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.

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1966: Lone Ranger adapts WWW, Batman

Lone Ranger and Tonto in the 1966 cartoon series that aired on CBS.

There have been many versions of The Lone Ranger, but a forgotten one aired on CBS in the fall of 1966.

That was a cartoon series, produced by Format Films. The series apparently was influenced by The Wild Wild West series that aired on CBS and the Batman  series that was broadcast on ABC.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto, as depicted in the cartoon, very much followed the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels model that debuted on television in 1949 and starred in movies in 1956 and 1958.

However, the villains the heroes confronted in the 1966 film were different.

The Iron Giant, built by Tiny Tom to menace the Lone Ranger in a 1966 cartoon.

In a number of the cartoons, the Ranger and Tonto faced Tiny Tom, a a very short scientist, sometimes aided by a giant assistant named Goliath. That was similar to Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) and his extremely fall assistant Voltaire (Richard Kiel).

Beyond that pair of villains, other of the Ranger’s foes had familiar capers to viewers of The Wild Wild West.

In particular, a Ranger cartoon titled Quicksilver had a villain who, after consuming a formula, moved so fast he was practically invisible. This was practically the same plot of the first-season episode of The Wild Wild West titled The Night of the Burning Diamond.

Format Films, the maker of the Ranger cartoons, had earlier produced the title sequence for I Spy.

One of the company’s principals was Herbert Klynn (1917-1999). Klynn was an alumnus of UPA, the cartoon operation that produced Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing theatrical shorts as well as a memorable adaption of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, with James Mason as the murder-narrator.

Meanwhile, Format’s version of The Lone Ranger featured villains with elaborate lairs, similar to the Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward that debuted in January 1966.

One of the Ranger’s foes in the cartoon series, the Black Widow (in the episode titled Cult of the Black Widow), had thugs in outfits similar to the henchmen in a typical Batman outing. The Black Widow was voiced by Agnes Moorehead, who would later win an Emmy for an appearance in The Wild Wild West.

Today, there’s a term, “steampunk,” definted as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.”

The Wild Wild West featured steampunk. So did the 1966 version of The Lone Ranger.

Albert Heschong: Wizardry on a TV budget

Albert Heschong-designed set for the 1968 pilot of Hawaii Five-O

One in an occasional series of unsung figures of television.

Albert Heschong (1919-2001) labored for years in the art department at CBS, working on the network’s in-house productions.

During Heschong’s career, that meant designing sets on a more economical budget compared with motion pictures.

Heschong succeeded. He received on-screen credits for live television dramas (Playhouse 90), filmed dramas, Westerns (including Gunsmoke) and sitcoms.

On occasion, Heschong could stretch his budget to create some memorable sets.

One of his best efforts was for the pilot to the original Hawaii Five-O series. That pilot, in effect combined spy-fi with police drama.

Villain Wo Fat has a futuristic laboratory housed inside an oil tanker. Wo Fat has devised a form of torture. Victims are deprived of the use of their senses while suspended in a shallow pool.

The laboratory is the first thing viewers see in a short pre-titles sequence. Toward the end of the sequence, viewers see what happens (the victim mindlessly screams) when they finally are let loose.

Naturally, the climax of the pilot takes place in the same set when McGarrett (Jack Lord) undergoes the same torture. Unknown to Wo Fat, however, the lawman has been programmed to impart false information.

Albert Heschong’s title card for The Night of the Raven on The Wild Wild West

Heschong also frequently worked on The Wild Wild West. For that series, which combined spies with cowboys, imagination was a must for the art department. The series frequently depicted “modern day” technology in the 1870s.

A major highlight for Heschong was the second-season episode The Night of the Raven. Arch villain Dr. Loveless has succeeded in shrinking his nemesis James West. Thus, Heschong and his crew had to create  sets where the miniaturized West (Robert Conrad) is menaced by spiders and cats.

Heschong’s work on the series meant he’d be brought back for the 1979 TV movie The Wild Wild West Revisited. For that, he retained his art director title.

However with the 1980 TV movie More Wild Wild West, he got the spiffier title of production designer, which more accurately reflected his contributions. Heschong’s credit also appeared in the main titles instead of the main titles.

Heschong’s career extended from the early 1950s into the 1990s.

Historic CBS complex (with a 007 connection) may be sold

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale, produced at CBS’s Television City

CBS’s historic Television City complex, where thousands of hours of television shows were made, may be sold off, the Los Angeles Times reported late last month.

“CBS has not decided whether to part with the property it has owned since the early 1950s, but real estate brokers put a tempting value on it for the owners: $500 million to $750 million,” the Times reported on Sept. 28.

The company bought the site in 1950 and Television City began operations in 1952. The phrase, “From Television City in Hollywood” would become familiar to US television viewers.

One of the early shows produced at Television City was Climax!, a series of live dramas beginning in 1954.

The first Climax! broadcast was an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, with Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. The third was Casino Royale, adapting Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. That, of course, is the broadcast that many 007 fans consider the red-haired stepchild because it features an American Bond (Barry Nelson). Others view it differently, particularly when compared with other live television broadcasts.

In the following years, “such legendary entertainers as Jack Benny, Judy Garland and the cast of ‘All in the Family’ performed for millions of viewers,” the Times noted.

However, according to the newspaper, CBS has moved most of its West Coast entertainment operations to CBS Studio Center, with the network renting out Television City to programs not owned by CBS.

Logan Lucky, despite good reviews, flops

Logan Lucky poster

Logan Lucky, the heist movie with Daniel Craig in a key role, flopped its opening weekend in the U.S. despite favorable reviews.

The Steven Soderbergh-directed film generated $8 million at more than 3,000 screens, according to Exhibitors Relations, which compiles box office data.

The No. 1 movie for the weekend was The Hitman’s Bodyguard at an estimated $21.6 million, Exhibitors Relation said in a separate Twitter post.

Logan Lucky is an ensemble movie, with Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Katie Holmes among the cast. Craig got an in-joke billing, “Introducing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang.”

The movie got a 93 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website that compiles reviews. Craig was among those praised by critics.

For example, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker described Craig as being “on a hollering vacation from his stern-visaged duties as James Bond, that his mood exalts the whole enterprise.”

Another critic, Adam Graham of The Detroit News, wrote that Craig was the main asset of the film.

“Craig is usually so stoic on screen — has his James Bond ever smiled? — that you forget that Craig has any sort of charisma behind his perma-scowl, but here he’s having so much fun that he casually makes off with the movie,” Graham wrote.

Logan Lucky, of course, was the movie Craig was promoting last week when he announced he’d play 007 again in Bond 25. On Aug. 15, he told radio stations no decisions had been made but then said he was returning as Bond on CBS’s The Late Show.

Meanwhile, Logan Lucky will probably do OK financially. Its budget was only a reported $30 million and “was financed via foreign advances and presales,” according to Scott Mendelson of Forbes.com,

An early Bond 25 accuracy scorecard

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 has a star (Daniel Craig), a release date (November 2019 in the U.S.) and confirmed writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade).

While there’s more than two years before the next Bond film adventure, here’s a look at the accuracy of some major stories written about the movie.

News before it was announced: By that, the stories were accurate before there was a formal announcement.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in March that Purvis and Wade, who’ve worked on the 007 film series since the late 1990s, were hired to write Bond 25’s story. That was confirmed in a July 24 announcement on the official 007 website.

Emily Smith of Page Six/New York Post wrote in April and Brook Barnes of The York Times wrote in July that Daniel Craig would be back for a fifth outing as 007.

The Page Six item, being a gossip column, ragged on Tom Hiddleston being determined by Eon Productions to be too smug. That’s certainly not proven.

But the key phrase was “Multiple sources tell Page Six that Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli has ‘just about persuaded Daniel Craig to do one more Bond movie.'”

The Times’ story, published the same day as the Eon announcement about the 2019 release date said, “Daniel Craig will play James Bond in at least one more film,” In any event, Craig confirmed he’s coming back on the Aug. 15 telecast of The Late Show on CBS.

Looking shaky: Radar Online in September 2016 said Sony Pictures offered Craig $150 million to do two more Bond movies. At the time, there was no distribution deal for Bond 25 and one still hasn’t been announced.

Then, as now, nobody knows if Sony will even be involved with Bond 25. Given a release date has been announced, you’d think a distributor is in place but nobody outside of Eon actually knows.

The Mirror, a U.K. tabloid, said last month that Bond 25 will be titled Shatterhand and be based on a 007 continuation novel by Raymond Benson. Benson, however, went public and said nobody at the Mirror even contacted him and said he “can only assume the article is fabrication.”

The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. tabloid, said earlier this month Craig was “on the verge of signing for not one but two more installments” in the 007 film series.

Craig told CBS, “I think this is it,” referring to Bond 25. But people have been known to change their minds. We’ll see.

Craig says on Late Show he’ll be back as 007

Daniel Craig photo opposing Brexit

Daniel Craig said on CBS’s Late Show said he’ll be back as James Bond in Bond 25.

“Yes,” he said answering a question from host Stephen Colbert whether he’d return as 007.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Craig said. “I have to apologize to all the people I’ve done interviews with today.” Earlier in the day, he said in radio interviews he hadn’t made a decision yet.

“It’s been a couple of months,” Craig said, responding to a question from Colbert how long he had known. “I always wanted to. I needed a break.”

Colbert reminded the actor about his 2015 comments, made shortly after the conclusion of the filming of SPECTRE, how he’d rather “slash my wrists” rather than do another Bond film.

“There’s no point in making excuses,” Craig said. “Instead of saying something with style and grace, I gave a stupid answer.”

At the end of the interview, Colbert asked Craig if this was his last Bond film.

“I think this is it,” Craig replied. “I just want to go out on a high note.”

UPDATE 5:40 a.m., Aug. 16: The official James Bond website followed up the interview with a short announcement.

The interview is now available on YouTube: