Emmy nominated TV creator Glen A. Larson, who was behind such ’70s and ’80s shows as Quincy M.E., Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, The Fall Guy and Magnum P.I., died Friday night of esophageal cancer at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, CA according to various trade and social media reports. Larson was 77. Born January 3, 1937 in Long Beach, CA, Larson cut his teeth in showbiz as a member of The Four Preps vocal group in 1956 which churned out three gold records for Capitol. Larson wrote such toons as “26 Miles (Santa Catalina)”, “Big Man” and “Down By The Station.” Larson racked up two Emmy noms for McCloud in the best limited series category in 1974 and 1975, and also earned an outstanding drama series nom for Quincy M.E. in 1976.
In time, TV writing, would become another one of Larson’s fortes, working under Quinn Martin Sr. (Streets of San Francisco, The Untouchables). Larson’s first scribe credit was on the 1966 episode The Fugitive, “In a Plain Paper Wrapper”. He landed a production deal at Universal early on his career with his first hit series being the ABC western Alias Smith and Jones which ran for 50 episodes across three seasons. Alias Smith and Jones followed the exploits of Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah “Kid” Curry (played by Pete Duel and Ben Murphy). Duel died from a self-inflicted gunshot in 1971 and Larson left the show. In 1980, Larson would leave Universal for 20th Century Fox.
When ABC rejected the original pilot of The Six Million Dollar Man based on Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg, Larson took a second crack turning the action series about an ex-astronaut with bionic body parts into two 1973 TV movies which later spawned a mega hit with Lee Majors that lasted five seasons and 108 episodes.
Larson created Quincy M.E. starring Jack Klugman as a Los Angeles coroner investigating suspicious deaths. The show starred Jack Klugman and marked a change-up from the comedy he was known for on The Odd Couple. Quincy M.E. ran from 1976 to 1983 on NBC, clocking 148 episodes.
In the wake of the cinematic rebirth of sci-fi, spurred by Star Wars, Larson launched Battlestar Galactica, an ABC sci-fi series which touched upon his Mormon beliefs. Fox sued Universal in 1980 over the show violation of Star Wars copyrights and lost. No surprise — the special effects for Battlestar were being overseen by Star Wars‘ John Dykstra. The show ran for 24 episodes from 1978-79, costing a whopping $1 million per show. ABC pulled the plug due to its cost, vying to recoup the money with a two-hour theatrical release of the show’s pilot “Saga of a Star World” which played in Canada, Europe and Australia. Larson would resurrect a second series at a lower budget for ABC, Galactica 1980, but it only lasted 10 shows. When Syfy rebooted a much darker, mature version of Battlestar Galactica and its spinoff Caprica in the early aughts, Larson received a consulting producer credit.
Together with Donald Bellisario, who Larson worked on with Quincy M.E. and Battlestar, they created the Hawaiian shirt private eye Magnum P.I., a mega-hit for CBS which solidified leading man Tom Selleck as a sex symbol of the 1980s. It did fine with a run from 1980-88 with 162 episodes. Larson applied the similar concept of hot guy in a hot sports car solving crimes to Knight Rider which ran on NBC from 1982-86. Like Magnum did for Selleck, it made David Hasselhoff a pin-up star. The show also played well with boys, who raised their eyebrows at the computer-talking Pontiac Trans-Am voiced by William Daniels. NBC rebooted Knight Rider for one season from 2008-09, but it didn’t resonate in a way that Battlestar Galactica did for a new generation.
Larson’s resume also boasted such shows as The Fall Guy, Manimal and Masquerade. In July 2011, Larson sued Universal Studios over unpaid profits that were due on such projects as The Six Million Dollar Man, Quincy M.E., Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Magnum P.I. and Knight Rider. He had previously sued the studio over ownership rights on Battlestar Galactica, after which it was decided that Larson owned feature film rights, not the TV rights.