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.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. coming to Me TV

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is coming to Memorable Entertainment Television, or Me TV, according to a promo the U.S. channel ran ON ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.

The promo only runs 10 seconds, utilizing the second-season version of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. There were no further details in the promo, such as date or how frequently U.N.C.L.E. will be telecast. The programming schedule on ME TV’S WEBSITE only goes into early August. The channel, which specializes in televising 1960s and 1970s shows, typically begins a fall schedule during the U.S. Labor Day holiday.

If Me TV begins U.N.C.L.E. in Sepember, that’d be in time for the 50th anniversary of the series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The show ran from September 1964 until January 1968.

Robert Vaughn tells fans he’s not in the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Robert Vaughn during fan appearance. (Uncle Agents photo by Nancy Battaglia Frankmano, used with permission)

Robert Vaughn during fan appearance. (Uncle Agents photo by Nancy Battaglia Frankmano, used with permission)

Robert Vaughn told fans during an appearance at the Dean Martin Expo in New York that he was never approached about doing a cameo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, according to a post on the UNCLE AGENTS PAGE ON FACEBOOK.

Vaughn, 81, met fans as part of a “meet and greet” organized in connection with the convention. Here’s the text of an Uncle Agents post:

He was asked if Warner Bros. or the Producers of the NEW Man from U.N.C.L.E. film contacted him to be in it. “No,” was his answer. There were some gasps from the crowd. He told us that, no one ever approached him about being in the film, and that he was only working about a block from the shoot.

According to another post on the site, Vaughn joked about the kind of cameo he’d have wanted to do. “I would have wanted to be the guy pressing the clothes.”

Vaughn played Napoleon Solo in the 1964-68 television series, a role that Henry Cavill had for the movie. Previously, Vaughn’s co-star, David McCallum, said he wouldn’t appear in the movie either. His role of Illya Kuryakin was played by Armie Hammer in the film.

Principal photography on the movie ran from early September to early December 2013. The production was based at Warner Bros.’ U.K. studio. Meanwhile, Vaughn was in the U.K. for a stage production of Twelve Angry Men. For those unfamiliar with the original series, one of the entrances to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters was through Del Floria’s tailor shop.

The movie, which has an “origin of U.N.C.L.E.” plot line, will be released in the U.S. in January 2015.

OCTOBER 2013 POST: VAUGHN SAYS HE’S GOTTEN ‘FEELERS’ ABOUT AN U.N.C.L.E. CAMEO

NOVEMBER 2013 POST: VAUGHN SAYS NO U.N.C.L.E. CAMEO YET

Fans say they’ve seen U.N.C.L.E. test showing

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer

A few fans took to Twitter saying they had seen a June 9 test screening of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in the Los Angeles area.

At this point, three fans seem to have Tweeted. You can CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE to view the postings. (UPDATE: There’s a fourth from somebody who didn’t like it. You can CLICK HERE to read the negative mini-review.)

The fans involved didn’t provide a lot of details. Some said they liked the stars, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, who play the roles of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin that Robert Vaughn and David McCallum portrayed in the original 1964-68 television series. One fan said the test showing was at a theater in Pasdena, California. The postings were spotted by @laneyboggs2001 on Twitter.

If there actually was a test screening, some questions arise. No composer for the U.N.C.L.E. movie, which won’t be released until January 2015, has been announced. Did the test version use music from another movie, or movies, to take up the slack? Also, some test versions of films can be rough, missing special effects that are still in production.

Still, this may be a sign that Warner Bros. is taking some care with U.N.C.L.E. Some reshoots were done earlier this year that didn’t involve the main actors. A test screening seven months before the premier date would provide time if other fixes are needed. Presumably, it’d be hard to do anything too elaborate. Cavill currently is filming a Batman-Superman movie.

How U.N.C.L.E. was ahead of its time on drones

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up in an unusual place: JIMROMENESKO.COM, a website about trends in journalism.

Romenesko, run by its namesake, Jim Romenesko, had a post concerning a journalism professor trying to track down early media mentions of drones.

The professor, Barney McCoy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wrote the following to Romemesko:

The FAA’s restrictions over the commercial use of drones in this country left me and Matt Waite, Drone Lab founder in UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, discussing the earliest media mentions of drones.

Then I recalled a drone memory I had from a popular fictional TV show from the 1960′s.

The show was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the specific episode was “The Mad, MAD Tea Party Affair from the first season. McCoy asked Romenesko readers if they knew of any earlier media depiction of drones.

The professor also uploaded a YouTube video of a scene from the episode. He included an audio recording of the Hugo Montenegro-arranged version of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music that most definitely wasn’t part of the episode.

In any case, in the clip, a drone sort of attacks U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York. which Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo and David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin have to deal with. Those who have seen the episode are aware of the twists that follow.

The Cold War and the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in Italy

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in Italy

Jared Harris, in A RECENT INTERVIEW provided a detail about his part in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie: he plays Napoleon Solo’s CIA superior.

The interview is a reminder about how the movie is going to play up the Cold War angle whereupon the original 1964-68 television series downplayed it.

Harris participated in one of the first sequences filmed, where Solo and Illya Kuryakin (here a KGB operative) meet at an outdoor cafe. (CLICK HERE to see a photo on the Henry Cavill Fan website.)

The movie’s story will, in part, depict the beginnings of U.N.C.L.E., a multi-national security agency, in the early 1960s.

In the series, U.N.C.L.E. had been well-established. The Odd Man Affair, the final episode for season one, implies U.N.C.L.E. has been around for a couple of decades, or roughly the end of World War II. The Survival School Affair, in the fourth season, establishes that Solo and Kuryakin graduated from the agency’s training facility in the 1950s.

Both the makers of the series and the network that carried it (NBC) wanted to avoid a lot of specific Cold War references. Something similar happened in the James Bond film series. In the Ian Fleming novels Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the villains worked for the Soviet Union. In the film versions, they work for SPECTRE. The film Rosa Klebb, for example, has just recently defected to SPECTRE in the From Russia With Love film.

There’s also the matter of doing a movie as a period piece. Compare Murder, My Sweet with Farewell My Lovely. Both are adaptations of a 1940 Raymond Chandler novel. The former was released in 1944. The latter debuted in 1975. Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is constantly musing about Joe DiMaggio and his 56-game hitting streak in the 1975 film, which establishes a firm time.

By making U.N.C.L.E. a period piece, the Cold War becomes a device, along with vintage cars, of helping to establish the mood for the story. In the original show, it was revolutionary enough in 1964 to have an American and Russian together. The series, with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, debuted only 23 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, the cinematic Bond wouldn’t be paired with a Russian ally until 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. For a movie to be released in 2015, the thinking appears to be you have to remind everyone about the Cold War to show why the Solo-Kuryakin team is unusual.

Apparently, director of photography John Mathieson did some things to also give the movie a 1960s look. Here’s an excerpt from THE INDEPENDENT:

John added: “We filmed in London on a digital camera but we were trying to give it more of a sixties feel.

“It’s a very good looking film, it’s set in the sixties, it’s very chic.

“So in some ways we were using old lenses and things to deteriorate the image. However what we did has a certain flavour to it, and that has to be screened so the cinema goer or viewer at home can see what we were trying to do.” (emphasis added)

The movie, starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, is scheduled to be released in January 2015.

Jared Harris talks briefly about his U.N.C.L.E. role

Jared Harris

Jared Harris

Thanks to @LaneyBoggs2001 on Twitter for the heads up.

Actor Jared Harris gave an an interview to the Latino Review website where, at the very end, he provided a tiny bit of information about his role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Latino-Review: And just real quick, who are you playing in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.?”

Jared Harris: I play a CIA agent who is initially involved in training and running Napoleon Solo. So it’s running him as a spy as you would like. It’s set in the 60s and it’s a Guy Ritchie film. It has a great mixture of action and comedy. And there’s fantastic plotting.

That’s all there is. Harris did his filming in September with both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, who play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in the film, which will be released in January 2015.

Warner Bros. has previously specified that in the movie Solo is a CIA agent who becomes involved in a joint operation with KGB operative Kuryakin. The original 1964-68 series played down such Cold War references. A first-season episode, The Neptune Affair, included a brief scene where David McCallum’s Kuryakin is seen in a military uniform in the Soviet Union.

Such scenes were more the exception than the rule. Other references were more subtle. Another first-season episode, The Love Affair, depicted Kuryakin telling Robert Vaughn’s Solo, “Suddenly, I feel very Russian” as the two approach a mansion on Long Island.

U.N.C.L.E.’s director of photography talks up Cavill’s Solo

Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo reports for duty in January 2015

Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo

Thanks to C.W. Walker for the heads up.

The man who photographed next year’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has made public comments about Henry Cavill’s version of Napoleon Solo, according to THE INDEPENDENT IN IRELAND.

John Mathieson, the movie’s director of photography, commented about Cavill’s performance and Guy Ritchie’s work as director.

Here’s an excerpt:

Speaking at the launch of the new Samsung Curved UHD screen TV in London he said: “I thought Henry was terrific.

“He plays it quite humorously, everything’s slightly quirky, slightly sharp. It was very comic strip in some ways, I mean that in a good way.

“He plays it very differently [to Superman], this is much more earthbound. He’s a peacock, and he’s very funny. I thought he was great.”

(snip)

(I)t’s got a very British feel….We filmed in London on a digital camera but we were trying to give it more of a sixties feel.

“It’s a very good looking film, it’s set in the sixties, it’s very chic.”

Mathieson also said that Ritchie is “still cutting, he’s very close to finishing….We’ve got to do some post production to get that sixties look really right.”

None of this is startling. Crew members rarely talk down on a movie before it’s released. But there hasn’t been much U.N.C.L.E. publicity since the film completed shooting in early December.

The movie has been given a January 2015 release date by Warner Bros. Ritchie’s version, which he co-wrote with Lionel Wigram, is set in the early 1960s and depicts the origin of U.N.C.L.E. The original Warners’ press release said that Solo was a CIA agent and Illya Kuryakin a KGB operative involved in a joint operation. Armie Hammer has the Kuryakin role in the movie.

The original 1964-68 series, starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, downplayed Cold War references.

Earlier this week, some reshoots were filmed of a car chase, something that @laneyboggs2001 at Twitter had sniffed out. The main actors weren’t involved. Cavill is currently in Michigan for production of a Superman-Batman movie scheduled for release in May 2016.

Spring 1964: U.N.C.L.E. gets a new chief

Leo G. Carroll's title card for first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes

Leo G. Carroll’s title card for first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes

With less than a month before regular series production began, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had some tweaks, both major and minor.

Superficially, star Robert Vaughn changed his hairstyle, switching his part and going for more of a “dry look” compared to the pilot that would air as the first episode.

More substantively, U.N.C.L.E. would have a new chief: Leo G. Carroll, a mainstay of several Alfred Hitchcock films, was cast as Alexander Waverly, replacing Will Kuluva’s Mr. Allison.

Carroll was three decades older than Kuluva. He had two basic on-screen personas: kind and bumbling (the 1955 comedy We’re No Angels or the Topper television series) or cold and calculating (“The Professor” in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest).

Occasionally, he got to a character where he displayed *both* personas (such as THIS EPISODE of the Boris Karloff Thriller anthology series where his character’s seeming bumbling masked his true persona).

Here’s an entry from Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE:

Monday, May 18, 1964

(Executive Producer Norman) Felton officially informs NBC that (Rober) Vaughn and (David) McCallum will remain to play running characters but Will Kuluva has been dropped. The new chief at U.N.C.L.E. will be played by Leo G. Carroll, and the character’s name has changed from Allison to Alexander Waverly.

Arguably, Carroll’s Waverly is an extension of his “Professor” character. Waverly is calculating and, as the series went on, showed he was more than willing to sacrifice his operatives if necessary. In one second-season episode (The Foxes and Hounds Affair), Waverly drops Solo (just returning from a vacation) into the middle of a complicated assignment where the ace agent’s life is in danger.

The official casting of the new U.N.C.L.E. chief came less than two weeks before series production began on June 1. The first draft for The Double Affair, which would be the eighth episode broadcast, still refers to Allison as the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

As the first season unfolded, the production team would seek to expand Carroll’s role. Waverly would be given a cousin who bore an uncanny resemblance (The Bow-Wow Affair) and would occasionally demonstrate he had once been a pretty mean operative himself (knocking out a lackey in The Deadly Decoy Affair).

The on-camera team was now complete. The question now was whether the show would work — or even survive.

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