UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

Fox commits to pilot ‘loosely’ based on I Spy, Deadline says

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

The Fox television network has committed to the production of a pilot for a new series that would be based on the I Spy television series, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported. 

The pilot, at least for now, wouldn’t carry the I Spy name and would only be “loosely” based on the 1965-68 series, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva wrote.

“I hear that during the discussions with the network, the idea evolved as Fox brass were not interested in a straight I Spy remake but instead a new take on the buddy spy genre,” according to Andreeva.

It will be written by David Shore and directed by McG, Deadline reported. Also involved is producer John Davis, one of the producers of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In the original series, Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott (Robert Culp and Bill Crosby) were U.S. agents operating under the cover of a tennis pro and his trainer. Of 1960s American spy shows, it was the series most grounded in the Cold War and relatively realistic, compared with U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible and the comedy Get Smart.

I Spy has had a checkered post-series history.

Culp and Cosby were reunited in a 1994 television movie, I Spy Returns, featuring aging versions of their original characters. In it, both have grown children operating as spies.

That TV movie didn’t generate interest in any further adventures. It did, however, posthumously provide a creator credit for Morton Fine and David Friedkin. The two were producers of the series, but never received credit for creating the show while it was originally broadcast. Sheldon Leonard, executive producer of the original, had that title for the TV movie, along with Cosby.

The show was also made as a 2002 comedy theatrical film with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. That production still causes groans from fans of the 1965 series.

 

Steven Hill, original M:I star, dies at 94

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set, with Steven Hill, left, as Dan Briggs.

Steven Hill, the first star of Mission: Impossible, has died at 94, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

Hill enjoyed a long acting career, including a 10-year stint on Law And Order as D.A. Adam Schiff.

For fans of the spy genre, Hill’s one season as Dan Briggs, team leader of the Impossible Missions Force, is a huge “what if?”

As noted in The Times’ obituary, Hill did not work late on Fridays (standard operating procedure at the time on most series) in observance of the Jewish sabbath. It’s also discussed in detail in Patrick J. White’s 1991 book on the series.

Mission: Impossible had the longest run, seven seasons, of the 1960s spy shows in the U.S. But Hill would only be around for the first.

The audience knew little of Briggs. In the pilot episode, written by Bruce Geller, we’re told he had been away from the IMF for some period. In another episode, we see Briggs was a friend of a high school principal. Mobsters kidnap the principal’s daughter to try to get leverage on Briggs.

The IMF leader could be quietly ruthless. For example, there’s the end of the episode Operation: Rogosh. The IMF has pulled a con on an enemy agent, who is driven away by officials of his government. Barney Collier muses (Greg Morris) muses, “I’m sorry we had to let a man like Rogosh live.”

“We didn’t,” Briggs replies.

As time went on, Hill’s Briggs got less screen time. One beneficiary was Martin Landau, whose Rollin Hand character took on more importance. The other was Peter Graves, hired to replace Hill, starting with the second season.

One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Hill’s Briggs lasted the whole series. Regardless, Hill is being remembered as an excellent actor for other roles.

MeTV: Good-bye Mr. Solo, hello James West

metv logo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., after a two-year run, is departing MeTV. But the cable channel isn’t dispensing with spies. It’s adding The Wild Wild West to its schedule.

The changes take effect Sept. 5, MeTV said on its website.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted on MeTV in September 2014, leading off a block of programming on Sunday nights dubbed “The Spies Who Love ME.” That block went away in the fall of 2015, but U.N.C.L.E. was televised early Sunday and early Monday. U.N.C.L.E. finale on MTV will be 2 a.m. Eastern Time, Sept. 5.  The 1964-68 series is being shown overnights on the Heroes & Icons channel.

The Wild Wild West will be on Saturdays at 6 p.m. ET, as part of the channel’s block of western program. The 1965-69 series, which had a lot of fantasy elements, will act as a transition for MeTV’s Saturday night lineup of superhero and science fiction shows.

H&I also shows The Wild Wild West, with two episodes from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Sundays.

Mission: Impossible 6 hits snag, Deadline says

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

The sixth Mission: Impossible movie has been halted until Paramount works out a deal with star-producer Tom Cruise, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Here’s an excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has stopped the ticking clock and halted early pre-production of M:I6 Mission: Impossible. The studio won’t start up again until salary is worked out with franchise star Tom Cruise. The studio had hired between 15 to 20 people in London to start the soft prep work after writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise worked out the beats of the film, and McQuarrie went off to write the script. Those hired had just begun to work on the design of visual effects, and were told today to stop, we learned.

Some background: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, released last year, was a hit. Its U.S.-Canada box office of $195 million was almost as much as SPECTRE’s $200 million.

The 2015 M:I film was originally scheduled to come out on Dec. 25, 2015. Paramount moved it up to the end of July that year. It was an astute move. The M:I movie avoided Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also, the M:I film got the jump on 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, crushing that spy film at the box office.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of drama at Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, including the ouster this week of its CEO, according to THIS NPR STORY.

Cruise, 54, has gotten a lot of mileage from his M:I franchise. The first Cruise M:I movie came out 20 years ago. After Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation came out, Paramount signaled it wanted another film in the series as soon as possible.

Now, there’s uncertainty what will happen next.

 

‘Year of the Spy’ reflected in music award nominations

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

The Film Music Reporter today published a list of nominees for the World Soundtrack Awards. Musical work done during 2015’s “Year of the Spy” figures into some of the nominations.

Thomas Newman was nominated as film composer of the year for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film; Bridge of Spies, a historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg about the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers; and Finding Dory

Daniel Pemberton was nominated in the same category for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the movie based on the 1964-68 television series, Steve Jobs and Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon).

Other film composer of the year nominees were John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Carter Burwell.

There are also five nominees for best song written directly for a film. “Writing’s On The Wall,” used during SPECTRE’s main titles is one of the nominees. The song, co-written by performed by Sam Smith, won the Oscar for best song in February

U.N.C.L.E. and catching lightning in a bottle

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded how this month is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles meeting Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The gathering reflected how U.N.C.L.E., for a time in the 1960s, was a very big deal. 

It was the Fab Four who requested the meeting. They were fans of the show and wanted to see the actor.

Vaughn was busy simultaneously being the lead in a U.S. television series and studying for a Ph.D. But the meeting took place anyway.

U.N.C.L.E.’s history is very much one of ups and downs. It almost got canceled in its first season. It enjoyed its best ratings in its second season (1965-66).

In fact, James Bond films actually benefited from U.N.C.L.E. Two 007 television specials, The Incredible World of James Bond and Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond (made to promote Thunderball and You Only Live Twice), aired in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot on NBC.

But by January 1968, U.N.C.L.E. was canceled as its ratings plunged.

For the most part, U.N.C.L.E. was like catching lightning in a bottle — bright and powerful. For enthusiasts (including the Spy Commander, it should be noted), the light still shines bright. To the broader population, not so much. The same applies to other ’60s spy entertainment such as The Wild Wild West, I Spy and other shows.

In the 21st century, the “lightning in a bottle” shows still are fondly remembered by the original fan base. Trying to interest younger viewers remains a challenge. A year ago this month, a new movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t find an audience even as the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series was a hit.

So it goes. Nevertheless, those who were along for the ride originally still have their memories.