U.N.C.L.E.’s odd post-series history

"It's hard to find our show some times, Illya."

“It’s hard to find our show sometimes, Illya.”

UPDATE: The 1980s section, corrects name of network to Christian Broadcasting Network. CBN changed its name to Family Channel name after it showed U.N.C.L.E.

Also, readers (one is a comment below, the other was on Facebook) have mentioned the following: The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, a 1986 A-Team episode with U.N.C.L.E. memes (Robert Vaughn was a regular in that show’s final season and David McCallum was the episode’s guest star) as well as a Dec. 31, 1989-Jan. 1, 1990 U.N.C.L.E. marathon on TNT.

While we’re at it, Turner Classic Movies a few years ago had a daylong marathon of the eight U.N.C.L.E. movies, with the first beginning at 6 a.m. eastern time. TCM still occasionally shows them.

With the news that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is going to be shown by MeTV in the U.S. starting next month, here’s a review of the show’s odd history after it ended its 1964-68 run on NBC.

This is by no means a definitive history. But it gives you an idea how a series that once was very popular had trouble finding an audience after its first run. The show made stars of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, even to the point where the Beatles wanted to meet Vaughn in 1966. But later, it was as if the show disappeared.

Meanwhile, other series that were on at the time, such as Mission: Impossible and The Wild Wild West, were much easier to find on local television stations. And, of course, the original Star Trek (which shared many of the same guest stars as U.N.C.L.E.) became a broad pop culture event while in syndication.

Circa 1968-1969: For a period, U.N.C.L.E. could be seen in syndication. An Indianapolis independent station showed U.N.C.L.E. (Both Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.) Monday through Friday in an afternoon time slot.

However, this did not last that long. In general, there was a concern about violence on television and this perhaps affected U.N.C.L.E. For whatever reason, U.N.C.L.E. soon became virtually invisible.

1970s: The best chance to see U.N.C.L.E. was when one of the eight “movies” — re-edited from series episodes — popped up on local television. In the `1970s, I caught To Trap a Spy (an expanded version of the series pilot) on a local television station. CBS even showed The Spy With My Face, an expanded version of the first-season episode The Double Affair, on the CBS Late Movie. At the time, CBS didn’t have its own viable late-night show and was content to show movies starting at 11:30 p.m. eastern time.

1980s: In the early 1980s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which made the series in association with producer Norman Felton’s Arena Productions, dusted off U.N.C.L.E. The studio made a renewed syndication push. The original MGM logs at the end of episodes were removed and new ones added.

In 1985, the Christian Broadcasting Network — controlled by tele-evangelist Pat Robertson — showed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at 11 p.m. eastern time in the U.S. But for the CBN debut,the channel skipped over the entire black-and-white first season. Its first telecast was The Arabian Affair from the second season.

By the spring or summer of 1986, CBN showed all but four episodes: the two-part Alexander the Greater Affair and The Very Important Zombie Affair from the second season and The Abominable Snowman Affair from the third. The latter two weren’t shown, reportedly because of their un-Christian content (voodoo with Very Important Zombie, depictions of Eastern religions in Snowman). As for Alexander the Greater, it turned out nobody could find it. More about that shortly.

Meanwhile, there were changes behind the scenes. Television mogul Ted Turner bought MGM, primarily to gain control of its film library, including classic films such as Gone With the Wind and Ben-Hur. But Turner borrowed heavily for the purchase. So he sold the studio, while keeping the film library — which also included U.N.C.L.E.

Thus, in 1988, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was part of TNT’s Saturday morning (and later Saturday afternoon) programming. TNT telecast Very Important Zombie and Abominable Snowman shortly thereafter.

1990s: By the mid-1990s, U.N.C.L.E. shows up in the early-morning hours of Tuesday (technically part of its Monday schedule). In 1999, a Turner employee finds Alexander the Greater. The two-part story was telecast July 4, 2000, the last U.N.C.L.E. telecast on the cable network. In the interim, Turner has sold out to Time Warner, whose Warner Bros. now controls the show.

NBC had never rerun Alexander the Greater. So the TNT telecast was the first time the television version had been seen since September 1965. Until then, only the movie version, One Spy Too Many, had been available.

In 1999, TV Land had a “spy week” promotion in connection with the second Austin Powers movie. Four episodes each of The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. are shown on separate nights, along with series such as It Takes a Thief and The Avengers. For Man, four first-season episodes are telecast. (Girl only ran one season, making selection easier.) TNT, around the same time, showed some episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. in connection with the birthday of star Stefanie Powers.

21st century: Both The Man and Girl From U.N.C.L.E. have shown up on other cable channels but don’t enjoy a lot of visibility.

In 2007, the series is released on DVD, initially by Time-Life. The original MGM logo at the end of episodes was restored. Within a few years, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and the eight U.N.C.L.E. movies are released by Warner Archive, the manufactured-on-demand arm of Warner Bros.

MeTV picking up The Man From U.N.C.L.E. comes just ahead of the show’s 50th anniversary as well as a movie version of the show coming in January.

U.N.C.L.E. debuts on MeTV on Sept. 7

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will be telecast by MeTV on Sundays at 10 p.m. eastern time, starting Sept. 7, ACCORDING TO THE CHANNEL’S WEBSITE.

MeTV currently airs the 1960-62 Boris Karloff Thriller series in the time slot, part of a “noir” bloc of black-and-white television shows such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Fugitive, Naked City and others.

U.N.C.L.E., starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, has been shown irregularly since its first run on NBC ended in January 1968. Some fans re-discovered the show when what was known at the time as The Family Channel began running episodes in 1985. The channel didn’t show any episodes from the black-and-white first season until the spring of 1986. TNT ran the show from 1988 to 2000, although very infrequently during the final years of that run.

The series will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sept. 22.

UPDATE: Starting Sept. 7, MeTV will follow up The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with THE ORIGINAL MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE SERIES, at 11 p.m. Eastern, 10 p.m. Central time, according to the MeTV website.

Cavill, Hammer return to U.K. for U.N.C.L.E., fan site says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have returned to England for some reshoots for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, ACCORDING TO A POST AT THE HENRY CAVILL NEWS WEBSITE.

The post includes a photo that Hammer’s wife posted on Instagram. It also includes a non-spoiler exchange with an extra who doubled for Cavill for some of the previous reshoots of the Guy Ritchie-directed film.

The post also raises a bit of problem. Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo in the movie, was already beginning to get pumped up during last year’s U.N.C.L.E. shoot to reprise the role of Superman in Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice. According to the post, the actor was already having trouble fitting in his wardrobe before the end of principal U.N.C.L.E. photography in early December 2013. Cavill has been filming the superhero movie in the Detroit area for a few months, so wardrobe may be more of an issue now.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie is scheduled to debut in January 2015. Warner Bros. had test screenings of the movie in June.

REVIEW: The Green Girl (2014)

Susan Oliver in The Cage, the first Star Trek pilot

Susan Oliver in The Cage, the first Star Trek pilot

Note: The reviewer contributed $35 when the makers of The Green Girl sought $10,000 in donations to complete the documentary.

The Green Girl, a documentary directed by George Pappy, is a kind of valentine to a prolific actress. But it’s a valentine that doesn’t pass over the complicated life of Susan Oliver, who frequently played leading guest star parts of television but never had a big movie career.

Oliver led a remarkable life. In one shot, the documentary has the headline of a newspaper clip about how Oliver was appearing as a guest star in three series the same week at a time there were only three U.S. television networks. Oliver was also an accomplished pilot, attempting a flight to Moscow in a small plane (the Soviets wouldn’t let her into the country). She was also, by the 1980s, directing television episodes at a time there were few women directors.

The actress also had a complicated relationship with her mother. She never married or had childen (though at one point she was seriously dating pitcher Sandy Koufax). She also made crippling mistakes, including breaking a Warner Bros. contract to do a play, something that likely prevented her movie career from taking off.

The title comes from the first Star Trek pilot in 1964, The Cage, where at one point she takes the form of an Orion slave girl, who is supposed to be irresistible to human men. The unsold pilot was re-used in the later revamped Star Trek series, when a series of transmissions from a mysterious planet — ordered off limits by the federation — showing what happened more than a decade earlier. An image of Oliver in her green makeup was used at times in the end titles of Star Trek, making it one of the series’ most iconic images.

Susan Oliver and David McCallum in The Bow-Wow Affair

Susan Oliver and David McCallum in The Bow-Wow Affair


Oliver, of course, was much more than that and the documentary covers far more ground. Fans of 1960s spy entertainment, even if they don’t remember her name, saw her in shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy and The Wild Wild West. She could play a slightly ditzy but very appealing heroine (The Bow-Wow Affair in the first season of U.N.C.L.E,, the first episode where David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin is the primary focus) and later a scheming, manipulative junkie (an early first-season episode of The FBI).

For baby boomers, the documentary includes faces from their youth such as Lee Meriwether, David Hedison, Roy Thinnes and Gary Conway. Oliver’s busiest period as an actor was when television paid decently but hardly guaranteed you’d get rich. Oliver later suffered economic problems after her peak earning power had passed. For fans of television of the period, The Green Girl is an interesting peek behind the curtain of show business.

The Green Girl has had some limited theatrical showings and can be purchased on DVD.

Oliver died of cancer in 1990, only 58. Many of the baby boomers who’d recognize her are around that age now. The documentary is 96 minutes but maintains a good pace. It’s a reminder that talent, no matter how plentiful, isn’t always enough. Grade: A.

The Secret Service principals compare movie to old-style 007

UPDATE (July 26): A reader who was at the presentation tells us that a Colin Firth quote below was transcribed incorrectly by Screen Rant. Quote has been changed to reflect that.

Some of the people behind the new Kingsman: The Secret Service compared the upcoming film to 1960s James Bond movies and other spy entertainment of that decade, according to the entertainment website SCREEN RANT.

The movie got promoted at the San Diego comic book convention. The film is based on a 2012 comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

Millar made light of more recent Bond films with Daniel Craig in discussing Kingsman. “James Bond cries in the shower now in these movies but [star Colin Firth] gets to do cool stuff – like firing these gadgets and all this stuff. I think he got the best gig in the end.”

Firth kept his comparisons to the 1960s. He was quoted thusly by Screen Rant (with corrections included): “I enjoyed this kind of thing growing up in the ’60s and the character of the spy movie has its roots in the ’60s. It’s the Man from Uncle U.N.C.L.E., it’s the Harry Donner Palmer films, it’s John Speed’s Steed’s Avengers, and those early Bond films. It’s the guy in the suit who seems slick and cool and capable but very contained but you cross him at your peril.”

The Matthew Vaughn-directed film is due out this fall.

Me TV teases its fall schedule but doesn’t mention U.N.C.L.E.

"What's happening with Me TV, Mr. Solo?"

“What’s happening with Me TV, Mr. Solo?”


So, Memorable Entertainment Television, popularly known as Me TV, has started to tease its fall schedule. But there’s no mention of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Me TV’s website has video four short promos for series to be shown in the fall, including Mission: Impossible.

As recently as Sunday, July 20, its Facebook page had a 10-second promo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But, as of Wednesday, July 23, that same FACEBOOK PAGE has no mention of U.N.C.L.E. Meanwhile, Me TV telecast its short M:I promo during its July 23 telecast of The Rockford Files.

Your guess is as good as this blog’s as to what’s going on. The Me TV U.N.C.L.E. promo wasn’t a mirage because various Facebook users were sharing it on their accounts. Meanwhile a two-hour “spy bloc” on Me TV of U.N.C.L.E. and M:I would makes sense. A few years ago, Me TV had a two-hour “war series bloc” of Combat! and Twelve O’Clock High in its overnight offerings.

If Me TV has changed its mind, perhaps it’s yet another example of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Could both 007 and U.N.C.L.E. end up in Rome?

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Rome is getting to be a popular place for spies.

Bond 24, according to a local film official, is to include a car chase in Rome. The Play 4 Movie website attributed the news to Luciano Sovena, president of the Roma Lazio Film Commission.

There aren’t many details. Sovena says on the website he’s met with the co-bosses of Eon Productions, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, about it. “Barbara and Michael really count on it, they’re already excited,” Sovena is quoted as saying. (Thanks to the James Bond Dossier for the heads up.) It should be noted for Skyfall there were reports the producers were looking at India, but the production ended up doing its main location shooting in Turkey.

The 007 film series has been in Italy before, including three stops (From Russia With Love, Moonraker and Casino Royale) in Venice with three different leading men (Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig). The first time viewers see Roger Moore’s 007 in Live And Let Die, he’s back home from a mission M refers to as “the Rome affair.” It’s a passing reference (though we’re told Italian officials were impressed with Bond). It’s mostly to explain for the audience the presence of a woman Italian agent at Bond’s flat. (“They do seem to be missing one of their agents, a Miss Caruso.”)

Last year, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer also filmed in Rome. A fair amount of location shooting time for the film, which is due out in January 2015, was filmed in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. Here’s a video of the U.N.C.L.E. crew during the Rome shoot.

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