1967: The U.N.C.L.E./Invaders connection

A first-season episode of The Invaders directed by Sutton Roley…

….and a fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. episode directed by Sutton Roley

The final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68) included a major change in tone. The show got a lot more serious after a campy third season.

The primary reason was a change in producers. In came Anthony Spinner, a veteran of some Quinn Martin series. His time at QM Productions up to that point included being associate producer for the first season of The Invaders.

Spinner had written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Secret Sceptre Affair. But he also wrote a number of episodes for Quinn Martin series such as 12 O’Clock High and The FBI.

QM Productions hired Spinner for the Invaders, where he was deputy to the day-to-day producer, Alan A. Armer.

The show was a departure for QM — it was a science fiction series about how architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) tries to convince humanity the Earth is being invaded by an alien race.

The Invaders was a mid-season replacement series that debuted in January 1967 on ABC. Spinner departed the show after the first half-season and he landed as the new day-to-day producer for U.N.C.L.E.

Spinner, along the way, hired some contributors from The Invaders. Among them were writers Don Brinkley, Robert Sherman and John W. Bloch. Bloch, like Spinner, had also worked on a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode. Sherman’s U.N.C.L.E.’s script was among those that went unproduced because the series was canceled at mid-season.

But perhaps the most significant contributor from The Invaders was director Sutton Roley (1922-2007).

Roley was known for filming shots from unusual angles. He helmed two episodes of the first season of The Invaders, including one titled The Innocent.

The aliens try to fool David Vincent about their intentions, claiming they really want to help mankind.

The episode includes a point-of-view shot where Vincent, having not been fooled, looks up at the aliens.

Roley would direct three episodes in U.N.C.L.E.’s Spinner-produced final season, including the two-part series finale, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair. The director practically duplicates his shot from The Invaders as we see Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) look at people hovering over him.

For U.N.C.L.E., the changes brought by Spinner didn’t pan out. The show got clobbered in the ratings by Gunsmoke on CBS (a series which had been initially canceled but reprieved).

Nevertheless, a number of contributors to The Invaders had an impact on the tone for the final 16 episodes of The Man From U.N.C..E.

Footnote: The main guest star in The Innocent was Michael Rennie. He’d be the villain in the fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Thrush Roulette Affair. Rennie would also return in the second season of The Invaders for the show’s only two-part story.

2 Responses

  1. Few shows of their times changed the look and feel as much as did MFU. It may have been due to the change in producers. But was also a bold attempt to find the right audience. Which might have succeeded if only given a chance to languish in a consistent time slot for a reasonable period of time. Forgotten is that one simple standard (Nielsen Ratings aka an arbitrary numerical ranking system) determined a show’s success or failure. And completely neglected the individual, unique contributions which certain shows provided! Such as described in this article. MFU was very novel for the times. Meaning, having such a stylish, high production standard (due to craft talent contributions). But I found it fascinating to watch the experimental approaches from year to year. Very bold, which hardly any shows since then have adopted in that manner.

    Very fitting was the last shot of the show’s run, to feature the casket being loaded into the private plane – showing the main character’s profiles (expressions), signaling the end of the show’s once most favored status among fans!!

    Thank you for an end of year MFU retrospective!! I’m grateful every time you do an interesting profile!! With very interesting background notes!!

  2. This article is very interesting! Especially appreciated is the connection made between the specific angle of the two photos, which am sure few people would notice (except for the Spy Commander)!

    Thank you for continually finding interesting details about the MFU!

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