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The TV That Time Forgot: Hawaiian Eye

In show biz, imitation may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is the most predictable.

When 77 Sunset Strip was a rating success in the 1958 -59 TV season, Warner Brothers immediately began working up other series with the same basic components.

First, you need an exotic, but American locale. Hawaii was perfect. Not only was it tropical, but it was very topical as well. During 1959 and 1960, Hawaii was on its way to becoming our 50th state.

The Hawaiian Eye Detective Agency was headquartered in Honolulu’s upscale Hawaiian Village Hotel. The detectives performed security duties for the hotel in exchange for rent. The offices were quite elaborate with a tiki statue by the front door (often kissed for good luck) and a full sized private swimming pool! (Just what every private eye needs.)

Next, you add a handsome but mature leading man (the Efrem Zimbalist of the show). For Hawaiian Eye, that would be Anthony Eisley as Tracy Steele. 

Add to that the younger private eye (the Roger Smith of the show). That was a young Robert Conrad, making his debut as TV series regular as Tom Lopaka, allegedly half-Hawaiian, although Conrad certainly didn’t look or sound even partially Polynesian, but he did emerge from the swimming pool with his shirt off quite often.

For teen appeal (the Ed “Kookie” Brynes of the show), Warners cast a young actress they also hoped might have a singing career, Connie Stevens as Cricket Blake. Cricket was certainly kept busy. When not sleuthing with the boys, she ran the hotel’s gift shop, took photos of the guests and sang in the hotel’s cocktail lounge. She also found time to flirt shamelessly with both Eisley and Conrad.

Hawaiian Eye’s comic relief character (the Roscoe of the show) was local cab driver Kim Quisado, played by Poncie Ponce. One of the running bits on the show involved Kim having relatives all over the island who would occasionally lend a hand in the caper of the week.

Finally, the show also featured a snappy, uptempo title tune crooned by vocal quartet.

Warners Brothers would go on to try the formula two more times (with Surfside 6 and Bourbon Street Beat, set in Miami and New Orleans respectively), but Hawaiian Eye was far and away the most successful of the Sunset Strip clones.

Like their other detective shows, the episodes were really filmed in and around L.A. with location footage edited in. This made it easy for characters from other Warner Brothers series to crossover. In fact, the Hawaiian Eye detectives showed up on 77 Sunset Strip on one occasion with the Sunset Strip team returning the favor.

The show ran for 4 seasons on ABC from 1959 to 1963. Eisley left the show after the 3rd season and was replaced by Troy Donahue (who came over from the just-cancelled Surfside 6). In those days, TV seasons could stretch well beyond 30 episodes per. In all, Hawaiian Eye filmed 134 episodes and did quite well in syndication until black and white series lost their appeal.

Afterwards, it faded into memory. To date, there has been no home video release although reruns have occasionally shown up on those nostalgia cable channels.

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