September 10, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hawaii Five-O

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan

Since no one asked Alex O’Loughlin to dust off a script from 1968, do his best impression of Jack Lord, and grouse about the crime wave in downtown Honolulu, the hunky Australian doesn’t see Hawaii Five-0 as a remake. While not everything in version 2.0 is completely new — the iconic theme song remains intact (and was even rerecorded by some of the soundtrack’s original musicians), and you’ll hear ”Book ’em, Danno!” before the pilot episode is over — O’Loughlin sees CBS’ updated take on the indelible franchise about Det. Steve McGarrett and his band of tropical cops as its own entity. ”In the beginning, you hear that so many reboots don’t work,” says O’Loughlin. ”But when I read the script, I never thought about it again. This is a completely different take for a completely different time. I never worried.”

Neither did CBS. ”There are classics, and there are shows that never age,” explains CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. ”It’s the fact that you have a theme song that is so identifiable and quotes that are so much a part of our vernacular. For us, the clincher was the auspices, the all-star producers who brought us not so much a reboot but an homage.” It helped that executive producer Peter Lenkov (CSI: NY) came in and pitched a show that was both a reimagining of the original (which aired from 1968 to 1980) and a sentimental tribute from a guy who grew up loving Lord. ”Hawaii Five-0 was my dad’s favorite show, something that was very important in our house,” says Lenkov. ”I knew it really well. Sometimes these reboots don’t work unless you really love the source material and mine it the correct way.”

To that end, he teamed with origin specialists Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who wrote the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Though they’re mostly known for penning genre projects (the duo are consulting producers on Fringe and also worked on Alias), Kurtzman and Orci completely embraced the idea of reimagining an old series rather than creating the next alien invasion. ”We have always been eager to do something outside the realm of sci-fi,” says Kurtzman. ”We were interested in finding a way to do a show that would have all the procedural elements that a CSI had, but built around characters. You often don’t see both.”

Helmed by feature-film director Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard), the pilot (which cost around $8 million) kicks off with an explosive opening that introduces McGarrett as a Naval Intelligence officer who’s hot on the trail of an Irish terrorist cell. His father’s death brings McGarrett home to Hawaii, where the governor (24‘s Jean Smart) persuades him to head up a special task force. But even a tough Navy SEAL-turned-state cop needs a wingman: Enter Scott Caan. He plays Det. Danny ”Danno” Williams as a beach-hating, street-smart cop from New Jersey who’s transferred to ”this pineapple-infested hellhole” to be closer to his daughter from a failed marriage. Though the actor thinks nothing of lifting his shirt and showing off his abtacular torso to a reporter, he prefers to play Danno for laughs, improvising humorous asides when the mood calls for it. ”I try to find the lightness in it, because it is serious,” explains Caan, who reveals he never watched the original series. ”I want to try to find the humor, to figure out a way to make fun of each other. Because ultimately, that’s the show I’d wanna watch.” (Things did get a little too serious for Caan during production in August when he aggravated a previous knee injury while shooting and needed to undergo surgery on the mainland; he didn’t miss any episodes.)

To cast the role of Det. Chin Ho Kelly, the producers only had to travel down Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway to recruit Daniel Dae Kim, who was shooting his final episodes of Lost as Jin-Soo Kwon. Eager to stay in Hawaii — he owns a restaurant in Honolulu and his family lives there — Kim agreed, and is still pinching himself over his good fortune. Of course, he hasn’t completely shaken his past as a castaway. ”A lot of CBS executives and crew have been coming up to me to ask a lot of questions about the Lost finale,” he admits. ”And just yesterday, we were shooting at a location that I shot at at least 20 times for Lost, so I was haunted by the ghosts of Lost all day.”

The writers went after another sci-fi hero — or, rather, heroine — when it came time to reinvent the role of Kono, played in the original by a large man named Zulu. Grace Park — who also played the previously male character of Boomer on Sci Fi’s Battlestar Galactica update — is introduced in the first episode as Kelly’s surfer-chick niece, who joins the task force right out of the police academy. (Speaking of cult favorites, Heroes‘ Masi Oka is expected to guest-star as a coroner.) Unfortunately for Park, all those years of zipping around space didn’t provide her with the necessary tools to play an island lawdog. ”In the second episode there’s this great fight scene, and I thought, ‘I don’t do this,’ ” says the actress, who admits to feeling a bit overwhelmed by the show’s physical demands. ”It’s like a mini-action movie every week.”

Hawaii‘s strong ensemble should take some pressure off O’Loughlin, who’s keenly aware of the stock CBS is placing in him by having him lead the important franchise. After making his American TV debut in 2007 on The Shield, O’Loughlin went on to headline two CBS dramas that failed to make it past a single season — Moonlight in 2007 and Three Rivers in 2009. ”I’m deeply grateful to Nina and [CBS Corp. president and CEO] Les Moonves for the belief that they have in me time and time again,” he says. ”They keep getting behind me and paying my bills. I don’t know how much more TV I got in me in the immediate future if this doesn’t work. But hopefully, this one is gonna stick.”

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