The Fugitive follows the adventures of Dr. Richard Kimble, a man on the run after being convicted of murdering his wife. At the start of each episode in this set, the narrator informs the viewer that Kimble is innocent and was unable to prove “that moments before discovering his murdered wife’s body he saw a one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home.” On his way to Death Row, fate offered Kimble a reprieve in the form of a train accident, allowing him to escape his police escort, Lieutenant Philip Gerard.
Over the course of the series, Kimble travels the country searching for the one-armed man, following any lead no matter how slim, all the while trying to stay out of the clutches of the police, especially the determined Gerard. Kimble moves from town to town, taking odd jobs and false names, but since the case made national headlines, he runs into people who know or discover his identity. What keeps the viewer intrigued is never knowing how the characters are going to react to Kimble: do they believe he is a murderer and inform the authorities, do they believe he is innocent and try to help him, or do they believe they can take advantage of Kimble’s predicament for their own nefarious purposes?
The Fugitive is an all-time classic television drama and in 1993 was ranked by TV Guide as the best dramatic series of the 1960s. Produced by the legendary Quinn Martin, it ran four seasons from 1963 to 1967. The finale became the highest-rated dramatic program up to that time, bringing in 30 million viewers, which was then 72 percent of all households. It was unseated in 1980 by the revelation of who shot J.R. on Dallas.
The series has a number of assets, but its greatest is its writing. Kimble is compelling as a lead character because the audience roots for him to succeed. He’s an everyman wrongly accused, a successful plot device that Alfred Hitchcock used to great effect in a few films. The specter of Gerard and the law raises the stakes and creates tension. Kimble being a fugitive created infinite story possibilities for the writers because he could appear anywhere and alongside anyone, the only limitation being Kimble would have to move on by the episode’s end. “Come Watch Me Die” provides an interesting twist as Kimble is sworn in as a deputy and escorts a prisoner. The man-on-the-run formula became a successful template that many television shows have used over the years, both popular (The Incredible Hulk and The A-Team) and obscure (Run, Joe, Run and Two).