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I Spy (NBC 1965-1968, Robert Culp, Bill Cosby)

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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.”

I Spy

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.

production details
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

cast
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

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TV

Ape And Essence (The Wednesday Play BBC-1 1966, Alec McCowen)

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In Scifi drama Ape and Essence, based on the novel by Aldous Huxley, a group of New Zealand scientists conduct a survey on a Britain ravaged by atomic war 80 years previously.

Series: The Wednesday Play Season 2 Episode 29

cast
Alec McCowen as Alfred Poole
Robert Eddison as Arch Vicar
Derek Sydney as Chief
Jenny Lee as Flossie
Yvonne Antrobus as Young Girl
Sydney Bromley as Craigie
Martin Carroll as Director of Food
Hazel Douglas as Mies Hook
John Falconer as Patriarch
Petra Markham as Loola
Ken Parry as Science Praet
Amanda Reiss as Polly
Jonathan Scott as Int. Priest
Fiona Fraser as Part of Crowd
Ann Mitchell as Shaven-Head
Jacki Salt as Mulatto Girl
Carol Blake as Shaven-Head
Gordon Craig as Part of Crowd
Robert Cude as First Man

crew details
Writer: John Finch
Book: Aldous Huxley
Music: BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Producer: Peter Luke
Director: David Benedictus.

production details
Country: UK
Network and Production Companies: BBC One
Duration: 1×75 minute episode
Aired From: 18 May 1966

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TV

Plane Makers, The (ITV 1963-1965, Patrick Wymark, Barbara Murray)

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Plane Makers Patrick Wymark

Drama series The Plane Makers took us behind the scenes in the boardroom and shop floor of the Scott Furlong Aircraft Factory. After two seasons the lead character John Wilder took a place on the board of a merchant bank and the series was then renamed The Power Game.

cast
Patrick Wymark as John Wilder
Jack Watling as Don Henderson
Barbara Murray as Pamela Wilder (Seasons 1-2)
Ann Firbank as Pamela Wilder (Season 3)
Reginald Marsh as Arthur Sugden
Alan Dobie as David Corbett

crew details
Creator: Wilfred Greatorex
Producers: Rex Firkin (seasons 1-2), David Reid (season 3)

production details
Country: UK
Network: ITV – ATV
Duration: 57×50 minute episodes
Aired From: 4 February 1963 – 12 January 1965 black and white

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TV

Running Wild (ITV 1987, Ray Brooks, Janet Key)

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Sitcom Running Wild was about the ups and downs of separated couple, Max and Babs, trying to get on with their lives. In season two Max wants to return to his wife but Babs is not so keen.

cast
Ray Brooks as Max Wild
Janet Key as Babs Wild
Sharon Duce as Wanda
Michelle Collins as Stephanie Wild
Peter Amory as Rob
Berwick Kaler as Tom Coleman (Season 1)
Brigit Forsyth as Jenny (Season 2)

crew details
Writer: Philip Trewinnard
Producers: Marcus Plantin (Season 1), Derrick Goodwin (Season 2)
Directors: Vic Finch (Season 1), Derrick Goodwin (Season 2)

production details
Country: UK
Network and Production Companies: ITV – London Weekend Television
Duration: 13×25 minute episodes
Aired From: 6 March 1987 – 4 June 1989

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