Robert Wagner cites ‘chemistry’ as ‘Hart to Hart’ returns to television

Robert Wagner is on the phone from his home in Colorado to talk about “Hart to Hart,” the ’80s series in which he co-starred with Stefanie Powers that will air on Ovation TV starting Thursday, Nov. 17.

The day before, Wagner called Powers to wish her a happy birthday. “She’s in Kenya,” said Wagner, 91. “She went over to Africa — she’s involved with the William Holden Wildlife Fund — and I told her about you getting involved in this and so she was very happy.

“We loved doing the show and when people respond to it that’s always great.”

The response was certainly there for all five seasons of “Hart to Hart,” which aired on ABC from 1979-84 and featured Wagner and Powers as wealthy, jet-setting crimefighters Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. They followed that up with eight TV movies (1993-96). Both the series and the followup movies were known for their lighthearted, often quirky, whimsical tone which struck a nerve with viewers.

Ovation TV will run the entire “Hart to Hart” oeuvre starting with the series, airing back-to-back episodes in four-hour blocks beginning at 7 p.m.

“I think [its popularity] had a great deal to do with our chemistry,” Wagner said of Jonathan and Jennifer. “We didn’t get into domestic conflicts and we were both in love with each other; we loved what we were doing, we loved our life, and it was a very positive atmosphere.

Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in a 1994 "Hart to Hart" TV movie. They're in a jungle setting and look surprised and frightened.
Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in a “Hart to Hart” TV movie that aired in 1994.
©NBC/Courtesy Everett Collectio

“Oftentimes [the producers] would say, ‘Why doesn’t Jonathan find another woman?’, or ‘Shouldn’t Jennifer get involved with another guy and you’re upset?’ We never bought it and we never went for it.”

Wagner credits Tom Mankiewicz, who rewrote Sidney Sheldon’s original script and developed the series, for the success of “Hart to Hart.”

“Tom was really responsible for that show,” he said. “I got that script and I talked to Tom about what I was really looking for. I said I’d like to get the response I felt watching ‘The Thin Man’ movies [starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as elegant Nick and Nora Charles] and he wrote the script and created ‘Hart to Hart,’ more than Sidney Sheldon did.

“Then Mart Crowley came in and wrote some great stuff for Stef and I and Tom directed the pilot; it was a work of real love and real caring.”

Wagner says he “stole” the lines in the show’s opening spoken by the Harts’ gruff-voiced majordomo, Max (Lionel Stander), who lived in their Bel-Air mansion and got involved with them in their capers: “By the way, my name is Max. I take care of them – which ain’t easy; ’cause when they met, it was … murder.”

“Lionel was so great. He was the glue,” he said. “[Imitating Max], ‘Cause when they met, it was murder.’ I stole that, by the way. It was total plagiarism. That was on the poster for [the movie] ‘Double Indemnity.’ It said, ‘When they met, it was murder.’ I’m glad Ovation is bringing the series back. There were so many people involved in it that are gone now. It just means a helluva lot to us and a helluva lot to me.

“I’m so happy that ‘Hart to Hart’ will be aired on Ovation TV,” Powers, 79, said in a statement to The Post. “We had a wonderful time making that series and it was translated into nine languages and enjoyed around the world.

“Even today the show is being shows again in Europe and South America to an entirely new generation. Happily it will again appear in the USA … hope everyone enjoyed the show.”