Dan August coming to DVD in December

The cast of Dan August (Burt Reynolds seated, while left to right, Ned Romero, Richard Anderson, Norman Fell and Ena Hartman) in a publicity still

Dan August, the Quinn Martin series that helped (albeit in an unusual way) Burt Reynolds become a star will be available on DVD in December, according to a listing at Visual Entertainment Inc.

The series only ran first run during the 1970-71 season on ABC. After it wasn’t picked up, Reynolds took a blooper reel with him on talk show appearances, according to the book Quinn Martin, Producer. Audiences discovered the star’s sense of humor, which gave his career momentum.

The police drama originated with a television movie, House on Greenapple Road. That starred Christopher George as the police detective.

When ABC wanted a series, Quinn Martin wanted George to reprise the role. But the actor made a pilot for another series, The Immortal, which was also on ABC’s schedule. George went with that, opening the door for Reynolds. (As it turns out Visual Entertainment also offers The Immortal.)

Anthony Spinner title card for an episode of Dan August

The day-to-day producer of Dan August was Anthony Spinner (b. 1930), who was the fourth-season producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He also worked on a number of QM shows as a writer or producer. Spinner pushed the QM envelope on Dan August, having story lines dealing with topical issues of the day.

The Visual Entertainment series says CBS ran the show. It did, but not first-run. CBS ran it during the summer of 1973, with Reynolds now a movie star.

For more information about Dan August, CLICK HERE. It’s available for pre-order and ships Dec. 7.

U.N.C.L.E. script: A change in direction

Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya (David McCallum) at the climax of The Deadly Quest Affair

The fourth season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would take a serious turn compared with the campy third season. The new tone was reflected in one of the fourth season’s early scripts.

The Deadly Quest Affair was written in May 1967. Some pages of the script by Robert E. Thompson are dated as early as May 2. Other pages are dated May 16, with some pages revised on June 5. However, the episode wouldn’t be seen until Oct. 30, the eighth episode actually broadcast.

Thompson had written one first-season episode, The Green Opal Affair. The new day-to-day producer, Anthony Spinner, sought to bring back as many first-season scribes as possible. Spinner, in fact, was one of them, penning The Secret Sceptre Affair.

The copy of the script the blog has is pretty close to the episode as aired. But, as often is the case, there are some interesting differences.

Originally, the villain was named Viktor Karnak. Spinner or someone else involved with the production may have felt the name was too close to the Johnny Carson character Carnac the Magnificent. He’d be renamed Karmak. Most of the pages of the script the blog retain the Karnak name.

Karnak/Karmak had tangled with U.N.C.L.E. agents Solo and Kuryakin (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum) two years before. It had appeared the villain perished (we’re told the agents had only recovered bones and a few remains). However, Karnak/Karmak really hadn’t died and is back to get even.

In the script, the villain is described thusly: “His blond haiar is cropped short. His eeyes, though masked now by dark glasses are a startling blue. Only a single scar gashed across one cheek mars the harsh, cold symetry of his features. He seems to project a vaguely Baltic loo. His accent is vaguely reminiscent of a foreigner’s overly precise Oxonian.”

The production team ended up casting brown-haired actor Darren McGavin in role, though he’d be made up with a scar.

In the pre-titles sequence, Illya is in the hospital, recovering from a concussion from a recent assignment. Solo is visiting and is “in black tie.” As filmed, he’d be wearing a suit, rather than a tuxedo. Two henchmen of Karnak/Karmak kidnap Illya after Solo departs.

The script has a scene not in the episode where KarnakKarmak asks, “The…message has been delivered?” The henchman dubbed “Steel Rims” in the script answers, “Exactly at nine o’clock.”

At U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters, bossman Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) has called Solo in. The U.N.C.L.E. chief informs Solo that Karnak/Karmak is alive. The script describes how the villain has delivered his message.

There is a shrouded, box-like object in f.g. Waverly and Solo stand in front of it. Waverly reaches out and raises the covering on the unseen side of the shrouded object. We are aware of a very slight reaction of surprise from Solo.

It turns out to be a myna bird. “Solo…Solo: Twelve o’clock at twelve…or Illya die.”

Eventually, Solo figures out, without informing his boss, that Karnak/Karmak is hiding out in a 10-block section of Manhattan that’s been condemned for re-development. We get a variation on the plot of The Most Dangerous Game, with Karnak/Karmak hunting Solo.

Before the hunt begins, Solo meets up with the episode’s “innocent,” Shiela (Marlyn Mason), a “starving artist” who’s the daughter of a rich man. Now, she has to accompany Solo during the hunt. The only weapons Solo has are a hammer and chisel Shiela used to make sculptures.

The hunt begins at midnight. Solo has to find Illya by 6 a.m. or he dies. The Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent is in a tight spot. He’s in a gas chamber that will dispense cyanide gas at the appointed hour.

Toward the end, Karnak/Karmak corners Solo and Shiela. He sics his pet cheetah Bruno (who’d be called Ying in the episode) on Solo. As described, it’s not much of an encounter

A claw rips the chisel from Solo’s hand. He twists free of the animal…retrieves the chisel…turns back in time to meet another lunge from the cheetah — striking home this time with the chisel.

The scene was staged more elaborately by director Alf Kjellin. Of course, there was no way a live cheetah was going to get close to Robert Vaughn. So we have shots of the actor wrestling with a fake cheetah. Still, the scene comes across more dramatically than what was on the page.

During the fight, Shiela followed Karnak/Karmak to Illya and the gas chamber. The villain momentarily get the drop on the U.N.C.L.E. agents. With help from Shiela, the agents get the upper hand.

Karnak/Karmak “hurtles helplessly into the gas chamber — but with his hands flailing wildly, trying vainly to catch hold of something to steady himself. In his instinctive frenzy, what he grabs hold of is the door to the chamber — dragging it shut after him as he falls into the chamber.”

Of course, it’s now 6 a.m. and the poison gas fills the chamber.

At the end, we’re back at the hospital, Illya is in black tie and Solo (him arm chewed on by the cheetah) is a patient. “Illya waves  jauntily and leaves” while a nurse tries taking Solo’s temperature.

There was more drama behind the scenes than was contained in the script. Composer Gerald Fried had emerged as the show’s go-to composer during the second and third seasons. He did a score for this episode but it was rejected, apparently because it didn’t match the more serious tone that Spinner was implementing. (This became known following the release of original U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks in the 2000s.)

First-season music composed by Jerry Goldsmith (who also wrote the U.N.C.L.E. theme) was re-recorded for use in fourth season episodes. This episode would mostly use that music, although some music by Richard Shores, the primary composer this season, would be used at the end of Act I. The credit for this episode was just, “Music by Jerry Goldsmith.”

Fried, however, got a second chance. He composed a score for The Test Tube Killer Affair that very much matched the more-serious tone of the fourth season. It would be Fried’s final work for the series, although he’d be back for the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

50th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

Originally published Dec. 28, 2012. Adjusted to note it’s now the 50th anniversary along with a few other tweaks.

Jan. 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also a sign that 1960s spymania was drawing to a close.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts.

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.”

Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty.

NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969.

NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but shifted away from spy story lines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done.

Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

Anthony Spinner: In-demand writer-producer

Anthony Spinner’s title card for Survival, the final episode of The FBI

One in a series about unsung figures of television.

Anthony Spinner, if anything else, didn’t lack for work as a writer and producer of television series.

His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 20 producer credits and writer credits for more than 30 shows over decades.

Quinn Martin, the head of QM Productions, had an up-and-down relationship with Spinner. But Martin often turned to Spinner. As The FBI ended a nine-year run (with Spinner its producer for the final season), Martin immediately switched Spinner to produce Cannon.

At one point in the 1970s, Martin had Spinner produce two series at the same time — Cannon and Caribe, a kind of mix of Hawaii Five-O and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Caribe was a Miami-based police unit (Five-O) with jurisdiction throughout the Caribbean (multi-nation, similar to U.N.C.L.E.).

Still, Spinner had jobs beyond QM. Most notably, he took over as producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in what would be its final season (1967-68). The episodes he produced took on a much more serious tone compared with the show’s campy third season.

Among U.N.C.L.E. fans, Spinner draws a mixed reaction. For some, his episodes represent a revival. For others, those episodes are too humorless compared with the show’s first season.

Spinner was also story consultant and later producer of Search, a one-season series on NBC (1972-73).

Search concerned a private organization, but the show had elements of spy shows of the 1960s. Operatives played by Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure and Tony Franciosa took on cases while being monitored by monitored by crabby Cameron (Burgess Meredith).

Spinner also was the subject of an in-joke on Mannix. Writer Stephen Kandel, who had worked for Spinner on the QM series Dan August, named a hit man after Spinner.

The two would work together again on Cannon. One of their highlights: Spinner and Kandel worked together to rescue Cannon scripts during a fire at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, according to the book Quinn Martin, Producer by Jonathan Etter.

Caribe: QM tries to cross Five-O and U.N.C.L.E.

Advertisement for Caribe's premiere in early 1975.

Advertisement for Caribe’s premiere in early 1975.

Producer Quinn Martin enjoyed a lot of success in the 1970s with Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones. Caribe was not a high mark, however.

The veteran producer, in effect, was doing a cross of Hawaii Five-O (police drama in a tropical setting) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Caribe, like U.N.C.L.E. was multi-national, although Caribe’s  jurisdiction only extended throughout the Carribean).

Unfortunately for QM Productions (and ABC, the network which televised the show), it ran only for a half-season, from February through May of 1975. The show’s IMDB.COM ENTRY only has episode titles and no plot summaries.

The Spy Commander actually watched the series regularly. I can tell you it included international intrigue (the way Five-O did on CBS). I also have a vague memory of an episode where a military coup against the United States was foiled.

The problem is the show has rarely been seen since its original ABC run. The main source of information about the show is Jonathan Etter’s 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer.

Martin assigned the project to producer Anthony Spinner, who was simultaneously producing the private eye drama Cannon. According to the Etter book, Spinner envisioned Robert Wagner in the lead. Martin sent word that Stacy Keach would be the lead instead.

“And my head was swiveling like in The Excorist,” Spinner told Etter. “I said, ‘Quinn, I’ve written nine shows for R.J. Wagner — all slick, sophisticated, superficial, wise-guy charm, with millions of girls. How does Stacy Keach play R.J. Wagner? I’ll have to rewrite every single script now.'”

Rounding out the cast was future director Carl Franklin as Keach’s sidekick and Robert Mandan as the boss who sent Our Heroes on their assignments. Mandan , up until this time, was primarily a dramatic actor (including guest star appearances on other QM shows), but he’d become most famous for the (deliberately) goofy 1977-81 series Soap.

Caribe was based out of Miami, similar to how Five-O was based out of Honolulu. The original plan, according to Etter’s book, was to actually film elsewhere in the Carribean but that proved logically impossible because of obtaining visas, etc.

That perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. Thirteen years earlier, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, had a difficult shoot in Jamaica that put the movie well behind schedule. And Caribe faced tighter deadlines than Dr. No had. In any case, Miami and vicinity would double for the whole Carribean.

Despite the efforts of Spinner and others, Caribe didn’t survive its only half-season. Today, it’s hard to find evidence of the show’s existence. Even a talented producer such as Quinn Martin has his off days.

Meanwhile, author and television writer-producer has posted an audio copy of a Caribe main titles, including voice work by QM announcer Hank Simms.

5 U.N.C.L.E. stories to watch this weekend

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

With the passing of actor Robert Vaughn, a natural reaction for fans would be to view some episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

This list was originally devised last year ahead of the 2015 movie version. It was intended for people not familiar with the series.

It’s still a good list of episodes to view, even for long-time fans.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But the list was intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelan), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hound Affair.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hounds Affair.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

Hugh O’Brian dies at 91

TV Guide cover with the stars of Search, Hugh O'Brian (lower right), Tony Franciosa, middle, and Doug McClure, top

TV Guide cover with the stars of Search, Hugh O’Brian (lower right), Tony Franciosa (middle), and Doug McClure (top).

Actor Hugh O’Brian died at age 91, according to an obituary posted by the Los Angeles Times.

O’Brian was best known for starring in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, a 1955-61 television series. But he also made a try at a spy-related show, Search, which ran on NBC during the 1972-73 season.

Search concerned a private organization, the World Securities Corp. Its operatives were equipped with the (then) latest high-tech gear, including miniature cameras that enabled operations chief Cameron (Burgess Meredith) to stay in contact constantly.

O’Brian starred in the two-hour TV movie pilot, titled Probe, as Hugh Lockwood, the top agent for World Securities. It was written and produced by Leslie Stevens, who had also created The Outer Limits television series.

When the now-titled Search went to series, the format was changed so the show rotated O’Brian, Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure as World Securities operatives. Meredith, as the cranky Cameron, was the one constant.

The initial day-to-day producer was Robert H. Justman, who had been associate producer on the original Star Trek series. Anthony Spinner, producer of the fourth season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was the story editor.

Justman departed before the end of the season and Spinner, who was a veteran at QM Productions, took command. Meanwhile the show’s roster of writers includes the likes of Norman Hudis, Irv Pearlberg and Richard Landau, who had all contributed to 1960s spy shows.

Search is available from Warner Archive. Here’s a preview clip of an episode featuring O’Brian.