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Reopening the ‘Hunter’ Case Files

Times Staff Writer

Admit it. Part of the fun of watching a reunion movie or special of a favorite television series from years past is to see how the stars have weathered the test of time. In the cases of Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer, time has been very, very kind to the stars of the cop series “Hunter,” which was seen on NBC from 1984 to 1991.

The two have reprised their roles as police detectives Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall for “Hunter: Return to Justice,” the first of two “Hunter” TV movies scheduled to be broadcast this season on NBC. The action-thriller premieres Saturday night, the same night the series aired during its successful run.

Granted, Dryer wears bifocals in one scene in the film, but the former New York Giant and Los Angeles Ram, now 56, is in great shape as he chases down the bad guys on foot and even on a motorcycle. And Kramer, 46, is as lithe and sophisticated as she was 18 years ago.

“We just stepped back into it,” Kramer says. “It was like riding a bicycle.”

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Dryer made the last “Hunter” movie, “The Return of Hunter,” in 1994 without Kramer, who was pregnant at the time with her daughter, Lily. He says it’s taken this long to get the network interested in the franchise because “I think it’s where TV’s been. TV’s been on this path to serve groups and target audiences and demographics.”

But now, he adds, “there is a retro movement [on TV], and this is certainly a part of that. They realize America is still out there watching TV. The ‘Hunter’ shows are going to stimulate people to come back to network TV and say, ‘I want to watch those guys.’ ”

In “Return to Justice,” Hunter’s integrity is called into question after a drug bust goes bad. After a police investigation, he takes time off from his job and travels to San Diego to see his former partner McCall, who is about to marry the city’s mayoral candidate (Sam Hennings). Hunter is soon called into service to help McCall when her fiance kills an intruder in a home robbery.

Besides Dryer and Kramer, the movie reunites the team of Frank Lupo, who created the series, and Stephen J. Cannell, who was a producer and writer on the original “Hunter.” Lupo wrote the screenplay and served as executive producer with Cannell.

“I think if you are going to do one of these, you need to bring everybody who was in the original back,” says Cannell. “I wouldn’t have done it without Stepfanie and Fred and Frank.”

Cannell, who produced eight “The Rockford Files” reunion movies for CBS, says the trick in resurrecting a series as a movie is “telling a story where there is something at stake for the characters. Frank and I worked these stories out for the first two movies together and plotted them. We were very careful in the plotting of the stories that Hunter had something at stake and Dee Dee had something at stake. So if you do that, then you have a good character story to tell and a good crime story.”

Dryer and Kramer attended NBC’s 75th anniversary party in New York last January, which gave the actors the opportunity to talk with NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. “He said, ‘I want you back on the network,’ ” Dryer recalls. Dryer talked about his idea for a detective series set in Palm Springs -- “there is a script order for that” -- as well as resurrecting “Hunter” as a movie series. The network agreed, but with a less-than-lavish budget, Dryer suggests.

“We did them non-union with a limited amount of funds and licensing fees,” Dryer says. “It was very tough to do. The movie you saw was prepped in eight days and shot in 15. I worked with Frank for about six weeks. We knew we had no money and no time. I said I am not about to take a franchise we worked the last 20 years at and trash it

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“Hunter: Return to Justice” can be seen Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC. The network has rated it TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).

Cover photograph by Chris Haston


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