1965: Maxwell Smart tells advertisers about NBC’s lineup

NBC wanted to get advertisers excited about its 1965-66 program lineup. What would be the best way to do it? Would you believe the network hired Don Adams, in character as Maxwell Smart, to tell the advertisers what programs would be on that year? It begins with a clip from the Get Smart pilot in which Max was stuck in a closet. The presentation picks up from there:

Max makes these comments about his own show, starting around the 21:09 mark: “People who have caught advanced screenings of Get Smart have called this series the most hilarious satire on espionage they’ve ever seen. Now one couldn’t attribute all of the show’s brilliance to the genius of its star, Don Adams. On the other hand, one could.” We also see Maxwell Smart going through the doors at Control headquarters without any titles.

There are clips not only from Get Smart but I Spy, the serious Robert Culp-Bill Cosby spy drama and The Incredible World of James Bond special. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is mentioned near the end as a returning hit show.

There are also some interesting non-spy aspects about the presentation. It hypes the start of Joe Namath’s pro football career with the New York Jets (NBC carried American Football League games, “the league that tries harder,” as Max tells us) and talks about NBC News documentaries, including a long one about American foreign policy.

45th anniversary of TV spy mania part III: I Spy’s touch of reality

The television spy mania of September 1965 had a mostly escapist flavor. The primary nemesis of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was Thrush, a “band of renegades” out “to rule the world.” The Wild, Wild West’s pilot concerned a plot to take over much of the western United States and its third episode would introduce a dwarf mad scientist named Dr. Loveless who had ambitions far beyond that.

I Spy was different. U.S. agents Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) dealt with, well, Soviet and Chinese agents. In other words, it was a series grounded in the Cold War. It wasn’t exactly John Le Carre. We still got exotic locations (or at least exotic for most viewers in the mid-1960s). Like other spy shows of the era, it had its share of challenges to get on the air.

The series was created by writer-producers Morton Fine and David Friedkin. They would be denied a creators credit until the 1994 television movie I Spy Returns, which didn’t air until both men had died. They joined forces with executive producer Sheldon Leonard, who cranked out popular half-hour sitcoms for CBS such as The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Leonard was looking to expand his customer base (with NBC agreeing to air I Spy) and wanting to do something other than a sitcom.

Robert Culp, however, wasn’t pleased with the Fine-Friedkin scripted/Leonard-directed pilot. In a DVD commentary recorded many years after the series, Culp described locking himself away to work on his own scripts for the show, without knowledge of the producers. Before production began, he had four completed scripts. He took one of them to the producers who, while admitting it was quite good, said he couldn’t just drop off a complete script. Culp was told he’d have to do a “treatment,” or outline, before submitting another.

Culp went back worked up a treatment for the second of his already-completed scripts. The producers liked it and said to write it up. He dropped off a copy the same day. Realizing they’d been had, the Fine-Friedkin team asked just to see what Culp had.

NBC evidently agreed with Culp. The network wouldn’t air the pilot until midway through the 1965-66 season. For the first episode to be broadcast, NBC chose So Long Patrick Henry, one of the Culp-scripted episodes. Here’s the entire episode on YouTube.

I Spy was a landmark show because it featured a white man and a black man as equals while the civil rights movement was in full swing. It also helped make Bill Cosby a huge star. The premier episode can also be enjoyed for Culp’s script (including a bit of dark humor but is also politically incorrect toward Asians, it should be noted), the performances its guest stars. Composer Earle Hagen even managed to drop “The James Bond Theme” in the show’s epilogue. It’s easy to understand why NBC selected So Long Patrick Henry to kick off the series.

An I Spy that never was

Over at an Internet forum centered on I Spy, you can get an idea of what a fourth season of the show would have been like had the Robert Culp-Bill Cosby show not been abruptly canceled.

If you CLICK RIGHT HERE, you’ll see the start of a summary of an unproduced script penned by Ernest Frankel. According to the Web site, Frankel would have been a producer of a fourth-season of I Spy and he had already written a few episodes of the series.

The unproduced script title is “The Day They Gave the Bride Away” and so far the summary only extends through the teaser. But the site promises more to come.

1965: Mad’s Jack Davis depicts NBC’s lineup

Artist Jack Davis was one of William M. Gaines’s “gang of idiots” who was a major to Mad magazine. But he often did other art jobs as well.

One came in 1965, when David did a giant, “Where’s Waldo?” style drawing of the stars of NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup for TV Guide. There’s a TV spy connection to this, of course, because it includes Robert Culp and Bill Cosby of I Spy and Robert Vaughn and David McCallum of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Think you can spot them? Well, just CLICK RIGHT HERE.

UPDATE: Sorry about that, chief! We didn’t note that Don Adams as Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 from Get Smart are in the Jack Davis drawing.

Why I Spy was a big deal

Robert Culp’s death this week is drawing an attention to a show that debuted 45 years ago this fall. Typically, obituaries for the 79-year-old actor reference him starring in I Spy.

It’s not hard to see why. I Spy was a big deal for various reasons.

First, and most obviously, it was a ground breaking series in that it featured a white and black man working together as equals, with Culp and Bill Cosby in the leads. This was in the middle of the drive for civil rights in the 1960s. Around the 5:00 mark of this clip from a 2007 interview, Culp discusses how some NBC affiliates didn’t want to air the show and what he and Cosby said about it:

Second, among the various 1960s spy shows, it was the most grounded in the Cold War. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was, in effect, a post-Cold War show with an American and a Russian as lead characters. Mission: Impossible had stories set in fictional, vaguely Eastern European countries. I Spy made it clear the characters were dealing with the Soviets or Red Chinese. I Spy also took place in a world of ambiguity and shades of gray. For example, Culp’s Kelly Robinson was ordered by his U.S. bosses to kill his former mentor. Here’s the entire episode on You Tube:

Finally, I Spy showed it was possible to have extensive location shooting on a TV budget. U.N.C.L.E. and M:I were shot on studio backlots or in and around Los Angeles. When you saw Hong Kong or Tokyo on I Spy, it was the real thing.

I Spy’s Robert Culp dies

Two 1960s spy icon die the same month. Robert Culp, who starred with Bill Cosby on I Spy, died at the age of 79 after collapsing outside his Hollywood home, according to an Associated Press story on the Web site of The New York Times.

His death comes just 10 days after the death of Peter Graves, the star of Mission: Impossible.

Culp provided edgy, unpredictable performances for decades. In I Spy, he played Kelly Robinson, a U.S. agent who had a cover as a “tennis bum,” which enabled him to travel the world. Culp’s Robinson was a man whose world was shades of gray, not black and white. He often had plenty of reasons to question the value and ethics (or lack thereof) in his work. Of all the 1960s spy shows, I Spy perhaps came the closest to dealing with real-world Cold War themes.

Culp also scripted some of the best episodes of the series, including the first broadcast on NBC, So Long, Patrick Henry. (Note: Hulu lists it as the pilot episode but it isn’t; NBC selected the episode to air because network executives believed it was a stronger show than the pilot, which didn’t air until about mid-season.)

If you’d prefer watching the episode on YouTube, you can do it right here:

If you’re not up to watching an entire episode, here are the main titles from another episode featuring Culp, Cosby and a great theme by Earle Hagen:

While we’re at it, here’s a memorable Culp cameo in an episode of Get Smart:

UPDATE: The New York Times now has its own staff-prepared obituary on its Web site.

I Spy on Hulu

All three seasons of I Spy are now available on Hulu. To check it out, just CLICK RIGHT HERE. The 1965-68 series starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as two American agents and it made Cosby a star.

A tip of the hat goes to the Bish’s Beat blog where we saw this.

I Spy now on YouTube

YouTube recently cut a deal with Hollywood studios that is enabling complete episodes of some old TV shows to be on YouTube. One of the shows is I Spy, the groundbreaking 1965-1968 series that featured white and black agents paired together. It also helped make a star of Bill Cosby.

So far, only five episodes of the first season are on YouTube. Also, YouTube appears to have decided to not permit the episodes to be embedded on Web site. In any event, the episodes available (and we’re linking them via their titles) are as follows:

So Long Patrick Henry: Agents Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) are to present defected athlete Leroy Browne (Ivan Dixon) a chance to regain his U.S. citizenship. Written by Culp, this was the first episode broadcast but it’s not the pilot. Directed by Leo Penn, son father of actor Sean. Composer Earle Hagen actually incorporates The James Bond Theme (rather effectively) in the epilogue.

A Cup of Kindness: Russ Conley, Kelly’s old teacher in spy school, shows up in Hong Kong and gives Kelly and Scott an envelope. The contents, once decoded, are instructions saying Conley’s a double agent and has to be killed. Written by series creators Morton Fine and David Friedkin, with Friedkin playing Conley.

Carry Me Back to Old Tsing-Tao . A Chinese criminal wants to return to his home on Taiwan (called Formosa here). The U.S. will permit him to do so IF he makes good on $1 million in back taxes. The problem: the criminal has three badass sons-in-law (Bernard Fox, David Sheiner and Michael Conrad) who want the money for themselves.

Chrysanthemum . Composer Hagen incorporates a tune he originally wrote in the 1940s and which he’d revive in the 1980s for a Mike Hammer series starring Stacy Keach.

Dragon’s Teeth. Kelly runs into an old flame while on assignment. Don’t be surprised if it turns out badly.