50th anniversary of U.S. TV spymania

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

This week marks the 50th anniversary of spymania in the United States, when three spy television series premiered.

I Spy (Sept. 15): The hour-long drama on NBC was the most serious, least escapist spy program on U.S. television. Its greater significance, however, was having an African American actor receiving equal billing with a white star.

That African American actor was Bill Cosby. Cosby has been in the news since last year for numerous accusations of rape, the subject of a notable cover of New York magazine this summer.

A half century ago, Cosby’s presence on I Spy was a major breakthrough for U.S. television. The show debuted in the midst of  the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert Culp, the show’s other star, also wrote episodes that gave Cosby’s Alexander Scott plenty to do and Cosby ample opportunity to show his acting ability.

“People writing…said that I was the Jackie Robinson of television drama,” Cosby said during a 2010 appearance. “I say to all of you if this true that Robert Culp has to be Eddie Stanky, Pee Wee Reese.” He said Culp’s “contribution in I Spy was very valuable in terms of civil rights.”

Besides the show’s social significance, I Spy also had extensive location filming. The lead actors accompanied a small crew that actually traveled to places such as Hong Kong and Tokyo to film exteriors. That footage would be paired with interior scenes shot at stages leased from Desilu Studios.

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

The Wild Wild West (Sept. 17): The show was originally pitched to CBS as something like “James Bond and cowboys.” It became something much greater.

The series concerned the adventures of ace U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). They traveled in style on a train.

They traveled a lot taking on, among other foes, a 19th century cyborg (John Dehner); Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), a short scientist with major plans, such as wiping out the world’s population to restore ecological balance; and Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a villain whose magic tricks might not be tricks at all.

Highlights included Conrad frequently fighting a roomful of thugs. In reality, it was usually the same group of stuntmen and it took ingenuity to disguise that fact from the audience. Also a highlight was Martin donning various disguises.

The Wild Wild West really was catching lightning in a bottle. Attempts to recapture the magic (made-for television movies in 1979 and 1980 as well as a 1999 feature film) fell short.

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Get Smart (Sept. 18): The half-hour comedy created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind. The network rejected it. NBC, looking for a show for Don Adams, snapped it up.

Brooks and Henry revamped the script to adapt it for Adams. For example, Adams had already perfected his “would you believe?” bit, using it on The Bill Dana Show situation comedy series. Thus, it was incorporated into the Get Smart pilot.

Adams’ Maxwell Smart was a force of nature. He bumbled his way through his adventures but, always confident in himself, emerged triumphant. It helped to have Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) on his side.

Get Smart, naturally, parodied the spy genre, including one episode that did a takeoff on I Spy. But the series had other targets, including an episode that parodied The Fugitive. There have been various attempts over the decades to revive Get Smart, most recently a 2008 feature film with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

U.N.C.L.E.-Batman comic book scheduled


A comic book story featuring a crossover between The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman has been scheduled, NEWSARAMA.COM REPORTED.

This is part of the Batman ’66 title published by DC Comics.

How is this possible? DC has long been a corporate cousin of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warners, even moving from its long-time home in New York to Burkbank, California, home base of Warner Bros.

That move reflects how Warners is ramping up its output of films based on DC characters. The studio also controls The Man From U.N.C.L.E. original series, which ran from 1964 to 1968.

Batman ’66 is based on the 1966-68 series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The comic uses the likenesses of the actors. DC has published crossover stories with The Green Hornet, mimicking a teamup from the original Batman show. The comic even published a story based on a rejected script plot by Harlan Ellison for the Batman series.

According to Newsrama.com, the U.N.C.L.E. crossover will be published in December.

“The deadly organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. has a new twist in their plans for world conquest—they’re recruiting some of Gotham City’s most infamous villains!,” according to a description published by Newsrama.com. “Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin bring this information to the one man who knows everything about these new enemies: Batman. Before you can say ‘Open channel D,”’the Dynamic Duo and the Men from U.N.C.L.E. are jetting off to Europe to thwart the schemes of this deadly criminal cartel.”

In real life, the U.N.C.L.E. television series was influenced by the Batman show. In U.N.C.L.E.’s VERY LIGHT THIRD SEASON, two regular Batman writers, Stanford Sherman and Stanley Ralph Ross, were hired to contribute scripts. Ross even worked THE SAME JOKE into both series.

UPDATE: If you CLICK HERE, you can read a 2013 Den of Geek story about the rejected Harlan Ellison story for the Batman television series, which featured Two Face as the villain.

M:I Rogue Nation box office surges past $500M

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s worldwide box office surged past the $500 million mark this weekend.

The fifth installment of the series starring and produced by Tom Cruise was No. 4 at the U.S. box office for the Sept. 4-6 weekend with an estimated $7.15 million, according to data compiled by BOX OFFICE MOJO.

The movie’s total U.S. take is now an estimated $180.4 million, with estimated foreign box office of $328.7 million, for a combined total of more than $509 million.

M:I Rogue Nation originally was slated for Dec. 25, but Paramount moved up the film to July 31, getting it out of the way of Walt Disney Co.’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, expected to be a huge hit.

The movie most affected by Paramount’s release switch was another spy film, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The U.S. ticket sales for that film have stayed below M:I’s every week since U.N.C.L.E.’s Aug. 14 release.

U.N.C.L.E. finished No. 7 in the U.S. for the weekend, at $3.445 million. It’s now at $39.4 million in the U.S. and $85.4 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. The movie still is being released internationally, including mid-September in France.

MeTV’s ‘Spies Who Love ME’ concludes Sunday

metv logo

MeTV, the U.S. channel mostly featuring 1960s and ’70s shows, is ending its “Spies Who Love ME” Sunday night block of shows this weekend.

Mission: Impossible, which had been on at 11 p.m. ET Sunday, and The Saint, which has been airing at 1 a.m. Mondays, are leaving the MeTV schedule altogether for now, the channel said in an announcement about its fall schedule.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which has been telecast at 10 p.m. ET on Sundays, is moving to the overnight weekend schedule. It will be on at 2 a.m. ET Sundays and Mondays (considered part of the Saturday and Sunday schedules).

Get Smart will be telecast on the overnight Sunday schedule, showing at 1 a.m. on Monday. With “Spies Who Love ME,” MeTV showed two episodes of the 1965-70 comedy start at midnight.

To see the entire new schedule, which begins Aug. 31, CLICK HERE for a PDF version.

GUEST REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

I never fully watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn’t born when it was released and no DVDs (and few TV telecasts) where released in my country, at least in my teens.

As a Bond fan, of course, I enjoyed many rip-offs, from the funny ones like Get Smart, Johnny English and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the more realistic ones like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible saga, the Harry Palmer films and a few modern-espionage films like The International.

Still, I barely knew about Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. except for the fact it was one of the many ingredients of the ‘60s spy phenomenon and the Ian Fleming connection with the character of Napoleon Solo. I was kind of interested, but I never ended up closely following the episodes as I did with Zorro, Batman, The Saint or other cult TV series.

So, what follows “review” of someone in the mid-20s who hasn’t properly watched the original TV series produced by Norman Felton but has an idea on it.

I had a free afternoon so I booked the tickets on a close theatre in my hometown in Buenos Aires. The screening was around 6:30 p.m. As I entered the theatre, all the seats were empty! I wondered if some of the negative reviews had such an impact on people that left Napoleon Solo a bit… “solo” (if you speak Spanish, you’ll get the word game).

A few minutes later, people appeared — not many, five or seven more, making around ten people if you count me. On a side note, I catched the SPECTRE teaser trailer before the film. I’ve always been unlucky in finding a Bond trailer on a screening, something that only happened before in 2002 when the Die Another Day trailer popped up before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the movie my grandmother took me to watch.

And then, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. filled the screen.

Overall, the film is enjoyable… enough to relax after a tough day at work, at least. It looks indeed as a movie set in the 1960s: a masterful work of the cinematographer, the costume designer, and Daniel Pemberton in the music department.

There’s a lot of humor like the one you’ll find in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but a lot less exaggerated, and more in the vein of the 1972 TV series The Persuaders. The Henry Cavill-Armie Hammer relationship onscreen is in a way very similar to the Roger Moore-Tony Curtis one.

A scene of Napoleon Solo (Cavill) comfortably drinking wine and having sandwiches while sitting in a truck as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) gun fighting his enemies on a boat is particularly effective and funny for the inclusion of “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (sung by Peppino Gagliardi) as both events are taking place. This rivalry that slowly turns into friendship is akin to The Persuader’s pilot “Interlude.”

Other of the film’s pros is the backdrop created for the protagonists: Solo being an art thief working for the CIA on probation and Kuryakin having with anger management problems. The girls, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), are in a way the stereotypical “good girls” and “bad girls” you’ll find in any retro spy series. They are not complex characters, but they fit very well into the film.

More into the 60s influence, the scene where Solo is tortured seems to have a small nod to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) provides a “mind torture” to Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble, aka James Bond 007, when uncle Rudi shows a video of the Nazi “achievements” as the hero is tied to an electric chair.

A special mention is deserved by Hugh Grant as Waverly, whose presence itself is more than welcome and adds a special touch to the film with his comic quips.

There is, however, a big negative point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: the editing. It tried to be artistic and it perhaps succeeded in the desired effect, but the fast camera shots, the flashbacks and the split-screen shots are very distracting. It happens, even in a more confusing way, the same that in the shakey cam shots of Quantum of Solace.

The film’s ending offers a nice cliffhanger, maybe predictable, but very similar to the current “reboot” movies where we see the inception of what has been established before. There is a word association to the last line said by Waverly to the relationship a character had with other, something that would probably get lost in translation for many non-English speaking countries.

Verdict: Love the ‘60s spy movies with lots of humor? Watch it!

U.N.C.L.E.: 2d U.S. weekend is good news, bad news

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

UPDATE (Aug. 26): The final second weekend figure for U.N.C.L.E. was $7.3 million, a 45.5 percent decline from the debut weekend, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.

ORIGINAL POST (Aug. 23): For The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, its second U.S. weekend had good news and bad news.

Relatively speaking, it was better than average in one key respect.

The Guy Ritchie-directed film will decline this weekend by an estimated 45 percent to $7.4 million, Exhibitor Relations SAID ON TWITTER. It called the results “respectible.”

A falloff of at least 50 percent between the first and second weekend is expected. A decline less than that is considered above average.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s cumulative U.S. box office is an estimated $26 million, Exhibitor Relations said.

The final weekend figures come out on Monday.

For perspective, the No. 1 movie at the box office, for the second weekend in a row, was Straight Outta Compton. It had estimated ticket sales of $26.7 million, a 56 percent decline from last weekend, Exhibitors Relations SAID IN A SEPARATE TWEET.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, meanwhile, IS COMING IN AT NO. 2 at about $11 million. The fifth M:I film with Tom Cruise was released July 31, two weeks before U.N.C.L.E.

The U.N.C.L.E. film is in the midst of its international rollout. Variety reported in 2013 its production budget was $75 million.

The nature of fandom

SPECTRE teaser poster

Fans feel possessive of what they like, whether it be James Bond or something else.

It’s no secret that fans — whether they like James Bond or other characters — can feel a little possessive. But there’s an interesting essay about the hazards of giving fans what they want.

The article appeared on the DEN OF GEEK WEBSITE. But before we provide the details, here’s a passage of James Hunt’s essay that applies to any fandom.

Fandom at its best is a celebration of a shared enthusiasm for something, but it takes only a little nudging to turn it. Fandoms start off based on something good, but they soon start to feel like they own the thing they love, and that the creators employed to write (or draw, or direct) that thing are only stewards who have to feed the fandom beast or meet with disapproval. Things turn toxic.


The lesson? Be careful what you wish for. Not because you might get it, but because you risk getting only that and nothing else. It’s fine to think about what you might like to see. It’s fine to criticise developments you don’t enjoy. But once you expect anything more specific than a well-told story, you may have to blame yourself if you don’t even get that.

On related note, years ago a friend who had been actor said something to the effect, “The only thing an actor owes an audience is his or her best performance.”

Yet, if you’ve been on social media or checked out Internet message boards, many fans do feel a sense of ownership. It’s certainly true that fan dollars support the entertainment. Yet, sometimes things go beyond that.

With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, some fans severely criticize it as betraying the 1964-68 original series because of alterations to the backgrounds of the lead characters. Clearly, director Guy Ritchie stripped a lot of memes from the series out of his movie to concentrate on the characters, played in the film by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

Anyway, the Hunt essay is about Avengers: Age of Ultron. It also includes this quote from the late Marvel Comics writer Mark Gruenwald: “The writer’s job isn’t to give the fans what they want. The writer’s job is to give the fans what they didn’t even know they wanted.”

The full essay can be viewed BY CLICKING HERE. While it’s primarily about this year’s Avengers film, it’s worth checking out for any fan of any popular entertainment.

It’s particularly worth reading for 007 fans before publicity for SPECTRE gears up.


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