What would a reboot of The FBI be like?

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While doing work on THE FBI EPISODE GUIDE, we got to thinking what a reboot of the 1965-74 television series might be like.

Background: The show was an idealized version of the real life U.S. agency. In fact, the bureau had script approval and veto power over guest stars of the series produced by Quinn Martin and Warner Bros. The real-life FBI exercised that power on occasions, including vetoing Bette Davis as a guest star in the second season.

Anyway, a few thoughts:

DOING A REBOOT AS A PERIOD PIECE: The general public knows a lot more about J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau director for 48 years, than it did when the television debuted. It’s not a very pretty picture, including wire taps on Martin Luther King Jr.

If a reboot of The FBI were done as a 1960s period piece, we’d likely see Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the original show) as a conflicted figure, aware of things the bureau shouldn’t be doing. He’d be portrayed as someone loyal to the bureau but aware of its failings.

DOING A REBOOT TIMESHIFTED TO THE 21ST CENTURY: Erskine’s assignments would be much different than the original series.

Instead of dealing with bank robbers, the mob and those behind major crimes, Erskine likely would be dealing with terrorists. In the show, we’re told Erskine’s wife was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. With a reboot, we might see the doomed Mrs. Erskine killed during the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, explaining why he’s such a driven figure.

At this point, such thoughts are only speculation. The FBI TV series was something of its time and nobody has shown any interest in reviving it.

 

Happy New Year from The Spy Command

Our annual holiday greeting.

Happy New Year from The Spy Command. Best wishes to all of our readers.

And, as Napoleon Solo says, remember to party responsibly. We’ll see you in 2016.

solonye

Stan Lee at 93: a complicated legacy

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, during happier days.

Stanley Martin Lieber, aka Stan Lee, turns 93 today. People who’ve never read a comic book have heard of him. Lee co-created the Marvel Universe of comic book characters, starting in 1961 with the Fantastic Four.

He is famous because of that and also through his own commercial sense and self promotion.

Stan (it’s hard not to call him that for anyone whoever read Marvel titles in the 1960s and ’70s) broke out from writing and editing comic books long ago. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 91 acting credits (though most are cameos or consist of voice over work) and 156 “self” appearances.

Stan had a way of making readers feel they were part of a club that “got it.” Marvel was less stuffy, less formal than arch rival DC.

One example is an Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense No. 84 in 1966. Tony Stark has suffered a heart attack just as began testifying about the Iron Man armor.

Outside Stark’s hospital room, reporters are present when Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts (yet another example of Stan’s alliterate character names) show up. “It’s Miss Potts, Stark’s private secretary!” says one. “And Happy Hogan, his right-hand man and trusted confidant!” says another.

The later quote has an asterisk that refers the reader to a caption. “We know people don’t really talk this way…but we wanna bring any newcomer up to date! —Smiley.” Smiley, of course, is one of Stan’s nicknames.

By the mid-1960s, general awareness of Marvel was taking off. Stan Lee was the face of the Marvel.

The problem was, Marvel was a lot more than Stan Lee. Artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood, among others, largely plotted the stories.

Kirby, in a Fantastic Four story, created the Silver Surfer on his own. Ditko created Dr. Strange on his own and actually began receiving the plotting credit for Amazing Spider-Man starting with issue No. 26. Wood felt he did as much writing on Daredevil, if not more, than Lee did. (Wood was credited with writing one issue shortly before exiting the title.)

All three left Marvel by 1970. Fans of the artists make the case none of them, and others, got the due they should have received.

In a visual medium, it was Kirby who brought the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers and the X-Men to life in a two-year span. Earlier in his career, Kirby had co-created Captain America. As a result, Kirby laid the groundwork for much of the Marvel movie universe.

In the past few years, there has been a re-examination of Marvel’s early days, such as Sean Howe’s 2012 book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Still, there’s no question there’s something about Stan that appeals to the public. In 2010, Lee made an appearance at a comic book gathering in Dearborn, Michigan. There was a long line of people. All had purchased tickets to receive a Lee autograph, each ticket costing at least $40. Lee, accompanied by bodyguards, began making his way to the desk where he’d write out the autographs.

“We love you, Stan!” somebody in the line yelled.

Lee, without missing a beat, replied, “I love to be loved!” It got a big laugh.

So, excelsior, Stan Lee. Below is an early 1970s installment of the syndicated To Tell the Truth show. Stan is the contestant in the second game.

Merry Christmas from The Spy Command

This has been the blog’s annual holiday greeting since 2011, going back to when the blog was affiliated with the now-inactive Her Majesty’s Secret Servant site.

The graphic was designed by Paul Baack, who had the idea for the blog. It’s such a great image and it’s presented here once more.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

HMSS-Xmas-greetings

The Spy Command’s final thoughts on ‘Year of the Spy’

BridgeOfSpies
Almost a year ago, this blog christened 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” As the year draws to a close, this post looks back on that year with some final thoughts.

The blog didn’t write about all the movies discussed here. But the blog editor did see them all. The films listed are in order from best to worst. Actually, none of them was a stinker, so “worst” here is relative. Regardless, here we go.

Bridge of Spies: This wasn’t so much a spy movie as a film about the aftermath of espionage.

The Steven Spielberg-directed “biopic” starred Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan (1913-1970), the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U.S. U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets.

With any “based on true events” film, one should never view it as history. Regardless, it was very engrossing. Here, CGI is used to recreate Powers’ capture when his plane was shot down.

Hanks is an accomplished actor and, as usual, delivers a strong performance. This movie also is a milestone of a different sort. Spielberg had to rely upon a composer other than mostly retired John Williams. For this film, that was Thomas Newman.

Bridge of Spies is mostly a low-key drama. The stakes are large, but it doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the typical action film. This is exactly what Newman excels at. His score is perfect for the movie — and also points out his weakness at another prominent movie on this list.

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

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

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The return of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin after a 32-year absence was a financial failure, despite a modest $75 million production budget.

The Guy Ritchie-movie took liberties with the source material. Henry Cavill’s Solo was, more or less, the same character that Robert Vaughn played in the 1964-68 series but his back story was quite different. Ritchie took more liberties with Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin, who had a far darker side than David McCallum’s original.

Still, it mostly worked, even if it relied on an “origin” story line. It had a strong opening, downshifted to a decent middle section, then went into high gear in its second half. Once main villain Victoria (Elizabeth Debecki) calls Cavill by “Mr. Solo,” the proceedings accelerated until the end.

One of the strengths of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer was instructed by Ritchie NOT to emulate John Barry’s 007 movie style and that advice pays off.

The chances of a sequel are remote. That’s show biz. But the movie wasn’t camp (a fear of long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans). Perhaps, in coming years, this movie might attain the status of a “cult classic.”

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE:  The 24th James Bond film started out strong as it sought to mix “traditional” 007 movie elements with Daniel Craig’s 21st century grittier take. For the first two-thirds, it succeeded.

Yet, in its desire to top 2012’s Skyfall, some things went awry. The same writers of Skyfall (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) worked on this year’s Bond film. Their roles, however, were reversed.

Until now, Purvis and Wade — who are very familiar with Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories — would do the early drafts while another writer (Logan in the case of Skyfall) would come in and polish things up.

In this case, Logan did the early drafts. Purvis and Wade weren’t even supposed to participate. However, Logan’s efforts were found lacking — something that likely wouldn’t have been known had it not been for computer hacking at Sony Pictures, which exposed behind-the-scenes details of many movies, including SPECTRE. Also, playwright Jez Butterworth (who did uncredited polishes on Skyfall) apparently did more on SPECTRE because he got a credit with the other scribes.

Thomas Newman, who did such a splendid job on Bridge of Spies, is only serviceable here, even recycling some of his Skyfall score in some scenes. Clearly, doing a Bond film is NOT in the talented composer’s wheelhouse.

Regardless of the soap opera, SPECTRE ran out of gas. Its final third wasn’t a total loss but it didn’t sustain the momentum of the first two-thirds. As a result, this blog puts SPECTRE behind U.N.C.L.E., which finished much stronger.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: The fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film had its own behind-the-scenes soap opera.

The movie was originally scheduled to debut Dec. 25. But Paramount abruptly moved up the release date to July 31, presumably to get it out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presumably, that had to add extra stress to screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie. Directors almost always want more time to tinker with a movie in editing, not less.

Regardless, from a box office standpoint, it was an astute move. It definitely hurt the U.N.C.L.E. movie (which came out two weeks later). And the movie was well received, encouraging Paramount to order up another film.

Technically, the movie was very exciting. Star (and producer) Cruise probably scares studio bosses by insisting on doing his own stunts. This blog drops the movie down a step because it’s not as much of a Mission: Impossible movie as its predecessor, the Brad Bird-directed Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

The original M:I series (1966-73) was very much about team work. Ghost Protocol very much followed that path (even reworking some bits from the show, albeit in a bigger and more spectacular fashion). Rogue Nation was a step backward. It was another example of turning M:I into The Tom Cruise Show.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: If this movie had sustained its first half for the rest of the film, it probably would have been the best spy movie of the year.

It didn’t. In the first half of the movie, one of the best scenes in the first half is where Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, “Manners maketh man,” before he clobbers some British thugs. But director Matthew Vaughn conveniently forgets that advice. Once Harry is killed midway throught he film, the movie dies a bit with him.

There’s still a decent amount worth watching (and the movie was a hit, especially with international audiences). Still, whatever class was present disappears into the mist.

Taken 3: The final (we hope) of Liam Neeson’s adventures as a former spy does everything it’s supposed to do — but no more. In this installment, the wife of Neeson’s Bryan Mills has been killed and he’s been framed. Of course, he’ll get out it. The question is how.

Happy 88th birthday, Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Today, Nov. 2, is the 88th birthday of artist Steve Ditko. In an era when Marvel Comics characters are big business at the movie, Ditko was one of the people who made that possible.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man, already the subject of five movies from 2002 to 2014 and about to become part of the movie “universe” of Marvel Studios.

He also created Dr. Strange, another Marvel character that’s about to get the big-screen treatment. Ditko also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist is an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work.

Ditko keeps to himself. In the 200s, British television show host Jonathan Ross did a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko contributed to the plots of those early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories. In short, it was a lot.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

Regardless, Ditko was, and is, an original. Here’s wishing Mr. Ditko a happy birthday.

The man who assembled the ‘QM Players’

John Conwell's title card in a second-season episode of 12 O'Clock High.

John Conwell’s title card in a second-season episode of 12 O’Clock High.

One of an occasional series about unsung heroes of television.

In the 1960s and ’70s, shows produced at QM Productions had the feel of a repertory theater as many of the same guest stars appeared on various Quinn Martin shows.

As noted in the book Quinn Martin, Producer, there was an even nick name for this: the “QM Players.” The informal group consisted of performers such as Leslie Nielsen (star of the first QM series, The New Breed), Peter Mark Richman, Louise Latham, Jessica Walter, J.D. Cannon, Lynda Day George, Bradford Dillman and many others.

The QM executive responsible for this was John Conwell, who headed the company’s casting operation. He was a former actor, appearing in such productions as The Twilight Zone pilot, Where Is Everybody? and as a guest star in a Ray Milland series, Markham.

Conwell moved from in front of the camera to behind it, including the fourth season of The Twilight Zone, when the show aired in a one-hour format. He became part of QM Productions with that company’s second series, The Fugitive.

For most of his time at QM, however, Conwell’s titles in QM show credits didn’t really give the audience an idea of what he did.

Conwell was initially credited as “assistant to producer,” then “assistant to the executive producer.” Finally, by 1977, he was credited as “in charge of talent.”

In any case, Conwell became one of producer Quinn Martin’s key lieutenants. Martin paid more for guest stars ($5,000 for a one-hour episode compared with a going rate of $2,500). So that helped raise the interest of performers to be on QM shows.

Still, it was Conwell who ran the QM casting operation, which also had casting directors for individual series. That may help to explain why actors kept coming back.

Conwell even stayed at the company after Martin’s departure following the sale of QM Productions to Taft Broadcasting. He died in 1994 at the age of 72.

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