Douglas Cramer, controversial M:I figure, dies

Dougas S. Cramere title card on a third-season episode of Mission: Impossible.

Douglas S. Cramer, a successful TV executive and producer, has died at 89, according to The Wrap. His credits include the likes of the likes of The Love Boat, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series and Vega$. But he was also a controversial figure with the original Mission: Impossible television series.

Background: Mission: Impossible originated with writer-producer Bruce Geller who had landed at Desilu. During M:I’s second season, Lucille Ball sold Desilu to the parent company of Paramount. Suddenly, Desilu became Paramount Television.

In M:I’s third season, Geller was now dealing with Douglas S. Cramer, who more cost-conscious that previous management.

Among many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer is seen as a villain. It was under his tenure that Martin Landau and Barbara Bain departed the show. Landau had never signed a long-term series deal and negotiated his salary a season as a time.

It was during the Cramer regime at Paramount that Landau’s bargaining power ran out. Bain, his wife at the time, went with him out the door.

The 1991 book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White included interviews with Cramer.

“Bruce had a wonderful concept of the show, put it together beautifully, but paid no attention to budget,” Cramer told the author. “Secondly, he traditionally wrote bigger shows than we could afford to do….Bruce was a madman about scripts and there would be layer after layer of writers working on them.”

There were other Mission: Impossible conflicts. Bruce Geller, as executive producer, clashed with writer-producers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter during the third season. The Woodfield-Balter team, who had authored many of the best episodes, left.

Still, the big conflict was the one with Geller and Cramer. The latter described his perspective to author White.

“Bruce and his refusal to pay any attention to budget had permeated all the people that worked for him,” Cramer said. In the book, Cramer referred to Geller as a “mad dictator.”

For many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer was in the wrong and Geller was proven correct in the end. M:I ran seven seasons, the longest run of the 1960s spy craze and spawned a successful series of Tom Cruise movies.

Regardless, Cramer’s story is a reminder that making a television series it never easy. It’s always a balance of art and commerce.

6 Responses

  1. The point is made in the article, well enough. So Mr. Cramer thought big. He wasn’t going to let a huge network nickel & dime his concept to death. Because any less than what they put into would’ve looked ridiculous. Exactly how many shows of that (spy craze) caliber have survived into retro TV networks? If we’re lucky the WWW and MI. The latter still has a fairly contemporary look and feel to it. Partly due to the stylish actors. But the trick was, they played their roles with conviction, like they were proud of the production. I’m an MFU fan, but I think MI is more adaptable to today’s audience. As long as it’s done right!!


  2. I forgot to check the notify me boxes. So I’m doing it here. I want to read other people’s comments.

  3. I know Douglas Cramer had a very successful tv show
    production career. However, I remember an interview I saw with Peter Graves about 25 years ago, and he strongly and unequivocally said that M.I. was a phenomenal show BECAUSE OF BRUCE GELLER – it was his creation and its quality and greatness were all because of him.

    On an unrelated side note, it would be interesting to know each person’s take, that is Steven Hill and Bruce Geller’s, of all the actual parameters that led to Steven Hill being fired after the first season of M.I. I have read things, but I wonder where the actual truth lies.
    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY

  4. This seems to be the consensus on the internet:

    Steven Hill, issues w/ format, Sabbath an excuse. Producers wanted a lead with more energy!. Landau (& Bain), under paid, Landau had no firm contract. Nimoy also didn’t like the changes, low pay. Warren moved on. In general, high caliber performers weren’t well compensated, storylines weren’t fresh, no overarching narrative (consistency in purpose, POV). Except for longest standing performers, others used it for visibility, moved on.

    The problem with performers complaining straight up, they’re tagged as difficult, so the true story gets lost.

  5. Thanks for the feedback and valuable information. Hill even had that non-energetic style on “Law & Order”, but it actually worked in that format. As for the others, it just looks like Cramer tried to keep costs of each episode down by shortchanging the writers and the actors, until they had enough and left. Thanks again. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY>

  6. Personally, I think Cramer was short sighted. Mission: Impossible wasn’t as popular after Martin Landau and Barbara Bain left the show. In doing the obit for Cramer, I wanted to be sure his views were represented.

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