1965: U.N.C.L.E.’s star appears on a rival network

Red Skelton with Robert Vaughn, 1965

By the fall of 1965, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a big hit. In December 1965, star Robert Vaughn appeared as the guest star on CBS’s Red Skelton Hour, the variety show that almost killed U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted in September 1964 on NBC opposite Skelton’s CBS show. The spy show suffered in the ratings. NBC considered canceling U.N.C.L.E. Instead it changed the show’s time slot to Monday nights. That gave the series the boost it needed, plus a lift from Goldfinger boosting interest in spy entertainment.

A little over a year later, the Skelton show had Robert Vaughn on as a guest star. During a two-part skit, there were one-liners (perhaps ad libbed) where Skelton said Vaughn was plugging his own show.

After the skit, Vaughn appeared with Skelton. The U.N.C.L.E. star had a communicator (not the one that was seen on the series) so Skelton could call his wife. (See above.) At one point, Vaughn says into the device: “Illya get off the line, willya?”

Vaughn’s appearance was a sign of how spy shows had arrived as a thing. The Red Skelton Museum has been posting full episodes of the Skelton show to YouTube. Below is the Vaughn episode.

One Response

  1. This is very cool because until lately Red Skelton has not been easily found on retro-classic TV channels. But it’s now nice to know about it on YouTube.

    Yes, the MFU publicity department (according to Jon Heitland’s book) worked very hard for all kinds of exposure. And this is kind of a rare look at Robert Vaughn’s comedic side. In the day there was no such thing as channel surfing. So what played opposite a habitually watched show wasn’t noticed unless from the printed TV listings of the evening (or in TV Guide). The problem was viewers didn’t want to take a chance missing their favorite show. So it was smart of MFU to place Robert Vaughn right in front of their competition’s audience!! And as Mr. Skelton would say, to please the ladies!!

    Thank you for writing about the MFU and especially for the link!!

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