Show and Tell Hawai'i

‘Five-0’ writers need to catch Hawaii lifestyle wave

September 26th, 2010

“Hawaii Five-0” settles into its Monday slot on CBS (KGMB9), with the second episode making its debut at 9 p.m. Sept. 27 on CBS (KGMB9).
Buzz has been mostly positive — finally, a show that’s filmed in Hawaii, and showcases the Islands as we live and know it (even with an overdose of crash-boom-pow chases and crashes).
The negative is that the show does not yet reflect Island ways and folks. With probably six or seven episodes already in the can, it’s time to flash the yellow caution sign about the scripts — and the need to fill the gap in conveying the Island-ness of Honolulu.
The awkwardness of a Kukui High School mention (changed from Kahuku, in the earlier preview version, equally clumsy in the context of the pilot) and the tentative deployment of pidgin, called "bird" by the writers, are early indicators of cluelessness or recklessness, or a combination of both.
The writing staff is based on the West Coast, not here. Therein lies a part of the problem. Maybe a writer or two should come live here for a skosh, to breathe the air, eat at Zippy’s, surf at Canoes or watch the curls at Pipeline, slurp Matsumoto shave ice, peruse Doug Simonson’s “Pidgin to Da Max” book, read the script of Lisa Matsumoto’s “Once Upon One Time” or Lee Cataluna’s “Da Mayah,” learn a little bit about Hawaiian culture, embrace hula at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel or Kaiulani Hotel, sit in on an Augie T stand-up, experience a vintage Rap Reiplinger CD or DVD, listen to an Amy Hanaiali’i, Raitea Helm or Brothers Cazimero CD, drive through the tunnels of H3 and H2, see the splendors of the Pali and Hanauma Bay, wear an aloha shirt and slippahs, sniff and savor the wonders of malasadas at Leonard’s or Champion’s, get caught in the H1/H2 gridlock in morning commute, read the Star-Advertiser, watch Hawaii News Now.
In other words, get immersed. Taste it, feel it, breathe it, hear it, drive it, swallow it, adore it ... to understand it all.
Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Zagat and Gayot can provide backup for orientation, but there’s keen advantage to actually experiencing some of it ... especially if you’re gonna write about it for cast to utter and the viewers to digest.
Go figure, the four key actors really don’t know Hawaii, though Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho has lived here during his tenure with ABC’s “Lost” — but honestly, he is not genuinely local. If he and Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, Scott Caan as Danny “Danno” Williams and Grace Park as Kono Kalakaua are to be the faces of “Five-0” and Hawaii, getting to know the city and the state, and the pulse of what we do and why, are valuable assets in the big picture. Presumably, if “Five-O” earns its stripes as a multi-season show, everyone — writers in particular — need to soak up all there is to know about Honolulu and Hawaii.
The original “Hawaii Five-0,” starring Jack Lord as McGarrett, was clearly a vehicle for its centerpiece actor; the reboot is delightfully an ensemble piece and potentially could emerge as equals to the “CSI” and “NCIS” hits on CBS.
The original had remarkable in-jokes and visual/aural asides that showed the writers knew their turf, hoping the audience would pick up on the subtle tactics.
For instance, the original villain, Wo Fat (played by Khigh Dheigh) was named after the fabled Chinatown eatery, whose sign still hangs at King and Hotel Streets. That name was introduced in the 1968 pilot — and McGarrett’s chief nemesis also was a key in the closing show in 1980
The Kono Kalakaua character, originated by Zulu, was mildly of an homage to prevalent Hawaiian names that began with K’s around town (which newcomers can’t pronounce, what with the barrage of k’s) with a nod to perhaps the main avenue in Waikiki, named after King David Kalakaua.
Chin Ho Kelly, the role originally played by Kam Fong Chun, is inspired by the late financier Chinn Ho, whose entrepreneurial skills — founder of Capital Investment Company, owner of the Ilikai Hotel (coincidentally the site of that iconic opening scene in the original “Five-0”) and onetime owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin — occasionally led folks to call him the “Chinese Rockefeller.”
In one original episode, the town paper was prophetically called the Star-Advertiser, referring to and merging the then stand-alone papers, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser.
Heck, even I was mentioned in one original season episode and pictured in another. In the fourth episode, one of the characters was named Senator Harada, a reference to a certain entertainment editor at that time; in another episode, my photo was used as one of four or five in a crime lineup. (No, I did nothing bad — just provide a photo).
One more thing: Wish the show will tune in and utilize Island music as part of its supportive songs to enhance scenes. I know, I know, hip-hop and rap speak to young audiences; but it’s not only valid, but valuable, to expose and embrace the heartbeat and soul of Island musicians and singers. Think Bruddah Iz, Keali’i Reichel, Brother Noland, Willie K, even Cecilio and Kapono.
The original series had brief segments of Danny Kaleikini performing at the Kahala Hilton’s Hala Terrace; maybe the renewbie can write a scene around the “Magic of Polynesia” spectacle at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber or the “Creation” revue at the Princess Kaiulani’s Ainahau showroom. Helps the visitor industry, connects with the viewership.
This sense of community, of people and places that represent the multi-elements of Hawaii, would add realism and substance and atmosphere that locals will recognize and visitors will remember from their travels here.
The second episode, I presume, will reveal how the “Hawaii Five-0” cop unit gets its name. Like the Morton Stevens theme song retained in the reboot, it’s all about branding.
Write on!

28 Responses to “‘Five-0’ writers need to catch Hawaii lifestyle wave”

  1. kulawarrior:

    Too true. I was not even born in Hawaii, nor do I really speak any pigeon (I have lived here since 1987), and I was totally annoyed by the crappy attempt at pigeon. Fun show other than that irritation.

  2. Keith Haugen:

    Aloha Wayne:

    As a Hawaiian language teacher/speaker/composer, I think the FIVE-O actors also need some instruction in pronouncing Hawaiian, even if only the names.

    If they can say "Kono," they can say "Hono" as in Honolulu. The first one to mess up the name of our town was Daniel Dae Kim, who said "Hanalulu," turning me off. Quite a few people who know better have mentioned that to me. "Why don't you correct them?"

    Maybe they should have called Grace Park, "Kim Kim," or something that they could all pronounce. She does not look like a Kono Kalakaua (don't ask me what a Kono Kalakaua looks like... ha ha).

    I recall coaching "Hot Lips" from the "MASH" show and she did a much better job narrating the Hawaiian segment in the Macy Parade coverage as a result. Good actors can learn. In fact, the new Steve McGarrett has done a pretty good job of sounding like an American, disguising the Australian accent that I assume he has. He and the others could learn the few Hawaiian names they need for this show, I'm sure of it.

    Even Aku, who loved to say "KAPPY o LANNY" and "KANNY OH HEE" (for Kapi`olani and Kane`ohe) could say them correctly when he wanted to.

  3. Jonnie Santos:

    Love your enthusiasm and positive energy about all things Hawaii.

    As far as Hawaii Five-O goes, I think it's tailored for a younger viewer. It doesn't help that these guys (writers) are in LA. To me, TV is a business and the majority of TV viewers are from the mainland; sometimes they (we) don't know the difference between shave ice and a snow cone; and sadly I think most visitors remember the scenery more than the people. But blow-up a bunch of stuff and have the good guys win in the end and we'll look the other way when it comes to the details.

    I remember a movie called The Ride filmed in Hawaii with quite a few local actors; that would have been a great TV series about a young Duke Kahanamoku and old Oahu.

    My favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory. With a Hawaiian spin why couldn't the guys in the show all be working up on Haleakala for AMOS. Make one of the guys Hawaiian and play on the tension of job secrecy/security with an elder in his/her family also keeping secrets, but from WWII about a top-secret engine design for an experimental submersible battleship nicknamed Nautilus. Not that there's a shred of truth to that or the folklore about tunnels connecting the islands, but I digress...

    Maybe the big West Coast studios need a presence on Oahu. It would be wonderful for UH to teach screenwriting classes because there were jobs to fill locally. Can you imagine all the related jobs and education in and around television and movie making? How about studio musicians with local talent, wow.

    Working for the big hotels and restaurants is good, honorable work however I'm guessing the islands are loosing a lot of talent and brains to the mainland because of better paying and or more engaging work. Establishing a large, studio complex on Oahu would be awesome.

    As far as the writing goes for Hawaii Five-O, I think we've seen their best shot in the first episode. I'll continue to watch and keep my expectations set safely low.

  4. theDman:

    The pilot was just a way to introduce the show and the characters. They still have a chance to work on the weak spots.

    But will they?

    Your yellow flag of caution should be a red flag Wayne, as I am certain that the writers and producers don't think they need the support of the local population for this show...."it's our money and our show and we will do as we damn well please!"

    They are going to find out that almost everybody here in Hawaii cares about the show because we feel it represents us to some degree.

    Alienate us, and a lot of needless negative energy is going to embattle this production.

  5. Former Local:

    Surely you can't be implying that the original show was wrapped in verisimilitude? Jack Lord was constantly driving the wrong way or towards intersections that didn't exist.
    People shouldn't mistake the new show for being anything other than an attempt to reuse the successful templates from CSI and NCIS. If you watch the pilot again with the sound muted, it looks just like those shows. And it is well documented that the creative team is the same one responsible for the reboot of Star Trek with younger actors. The viewers they are trying to attract with this version of 5-0 are the grandchildren of those who watched the first show. Lower your expectations accordingly.

  6. mr raise:

    I concur with everything you say Wayne, the only slight rebuttal to your column would be that Hawaii and Hawaiians are NOT the target audience for this series, it is the wider mainland audience. We correctly critique the show for its lack of "correctness" but we have to remind ourselves that this series is an action series SET in Hawaii, it's not necessarily ABOUT Hawaii, a fine distinction I will admit but it is there nonetheless. The original series was filmed in a time when very few, relatively speaking, mainlanders had ever been to our Islands so it was essential that it be authentic. Now, mainlanders have so many ways to either visit or read about Hawaii to the point where they don't "need" the new series to be their absolute guidebook for our Paradise, they just want to see some action and pretty girls and boys on the beach...very superficial but it is what will deliver the money to the studio company. We can only hope they will choose to become more authentic so that the true beauty of our islands and culture will be portrayed.

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  9. amosilatus:

    What 5-0 could use is a good local writer-actor who can review the scripts and suggest changes when the pidgin is not authentic or the "local" characters are saying things that would not come out of any local's mouth.

  10. TWD:

    First of all, it was just the pilot, so give the actors a break. Executive director Pete Lenkov has expressed interest in improving the pidgin, so don't rush to judgement. Secondly, most TV shows don't adequately portray the cities that they're supposedly set in, and at least Hawaii Five-0 is actually filmed there and contributing to your economy. It's a television show, not a travelogue. Do you think that CSI: Miami shows the average day in the life of a Miami inhabitant? And although the show runners want to please the people of Hawaii, that's not why they're filming this show, they have a much broader audience. Lighten up!

  11. Kimo:

    Aloha, Jonnie Santos
    FYI, UH Manoa DOES have a vibrant film/video production program in the Academy for Creative Media, founded some years ago by Chris Lee, formerly of SONY/Tri-Star. It has cranked out dozens and dozens of graduates who are working in the business on all of the current production projects - Battleship, Hawaii 5-0, Off The Map, Journey to the Center of the Earth II, etc.

  12. Janet Massaro:

    With everything that is beautiful in Hawaii, the people, the culture, the language, the music, the scenery, the ALOHA, I would LOVE to see everything done right in the new Hawaii Five-O, and that means RESPECT for all things Hawaiian. What a treasure trove for a writer and what fun "research" awaits you! Please, writers for Hawaii Five-O, do the honorable thing and get it right and we'll all love you for it. And producers, please hire the local talent for their many gifts.

    Meanwhile, I'm dreaming of my next trip to the Magic Isles while I wait on the east coast and watch the new series.

  13. Tracie:

    I live on the mainland but I have friends in Hawaii. I'm not quite sure what to think so far. I give it a 50/50. I'm afraid all this show will end up being is O'Loughlin shirtless and Grace Park in as little as can be (maybe because she can't act). I'm not looking for these things in a show. Scott Caan is really good. I give this show 9 shows then good-by. Hopefully Scott Caan will pop up in somthing else. The rest of them need to go back to acting school.

  14. theDman:

    Tracie said:

    "...I'm not quite sure what to think so far. I give it a 50/50. I'm afraid all this show will end up being is O'Loughlin shirtless and Grace Park in as little as can be..."

    Yes, that would be a rocky path for the storyline...but it is the "Hollywood way".

    Let's see what the writers can come up with.

  15. Come on' man!!:

    Mahalo Mr. Harada for writing this blog entry. Everyone from Hawaii loves the idea of resurrecting "Hawaii 5-0" but aside from the much needed revenue for the state that the show brings in, most kamaaina's would agree that the depiction of the local culture is horrible on this show. Most egregious is not having any local actors in main supporting roles. Auwe again!!!

    TWD: This is not a true pilot because this is remake of an iconic show that put Hawaii on the map in the 70's. Local people have much vested in how our community is portrayed. It's bad enough we have the "Dog"'s show portraying Hawaii as a haven for bail jumping "meth" heads. So forget about lightening up, brah!!!!

  16. Dave Reardon:

    Thanks Wayne! I've been ranting on this same issue for awhile. It's obvious the writers don't care much about getting it right when it comes to local tone, literally and figuratively.

  17. Charlie Ross:

    As a fan of the original show, I wasn't sure how this would compare, but I was hopeful. The show, in its present form, could be have been filmed in Los Angeles or Miami. There is nothing to distinguish it as a show originating from Hawaii. You are so right. Where is the Hawaii flavor? I suppose young people especially from the Mainland, who do not know very much about Hawaii or the original show will find it interesting, but it could be CSI:Miami. No difference. I still prefer reruns with Jack Lord.........

  18. Dennis Anderson:

    Cardboard characters.
    Plots recycled and tweaked from a thousand other television "dramas."
    The only thing worth watching the new Hawaii 5-0 for is the scenery, but even that is fake.
    They drive from Waikiki to Kahala via the north shore?
    I recognized a background in episode 2 as being the exact view we had from Pohakea Point in Kane`ohe, but in the foreground the actors were on a sandy beach. There is no sandy beach in that location on Kane`ohe Bay.
    My wife says give it another week. Au`we

  19. pizza dough recipe:

    What 5-0 could use is a good local writer-actor who can review the scripts and suggest changes when the pidgin is not authentic or the "local" characters are saying things that would not come out of any local's mouth.

  20. Jone Leadingham:

    Great blog and I love what you have to say and I think I will tweet this out to my friends so they can check it out as well. I like what you have to say.

  21. Royal Pains:

    What a great article. Thanks a lot for sharing those knowledge. I will absolutely check it out.

  22. Ardath Redder:

    This is definitely a blog that people need to get behind. The problem is, no one wants to do a great deal of reading and not have something else to stimulate the mind. This is the internet, after all. Maybe if you added a video or two to emphasise your point. Ill stick around, FOR SURE. But, I dont know if others will.

  23. Island Boy:

    I don't get it. Quick-cut editing and so many close-ups promote a viewing claustrophobia because it shrinks the screen and gives the viewer a state of anxiety. Two well-known facts.

    Most everyone who travels and vacations in Hawaii is seeking the opposite feeling. Hawaii is the land of the laid-back, no? So, the show is a virtual lesson on contradictions. So, far, except for each show's ending pow-wow with the four principles, it's like watching the original Batman on speed! I get an uneasy dizzy feeling almost immediately. No way to relax with this show. This is not the Hawaii I know and love.

  24. Radiant:

    Hawaii Five-0 has brilliant actors and creative writers, producers and director. This is a very successful and entertaining show to watch every week. My family and I look forward to watching H50 every Monday night on CBS.

  25. Maureen:

    CBS has created a perfectly entertaining and exciting show to watch, casting very talented and charismatic young actors. This is the most exciting and awesome crime drama, with action, big splash, beautiful sceneries and humor. Hawaii Five-0 is a big winner on CBS.

  26. Gerry Cupelli:

    Completely understand what your stance in this matter. Although I would disagree on some of the finer details, I think you did an awesome job explaining it. Sure beats having to research it on my own. Thanks

  27. EarlGrayHot:

    I think the show is young and finding its feet admirably and it's overly critical and highly unfair to complain about this so early on. They'll get it; it will just take time. WHenever a movie or series is filmed on your home turf, it's always a bit weird when you notice discrepencies in accents or places but that's just part of filming. A movie was filmed in my hometown here in the midwest years ago and it makes the locals laugh at times but this is make believe. I'm enjoying the show and I think it will get better and involve more local flavor in time. As for how well the actors speak local dialect-that will no doubt improve. Alex O'Loughlin, in particular, is known for imersing himself in his roles and given the chance he'll get it perfectly in time. Look how well he speaks North American English!

    As for complaining that Kono doesn;t look like Kono althouthg the poser critic doesn't know what that should really be-that's obviously ridiculous and again, unfair to the actor. Give the show and the actors the time to get it all right. They will! Think what a challenge it must be to try to find your character's place, learn the dialogue and the dialect and act the part in the beginning. Just the fact that the show is filmed in Hawaii is focusing attention on the islands; they just need time and a little patience from the audience. You can't get everything exactly spot on instantly, after all.

  28. Listing of certified pilots in Arizona:

    Cardboard characters.
    Plots recycled and tweaked from a thousand other television "dramas."
    The only thing worth watching the new Hawaii 5-0 for is the scenery, but even that is fake.
    They drive from Waikiki to Kahala via the north shore?
    I recognized a background in episode 2 as being the exact view we had from Pohakea Point in Kane`ohe, but in the foreground the actors were on a sandy beach. There is no sandy beach in that location on Kane`ohe Bay.
    My wife says give it another week. Au`we

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