Roger Smith, 77 Sunset Strip star, dies

Roger Smith, top center, in a TV Guide cover featuring the cast of 77 Sunset Strip

Roger Smith, who starred with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in 77 Sunset Strip, has died at 84, according to Variety.

The 1958-64 series was an early hit for ABC. Warner Bros., which produced the TV series, quickly launched other private eye shows.

77 Sunset Strip was part of an “extended universe” decades before the term was coined.

Other shows part of that universe included Hawaiian Eye (with Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad), Bourbon Street Beat (with Richard Long and Andrew Duggan) and Surfside 6 (with Troy Donahue and Van Williams).

All of the shows featured snappy theme songs by Mack David and Jerry Livingston.

Smith was fired with most of the 77 Sunset Strip cast following the show’s fifth season. Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. remained as Jack Webb and William Conrad revamped the show, turning Zimbalist’s Stuart Bailey into a lone-wolf PI. The experiment didn’t last the 1963-64 season.

Smith married actress Victoria Shaw in 1956, but the couple divorced in 1965, according to a biography on IMDB.COM. In 1967, Smith married Ann-Margaret. He gave up acting and managed her career.

One of his final public appearances was with Ann-Margaret for the premiere of the 2017 movie Going In Style.

In praise of the 2-part (or more) episode

In the 21st century, many television series are serialized, featuring a story line, or arc, that lasts an entire season. However, there was a time when a story that lasted two (or more) episodes was special, something to savored.

For viewers of the era, such multi-part episodes could be special. Because it wasn’t the norm, such story lines drew attention to themselves. What follows is a sampling.

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the first-season of the 1964-68 series, extra footage was shot so two episodes could be re-edited into feature films for the international market. Starting with the second season, the show produced two-part episodes that could be more easily be turned into movies.

Six such two-part episodes were made, two each for seasons two through four. One of the best was Alexander the Greater Affair at the start of Season Two. Industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn) was a fan of Alexander the Great and sought to control the world like his namesake. The movie version was titled One Spy Too Many. The television version, though, didn’t make the show’s syndication package and wasn’t seen again until 2000.

Mission: Impossible: The 1966-73 series included a number of two-part episodes. A second-season two parter was re-edited into a movie for international audiences called Mission: Impossible Versus the Mob.

M:I’s biggest multi-part adventure was a three-parter called The Falcon, which aired during the show’s fourth season. Arguably, The Falcon (written by Paul Playdon), was the series most intricately plotted story.

Hawaii Five-O: Another series with multiple two-part stories, some of which (FOB Honolulu, The Ninety-Second War) included Steve McGarrett opposing his arch enemy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). That includes the series’ pilot, which was re-edited into a two-part story at the end of the show’s first season.

What’s more, Wo Fat stories in the eighth and ninth season kicked off the season and were presented as two-hour episodes. The latter, Nine Dragons, featured extensive location shooting in Hong Kong.

Five-O’s fifth season also had a three-part episode where McGarrett took down the Vishons, a Hawaiian crime family. In the third part, McGarrett has been framed and doesn’t appear to have much chance to beat the rap. For one of its reruns on CBS, the story was re-edited into a two-and-a-half-hour presentation aired on a single night.

Also, a 1979 two-hour episode, The Year of the Horse, featured one-time 007 George Lazenby with “special guest star” billing, though he was a secondary villain. That installment included extensive on-location shooting in Singapore.

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

The FBI: The longest-running series from producer Quinn Martin had four two-part stories. The Defector, the show’s first-season two-parter, was an impressive espionage-themed effort.

The show’s two parter for the second season was The Executioners, which was edited into a movie for international audiences titled Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI.

The series’ final two-parter, The Mastermind in the seventh season, featured three actors (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat and Scott Marlowe), who were a kind of all-star collection of QM villains.

Mannix: The private eye drama featured a first-season story where Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the boss of Mannix’s detective agency, appears to freak out for no reason. Part I included a massive fight between Wickersham and Mannix (Mike Connors).

The series wouldn’t do another two-part episode until its seventh and eight seasons, when Mannix (Mike Connors) ran his own private eye agency. Both stories took Mannix out of the United States. The final two parter also included composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

The Wild Wild West: The 1965-69 series combined spies and cowboys. It only had one two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror, but it was a doozy. It features Raven, a group trying to take over the world, which has demonstrated its power by programming officials into performing various destructive acts.

When the story (written by Ken Pettus) was filmed, co-star Ross Martin was recovering from a heart attack. So character actor William Schallert (1922-2016) played a substitute agent to work with Robert Conrad’s James West.

77 Sunset Strip: The show’s final season (1963-64) began with a *five*-part episode, simply titled “5.” Jack Webb, who had taken command of Warner Bros. television unit, ordered up a major revamp of the private eye series.

Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was retained, and his Stuart Bailey character was transformed into a lone wolf detective. “5” plunged Bailey into international intrigue, with an all-star cast of guest stars.

 

What would a reboot of The FBI be like?

fbishowlogo

While doing work on THE FBI EPISODE GUIDE, we got to thinking what a reboot of the 1965-74 television series might be like.

Background: The show was an idealized version of the real life U.S. agency. In fact, the bureau had script approval and veto power over guest stars of the series produced by Quinn Martin and Warner Bros. The real-life FBI exercised that power on occasions, including vetoing Bette Davis as a guest star in the second season.

Anyway, a few thoughts:

DOING A REBOOT AS A PERIOD PIECE: The general public knows a lot more about J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau director for 48 years, than it did when the television debuted. It’s not a very pretty picture, including wire taps on Martin Luther King Jr.

If a reboot of The FBI were done as a 1960s period piece, we’d likely see Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the original show) as a conflicted figure, aware of things the bureau shouldn’t be doing. He’d be portrayed as someone loyal to the bureau but aware of its failings.

DOING A REBOOT TIMESHIFTED TO THE 21ST CENTURY: Erskine’s assignments would be much different than the original series.

Instead of dealing with bank robbers, the mob and those behind major crimes, Erskine likely would be dealing with terrorists. In the show, we’re told Erskine’s wife was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. With a reboot, we might see the doomed Mrs. Erskine killed during the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, explaining why he’s such a driven figure.

At this point, such thoughts are only speculation. The FBI TV series was something of its time and nobody has shown any interest in reviving it.

 

Fidelity-Bravery-Integrity: The FBI’s 50th anniversary

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a first-season episode of The FBI

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a first-season episode of The FBI

The FBI, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sept. 19, was an idealized version of the real-life U.S. agency that symbolized the motto “fidelity, bravery, integrity.”

The series would go on to be the longest-running show for producer Quinn Martin. To do so, it would face challenges not faced by most television series.

According to the 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer, the QM FBI endured a lot of scrutiny by its real-life counterpart.

Among those who underwent FBI background checks were star Efrem Zimbalist Jr.; William A. Graham, director of its first episodes (who served in U.S. Naval intelligence in World War II); Hank Simms, another World War II veteran and announcer for the show’s main titles; and Howard Alston, a production manager for the series.

What’s more, the bureau had veto power over guest stars, which cost The FBI the services of Bette Davis, a fan of the show.

Initially, the show emphasized the personal side of Zimbalist’s Inspector Lewis Erskine. He was a widower (his wife perished during an attack intended for Erskine) with a daughter in college. That fell off, in part because of audience reaction.

Quinn Martin & Co. quickly shifted to providing more detailed back stories for villains and other characters (not subject to the same scrutiny from the bureau), giving guest stars the chance to well-rounded characters.

It also helped that Martin paid about twice the going rate at the time for guest star roles ($5,000  versus the normal $2,500 for an one-hour episode).  Actors such as Charles Bronson (primarily a movie actor by 1966), Louis Jourdan, Gene Tierney and Karin Dor (a one-time James Bond actress) signed up to play guest stars on The FBI.

The show’s producer for the first four seasons, Charles Larson, frequently rewrote scripts (usually without credit), keeping the show on more than an even keel. Larson exited after the fourth season, with the slack picked up by Philip Saltzman for another four seasons and Anthony Spinner for the series’ final ninth season.

The FBI heavily featured espionage stories, especially in its second and third seasons, as Erskine and his colleagues tracked down foreign agents. That trailed off over time, with three espionage stories (out of 26 total) in the seventh season and only one in the eighth. There were no spy stories in the final season.

The show never had a big following in U.S. syndication. Still, the series had a fan base. Warner Archive began offering The FBI on a “manufactured on demand” basis in 2011. There was enough demand the entire series was made available by the end of 2014. The last two seasons came out after the May 2014 death of star Zimbalist at age 95.

For more information, CLICK HERE to view The FBI episode guide. The site is still under construction but reviews have been completed for the first five seasons.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

1974: The FBI’s ‘backdoor pilot’?

Mary Frann

Mary Frann

As The FBI concluded its ninth, and final, season, it appears QM Productions attempted a “backdoor pilot,” where an episode is intended to be the start of a new series.

The episode in question was the next-to-last new episode aired for the 1973-74 season, Confessions Of a Madman. Star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and sidekick Shelly Novack are joined by a woman FBI agent played by Mary Frann, who years later would be Bob Newhart’s co-star on his Newhart series.

Background: The FBI didn’t include women agents until the ninth season, which was the second season made after the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Until the last season, women were depicted as FBI employees, occasionally venturing into the field to assist agents. But there weren’t actual women agents until the final season.

In the episode, three women students at an unnamed college at a Maryland college have been brutally attacked. Two have been killed but the most recent victim survived. Frann’s character was a student at the same college and, more importantly, was a member of the same sorority as the three earlier victims.

During much the episode, Frann has as much screen time as either Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Shelly Novack. At the very least, the episode is a major departure for the series. Three suspects emerge. This being 1970s television, care is made to ensure the least obvious of the three candidates (Elliot Street, Daniel J. Travanti and Robert Pine) is the killer.

The episode was directed by Philip Abbott, who played Erskine’s boss, Assistant Director Arthur Ward, throughout the series. Abbott also played a mentally disturbed killer in a 1964 episode of Kraft Suspense Theater, Once Upon a Savage Night, that was directed by Robert Altman. Just speculation, but perhaps Abbott drew upon that earlier television show while directing The FBI episode.

The FBI season 9: Erskine’s final cases

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The FBI, after eight seasons, was still getting decent ratings but they were declining. Executive Producer Quinn Martin decided to shake things up.

A new/old face was brought in as the day-to-day producer. Anthony Spinner, a writer on the series during the first, second and fifth seasons, took the helm.

Spinner had his ups and down at QM Productions. He left his post as associate producer of The Invaders to become the producer during the last season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He returned to QM to produce Dan August, a police drama that only lasted one season. Later he left again to work as story consultant and then producer of Search, another series that only lasted one season.

Whether it was Spinner’s doing or not, his tenure on The FBI’s final season resembles his time on U.N.C.L.E. On both shows, there was a “back to basics” feel. In the case of The FBI, there was a new young sidekick (Shelly Novack as agent Chris Daniels) for Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Lewis Erskine. This was similar to the show’s first two seasons when Erskine had a young sidekick, Jim Rhodes (Stephen Brooks).

This meant William Reynolds, sidekick for six seasons, was out although he’d appear in two season 9 episodes. It turned out Reynolds’s Tom Colby had gotten a promotion and was now stationed on the West Coast.

Also, the final season went back to a minute-long version of Bronislau Kaper’s theme for the main titles, again similar to the first two seasons. Since the third season, there had been a very short main titles.

Still, it wasn’t enough to save the show. The FBI had always been an idealized version of the real-life U.S. agency. By the time episodes began airing in the fall of 1973, the Watergate scandal overwhelmed the news, including giving a black eye to the real FBI.

The show still maintained its quality, drawing a combination of old pros (Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Susan Oliver, Gary Lockwood) and upcoming actors (Harvey Keitel) as guest stars. Perhaps it was just time. Nevertheless, it could be said that The FBI (the series) never “jumped the shark” the way other long-running series did.

UPDATE (Sept. 24): Season 9 of The FBI is available in the U.S. from Warner Archive. CLICK HERE for ordering information.