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.

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.

Eleanor Parker, U.N.C.L.E.’s last villainess, dies

Eleanor Parker in the final episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  That's Leslie Nielsen in the background. She's not going to like what his character does moments later.

Eleanor Parker in the final episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That’s Leslie Nielsen in the background. She’s not going to like what his character does moments later.

Eleanor Parker, who played the final villainess in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, has died at 91, according to AN ASSOCIATED PRESS OBITUARY ON THE MIAMI HERALD WEBSITE.

Parker played a wide variety of parts according to her HER ENTRY ON IMDB.COM. For spy fans, though, one significant role was filmed in 1967 and aired in January 1968. She was in the final two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Seven Wonders of the World Affair. It was released outside the U.S. as a movie called How to Steal the World.

In that story, an U.N.C.L.E. official named Robert Kinsley (Barry Sullivan), decides to tip the fight between good and evil in favor of good via a “will docility gas” that will force the world’s population to be compliant. What Kingsley doesn’t know is that his wife (Parker) has been manipulating him in partnership with a Thrush operative named Webb (Peter Mark Richman).

Originally, the story, written by Norman Hudis, was intended as a one-hour episode. But, with NBC opting to cancel U.N.C.L.E. in the middle of its fourth season, executive producer Norman Felton had the script expanded to be a two-parter. It would be the eighth, and final, U.N.C.L.E. movie for international audiences.

Parker’s character meets her demise when Robert Kingsley, finally aware of his wife’s plans, orders a General accidently exposed to the docility gas (Leslie Nielsen) to kill her. Overall, the story’s quality varies greatly, in part because of the last-minute expansion. But it’s still a major part of U.N.C.L.E. lore.

1964: Broccoli and Saltzman try to derail U.N.C.L.E.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

By early 1964, post production was underway on the pilot for Solo. On Jan. 7, composer Jerry Goldsmith recorded his score, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline. But things would shortly get bumpy for Norman Felton’s production.

Toward the end of January, The New York Times ran an article about spy-oriented pilots, including Solo. In early February, Albert R. Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, which made the 007 films, had had enough. Here’s how the Henderson website describes it:

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1964
Cubby Broccoli telephones Sam Kaplan of Ashley-Steiner, telling Kaplan he intends to sue Arena, Felton and all others connected with Solo for violating Broccoli’s and Saltzman’s rights to the James Bond stories, referring specifically to the Jan. 26 New York Times story.

Ian Fleming hadn’t been involved with Solo since June of the previous year. The author signed away his rights under pressure from Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the other co-head of Eon. The name Napoleon Solo had been one of his few contributions to make it to the final product of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot..

Still, it appears Broccoli couldn’t stand U.N.C.L.E. In his later years, in ill health, Broccoli worked on an autobiography that wouldn’t be published until after his death. Here’s how he described U.N.C.L.E.:

MGM came in with The Man From UNCLE, which was a straight steal from Fleming’s use of acronyms like SMERSH and SPECTRE.

When The Snow Melts, the autobiography of Cubby Broccoli with Donald Zec, 1998, page 199

Of course, Smersh wasn’t an acronym and Fleming was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until June 1963. Nothing had been stolen from Fleming (though he signed away his rights for a mere one British pound). Also, it was pretty easy to tell Napoleon Solo, suave U.N.C.L.E. agent apart from Mafia boss Solo in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel and Eon movie.

None of that mattered. Again, an excerpt from the Henderson website:

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1964
New York law firm for Saltzman and Broccoli sends cease-and-desist letter to Felton, MGM, NBC and Ashley-Steiner demanding immediate end to use of Fleming’s name in connection with planned Solo series — and end to all use of name and character “Solo,” “Napoleon Solo” and “Mr. Solo,” claiming theft of the “Mr. Solo” character in Goldfinger, which Eon is currently filming.

By April, the two sides agree Solo won’t be the title but the Napoleon Solo name is retained for the television series. NBC picks up the series to debut the following fall.

In May, the new series title ends up being The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By that time, first drafts of series scripts have been written. The first draft for an episode to be called The Double Affair refers to the villainous organization as MAGGOT. The name is later changed to Thrush, which had been the choice of Felton and Sam Rolfe, the writer of the pilot, all along.

U.N.C.L.E. is now on its way to becoming reality. But more changes await before the cameras roll on the early episodes of the show.

CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. BOND TIMELINE FOR 1964

Earlier posts:

JUNE 1963: IAN FLEMING SIGNS AWAY HIS U.N.C.L.E. RIGHTS

MAY 1963: IAN FLEMING CRIES U.N.C.L.E.

Fall 1963: Norman Felton casts his Solo

The Solo that William Boyd forgot

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Producer Norman Felton had to make a decision: Who would be cast as Napoleon Solo, the character he co-created with Ian Fleming?

The task may not have been difficult as finding a Solo for a 21st century movie version of the show (finally cast with Henry Cavill). But it wasn’t a slam dunk, either.

According to Jon Heitland’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. book, Felton for a time considered a friend, Harry Guardino, for the part.

Also in the running was actor Robert Brown, who five years later would briefly be cast as Hawaii Five-O’s Steve McGarrett until the part was re-cast with Jack Lord. Also, according to the Heitland book, Felton decided to offer the role to Robert Culp, but the actor wasn’t available.

Felton ended up going with an actor already in his employ: Robert Vaughn, 30, who was the second lead in The Lieutenant, a drama about U.S. Marine Corps officers. Felton was the show’s executive producer, with Gene Roddenberry as the creator-producer.

“I was looking for someone who would give the character a certain visual sense of sophistication,” Felton told Heitland in an interview for the 1986 book.

Vaughn, in 2007, recalled the deal being done quickly:

Other work on the project proceeded. Sam Rolfe turned in his second-draft script and Don Medford was hired to direct on Oct. 9, 1963, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline.

By November, the rest of the cast was in place. David McCallum would play the small part (in the pilot script) of Illya Kuryakin, a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent, and Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison, the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

Production was scheduled to begin on Nov. 20. It would be shut down for four days because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy two days later.

In the coming months, two men named Broccoli and Saltzman would present another challenge.

Earlier posts:

July 1963: U.N.C.L.E. presses on without Fleming

June 1963: Ian Fleming signs away his U.N.C.L.E. rights

Some fan complaints about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans react to what they've seen about the new movie.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans react to news about the new movie.

Everybody’s a critic, the saying goes. So it is with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie a month after it began filming.

The Internet in its myriad forms, including Facebook, Twitter, listservs message boards and blogs like this one, has the potential to give every fan a voice. And many take advantage of the opportunity.

While it’s hard to say how representative they are, here’s a sampling of some fan complaints about the movie that stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in the roles originated by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. A lot of this is subjective and if you’re an U.N.C.L.E. fan you may agree or disagree.

1. The lead actors are too tall: Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 series, was on record as not wanting “big, ballsy men” as his leads, which is one reason why Vaughn and McCallum, each below 6-feet tall, got the roles. Some fans refer to Kuryakin/McCallum as LBG, or “little blonde guy.”

Cavill is 6-goot-1 while Hammer is 6-foot-5. That is admittedly a big change and some fans don’t like it. Cavill was a last-minute casting change for 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise, who opted out of the project.

2. Henry Cavill is too muscular: Cavill, 30, is the latest screen Superman (in 2013’s Man of Steel) and will reprise the role in 2014 for a Superman-Batman movie that will be released in the summer of 2015. That’s different that Felton’s “everyman” vision.

3. Armie Hammer isn’t blonde enough: Hammer had dark hair playing the Lone Ranger in the 2013 Disney movie. He has lightened his hair, but for some fans he’s not blond enough.

Armie Hammer with a David McCallum haircut.

Armie Hammer with a David McCallum haircut.

4. Hammer doesn’t have Illya Kuryakin’s hairstyle: McCallum’s Kuryakin had bangs and his hairstyle got shaggier later in the series. Based on photos taken during filming in Rome SUCH AS THIS ONE, Hammer isn’t attempting the same hairstyle.

5. Why does Hollywood do all these remakes and/or sequels? This is a broader complaint about Hollywood in general. As movie costs have spiraled, studios have gotten conservative and are viewed as less willing to take risks in general.

Occasionally, there are remakes worth doing. Humphrey Bogart wasn’t the first actor to play Sam Spade. My Fair Lady, seen as a screen classic, is essentially a musical remake of Pygmalion. Some argue The Godfather Part II is better than the original. The problem isn’t necessarily remakes per se, but how they’re executed.

6. This is going to be a flop on the scale of 2013’s Lone Ranger movie! Actually, that’s almost impossible. The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget is a reported $75 million, while Disney’s Lone Ranger movie had a budget of as much as $240 million.

Meanwhile, as far as U.N.C.L.E. concerned, the past 30 years of fan discussion has centered on either the original show or U.N.C.L.E. projects that didn’t get made. Looking on the bright side, the U.N.C.L.E movie is something new to talk about — whether the movie turns out good or ill — for the first time in a long time. It also may recruit new U.N.C.L.E. fans, starting with fans of the lead actors.

Two more questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in photo on Zimbo.com site

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming

Photos appeared on Oct. 2 on places such as Zimbio.com and Us magazine’s Web site of filming of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Shots included stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer together and in costume. There were also PHOTOS of Hugh Grant as Waverly and actress Alicia Vikander. So this seems a good time to pose two more unanswered questions.

What’s the name of Alicia Vikander’s character? The Sept. 3 PRESS RELEASE doesn’t specify.

When Vikander was identified by THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER in May as being in the film, the trade publication said she “will play a British agent who has a thing for cars. The character did not appear in the TV series nor the short-lived spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and is a new creation.”

What if, by chance, that’s not correct? Remember the filming of Skyfall? Naomie Harris’s Eve wasn’t supposed to be Moneypenny — except she was.

Thinking out loud, what if Vikander is playing April Dancer, the lead character in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.? There’s no evidence of that, of course. And given how complicated rights can be, the April Dancer character might even be unavailable for director Guy Ritchie & Co. to use. Time will tell.

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode


Will the original U.N.C.L.E. insignia return? Over the past few days of filming in Italy, some shots of crew members have shown up on social media. In some cases, people are wearing security badges that appear to have the original U.N.C.L.E. insignia used in the main titles of the original 1964-68 series.

Even if it’s the original insignia (and in some cases it’s pretty small in the photos), that’s no guarantee it will show up in the movie. On the other hand, if it is used in the film, it would be another of the seeming homages to the original show.

UPDATE: The U.K. Daily Mail has A STORY WITH MORE PHOTOS of the filming in Rome.

The story has one noteable mistake. “Set at the height of the Cold War, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which stands for United Network Command for Law Enforcement), was originally a TV series created by Sam Rolfe, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.”

Robert Vaughn played Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill’s role) and David McCallum played Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer’s role). Neither actor created the show.

Norman Felton and Ian Fleming created the Solo character and Sam Rolfe devised the U.N.C.L.E. detail and created Kuryakin and other characters.

Of that trio, only Rolfe had an on-screen credit for the show’s concept: “Developed by” in the first season, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by” for the rest of the series. Felton was the executive producer throughout the series, and was credited for that. Rolfe was also producer for the first season.

Also, the formal name is United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. The Daily Mail isn’t the first media outlet to drop the “and.”

Earlier posts:

RETURN OF THE ICONIC U.N.C.L.E. TURTLENECK?

HOW THE U.N.C.L.E. MOVIE WILL DIFFER FROM THE ORIGINAL SHOW

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