions and adding interviews.

I haven't recently looked up the viewing records of Mini-Series in the early days. But didn't Roots also break some kind of record? For the novelty and historical perspective. It was a very powerful entry then. But, again, it ran for two-hours.

So the only point to be made is, considering what was the format of the collective viewing timeframe. And how was the product, defined. Actually, what was augmented Dallas' most notorious episode, was the promotional value of conversation peaking everyone's anticipation and curiosity. They'd send key actors to Talk Shows, ramping it up, without divulging the secret. But it was billed as a pure murder mystery. Probably not unlike Daytime Soap Operas either.





In reference to what's below:


But we've had 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 discussion here before, too. Those records need to be parsed out. If not by decade, then format. MASH was intended to be an hours-worth. Except that in the day, programing didn't easily given up an hour of their regular programing during prime-time. It has become an hour long feature, to celebrate occasions and with interviews. Like they've extended Cheers as well.

I haven't recently looked up the viewing record of Mini-Series in the early days. But didn't Roots also break some kind of record.

So the only point to be made is, what was the format of the viewing collective. And how was the product, defined. Actually, what was attributed to Dallas' most notorious episode, was the promotional value of conversation peaking everyone's anticipation. It was billed as a pure murder mystery!



cperrynaples Pacificsun 9 months ago
Well, I am right about the hour-long record! MASH ended with a 2 and a half hour episode and most other finales were extended! Technically The Fugitive had a 2 hour finale but ABC wisely chose to split it into 2 shows!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?