An Alternate Ending to The Fugitive?

I was very intrigued when I came upon this curious bit of television history. But first, for those of you not familiar with The Fugitive, some background:

The Fugitive premiered on ABC on Tuesday, September 17th, 1963 at 10PM. David Janssen starred as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man convicted of murdering his wife who escaped while being transported to his execution. Relentlessly pursued by Lt. Philip Gerard (played Barry Morse), Kimble just as relentlessly chased after the “one-armed man” (played by Bill Raisch) who he saw fleeing from his home the night his wife was killed. The series ran for four seasons before coming to an end. The Fugitive was created by Roy Huggins and executive produced by Quinn Martin.

On Tuesday, April 11th, 1967, the fourth season of The Fugitive came to an end with Kimble still on the run. Repeats began airing the following week. Viewers who had watched 118 episodes of the series were frustrated by the lack of closure. The Chicago Tribune tried to get to the bottom of things, contacted ABC, and printed this quote on April 19th:

“There WILL be an ending. The whole thing probably will be settled sometime between now and September, when the show goes off the air. One or two more episodes will be shot to resolve the unanswered: Was Kimble the criminal or the one-armed man?” [1]

On July 10th, 1967, an article by Hal Humphrey of The Los Angeles Times revealed that a two-part series finale to The Fugitive would air on August 22nd and August 29th. Star David Janssen refused to discuss how the series would end:

“A great many people worked hard to do these two final episodes, so I’d be a real louse to ad-lib it for you now in five minutes.” [2]

Executive producer Quinn Martin also kept silent on the ending in an article for The Chicago Tribune on July 30th:

“To discuss the conclusion now would only spoil it for the audience. Suffice it to say the concluding two episodes are the culmination of the entire series–and I feel sure no one will be disappointed.” [3]

Viewers tuned in to the final episode of The Fugitive (“The Judgment, Part 2”) on Tuesday, August 29th, 1967. Its 45.9/72 Nielsen rating was the highest ever recorded for an episode of a regular television series. It would be more than ten years before the famous “Who Done It” episode of Dallas topped The Fugitive with a 53.3/76 rating when it aired on November 21st, 1980 [4]. (The final episode of The Fugitive, however, performed better in New York City, with a 50.7/73 overnight rating compared to the 45.9/65 rating for “Who Done It” [5, 6].)

But all those viewers couldn’t quite agree on how The Fugitive ended. The October 16th, 1967 edition of The Chicago Tribune‘s entertainment Mailbag feature included the following question and answer:

WAUKESHA, Wis.–My sister just told me that out west there was a different ending for The Fugitive. She says it turned out that Gerard killed Helen Kimble. Was there such an ending?–A.W.

O no, not again. For weeks, we’ve been getting reports from people that claim their “Aunt Tessie in Winnipeg” or “Cousin Cecil [i]n Apache Pass, Ariz.” saw The Fugitive with a different ending. The answer, once again, is NO there was only one ending to The Fugitive–the ending you saw. And incidentally, you might be interested to know that out in California there were rumors that when the last episode of The Fugitive was shown “back around Illinois and Indiana,” there was a different ending, with Gerard as the guilty one. What a life.” [7]

Do you remember hearing about an alternate ending to The Fugitive back in 1967? Hit the comments with any rumors you might have heard.


1 Wolfe, Sheila. “Alas, Fugitive Now Runs Backwards.” Chicago Tribune. 19 Apr. 1967: C8.
2 Humphrey, Hal. “‘Fugitive’ Pauses for a Rest Stop.” Los Angeles Times. 10 Jul. 1967: C18.
3 “The Fugitive Finally Stops Running.” Chicago Tribune. 30 Jul. 1967: F14.
4 Schwartz, Tony. “TV Notebook: Show On Who Shot J.R. Sets a Viewing Record.” New York Times. 26 Nov. 1980: C18.
5 “Fugitive Gets Huge Rating In Last Show.” Chicago Tribune. 31 Aug. 1967: C19.
6 Montgomery, Paul L. “‘Dallas’ Broke Rating Record, Network Says.” New York Times. 23 Nov. 1980: 24.
7 “Mailbag.” Chicago Tribune. 16 Oct. 1967: C19.

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32 Replies to “An Alternate Ending to The Fugitive?”

  1. Regarding the story of “The Fugitive” having an alternate ending, I recall reading a story in TV Guide in 1967 in which indicated certain cities did see a different outcome in the final episode than what was seen by most. That different outcome being that Lt. Gerard being exposed as the murderer. However, I also recall the story mentioned this “final” episode was seen before the official final episode air dates and also believe TV Guide could not confirm the story. My guess is that they, along with other news media, were trying to discover how the series would end and may have been fed disinformation by either the studio, the network or the network affiliate. Anything to keep them guessing.

  2. The only “different ending” was the date of the final episode. In the U.S. narrator William Conrad intones, “August 29rh, the day the running stopped!” But in Canada and on existing home video Conrad says, “September 5th…” as it was shown a week later north of the border.

    1. N.B.: Some markets, in the U.S., pre-empted the Aug. 29, 1967 ending, because of pre-existing contracts to air baseball. Hence, the ending had to be shown one week later. Did anyone still watch?

  3. I vividly remember a different, and more satisfying, finale. I was in upstate New York, if that matters. I also recall that there was a two -part finale filmed, but the alternate version was assembled at the last minute and aired instead. In this version, Kimball fid catch up with Fred Johnson at the amusement park tower, but learned from him before Johnson was killed that he was not the murderer, He was a witness, and it was actually Lloyd Chandler (J.D.Cannon) who was having an affair with Kimble’s wife. Johnson broke into the house to rob it and found Chandler over Helen Kimball’s body. With Johnson dead, though, Kimball had to convince a reluctant Gerard to give him a little more time to find the proof to back up Johnson’s story.

    It was a long time ago, but that beautiful twist stuck with me. Surely someone else must have seen this version and will remember it too!

    1. Dave T, I just happened upon your comment. A little late to be replying, but I too remember the ending that you do – that Kimball’s wife Helen was having an affair with a neighbor, who killed her. Johnson saw the crime (or the immediate aftermath) when he broke into the house, but was unwilling to report it to police, since he was a wanted criminal. But memories, 50+ years after the fact (I was 17 when I watched the ending), are unreliable, so I suppose I have to buy into the official ending that millions of others saw.

      1. I was too young but my mother told me that the wife was cheating and the one armed man saw who it was so he ran away. She said it was Lt. Girard. But it could have been the neighbor because it was the same exact story. The one armed man was the witness not the killer.

  4. I was in Florida when this episode ran, but the ABC affiliate in Tampa ran a movie instead of the show…what a bummer!!!….but in 1986 at a Blockbuster I found a two-tape VHS release of the episode and the narration on it said “Tuesday, August 29th…the day the running stopped”.

    1. Are you serious? An ABC affiliate not airing what promised to be a ratings blockbuster in favor of local programming? They must have been swamped with complaints!

  5. I am a longtime Fugitive viewer from the very first episode. I loved David Janssen who was the perfect actor to play Dr. Richard Kimble. Lt. Gerard was great also in his role as he relentlessly chased Dr. Kimble. I have never heard about the alternate ending/s. But it is very interesting that there might have been different endings to this show.
    What I really liked about the Dr. Kimble’s character was that he would sometimes put himself in peril of being caught by the police in order to help someone else either medically or in some other way.
    The writers of this series were outstanding also. How they kept the viewers watching each week for four years until the one armed man was finally apprehended. This show has to be one of the best TV shows ever made and thanks to Quinn Martin Productions for making it.

  6. In the fall of 1966, I had a conversation with a fellow who claimed to have TV industry contacts. He swore up and down that the Fugitive finale had been filmed and was in the vaults at the studio. He said that Lt. Gerard was implicated in the murder and had been pursuing Kimble to cover up his own guilt.

    When the final two episodes aired, I was a bit surprised. Shocked, actually. But, then I reasoned that the producers thought the original finale was two anti-cop and that there would be an upswell of indignation over showing a police officer in a bad light. Well, maybe or maybe not. If the celluloid reels of the alternate finale are still moldering in a vault somewhere, I wouldn’t count on them ever surfacing.

  7. My father, who frequently traveled to Germany told me that The Fugitive ended in Germany with Richard Kimble being killed after being hit by a car. This was followed by huge protests by followers of the series. The Germans finally got to see the finale that the rest of us are familiar with.
    Has anyone else heard this?

  8. It’s funny you should tweet a link to this old post this week, because some friends and I have recently been discussing accuracy in books about television in the wake of a new book about The Avengers which has a few howlers in it. I’m reminded that there’s actually an old reference book that flat out claims that in the final episode of The Fugitive, we learn that Kimble was “guilty after all.” It’s _Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle_ by Larry James Gianakos, and apparently some stagehand had overheard David Janssen and Barry Morse joking about how funny it would be to have Dr. Kimble reveal that one of his arms is prosthetic in the final scene of the show.

    How you get from “the actors were talking off camera” to “this is what I’m going to claim happened onscreen on a program that the whole country saw” I have no idea, but it’s pretty clear that Gianakos didn’t have an editor for that book of his.

  9. The Final Episode Scene We All Wanted to See But Can Only Do So in our Minds:

    Fade-out as Dr Kimble and Jean walk down the sidewalk after seeing the patrol car go by…
    Fade-in to successive images of a number of characters who Dr Kimble had encountered as a fugitive, reading the headlines or hearing on their radio or TV the news of his innocence, as knowing, heavenly ‘Atta boy!’ smiles comes to each face, some accompanied by joyous tears.
    Fade-out into end titles and theme music.

    I disagree with the idea that the series finale brought everything to closure; the above described scene was needed to fully do so!

    1. Yes, that is indeed heartwarming, much like the improved versions of Return of the Jedi where the Emperor’s statute is being brought down on Coruscant.

  10. The black and white Fugitive shows are the classics (1963-1966). The color shows are ntquite as good.

    Barry Morse was an Englishman who needed to lower his voice to create a American-accented voice.

    The show “The Invaders” during that television period is similar to The Fugitive.

    David Janssen acted in a few made for TV shows in which he was being chased (or was chasing someone as a lawman.0

  11. The black and white Fugitive shows are the classics (1963-1966). The color shows are ntquite as good.

    Barry Morse was an Englishman who needed to lower his voice to create a American-accented voice.

    The show “The Invaders” during that television period is similar to The Fugitive.

  12. A possible ending to “The Fugitive” would be for Dr.Kimble to have a re-trail. His attorney would request and get a Change of Venue, The trail would be in the Superior Court of Los Angeles. His attorney would be…..Perry Mason. The Prosecutor would be….. Hamilton Burger, enough said.

  13. I loved this show as a teen, and heard that in Florida it ended a year before the rest of the country’s version of the ending. Seems Florida had outlawed the series because so many kids were running away from home, thinking it was…cool. THEN, a different ending was shown a year later for the rest of us, and it wasn’t Florida’s ending (Gerald was the killer), because that ending had been “spoiled”.
    I live in Florida now, and am still looking for that earlier ending :) .

  14. I loved the Fugitive when I wad growing up
    My whole family would tune in to watch every Tuesday night. I loved the way the writers put together the final episodes. I watch that final episode over and over and over again.

  15. Regarding the superb original Fugitive series with David Janssen, when discussing Dr. Kimble,
    Lt. Gerard, or the infamous One Armed Man, another important character is the overlooked Narrator (voiced by William Conrad) . The Narrator is an unbiased provider of facts, such as what alias Kimble is using that week, what occupation he is temporarily pursuing, or at what location he is in. The Narrator is not speaking Kimble’s words or beliefs but presenting the unvarnished truth. That’s why I never believed all of the red herrings tendered during the series that the real killer of Kimble’s wife was Gerard, Kimble’s brother-in-law, etc.

    In the second season’s When the Bough Breaks (episode 4), Bill Conrad’s opening narration
    clearly intones: “Grand Forks, North Dakota. It is 26 months since the escape, and still another city has become a blind alley for Richard Kimble. The man with one arm, author of the crime for which Kimble was to die, remains elusive. And again, it is time to move on.”

    You cannot get stronger than that!

  16. It has to be about ten years or so that I had read an article citing David Janssen had made a serious suggestion to conclude The Fugitive TV series with having Dr. Kimble being the murderer of his wife, Helen.

    I had posted this recollection to a couple of David Janssen/ The Fugitive sites and invariably, those that responded, didn’t deny that David Janssen made the suggestion however, they all said that it was nothing more than a joke(?).

    Does anyone recall anything about David Janssen making a serious suggestion to ending The Fugitive TV series with Dr. Kimble being the murderer of his wife, Helen?

    Roy Huggins, series creator of The Fugitive TV series has for many years denied that the series had any foundation or connect to the Shepard murder case. So, if not the Shepard murder case, then what? One would think that a creator would be on the lookout for any inspiration to start new series or should one believe that The Fugitive TV series is a case of life imitating art? Oh silly me, the Shepard murder occurred some ten years before The Fugitive TV series was on the scene. What’s you opinion

  17. considering that this series began 2 years before my birth, I got to see it at least in part. then, in the early 1980’s, it began airing on late night TV along with the original Perry mason, the invaders, land of the giants and other classics. I have fond memories of that show. btw, ABC ran a marathon in 1987 airing all the episodes culminating in the 2 part ending happening on the 20th anniversary of the show’s final airing. It remained in my collection as a set of video tapes until the DVD version came out. I have since added it to my digital library. most of the TV shows that came after just didn’t seem to be as good.. there were a few good ones over the years, but nothing ever really came up to the standard that the fugitive set.

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