Five-O Lives On!


Several years ago, producer Steve Tisch (who produced the multi-award winning Forrest Gump) began developing a Five-O movie. He hired writers, including Jack Epps, Jr., who had co-written the Five-O episode "The Capsule Kidnapping". He must have been dissatisfied and had high expectations, for he changed writers or writing teams a couple of times. He was working with Hollywood Pictures, a division of Disney Studios, on this project.

In 1994, Disney Studios got a new head man, whose first decree was that some projects would get the ax. Hawaii Five-O was one of those which fell. That looked like the end until producer George Litto, who worked with Leonard Freeman as a packager for several series including Five-O, picked up the torch.

Here are some of the first trade magazine articles about George Litto's film, plus later developments taken from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin

According to a gossip column in the December 16, 1996 Vancouver Sun, "Hollywood actor turned local acting school teacher Peter Breck has put the lessons on hold to get in front of the camera again... This time he's off to Hawaii in February [1997], to play the head of secret service in the tentatively titled feature film Hawaii Five-O: Day of Infamy."

However, I wrote to George Litto by e-mail mentioning the above item. According to his assistant: "No one has been officially cast for any of the roles. There is no studio deal yet, nor director set. Any other information is strictly gossip. There will be an announcement when a studio deal is set along with cast announcements for the key players."

Early in 1997 some new developments arose which delayed the production and release of George Litto's Five-O film. It seems that CBS (the network that originally broadcast Five-O) dug up some contract which claims they had certain rights to Five-O. This was the start of a protracted legal battle. It seemed a strange coincidence that this all happened just as CBS was developing a "new" Five-O TV pilot in conjunction with Stephen J. Cannell Productions, who produced The A-Team, Wiseguy, 21 Jumpstreet and The Rockford Files.

In late 1998, a brief item appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser column of Eddie Sherman, who knew many of the show's original participants and who appeared as an actor in a few episodes. It reportedly said:

Rose Freeman and her partner, producer George Litto, apparently have the rights to make the Hawaii Five-O big budget movie.
When I asked Mrs. Freeman about this later, her comment was "no comment"!

(From Army Archerd's column in Variety, April 7, 1999)

After 21 months of arbitration, it's clear sailing for the feature version of "Hawaii Five-O." Producer George Litto and Rose Freeman, widow of the TV show's creator and original producer Leonard Freeman, have been in the lengthy arbitration with CBS. The Writers Guild, repping Freeman, won for him (his widow and agent Litto) all separated rights, including the movie. Rose Freeman told me, "The Writers Guild truly takes care of its own. And I will be eternally grateful to them and to George Litto." The latter was Leonard's agent and had promised the dying writer he would watch over Rose. "He's a man of honor," she says. He and Rose plan to make a $75 million-$100 million feature for their company L/F Prods. LLC. As reported earlier, Litto has a $250 million line of credit from Chase Manhattan Bank to produce and finance five pix within two years. He says he already has two studios bidding for the feature "Hawaii Five-O" (MQ note: I have heard rumours that Alec Baldwin and Jackie Chan may be playing parts in an upcoming Five-O movie.)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Film 'em, Danno.

The TV series "Hawaii Five-O" will be made into a movie now that a rights dispute between CBS and the estate of the show's creator has been resolved.

The movie's producer, George Litto, and the widow of show creator Leonard Freeman prevailed in a 21-month arbitration battle with the network over film rights to the story about the island adventures of no-nonsense cop Steve McGarrett.

"It's a major franchise," Litto said Wednesday. "It's the kind of television show that became part of the fabric of society. McGarrett became the symbol, the epitome of the tough, honest, dedicated cop."

Litto said he has a script and a large line of credit. He plans to approach studios and stars about getting a big-budget project off the ground. He hopes to be on location in Hawaii as early as this fall.

CBS said in a statement: "We believe it would have been better for the project if we had prevailed in the arbitration, but obviously we did not. We wish Mr. Litto all the best with his project."

The series ran on CBS from 1968 to 1980.

Movie Update -- from Reuters, April 23rd, 2002

NEW YORK -- After a ferocious bidding war, DreamWorks emerged late Monday with exclusive negotiating rights to turn the classic CBS cop series "Hawaii Five-O" into a feature film, Variety reports.

The studio is expected to collar a feature deal worth seven figures for the rights to a contemporized version featuring the same characters who became so ingrained in the minds of viewers during the show's 12-year run. And of course, lead character Steve McGarrett will utter the famous line "Book 'em, Danno."

At least four parties bid on the property before DreamWorks came away with the inside track to make the deal. DreamWorks did not comment.

The script was written by Roger Towne ("The Natural"), who also was the original writer on the upcoming Al Pacino-Colin Farrell CIA drama "The Farm."

BUT... things changed ... the following was later posted at the Variety website:

DreamWorks has changed from being exclusive negotiator to one of several bidders in the remake of "Hawaii Five-O" after being unwilling to meet a deal point sought by producer and rights controller George Litto that would have given him and his heirs in-perpetuity say-so over "Five-O" in the same way that the family of producer Cubby Broccoli controls the James Bond franchise.

DreamWorks was ready to pay millions for rights and a script by Roger Towne, but wouldn't agree to the terms set by Litto, who repped series creator Leonard Freeman and then his estate when he died in 1973.

DreamWorks is still in the bidding, but talent agency CAA, which just remade the "Billy Jack" deal, has begun re-shopping the "Hawaii Five-O" package to other studios in hopes of meeting Litto's terms, sources said.

The following is from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in December, 2002:

DreamWorks recently asked for redos on remake deals for the "Hawaii Five-0" film, but rights holder and producer George Litto is so determined to have it his way that he secured a credit line from JP Morgan for the film's $100 million budget. DreamWorks refused to give the gross position Litto wanted, as well as creative controls that, sources said, are comparable to those held by the Broccoli family on the James Bond franchise.

Litto hopes DreamWorks still comes back as the pic's domestic distributor, but he has personally financed films before and had a previous credit line with the same lender. Litto knows there's a greater potential to make a lot more money if one is both producer and financier.

Litto's real concern, however, is not giving up rights if Dreamworks does pony up. In recent negotiations, he refused to waive his rights to be part of the decisions on script, choice of director and what actor will play Steve McGarrett. The producer strongly believes if this first feature is "done right, it has the franchise potential of James Bond or 'Mission: Impossible.' But do it wrong the first time and it's over."

See also the following Honolulu Star-Bulletin stories:

April 9, 1999
September 27, 2001
April 24, 2002
July 31, 2002
September 9, 2004


In early 1997, news about a revival of Hawaii Five-O began to surface. There was all sorts of speculation about who, if anyone would play McGarrett ... some people mentioned were Lee Majors, Burt Reynolds and James Brolin!

Through some "industry contacts," I managed to obtain a version of the original "new" Five-O pilot script which was allegedly revised substantially. Click on this link for a plot summary. Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS!

We have a report from James MacArthur about the filming of the pilot, which took place in April, 1997, as well as some Honolulu Star-Bulletin stories about it:

Five-O is coming back (February 24, 1997)
Danno for Governor? (February 27, 1997)
Five-O vets may appear in pilot (March 4, 1997)
New Five-O crew will book 'em again (March 18, 1997)
'Five-O' pilot episode lands Busey, Wong in lead roles (March 28, 1997)
Old pals, new show (April 1, 1997)
Familiar faces of 'Five-O' strengthen Hawaii roots (April 3, 1997)
Danno! He's been hit! (April 7, 1997)
‘Five-O’ not in fall lineup; Surgery scheduled for new 'Five-0' star (May 22, 1997)

Unfortunately, it seems very unlikely that this pilot will ever see the light of day. According to a source at CBS: "The pilot was produced and given limited viewing amongst CBS exectives and staff in TV City. It was considered unairable (completely missing the point and flavor of the original)." Karen Rhodes, author of a book on Five-O, also gives some insight into why the pilot will never be shown.