Cheryl Ladd and Richard Burgi Meet Cute Over a Corpse in ONE WEST WAIKIKI
If you’re going to murder somebody, do it in a pretty place. That’s the theory behind TV crime dramas set in exotic locales. And the most beautiful setting of all for a cop show – the Hawaiian Islands – also happens to be one of the most popular.
From Hawaiian Eye to Magnum, P.I. to Hawaii Five-0, procedurals have been set in the 50th state since it became the 50th state. Most follow a familiar format: something bad happens, our hero resolves it, and everybody has a cocktail at sunset. But one Hawaii-set series added a unique spin to this male-centric genre with a female hero who just happens to be smarter – and a better investigator – than her male counterpart. Take that, patriarchy!
That show was One West Waikiki. And, more than two decades after its debut, the Emmy-nominated mystery series remains a groundbreaking delight. Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels) stars as Dr. Dawn "Holli" Holliday, Hawaii’s newly minted medical examiner. Richard Burgi (The Sentinel) is Lt. Mack Wolfe, a charmingly Neanderthal homicide detective who becomes her reluctant partner in crime solving. Created by veteran writer/producer Glen A. Larson (Battlestar Galactica), this underrated gem is like CSI meets Crossing Jordan with a dash of The Thin Man. And getTV viewers can see for themselves what makes it such fun, as the rarely rerun classic joins our summer schedule every weekday at 1 pm ET/ 10 am PT!
As One West Waikiki begins, we meet our heroine - a Los Angeles-based forensic pathologist on a working vacation in Honolulu. When her fiancé (Douglas Barr) is killed, Holli stumbles onto a human trafficking ring masterminded by the ruthless Laura Greystone (Julia Nickson). Holli wants to solve her boyfriend’s murder and prevent more deaths, but she’s out of her jurisdiction. Enter Mack (Burgi), a disgraced homicide detective with enough personal baggage to fill a small volcano. He’s in the middle of a divorce while simultaneously breaking up with his girlfriend (Rebecca Staab), an investigative reporter. But more importantly, Mack’s on departmental probation for a shooting that resulted in civilian deaths – one that may be connected to Holli’s case.
Holli and Mack “meet cute” over a corpse and begin working together, despite their mutual contempt. She’s a forensic Sherlock Holmes with little tolerance for Mack’s shoot-from-the-hip style. He’s a gambler, forced to moonlight as a lounge singer while dodging debt collectors. But they need each other, and together they solve a case that clears Mack’s name and gives Holli a new job at a familiar address: One West Waikiki.
Ladd and Burgi have a breezy, genuine chemistry, but One West Waikiki also benefits from a strong supporting cast. Holli’s assistant is Nui Shaw (Elsie Sniffen), a Hawaiian-born forensic technician who counsels the newcomer in local customs and matters of the heart. Nui is as much of a partner to Holli as Mack is, furthering the show’s “woman power” credentials. Mac is supported by Kimo (Ogie Zulueta), a wise-cracking technology specialist and investigative wingman. Rounding out the core cast is The Breakfast Club’s Paul Gleason as Mack’s boss Dave Herzog. Gleason is introduced in the pilot in a scene that hilariously parodies the shout-y police captain trope, while winking at the actor’s best-known role.
Like most procedurals, One West Waikiki also boasts an all-star team of guest stars, including Oscar nominee Robert Forster, Emmy winner Ken Howard, horror icon Adrienne Barbeau, Pat Morita from The Karate Kid, and Doug McClure (in his final role). Daniel Benzali plays as a prickly defense attorney a year before he he was cast in a similar starring role on ABC’s legal drama Murder One. And SPOILER ALERT! Julia Nickson returns in season two as Laura Greystone, giving the show it’s very own recurring super-villain!
But the most interesting guest star casting is Robert Ito, best known to 1970s TV fans as Jack Klugman’s assistant Sam on Quincy, M.E. This is something of an inside joke, considering that Glen Larson also co-created Quincy and Cheryl Ladd’s Holli is essentially a gender-swapped version of Klugman’s crusading coroner. Larson also co-created Magnum, P.I., and Richard Burgi’s roguish, Thomas Magnum-esque charm is essentially the final ingredient in the One West Waikiki stewpot.
Burgi is a hoot in One West Waikiki. Some of the series’ most memorable moments involve Mack’s cloak-and-dagger past as a military police officer, a ret-con introduced when the show moved from CBS to first-run syndication for the second season. An episode set in New Zealand really pays off that backstory, as Mac is infected with a neurotoxin and Holli has to find the cure before it kills him. Had the show continued, it’s likely Larson would have upped the bioterrorism and espionage storylines. (Ironically, Burgi’s next series The Sentinel did just that.)
But as engaging as Burgi is as an action hero, it’s Ladd who makes One West Waikiki special. Her performance is memorably vulnerable, especially in episodes addressing Holli’s troubled childhood and her mother’s unexplained death. It’s this loss that inspired her to pursue a career in forensics, and it’s that sensitivity that compels Holli to advocate for women and children.
It’s also worth noting that Ladd was 43 when the series debuted in 1994, seven years older than her male co-star. Even though their relationship never goes beyond a trusting friendship, that fact alone makes the show unique for its era (or any era, really). Ladd and Burgi seem to have a genuine affection for each other, and their Nick-and-Nora-style banter gives the series the spirit of a rom-com, albeit one with dead bodies.
Sadly, One West Waikiki ended after just two seasons (with a cocktail at sunset, of course). But there was a conclusion to the story, at least of sorts. More than a decade later, Ladd and Burgi reunited on NBC’s nighttime soap Las Vegas, where Burgi’s villainous character gets pushed out of a plane in mid-flight. Murders don’t get more exotic than that.
One West Waikiki airs every weekday Monday through Friday at 1:00 pm ET. The Sentinel follows at 2:00 pm ET. You can read our interview with Richard Burgi and even more on the new summer schedule on the getTV blog.