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The 1960s Spy Shows

By Ken Foote, Director of Programming for CBS 11
(credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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This afternoon one of our employees reminded me of the character Emma Peel from the 1960’s TV series “The Avengers”.  Now I won’t reveal details of what triggered that but let’s just say that it gave me an idea for this week’s blog.

The 1960’s gave birth to some of the most entertaining “secret agent/spy” TV shows in American television history (thanks in part to the James Bond movies that were released at that time) and below are a few of my favorites that I enjoyed growing up during that era:

The Man From UNCLE: aired on NBC from 1964-1968.  Starring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum,  and Leo G. Carroll. UNCLE stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement and had secret headquarters in New York City. Carroll, who was a movie actor in the 1930’s and 40’s and starred in the 1950’s comedy Topper, played Alexander Waverly whose job was to assign cases to agents and then monitor them as they were being handled. Most were lavish international cases involving the crime syndicate THRUSH. And of course plenty of pretty girls. Vaughn starred as the dapper Napoleon Solo while McCallum (Scottish by birth) played the role of Illya Kuryakin, a Russian blond headed agent. In real life, McCallum was a teenage heartthrob and received thousands of fan letters each week.  There was a spinoff called The Girl From UNCLE with Stephani Powers but failed to catch on and was cancelled after one year. By 1968, UNCLE had run its course and was replaced by Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Today you can see David McCallum as medical examiner “Ducky” in the hit TV series “NCIS” every Tuesday at 8pm ET/7pm CT on the CBS Television Network.

Get Smart: aired on NBC from 1965-1969, CBS from 1969-1970, and then FOX in 1995. One of the most well cast and well written comedy in television history. Starring Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, and Edward Platt.  Another spy spoof like Man From UNCLE, Adams played the role of Maxwell Smart, a willing but bumbling spy who mission was to defeat the evil agents of KAOS run by Conrad Siegfried (Bernie Kopell). Feldon played his partner Agent 99 while Platt played the role of Thaddeus The Chief. Whenever Max and the Chief had to speak in complete confidentiality, they would use the device “The Cone Of Silence” (but of course you could hear every word they said!). One of the catch phrases that became popular was when Max got himself in a bind he would say, “Would you believe..” to see if he could convince KAOS or someone else of a fabrication. During the show Max and 99 married.  And the best thing was that Max had a cell phone….of sorts….his shoe!

The Avengers: aired on ABC from 1966-1969. Originally airing on British television before coming to the States, it starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed, a suave and proper British agent whose female partner was Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). Their job was to save the world from diabolical schemes and geniuses. In 1978, there was The New Avengers that aired on CBS Late Night with new agents working for Steed. Peel was always dressed in a black jumpsuit armed and ready to go!

Mission: Impossible: aired on CBS from 1966-1973 and then ABC from 1988-1990. One of the best procedural shows in the international intrigue genre ever made. Over the years there were numerous cast changes but the ones who prevailed over the majority of its run were Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, Greg Morris, and Peter Lupus. Leonard Nimoy, Sam Elliott, and Lesley Anne Warren later joined the cast. Each show opened with a recording from the Impossible Mission Force giving instructions to Jim Phelps (Graves) about a mission for him to consider taking on. After the recording was over, the voice would say “this tape will self destruct in five seconds”…and sure enough it would. Throughout each episode, each member of the IMF had a specialty task necessary to carry out successfully. ABC tried to revive the series in 1988 but to no avail and it was cancelled in 1990.

I sure felt comfortable as a kid knowing that these folks kept us safe! See you next time.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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