The FBI season 9: Erskine’s final cases

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The FBI, after eight seasons, was still getting decent ratings but they were declining. Executive Producer Quinn Martin decided to shake things up.

A new/old face was brought in as the day-to-day producer. Anthony Spinner, a writer on the series during the first, second and fifth seasons, took the helm.

Spinner had his ups and down at QM Productions. He left his post as associate producer of The Invaders to become the producer during the last season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He returned to QM to produce Dan August, a police drama that only lasted one season. Later he left again to work as story consultant and then producer of Search, another series that only lasted one season.

Whether it was Spinner’s doing or not, his tenure on The FBI’s final season resembles his time on U.N.C.L.E. On both shows, there was a “back to basics” feel. In the case of The FBI, there was a new young sidekick (Shelly Novack as agent Chris Daniels) for Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Lewis Erskine. This was similar to the show’s first two seasons when Erskine had a young sidekick, Jim Rhodes (Stephen Brooks).

This meant William Reynolds, sidekick for six seasons, was out although he’d appear in two season 9 episodes. It turned out Reynolds’s Tom Colby had gotten a promotion and was now stationed on the West Coast.

Also, the final season went back to a minute-long version of Bronislau Kaper’s theme for the main titles, again similar to the first two seasons. Since the third season, there had been a very short main titles.

Still, it wasn’t enough to save the show. The FBI had always been an idealized version of the real-life U.S. agency. By the time episodes began airing in the fall of 1973, the Watergate scandal overwhelmed the news, including giving a black eye to the real FBI.

The show still maintained its quality, drawing a combination of old pros (Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Susan Oliver, Gary Lockwood) and upcoming actors (Harvey Keitel) as guest stars. Perhaps it was just time. Nevertheless, it could be said that The FBI (the series) never “jumped the shark” the way other long-running series did.

UPDATE (Sept. 24): Season 9 of The FBI is available in the U.S. from Warner Archive. CLICK HERE for ordering information.

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