55th 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. 

Jan. 15 marks the 55th 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. Spinner also had been associate producer on the first season of QM’s The Invader series. He hired Sutton Roley, who had worked as a director on The Invaders, as an U.N.C.L.E. director

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second season, 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. soundtracks 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 version 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 only 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). 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 storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.” (i.e. organized crime or the Mafia)

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.

Barbara Walters dies, her interviews included Connery

Barbara Walters (1929-2022)

Barbara Walters, one of the most famous American news interviewers of her era, has died at 93, according to multiple reports, including an obituary published by The Washington Post.

Walters over her career interviewed major newsmakers and celebrities. With the latter, one of her most notable interviews aired on ABC in 1987 with actor Sean Connery, the first film James Bond actor.

In that interview, Walters famously asked the actor about striking women.

Citing an earlier interview, Walters quoted Connery as saying, “You don’t do it with a clenched fist, you do it with an open hand.”

“I haven’t changed my opinion,” Connery responded.

“You haven’t?” Walters said.

“No, I haven’t.”

“You think it’s good to slap a woman?” the interviewer asked.’

“I don’t think it’s good,” Connery said. “I think it depends on the circumstances.” It would be one of the most famous interviews of the actor’s career.

Walters was one of the first women to make an impact on U.S. television news shows. She was a co-host on NBC’s Today show in the 1960s. ABC hired her away in the 1970s as co-anchor of that network’s evening news show. ABC also produced entertainment specials where she interviewed celebrities. At one point, NBC’s Saturday Night Live had comic actress Gilda Radner doing a parody of Walters dubbed “Barbara Wa-Wa.”

When ABC hired Walters, she was paid $1 million a year. Walters soon was almost as famous as those she interviewed.

Here is how The Washington Post summarized her career:

Ms. Walters repeatedly enjoyed the last guffaw over doubters and detractors during a career spanning five decades. She shattered glass ceilings, sending shards into many male egos. She became the most durable and versatile TV host of her era, as well as a celebrity more controversial than many of the ones she covered.

Here is part of her interview with Connery:

NTTD U.S. spot: Now you see it…

Something rather peculiar happened tonight concerning a new U.S. commercial for No Time to Die.

The official Bond Twitter feed posted it around 10:45 p.m. New York time. It was up for about five minutes, then got yanked.

Then, shortly before 11 p.m., the spot aired during NBC’s telecast of the Dallas Cowboys-Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game.

At 11:04 p.m., the tweet went out again. Here’s what it looks like (assuming it doesn’t get yanked again).

Neil Connery, footnote to ’60s spy craze, dies

Neil Connery in a lobby card for Operation Kid Brother

Neil Connery, younger brother of James Bond star Sean Connery and a footnote to the 1960s spy craze in his own right, has died.

His death at age 83 was reported on social media by two James Bond fan sites, 007 Magazine and From Sweden With Love. The latter site then published a detailed obituary.

Neil Connery was signed to spy in his own spy movie, Operation Kid Brother, also known as OK Connery.

The 1967 Italian production was released by United Artists, Bond’s home studio in the 1960s and ’70s. It featured five actors who had been in the Bond movie series (Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Anthony Dawson).

In an example of originality, Neil Connery’s character was dubbed Dr. Neil Connery. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 11 accting credits.

Before James Bond movies were shown on American television, Operation Kid Brother was shown in prime time on NBC. Years later, the film got the Mystery Science 3000 treatment, where a man and “robots” comment on the proceedings. Here it was called Operation Double 007.

Musk-see TV: Mogul’s SNL episode skips Bond skit

Elon Musk photo on Twitter in 2015.

James Bond fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Elon Musk, a billionaire involved with electric vehicles and rockets (Tesla and SpaceX), hosted Saturday Night Live but avoided a “Woke James Bond” skit.

Musk on May 1 floated the idea of a “Woke James Bond” skit on social media. That seemed a real possibility because the billionaire has a Bond fixation. In 2013, he purchased the submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me at auction. At one point, his photo on Twitter had him posing as a combination of Blofeld and Dr. Evil. (see above)

Saturday Night Live has been televised on NBC since 1975. The comedy show helped launch the careers of, among others, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and Kate McKinnon. But critics depict the show in recent years as wildly uneven. And some of the skits on the May 8 telecast were awful.

Vox on May 7 published a story explaining why Musk was a controversial choice to host the show as well as examining its “outsize importance.” Robert Reich, a former U.S. labor secretary, posted a video on social media calling Musk “a modern day robber baron.”

SNL was scheduled to be livestreamed internationally on YouTube, a first for the show, according to Deadline Hollywood.

Could Elon Musk do a Bond skit on SNL?

Elon Musk photo on Twitter in 2015.

Billionaire Elon Musk is scheduled to host NBC’s Saturday Night Live on May 8. Musk also has a fascination with James Bond. Could Musk have the comedy show do a Bond skit?

On Twitter the night of May 1, Musk ssaid he was throwing out skit ideas. This tweet apparently was one of them.

Wikipedia has this definition for woke:

Woke (/ˈwoʊk/ WOHK) is a term that refers to awareness of issues that concern social justice and racial justice. It is sometimes used in the African-American Vernacular English expression stay wokeWoke resurfaced in 2014 during the Black Lives Matter movement as a label for vigilance and activism concerning racial inequalities and other social disparities such as discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, women, immigrants and other marginalized populations.

Woke has also been the subject of memes, ironic usage and criticism.

Some critics argue woke goes too far. If you type in “James Bond woke” into YouTube’s search engine, you’ll find a variety of fan videos who argue Bond has gone woke with No Time to Die, a movie nobody has seen yet outside of Eon Production and its studio partners.

To be sure, Elon Musk generates a lot of publicity. Could he be seeking some more attention with this? That’s an absolute possibility.

On the other hand, when a billionaire who is into electric vehicles and rockets teases the possibility you have to note it. If Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffett pulled something like this, it would get attention.

On top of that, Musk may be the world’s richest James Bond fan. He purchased the submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me. At one point he had a Twitter avatar that evoked Blofeld and/or Dr. Evil (see above). And Musk’s Tesla electric-car company, Tesla, once had a “Project Goldfinger.”

Clearly, Musk has Bond on the brain. On Saturday Night Live, guest hosts get a lot of input into comedy sketches. We’ll see if Musk’s Bond enthusiasm spills into SNL on May 8.

1965: U.N.C.L.E.’s star appears on a rival network

Red Skelton with Robert Vaughn, 1965

By the fall of 1965, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a big hit. In December 1965, star Robert Vaughn appeared as the guest star on CBS’s Red Skelton Hour, the variety show that almost killed U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted in September 1964 on NBC opposite Skelton’s CBS show. The spy show suffered in the ratings. NBC considered canceling U.N.C.L.E. Instead it changed the show’s time slot to Monday nights. That gave the series the boost it needed, plus a lift from Goldfinger boosting interest in spy entertainment.

A little over a year later, the Skelton show had Robert Vaughn on as a guest star. During a two-part skit, there were one-liners (perhaps ad libbed) where Skelton said Vaughn was plugging his own show.

After the skit, Vaughn appeared with Skelton. The U.N.C.L.E. star had a communicator (not the one that was seen on the series) so Skelton could call his wife. (See above.) At one point, Vaughn says into the device: “Illya get off the line, willya?”

Vaughn’s appearance was a sign of how spy shows had arrived as a thing. The Red Skelton Museum has been posting full episodes of the Skelton show to YouTube. Below is the Vaughn episode.

The Name of the Game redux

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

UPDATED POST: Several years ago, the blog took a look at The Name of the Game, a 1968-71 series made by Universal and airing on NBC.

Since then, more information has emerged. The Hollywood Reporter ran a lengthy 2018 feature story about the history of the series. Each episode cost an unheard of (at the time) $400,000 an episode. 

Occasionally, more episodes show up on YouTube. It’s hard to know how long they’ll stay up. They include an installment set in Cold War Berlin written by Richard Levinson and William Link as well as an episode where ace writer Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa) gets involved with espionage. 

ORIGINAL POST: Over the weekend, on a Facebook group, there interesting give and take about a television series that doesn’t get much attention these days: The Name of the Game.

The 1968-71 series consisted of 90-minute episodes dealing with three major figures at a magazine publishing company: its proprietor, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry); a top reporter/writer, Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa); and Dan Farrell, an FBI agent turned journalist (Robert Stack). Universal dubbed this the “wheel,” with rotating leads. Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell would end up assisting all three.

The “wheel” concept would become a staple at Universal with the NBC Mystery Movie in the 1970s.

There’s a bit of spy connection. During the series, there was an episode that revealed Glenn Howard worked for the OSS during World War II. The episode concerned accusations by a Washington politician that Howard used an OSS operation to obtain the funds he’d use to start his publishing empire.

Essentially, Glenn Howard was a younger, handsomer version of Henry Luce (1898-1967), who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports llustrated. Like Luce, Glenn Howard was an influential man and traveled the globe.

The series had its origins with Fame Is the Name of the Game, a 1966 TV movie starring Franciosa as Jeff Dillon.

That TV movie also included George Macready as Glenn Howard, Dillon’s boss. But when NBC decided on a series, either Universal, NBC, or both, decided they needed a better known actor. As a result, Gene Barry, who had already done at least two Universal TV movies by this point, got the nod.

The Name of the Game attempted to deal with contemporary issues: the environment, race relations, corruption.

Over time, the 90-minute format fell out of favor for television syndication. The preferred formats are either 30 or 60 minutes or two hours. As a result, The Name of the Game is not seen very much these days. The show ran 76 episodes — hardly a flop, but syndicators usually prefer at least 100 episodes.

Nevertheless, a number of talented people worked on the show. Among them was Steven Spielberg, who directed a third-season Glenn Howard episode about environmental dangers. That episode, LA 2017, has a Twilight Zone quality. Did Howard really travel into the future or what it just a dream?

Other crew members included Norman Lloyd (producer of some Franciosa episodes), Dean Hargrove (a writer-producer who worked on Glenn Howard episodes), Steven Bochco (who was story editor for the Robert Stack episodes the last two seasons) and Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits who produced the first-season Franciosa episodes.

The show also featured a snappy theme by Dave Grusin, seen below:

(Slightly) revised NTTD spot appears on SNL

Last shot of No Time to Die spot on Saturday Night Live

Despite being delayed unti November, a spot for No Time to Die appeared during the first half-hour of the March 7 telecast of Saturday Night Live.

The spot appeared after an uneven skit featuring Daniel Craig, who was the host of the March 7 broadcast. The skit had Craig playing James Bond going crazy after placing winning bets in a casino.

As soon as the skit was over, the No Time to Die spot began.

That spot didn’t appear much different from recent commercials for the 25th James Bond film.

The major difference was the final shot at the end. It said, “THANKSGIVING.”

No Time to Die has been scheduled for next month. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Univeral (the international distributor) and Eon Productions said March 4 that the movie would now come out in November. The coronavirus has shut down theaters in key international markets, including China.

Both Universal and NBC (which televises Saturday Night Live) are owned by Comcast.

UPDATE (1:10 a.m., March 8): Saturday Night Live sent out a video of the skit on Twitter.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

UPDATE II (12:25 p.m., March 8): I missed this because it aired while I was writing the original post. The Weekend Update segment saw one of its “anchors” deliver a No Time to Die joke. Noting the delay in release date, it was suggested the date should have stayed in April but the title changed to “Time to Die.”

1998: Grant Tinker talks about I Spy, Get Smart

Grant Tinker (1926-2016)

The blog spent some time viewing a 1998 Archive of American Television interview with Grant Tinker, who spent part of his career as an NBC executive as well as being co-founder (with his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore) of MTM Productions.

In particular, the blog viewed portions of the interview dealing with Tinker’s role as a West Coast-based NBC executive in the 1960s. In that capacity, he dealt with producers such as Norman Felton (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sheldon Leonard (I Spy) and Leonard Stern (Get Smart).

Tinker didn’t spent much time talking about Norman Felton (he referenced other shows Felton made). But he discussed I Spy and Get Smart in some detail.

I Spy: “I remember the very day” that Sheldon Leonard “walked into my office and said, he wanted to travel a show. He hadn’t done a dramatic show that I could remember. He wanted to cast (Robert) Culp and (Bill) Cosby.”

The interviewer asks if Tinker had pause about casting an African American actor in such a key role. “It didn’t give me pause….Bill was an established comedian.” Tinker said he was more skeptical about containing costs for a series that would have actual location filming in Europe and Asia.

As it turned out, Leonard had $400,000 in cost overruns for the first season (which involved location shooting in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mexico). Today, that’s quaint. Regardless, Leonard “was such an honorable guy. He was wondering if we could help with that. Of course, we did. We picked it all up.”

Get Smart:  An agent brought Tinker a script after the network had spent all of its development money for the upcoming television season. The script had been turned down by ABC.

“It turned out ABC had paid $7,500 for Buck Henry and Mel Brooks to write it. It was Get Smart. I read it that night.”

Tinker called his superiors, telling them they had to secure the property. “We have to find the money to do one more pilot.”

NBC had Don Adams under contract and he became the star. “We didn’t know what else to do with him, so we put him in Get Smart,” Tinker said. “It was just so funny.”

To watch the part of the interview dealing with I Spy, go here starting around the 24:26 mark.

To watch the part of the interview about Get Smart, go here starting around the 3:38 mark.