Adrian Samish: Flip side of the Harlan Ellison punchline

Adrian Samish title card for a first-season episode of The Streets of San Francisco

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

There are some people who are destined to be remembered as the punchline of an anecdote or joke.

One such person was Adrian Samish, who had a career as a producer and television network executive.

He’s the guy who had his pelvis broken as the result of a fight with writer Harlan Ellison over a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea script.

In the usual telling, Samish was the small-minded ABC executive who didn’t appreciate Ellison’s enormous talent.

For example, there’s this review at The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Harlan is in a conference with a “universally despised” ABC censor, Adrian Samish, discussing a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode. Samish’s notes are uniformly moronic. Harlan counters them, losing patience. Samish loses patience, exclaiming, “You’ll do it! Writers are toadies!”

This anecdote was told for years, especially by Ellison himself. It even was mentioned in the obituary published by The New York Times, although Samish wasn’t mentioned by name, nor was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Rarely, however, is life so black and white. With that in mind, this post takes a closer look at Samish’s career.

For one thing, Samish did extract a bit of revenge. Ellison pitched a story for the Batman television series for a story featuring the villain Two Face.

But Samish, on his way out the door at ABC, vetoed the idea. At least that’s the gist of this 2013 Den of Geek post. In 2014, Ellison’s story was adapted by Len Wein for the Batman ’66 comic book. Wein, co-creator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing, dies last year.

After his tenure at ABC ended, Samish landed at QM Productions.

“The acid-tongued, perfectionist Samish demanded scripts so tight, so in keeping with a series’ format, more than one writer assaulted him physically,” according to the preface of the 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer.

Adrian Samish title card for an episode of The FBI during the 1966-67 season where he got top billing over Arthur Fellows.

Samish came aboard QM for shows produced for the 1966-67 season. He was given the title “in charge of production,” which Samish shared with a key Quinn Martin lieutenant, Arthur Fellows.

Samish focused on pre-production while Fellows supervised the QM editing and post-production operation. Their shared credit would appear near the conclusion of the end titles. Both names appeared separately, with the two men alternating top billing.

Thus, is would appear, “In Charge of Production Arthur Fellows | And Adrian Samish” or, “In Charge of Production Adrian Samish | And Arthur Fellows.”

According to Quinn Martin, Producer author Jonathan Etter, the two didn’t have much use for each other. Fellows thought Samish had no talent, Etter quotes Richard Brockway, a QM editor, as saying.

On the other hand, John Elizalde, a QM music supervisor and post-production supervisor, told Etter that Samish was a valuable member of the team.

“Adrian was one of the good guys,” Elizalde told Etter. Samish, he said, was “brilliant, and very creative, and a victim of his own devices…Adrian was the major-domo for Quinn in the writing department.”

One fan was actress Lynda Day George, a member of the “QM Players,” of frequently employed actors at the production company.

“Adrian was very concerned that a show maintain its integrity,” George told Etter. “He wanted to be sure that characters were understood, that what was wanted by the production was understood.” Etter wrote that Quinn Martin trusted Samish’s judgment.

However, Samish on more than one occasion aroused anger during a run of several years at QM.

Philip Saltzman and Mark Weingart, the producer of associate producer of The FBI, had written extra scenes for an episode that was running short. Samish called Saltzman, angry that the extra material hadn’t been approved in advance.

An argument ensued. “I threatened to go over to Adrian’s office and beat him up,” Saltzman told Etter. “And I’m not a physical guy.”

In this instance, no blows took place. Quinn Martin called Saltzman after seeing Samish in his office. “He’s as white as a sheet,” Saltzman quoted Martin as saying. “What happened?”

After an explanation, Martin reportedly responded, “Aw, you know. People get set in their ways.” Saltzman told Etter that after the incident “I never had any trouble with Adrian.”

Starting with the 1968-69 season, Samish was given a new title, supervising producer, while Arthur Fellows retained “in charge of production.”

Adrian Samish title card for a first-season episode of producer Aaron Spelling’s Starsky and Hutch series. 

Samish, over time, also took on the task of producer of QM TV movies and pilots. Sometimes by himself (House on Greenapple Road, which resulted in the Dan August series, as well as the pilots for Barnaby Jones and The Manhunter). Sometimes with Fellows (the pilots for Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco).

Samish ended up departing QM in the 1970s to work for producer Aaron Spelling. Samish died in 1976 at the age of 66.

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1967: The Fugitive comes to a definitive end

A bumper for The Fugitive

In the 21st century, the notion of a television series coming to a definitive end seems old hat. But in the 1960s, that wasn’t the case. However, that changed when the 1963-67 series The Fugitive ended its run.

The ABC series, produced by QM Productions, featured the exploits of Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen (1931-80), who had been convicted of killing his wife.

The Fugitive was one of the first examples of a series that was brought to an conclusive ending. Kimble, in the final two-part story, finally caught up with the “one-armed man” who killed his wife.

For the early early years of QM Productions, the series was the company’s flagship show. It was the brainchild of veteran TV writer-producer Roy Huggins (1914-2002), who had earlier created the TV shows Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip.

Higgins sold The Fugitive to ABC. The television network selected Quinn Martin to produce the show. At this point, Martin’s then-new company had sold one short-lived series, The New Breed.

The Fugitive was QM’s first big hit. As the show was winding down, ABC and QM eventually elected to have the show actually end on its own terms. At the time, the practice was for a network to get as many episodes as it could from a show and simply end without a definitive conclusion.

The Fugitive had an actually ending and more. When the final two-part story aired on ABC, it was one of the most-watched TV episodes of all time.

At the time, it was a milestone. For Quinn Martin, there were more accomplishments to come.

Bradford Dillman dies at 87

Bradford Dillman in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Prince of Darkness Affair Part I

Bradford Dillman, a busy actor who often played villains, died this week at age 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Dillman’s career began in the 1950s. His work that decade included the 1959 film Compulsion, loosely based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case of the 1920s. He also appeared in movies such as The Way We Were, The Enforcer and Sudden Impact.

Dillman was kept busy on television. He was part of the informal group known as “the QM Players,” who frequently appeared on television shows produced by Quinn Martin.

For Dillman, that included multiple appearances on The FBI, Barnaby Jones (starting with that show’s pilot, as the man who kills Barnaby’s grown son) and Cannon. He also had appearances on short-lived QM shows such as Dan August and The Manhunter.

The actor was in demand elsewhere. He was the namesake character in the two-part The Prince of Darkness Affair on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which aired during that show’s fourth season. Dillman also made appearances on series such as Mission: Impossible,  The Wild Wild West and The Name of the Game.

Here are the opening and end titles of the Barnaby Jones pilot.

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.

Anthony Spinner: In-demand writer-producer

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

One in a series about unsung figures of television.

Anthony Spinner, if anything else, didn’t lack for work as a writer and producer of television series.

His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 20 producer credits and writer credits for more than 30 shows over decades.

Quinn Martin, the head of QM Productions, had an up-and-down relationship with Spinner. But Martin often turned to Spinner. As The FBI ended a nine-year run (with Spinner its producer for the final season), Martin immediately switched Spinner to produce Cannon.

At one point in the 1970s, Martin had Spinner produce two series at the same time — Cannon and Caribe, a kind of mix of Hawaii Five-O and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Caribe was a Miami-based police unit (Five-O) with jurisdiction throughout the Caribbean (multi-nation, similar to U.N.C.L.E.).

Still, Spinner had jobs beyond QM. Most notably, he took over as producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in what would be its final season (1967-68). The episodes he produced took on a much more serious tone compared with the show’s campy third season.

Among U.N.C.L.E. fans, Spinner draws a mixed reaction. For some, his episodes represent a revival. For others, those episodes are too humorless compared with the show’s first season.

Spinner was also story consultant and later producer of Search, a one-season series on NBC (1972-73).

Search concerned a private organization, but the show had elements of spy shows of the 1960s. Operatives played by Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure and Tony Franciosa took on cases while being monitored by monitored by crabby Cameron (Burgess Meredith).

Spinner also was the subject of an in-joke on Mannix. Writer Stephen Kandel, who had worked for Spinner on the QM series Dan August, named a hit man after Spinner.

The two would work together again on Cannon. One of their highlights: Spinner and Kandel worked together to rescue Cannon scripts during a fire at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, according to the book Quinn Martin, Producer by Jonathan Etter.

Robert Day, Avengers and QM director, dies

Caesar’s Wife, a fourth-season episode of The FBI, directed by Robert Day. Spymaster Russell Johnson (left) is about to beat up Harrison Ford.

Robert Day, whose long career included directing episodes of The Avengers and Quinn Marin television shows, died on March 17 at the age of 94, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

The British-born Day helmed six episodes of The Avengers, including From Venus With Love and Mission…Highly Improbable.

Relocating to the United States, Day was frequently employed by QM Productions, including nine episodes of The FBI, two episodes of The Invaders, Barnaby Jones and The Streets of San Francisco. He also directed a TV movies for QM, 1970’s House on Greenapple Road, which launched the Dan August TV series.

Day’s work on The FBI, included a notable fourth-season episode, Caesar’s Wife, in which a Soviet spymaster played by Russell Johnson beats up a character played by the then-unknown Harrison Ford.

Day was married to actress Dorothy Provine from 1969 until she died in 2010. Her spy-related credits included a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.

Day was also the brother of Ernest Day (1927-2006). The younger Day was a second unit director of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker and the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie, as well as directing two episodes of The New Avengers.

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.