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.

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Search now available on home video

Search's main title logo

Search’s main title logo

Search, a spy-ish series that lasted only one season on NBC, is now available on home video in the U.S. through Warner Archive, Warner Bros.’s manufactured on demand arm.

The show ran during the 1972-73 season and featured the exploits of operatives of the World Securities Corp. Here’s an excerpt of the series description:

Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure and Tony Franciosa rotate leads as elite high tech espionage operatives for Probe Division of World Securities Corporation in this spy-sensational SF-flavored actioner… Each agent, dubbed a “Probe”, is wired up for worldwide surveillance thanks to their Scanners (miniature video cams) and dental/ ear implants. Tracking their telemetry and giving real-time mission advice is the team of specialists gathered together at Probe Control under the direction of the brilliant, irascible V.C.R. Cameron (Burgess Meredith). O’Brian plays Lockwood, Probe One, ex-astronaut and lead agent, McClure plays CR Grover, Standby Probe, brilliant beachcomber goofball and Franciosa plays Nick Bianco, Omega Probe, street savvy ex-NYC cop tasked with organized crime capers.

The series was created by Leslie Stevens, who had created The Outer Limits. The pilot was a television movie called Probe, but either Warner Bros. (which made the series) or NBC decided Search was a more appealing name.

Members of the production team had previously worked on the original Star Trek series and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert H. Justman, who had been associate producer on Trek (and had worked on The Outer Limits as well) was producer of the first half of the series. Anthony Spinner, the fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. producer was initially the story editor and took over as producer.

The price is $49.95 and you can find more information on ordering by CLICKING HERE.

What if Fleming hadn’t exited U.N.C.L.E.?

The cast of Checkmate

The cast of Checkmate

We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming crying U.N.C.L.E. and opting to end his participation in the television series that would become The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But would have happened if he had stuck around?

It might have been similar to Checkmate, a 1960-62 crime drama on CBS.

Checkmate featured two dashing private detectives (Anthony George and Doug McClure), aided by an academic (Sebastian Cabot). Two things stood out about the show: it was produced by a production company owned by Jack Benny and it was billed as having been created by novelist Eric Ambler (1909-1998), a contemporary of Ian Fleming. In fact, in the novel From Russia, With Love, Fleming’s James Bond has an Ambler novel with him on his journey to Istanbul. Amber in 1958 also married Joan Harrison, an associate of Alfred Hitchcock, who oversaw production of the director’s television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

According to IMDB.com, Ambler never wrote an episode of Checkmate. According to the IMDB.com information, he sometimes got a creator credit and sometimes didn’t during the two seasons of the show. (From a few episodes we’ve seen, the “Created by Eric Ambler” credit appears in the main titles during the first season and shows up in the end titles in the second.)

Ambler’s participation (or lack of it) in Checkmate mirrors what was shaping up with the television project originally named Solo: it was originally to have billed Ian Fleming’s Solo, but the heavy lifting of devising a pilot episode story was done by writer Sam Rolfe. Once Fleming signed away his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound, Rolfe still only got a “developed by” credit instead of a “created by” credit for the 1964-68 series.

Based on a sampling of episodes, Checkmate is entertaining. One episode (The Human Touch) featured Peter Lorre as the villain. Also, the series, including its theme music, was an early credit for composer John Williams (who called himself Johnny Williams at the time). Still, Ambler didn’t do the heavy lifting in terms of coming up with stories. That was left to others.

As a result, we suspect had The Man From U.N.C.L.E. come out as Ian Fleming’s Solo, the author would have been a kind of front man (even if he had lived past August 1964) while executive producer Norman Felton, Rolfe (who produced the show’s first season) and others done most of the work of devising story lines.