Just lately, I've been working my way through Season One of the old TV series Vega$ on DVD. If you don't remember it, Vega$ -- not to be confused with the more recent James Caan series Las Vegas -- was an early entry in the private-detective genre that dominated prime time during much of the 1980s, running for three seasons from 1978 to '81. The show was created by Michael Mann, who would later become the driving force behind Miami Vice, and his pilot script suggested Vega$ could have been a stylish series with enough grit to allow some serious storytelling and character development, but without getting too heavy. Unfortunately, Mann's influence was quickly swamped by executive producer Aaron Spelling's trademark glitz, superficiality, and penchant for the ridiculous. For example, a typical episode from the first season involved an unscrupulous land developer trying to scare a retired madame off her property by -- get this -- sending a gorilla to threaten her. Or more precisely, a guy in a ratty-looking gorilla suit, like the ones Hawkeye and Trapper wore when they wanted to annoy Frank Burns. Yeah, it's a pretty bad show, even by the admittedly looser standards of the time.
(In case you're wondering, I was never a fan, not even back in the day; in fact, I don't recall ever watching it at all. The only reason it even pinged my radar is because the lead character drove a red 1957 Ford Thunderbird like my dad's. I picked up the DVDs out of curiosity, and to get a look at that car, and now I'm watching with the same sick "I cannot look away" fascination I feel when I see some white-trash loser getting busted for huffing paint on COPS.)
Believe it or not, though, my purpose here really isn't to rip on Vega$ for simply being what it was, namely a product of the Spelling cheese factory. After all, it ran in the time slot following Charlie's Angels, so what else could it have been but a big old pile of Kraft singles? No, what I'm interested in discussing is how eerily similar Vega$ was to another detective series, a much more respected and beloved series, a series that was starting production right around the time Vega$ was winding down: Magnum, PI. The two shows are so similar, in fact, that I think you can make a pretty good argument that Magnum, better though it might have been, was something of a Vega$ rip-off. Consider the following: