“Would you believe…”
There are a few basic rules to the sitcom: First, you build your show around some kind of family’the mom/dad/kids type, the workplace type, the school type, etc. Second, spoofs don’t last on TV, or need we remind you of When Things Were Rotten, Police Squad!, or Captain Nice?
Okay, enough with the rules. You’re not paying attention anyway. Why? Because you know all about Get Smart. Created by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, this spy spoof (that’s right, a spoof, and no family…well, not at first) quickly became a commercial and critical success, lasting five seasons and winning several Emmys during its network run.
The show starred stand-up comedian Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, a.k.a. ‘Agent 86,’ a self-assured but rather dense American government agent who worked for the top-secret CONTROL organization. His boss was ‘the Chief,’ and his partner was the very attractive femme agent, 99. She was the cool, level-headed half of the team and usually kept Smart from bumbling into serious danger.
Agents 44 and 13 acted as go-betweens for CONTROL to issue Max his orders in the field. Both men always did this while hidden in a bizarre location: a trash can, a weight scale, a clock, etc. Larrabee was another agent. He didn’t seem to do much, but often provided excellent comic relief. Example: in one episode, he walked into a meeting with a bowling ball stuck on his fingers. When asked what it was doing there, he explained, “Tonight is my bowling night.”
The enemy of CONTROL was KAOS, an all-purpose ‘bad guy’ unit out to control the world. Maxwell’s major KAOS nemesis was Conrad Von Siegfried, who had a none-too-bright sidekick named Shtarker. KAOS was also the home to the League of Impostors. Alexei Sebastian could pass himself off as any Chief of any organization, Krochanska could impersonate both genders, and the Chameleon could impersonate, well’ anybody. In an episode called ‘The Spy Who Met Himself’, it was revealed that KAOS even had a villainous duplicate for Maxwell Smart himself.
Each episode of Get Smart had Max and his fellow agents facing down some new KAOS-based menace. Fan favorites included ‘The Not-So-Great Escape,’ which had Max trying to rescue kidnapped CONTROL agents from a KAOS prisoner-of-war camp, and ‘The Amazing Harry Hoo,’ in which Max was joined by a famous Asian detective as he investigated the murder of a KAO courier.
The shows incorporated much slapstick and broad comedy to parody the James Bond film series. A popular element of the show was the outrageous gadgetry used by the spies. There were ‘stereophonic guns’ (with two barrels), the Cone of Silence, and phones that were disguised as everyday objects: logs, umbrellas, and (the most popular) shoes.
Don Adams was given much creative leeway with the show: he directed many episodes and frequently improvised much of his dialogue. Most of the famous Maxwell Smart catch-phrases, including the ubiquitous “Would you believe’,” were coined on the spot by Adams. One episode, ‘The Little Black Book,’ was extended from a single episode to a two-parter because of the volume of material improvised by Adams was and the episode’s guest star, Don Rickles.
Get Smart was a perfectly-timed success, coinciding with the height of the spy film craze in 1965. The show would continue its network run through September of 1970, a stretch that included Smart’s marriage to 99 and the birth of their fraternal twin son and daughter (okay, so he did end up getting a family). During this time, Get Smart won seven Emmy awards, three of which went to Adams for his performance as Maxwell Smart. After its cancellation, the show quickly became a staple of syndicated programming. The Get Smart concept has subsequently been revived as a theatrical film (The Nude Bomb), a made-for-television film (Get Smart, Again!), and even a brief 1995 Get Smart reunion series.
In short, Get Smart was more than just a clever parody; it was groundbreaking sitcom programming. The show’s fusion of high-concept parody and off-the-cuff improvised humor has influenced everything from Airplane! to The Simpsons to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The show will likely always be popular because, as Maxwell Smart once said, ‘There are no holidays in the fight against evil.’
2008 saw a big screen outing for the series with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in the leads.
USA / NBC and later CBS – Talent / 138×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 18 September 1965 – 11 September 1970
Creators: Mel Brooks, Buck Henry, Dan Melnick / Executive Producer: Leonard Stern / Producers: Arne Sulton, Mel Brooks
Don Adams as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart
Barbara Feldon as Agent 99
Edward Platt as The Chief, Thaddeus
David Ketchum as Agent 13 (1966-67)
Stacy Keach Sr. as Carlson (1966-67)
Bernie Kopell as Conrad Siegfried (1966-69)
King Moody as Shtarker (1967-69)
Richard Gautier as Hymie the Robot (1966-69)
Victor French as Agent 44 (1965-66)
Robert Karvelas as Larrabee (1967-70)
Jane Dulo as 99’s Mother (1968-69)
Joey Forman as Harry Hoo (1965-66)
William Schallert as Admiral Harold Harmon Hargrade
Al Molinaro as Agent 44 (1969-70)