When James Bond became a box-office sensation in the 1960’s, producers around the globe scrambled to capitalize on his profitable exploits. This led to a wave of spy adventures that blanketed both the big and little screens during the mid-1960’s. Many of these shows relied on gadgets and flashy visuals, but a few took advantage of this craze to do something interesting and different. The definitive example of the latter approach was I Spy, a classic show that downplayed spy show conventions in favor of characterization, humor, and great dialogue.
I Spy focused on Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott, two Pentagon agents who traveled around the world on an undercover basis as they carried out their missions. For their cover, Robinson impersonated a tennis player and Scott pretended to be his trainer. The two men were a study in opposites: Robinson was a party-hearty guy who loved to enjoy the ‘good life,’ while Scott was a no-nonsense character with a strong sense of devotion to his family. Just the same, these two worked very well together because they shared a very dry sense of humor that often manifested itself in the form of snappy banter.
I Spy was unlike the traditional spy show in many ways. Instead of confining its shooting to studios, this series was shot mostly in distant locales like Japan and Turkey. I Spy also downplayed comic-book plotting and over-the-top supervillains in favor of premises built around realistic espionage situations like industrial sabotage and the theft of state secrets. Most notably, I Spy was the first American television show to feature an African-American actor in a dramatic lead role. Even better, the show did not acknowledge the race issue, depicting the friendship between the two men in a subtle, matter-of-fact fashion.
The interracial casting used in I Spy was indeed a brave gamble on the part of the producers, but it was also a gamble that paid off in a big way. Stand-up comedian Bill Cosby not only proved himself to be an excellent dramatic actor as Alexander Scott, he also brought a lot to the show with his ability to improvise subtly funny dialogue. Indeed, Cosby and his slick co-star Robert Culp (Robinson) had a magical chemistry that allowed them to trade memorable quips with ease. A sample exchange:
Scott: “Has anybody told you look good in that?”
Robinson: “Why, no.”
Scott: “Well, if they do, smack them in the face ’cause they’re not your friend.”
These clever verbal duels were often improvised by Culp and Cosby, adding an additional luster to the show’s already well-written scripts. The combination of high-class style and Cosby and Culp’s infectious chemistry turned I Spy into an immediate hit. It went on to enjoy a successful three-year run and also won several awards, including a Best TV Show Award at the 1967 Golden Globes and two Emmys for Cosby. When the show ended, both Cosby and Culp went on to lengthy film and television careers that continue today. Most notably, Cosby scored a career-defining hit in the mid-1980’s with the legendary sitcom The Cosby Show.
Today, I Spy remains a firm fan favorite. It has not popped up in syndication as frequently as some other shows from its era, but when it does, it is eagerly watched by a cult of faithful devotees. The show’s enduring status as a classic also led to the 1994 reunion television film I Spy Returns. All in all, I Spy’s ability to maintain its status many decades after the fact proves that it was truly a spy show with a difference.
USA / NBC – – Paramount Television – Sheldon Leonard / 82×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 12 September 1965 – 2 September 1968
Theme Music: Earle Hagen / Executive Producers: Sheldon Leonard, Danny Thomas / Producers: Mort Fine, David Friedkin
Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson
Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott
Antoinette Bower as Shelby Clavell
Sheldon Leonard as Sorgi
France Nuyen as Sam-than McLean
Alan Oppenheimer as Colonel Benkovsky
Harold Stone as Zarkas
Kenneth Tobey as Russ Conway
Clochmerle (BBC-2 1972, Cyril Cusack, Roy Dotrice)
Period sitcom, based on a novel by Gabriel Chevallier that was adapted by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, that saw the French villagers of Clochmerle kick up a fuss over plans to install a new toilet.
CYRIL CUSACK as Major Piechut
ROY DOTRICE as Ponosse
KENNETH GRIFFITH as Ernest Tafardel
WENDY HILLER as Justine Putet
HUGH GRIFFITH as Alexandre Bourdillat
BERNARD BRESSLAW as Nicholas the Beadle
MADELINE SMITH as Hortase Girodet
GEORGINA MOON as Rose Biraque
PETER USTINOV as Narrator
Writers: Ray Galton, Alan Simpson
Novel: Gabriel Chevallier
Producer: Michael Mills
Network and Production Companies: BBC Two – Bavaria
Duration: 9×30 minute episodes
Aired From: 18 February – 14 April 1972 Fridays at 10.05pm
Clairvoyant, The (BBC-2 1986, Roy Kinnear, Sandra Dickinson)
In Roy Clarke penned sitcom The Clairvoyant used car salesman Arnold Bristow is knocked down in a car accident and suddenly finds himself with psychic powers – or so he believes. There was a pilot broadcast 27 Nov 1984.
ROY KINNEAR as Arnold Bristow
SANDRA DICKINSON as Lily
HUGH LLOYD as Burma
SHAUN CURRY as Newton
GLYNIS BROOKS as Dawn
CARMEL CRYAN as Carmen
Writer: Roy Clarke
Producer and Director: Alan J.W. Bell
Network and Production Companies: BBC-2
Duration: 6×30 minute episodes
Aired From: Pilot – 27 November 1984 and Series – 15 May – 19 June 1986
Christmas Princess (UP 2017, Nicole Munoz, Zak Santiago)
Christmas Princess is the true story of Donaly Marquez who, through a childhood of neglect and abuse, achieved her dream of becoming a rose bowl princess. An inspirational story of resilience, strength and finding a family to call your own.
Nicole Muñoz as Donaly Marquez
Rosa Blasi as Sara
Zak Santiago as Ignacio Marquez
Olivia Steele Falconer as Emily Marquez
Jaedon Siewert as Abraham Marquez
Lina Renna as Young Donaly
Paloma Kwiatkowski as Chloe
Ty Wood as Trent
Pendo Muema as Monique
Kalyn Miles as Maria
Kaaren de Zilva as Roberta
Garfield Wilson as Dr. Miller
Clay St. Thomas as Judge #1
Patti Allan as Judge #2
Natalie von Rotsburg as Judge #3
Director: Allan Harmon
Writer: Tracy Andreen
Network and Production Companies: UP
Duration: 1×120 minute episode
Aired From: Sunday 10 December 2017
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