Anthony Spinner, writer-producer for QM, U.N.C.L.E., dies

Robert Vaughn, David McCallum and Carol Lynley in The Prince of Darkness Affair Part II, produced by Anthony Spinner

Robert Vaughn, David McCallum and Carol Lynley in The Prince of Darkness Affair Part II, produced by Anthony Spinner and written by Dean Hargrove

Anthony Spinner, a writer-producer who worked on a number of series for QM Productions as well as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., died in February at 89, according to the In Memoriam 2020 page of the Writer’s Guild West website.

Spinner’s work as a writer had a recurring theme of betrayal. A few examples:

–In The FBI episode The Tormentors, written by Spinner, kidnapper Logan Dupree (Wayne Rogers) brutally murders one of his confederates, John Brock (Edward Asner).

— In The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Secret Sceptre Affair, written by Spinner, Napoleon Solo is manipulated and betrayed by his commanding officer from the Korean War.

— In The FBI episode The Assassin, plotted by Spinner, an international assassin (William Windom) sets up an idealistic traitor (Tom Skeritt) to be killed as part of an assassination plot aimed at a bishop (Dean Jagger).

–In The Name of the Game episode The Perfect Image, plotted by Spinner, Howard Publications executive assistant Peggy Maxwell (Susan Saint James) has been manipulated by an old friend as part of a plot to discredit a reform mayor of Chicago.

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

After writing for a number of QM Productions shows, Spinner was associate producer for the first season of The Invaders. QM’s only science fiction show had a paranoid feel as David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) battled invaders from another world who took human form to take over Earth.

Spinner’s next job was producing the fourth (and final) season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Spinner, in effect, tried to bring the “QM Gravitas” to U.N.C.L.E. following that show’s very campy third season.

The fourth-season debut, The Summit-Five Affair, showed how Spinner was taking the show in a different direction. In the episode, written by Robert E. Thompson, Solo (Robert Vaughn) undergoes torture — by another U.N.C.L.E. operative (Lloyd Bochner), determined to show that Solo is a traitor.

Summit-Five also featured a major double-cross, something that would occur in other Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. episodes.

Not everyone involved appreciated the new direction. Veteran U.N.C.L.E. writer Dean Hargrove, in a 2007 interview for a DVD release, said Spinner came from “the Quinn Martin School of Melodrama.” He didn’t mean it as a compliment. In the interview, Hargrove described his disagreements with Spinner during production of the two-part story The Prince of Darkness Affair.

U.N.C.L.E. ran out of time and was canceled in mid-season. Spinner would return to QM Productions. His time there would have its ups and downs.

Anthony Spinner title card for an episode of Dan August

For example, Spinner produced the QM police drama Dan August (1970-71). Spinner pushed to have more topical scripts.

“Quinn said to me, ‘Are we doing propaganda here?,'” Spinner said in an interview with Jonathan Etter for the author’s Quinn Martin, Producer book. “I said, ‘Yeah, because I’m tired of diamond heists and kidnapped girls and all that stuff.'”

Regardless, boss Quinn Martin consistently utilized Spinner’s talents on multiple series.

Shelly Novack and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a publicity still for The FBI's final season, produced by Anthony Spinner.

Shelly Novack and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a publicity still for The FBI’s final season, produced by Anthony Spinner.

Spinner produced the final season of QM’s The FBI. Even before that show was canceled, Martin re-assigned Spinner to Cannon. Spinner finished work on The FBI on a Friday in 1974 and began work on Cannon the following Monday, according to the Quinn Martin, Producer book.

In 1975, Martin had Spinner producing two QM series simultaneously, Cannon and the short-lived Caribe. The latter was a cross between Hawaii Five-O (tropical climate) and U.N.C.L.E. (agency with multi-national jurisdiction).

Also, while working at QM, Spinner and his story editor, Stephen Kandel, rescued Cannon scripts during a large fire at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, the home base for Cannon, according to the Etter book.

His credits also included being producer of The Return of the Saint in the late 1970s, with Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar.

Spinner’s career extended into the 1990s with the TV movie The Lottery.

In 2009, Spinner sued ABC saying he actually created the television series Lost. Spinner in 1977 had written a pilot for the network titled Lost which he said contained ideas and concepts that ended up in the 2004-10 series. ABC won the case in court in 2011. a finding that was upheld on appeal in 2013.

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.