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Retro T.V. Reviews: Jake and the Fatman (1987) (Part 1: History)

Show Name: Jake and the Fatman

Developed by: Douglas Stefan Borghi

Created by: Dean Hargrove, Joel Steiger and Ann Doherty

Original Release: September 26th, 1987 to May 6th, 1992

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 106


I am finally getting to review this television show. I have been wanting to watch and review this for quite some time. I was waiting for the show to be available for streaming in Canada. That never happened, so I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the full collection on eBay. It was pretty cheap actually, coming in at 30$ Canadian. Some would say, there is a reason why it is that cheap, but we shall see.

This is another one of those shows where I used to watch this with my dad. The show would play on CBS. I do not remember the time slot though.

Let us look at the background of this show and see how it came to be!

History / Background

Jake and the Fatman stars William Conrad as the District Attorney J. L. McCabe. He has a Private Investigator (P.I) named Jake Styles, played by Joe Penny. The third man in this trio is Alan Campbell who played the character of Assistant District Attorney Derek Mitchell.

The inspiration for the show actually came from an episode of Matlock. In fact, the episode named "The Don" also starred the three main characters here. However, they were not named the same. William Conrad was D.A. James L. McShane (close but not the same), Joe Penny played the part of Paul Baron (son of mob boss) and Alan Campbell played the character of Palmer. However, the personalities of these three characters were the inspiration for the spin-off series Jake and the Fatman.

Most people would remember the show as being based in Hawaii. This is partially true but not for the whole run. Seasons 1, part of 4 and 5 were all shot in Los Angeles. Season 2, 3 and part of 4 were filmed in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The show was almost cancelled after the first season as the ratings were not as expected. However, as fate would have it, it would not be cancelled for very long. At the time, Magnum P.I. starring Tom Selleck had just been cancelled. CBS had a studio that they were leasing. The origin of the lease actually goes all the way back to the Hawaii 5-0 days. Since no one was going to use that studio, Jake and the Fatman relocated there as of Season 2. This gave the show a second wind. The good news is that the change of scenery did well for the show as the ratings were improved.

In season 4 though, the show went back to L.A. There were many rumours as to why they went back to film in L.A. The only true reason is due to the lease expiring on the studios in Hawaii.

The thing that is curious is that season 2 was much shorter than the others. This was due to 2 worker strikes. One of them was the Writers Guild strike in late Spring and early Summer of 1988. The second was a Wildcat strike by resort workers in November 1988. When all was said and done, there were only 11 episodes produced that season.

Just like Jake and the Fatman which was technically a spin-off series based on the characters that appeared in one episode of Matlock, the show was also the catalyst for another popular show in the 1990's, Diagnosis Murder starring Dick Van Dyke. The show in question was a season 4 episode named, It Never Entered My Mind. In this episode you barely see Jake or the Fatman and it is basically a Diagnosis Murder episode.

I have read that there were 2 scenarios for the spin-off. The first, was that this was a one off episode. Itproved to be so popular that CBS decided to build a show based on a doctor sleuth. The second was that Diagnosis Murder was already in the plans for CBS. They wanted to see how it was fare so they decided to make an episode on Jake and the Fatman to see what the reaction would be. I have a tendency to go with scenario 1, however, i have been unable to truly confirm one way or the other.

The show was not without its controversies. In today's day and age this seems very tame but back in the 1980's and 1990's these were big stories. Shortly after the show moved to Hawaii, Joe Penny seemed to have lost quite a bit of weight. This is when the rumour mill started spinning. Tabloids and and trash newspapers thought that Joe Penny had AIDS. At the time, he was not married or had any girlfriend and he had lost a lot of weight. So the media decided to put 2 and 2 together. However, the true reason for the weight loss was due to gastrointestinal virus. Basically, everything he ate, went right through and nothing would stay in his system. He would eventually beat the virus but in the last few seasons, you see him bulk up and then lose weight again periodically.

Also due to the rumours, people assumed the reason why they resumed filming in Los Angeles was for Joe Penny to get medical attention. As Maury Povich would say.

As I stated before, the reasons were due to CBS and had nothing to do with the actors.

This was the background of the show, in Part 2, we will look at the actors that made the show a success.


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