Why I Spy was a big deal

Robert Culp’s death this week is drawing an attention to a show that debuted 45 years ago this fall. Typically, obituaries for the 79-year-old actor reference him starring in I Spy.

It’s not hard to see why. I Spy was a big deal for various reasons.

First, and most obviously, it was a ground breaking series in that it featured a white and black man working together as equals, with Culp and Bill Cosby in the leads. This was in the middle of the drive for civil rights in the 1960s. Around the 5:00 mark of this clip from a 2007 interview, Culp discusses how some NBC affiliates didn’t want to air the show and what he and Cosby said about it:

Second, among the various 1960s spy shows, it was the most grounded in the Cold War. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was, in effect, a post-Cold War show with an American and a Russian as lead characters. Mission: Impossible had stories set in fictional, vaguely Eastern European countries. I Spy made it clear the characters were dealing with the Soviets or Red Chinese. I Spy also took place in a world of ambiguity and shades of gray. For example, Culp’s Kelly Robinson was ordered by his U.S. bosses to kill his former mentor. Here’s the entire episode on You Tube:

Finally, I Spy showed it was possible to have extensive location shooting on a TV budget. U.N.C.L.E. and M:I were shot on studio backlots or in and around Los Angeles. When you saw Hong Kong or Tokyo on I Spy, it was the real thing.

One Response

  1. […] Spy was a landmark show because it featured a white man and a black man as equals while the civil rights movement was in ful… It also helped make Bill Cosby a huge star. The premier episode can also be enjoyed for […]

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