Synopsis by Hal Erickson
One of the most popular and best-remembered adventure series of the 1960s, the weekly, hour-long The Fugitive made its ABC network premiere on September 17, 1963. David Janssen starred as Dr. Richard Kimble, a prominent physician who had been tried, convicted and condemned to death for the murder of his wife. In truth, Kimble was innocent, but he had never been able to convince the jury that he'd seen a "one-armed man" running from his home on the night of the murder. While Kimble was being escorted to prison by police lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), the train on which the two men were riding was involved in a spectacular crash. Wriggling loose from the handcuffs that bound him to the unconscious Gerard, Kimble managed to escape. For the rest of the series, Kimble assumed a variety of new identities and took on innumerable odd jobs as he traveled throughout the country in search of the One-Armed Man who could prove his innocence. Meanwhile, the relentless Lt. Gerard dogged Kimble's trail, determined to recapture him. In the tradition of such previous quasi-anthology series as Wagon Train, Richard Kimble would wander into a small town and profoundly change the lives of several local citizens (as well as convince them that he wasn't a wife killer) before hastily departing for his next destination as Lt. Gerard closed in. Other than Kimble and Gerard, there were no other regulars, though Kimble's sister Donna Taft (Jacqueline Scott) made sporadic appearances, while the late Mrs. Helen Kimble (played by Diane Brewster) would show up in flashback sequences. Also, each episode was narrated by an uncredited William Conrad. As the series rolled onward, the One-Armed Man would pop in and out of the action with increasing frequency, always frustratingly just beyond Kimble's reach, and never long enough to be proven guilty in the eyes of Lt. Gerard. The elusive murderer was eventually identified as Fred Johnson, played by genuine amputee Bill Raisch, a veteran movie stuntman best remembered for his barroom brawl in Kirk Douglas in the 1961 theatrical feature Lonely are the Brave. During its fourth and last season on the air, The Fugitive entered the annals of pop-culture history with its final episode, telecast on August 29, 1967, in which Kimble finally caught up with Fred Johnson, just as new evidence surfaced establishing that there had been another witness to the murder. This episode, "The Judgement", was seen by more viewers than any single dramatic TV series episode in history, a record that would remain unbroken until the "Who Shot J.R." installment of Dallas in the fall of 1980. (Reruns of The Fugitive aired on ABC's daytime schedule from April 1967 to March 1968; while the series was highly rated during its original run, it fared less successfully in rerun form, possibly because viewers already knew the outcome of the story). Although neither confirmed nor denied by its executive producer Quinn Martin nor its creator Roy Huggins, The Fugitive was clearly inspired by the real-life case of Ohio physician Sam Sheppard, who in 1954 had been sentenced to death for his wife's murder despite his protestations that he'd seen a "curly-haired man" fleeing from his house on the fatal night. Ultimately, Dr. Sheppard was released from prison when it was determined that he had been a victim of judicial prejudice and "guilt by headlines", though at the time of his death in 1970 he had never been officially exonerated of the crime. In addition to inspiring a sub-genre of "hero on the run" TV series (notably Branded, Run for Your Life and The Invaders), The Fugitive served as the basis for a highly successful 1993 theatrical film, starring Harrison Ford as Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard. And during the 2000-2001 season, an updated series version of The Fugitive, starring Tim Daly in the title role and Mykelti Williamson as his pursuer, was briefly telecast on CBS.
death-penalty, false-accusation, manhunt, murder, wife