Back in April of 1965 Pulitzer Prize winning author and syndicated columnist William S. White wrote: “NBC-TV has guts. The network, gambling that Dixie attitudes are changing, will pioneer with a 30-minute (sic) Wednesday evening show next season which co-stars a Negro actor, Bill Cosby, with a white one, Robert Culp. They will portray secret agents on even terms in a thriller called I Spy. NBC won’t know until late summer how many of its Southern affiliates will carry the program.”
NBC pioneered the interracial pairing of black and white characters on even ground at a time in America when race relations were less than harmonious. Did you notice the last line in that statement about the Southern affiliates? Yeah, there were a few who refused to air the show at the time it debuted and there was a lot of hand wringing at NBC’s offices.
This past weekend NBC celebrated its 90th anniversary and I SPY received no mention among the clips, salutes and tributes that were made. No mention whatsoever. The historical significance of what I SPY represented at the time it debuted and the impact it had was completely ignored.
By now, most of you have heard of the “Trump Trackdown” video. For those of you who haven’t, a quick recap:
This past week, Snopes.com posted about the video, which was originally posted to YouTube back in November and consists of 4 minutes of various scenes from a 1958 episode Trackdown. In the episode, a con man named Walter Trump arrives in a Texas town and tells everyone that only he can save them from the end of the world, by building a protective wall around their homes (along with selling them parasols to shield them from a meteor shower).
Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, played by none other than Robert Culp, suspects Trump is a fraud. At one point in the episode, Trump threatens to sue. Hoby doesn’t take any crap and eventually exposes Trump for the fraud that he is.
The Snopes article and video have since gone viral. This pleases me in several ways, not the least of which is the recognition and exposure Trackdown is getting, which currently runs on MeTV Saturday mornings (and also on the network Heroes and Icons) after having been absent from television for many years. The video has been shared and talked about on social media all week, with some 40,000 shares alone on Facebook as of the time of this posting. A lot of folks have never heard of the show. Many seem curious to learn more about it.
With that in mind, I wanted to point out a couple of things that I’ve noticed in comments and blog posts of recent days. First, Trackdown is NOT in the public domain. The show’s copyright and distribution rights are owned by CBS, which is the network it originally aired on from 1957 to 1959.
There is no official DVD release of the show. However, there is a DVD set that’s floating around out there, but the video quality is atrocious (to put it kindly). The source material was literally VHS recordings of the show from local TV stations and TVLand airings dating from the late 1980s. Those of us of a certain age know what VHS quality looked like.
I was thrilled when Trackdown began airing on MeTV back in October of 2016. I’ve tried to watch at least one episode on Saturday mornings on MeTV (two eps run back to back) and the film quality is exceptionally better than the cruddy DVD copy I’ve seen. The show is much more enjoyable to watch.
Which brings me to my ultimate wish (well, one of them anyway!) I’m talking to you CBS. With curiosity and interest in Trackdown increasing the more the video and Snopes article is shared, this would be a wonderful time to look at putting Trackdown out on DVD before the end of 2017.
With the return of Trackdown and The Greatest American Hero to TV screens it seemed appropriate to post an updated listing of where you can view these shows and others.
Trackdown can be seen on MeTV and on Heroes and Icons. Check your local listings for times and availability.
I Spy is currently not running on any television networks (although RetroTV still has a page for it on their website), but can be seen online via Hulu, Yahoo View and on the PROClassicTV streaming service. Yahoo View is free (with occasional commercials during the episode) while Hulu and PRO require subscriptions. However, in the case of PRO, individual episodes can be viewed for .99 a piece.
The Greatest American Hero can be seen on Heroes and Icons and streaming on Hulu with subscription and for free on Yahoo View. Yes, the pilot episode is conspicuously absent from the online streaming services.
You can also check out JustWatch.com, which currently lists where you can find 17 Culp films and TV series’ that can be viewed online or purchased. I consider it my civic duty to warn you to NOT waste your money on National Lampoon’s Movie Madness. Just don’t. Trust me.
The media seems to have turned its collective back on I SPY due to Cosby’s issues. Why doing so is an injustice.
Robert Culp’s words, spoken nine years ago during his American Television Archive interview, seem to be becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as of late.
I SPY, the TV series Culp co-starred with Bill Cosby for three seasons, premiered on NBC 51 years ago last week, September 15th, 1965. Outside of TheConsummateCulp Facebook and Twitter feed and a Facebook page called I SPY, SPY SHOWS, you probably missed the notice in any news feeds on social media platforms. It appeared nowhere. Granted, 51 is an odd anniversary to mark, but several other shows that also premiered that same week in 1965 had plenty of mentions.
I SPY was just not one of those shows.
Then, this past Sunday night was the 68th Emmy Awards. Host Jimmy Kimmel did a cheap and cringeworthy Bill Cosby joke and the website Upworthy.com failed to mention the first African American actor to win an Emmy in their article on 15 Emmy nominees and winners who broke barriers. That actor, Bill Cosby, for I SPY, was not included in the list.
And you know, I get it. Cosby’s being punished and I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve everything he gets. But I SPY, and all those associated with it, doesn’t deserve to be punished with him. I SPY was a ground breaking culturally significant milestone in television history that still matters. You can try to ignore it and bury it in light of Cosby’s loss of honor because it seems like the right thing to do. But to do so unfairly punishes so many others. Not the least of which is Robert Culp, who so believed in all that I SPY would represent for race relations if given the chance, he threatened to quit the show before it even started when NBC wanted to replace Cosby whom they didn’t favor due to his lack of acting experience.
Or producer Sheldon Leonard, the man who originally envisioned the concept of the two man, black and white team of spies and also backed up Cosby.
Or Fouad Said, the brilliant Egyptian born cinematographer, who met the challenge of I SPY’s around the world on location filming with innovative ideas and concepts that revolutionized television and film making beyond I SPY.
Or Earle Hagen, who scored the show, writing a musical accompaniment for each episode, incorporating musical styles and flavors from the many exotic locations I SPY filmed.
Or any of the people who worked on I SPY, from top executive producers, to the guest stars, down to the line crews and everybody in between.
Bill Cosby’s transgressions makes it hard to celebrate I SPY and its place in television history. Believe me, I understand. But those transgressions don’t change history, nor does it change Robert Culp’s, or others, place in it. Because they did do it. And were it not for them, much of what came after them never would have happened.
The Peter Rodgers Organization (PRO), who currently own the distribution rights to I SPY, and many others TV series’ from the 50s through the 90s, has launched its own online streaming service as of March 1st 2016. Viewers at PROClassicTV.com can watch full episodes on any device for .99 each with NO commercial interruptions. Pricing for day and week passes for those who like to binge view are in the works.
PROClassicTV.com will offer great classic TV series’ including I SPY, THE RIFLEMAN, CELEBRITY BOWLING, PETER GUNN and THE SAINT among many others with full episodes and entire seasons of each show being available for viewing.
PRO’s mission “is ensuring iconic television shows perseverance and ability to entertain generations of TV viewers, past, present and future.”
Which means shows like I SPY will continue to remain available for viewing one way or another. And we’re happy to hear that!
Oh. Yeah, you have heard this before. About a year ago, when Fox gave the green light to Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who wrote and directed THE LEGO MOVIE and also directed a big screen version of Stephen Cannell’s 21 JUMP STREET, to film a pilot for a new take on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. We’ve heard nothing more since then about a script, or actors or anything.
It’s been a year and apparently a change in writers, but a casting director has now been hired to scout out some talent. Nathan Fillion expressed some interest in playing the lead during a Q&A session at Chicago’s Wizard World Comic Con back in August, 2015.
It’s also unclear if the concept has changed. Originally, it sounded like Ralph, Pam and Bill were NOT going to be rebooted, that it would be all new original characters; an inner city teacher named Issac would be the recipient of the suit. Now, based on the recent Deadline Hollywood article, the script written by Rick Famuyiwa (DOPE), “is the story of what happens when great power is not met with great responsibility. An ordinary man, completely content with being average, wakes up with a superpower suit he never asked for and has to deal with the complications it brings his life.”
Given Hollywood’s penchant for lampooning and doing parody’s of original shows, it really doesn’t sound encouraging.
Recently I shared on Facebook several HICKEY & BOGGS articles I had written back in 2012 for the 40th anniversary of the film. One of the articles made reference to a 2007 screening of H&B at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles with Robert Culp on hand afterwards for a Q&A session. Video of the event existed at the time of the posting in 2012 – and then disappeared some two weeks later. The source of the video, a website known as Criminally Unknown which was dedicated to discussing lesser known films, all but fell off the face of the earth at the time. The links to vids on their Facebook page disappeared, their website disappeared, and only one segment of the nearly 45 minute Q&A survived still on YouTube. It seemed the entire Q&A session was lost forever.
But lo… it was not lost! After sharing the articles I heard from a fellow Culpophile and I’m very happy to say that the vids have survived because they were saved (thanks Tatia!) and now THEY’RE BACK! And you can check them out below.
So, the last time I wrote to you, just over two years ago, I whined and cried because Robert Culp’s Saturday Night Live monologue along with the opening sketch he did with Eddie Murphy that had been available for viewing on your website had disappeared. As you may recall, we’ve had an on again, off again relationship regarding this material. But like Nancy Sinatra, who found herself another box of matches, I since found the clips on Hulu.com (which are still available) and also about a year or so ago on Yahoo Screen (also still available).
Recently, however, it looks like you’re back on my Valentine’s list NBC, as the clips are now back where they belong on your redesigned website, with what appears to be additional sketches (none with Culp) from the same episode.
So, I just wanted to say thank you for keeping this material out there via various sources. I know the internet is a fickle place, things come and go, technologies change, platforms change and all, but I appreciate that the material remains available.
I SPY, which premiered 50 years ago this week on September 15th, 1965, ran for 83 episodes and if you think it was easy compiling a Top Ten list, you’d be mistaken. Most of those 83 could probably be easily shoved into this list. My handicap in trying to come up with a list on my own is the fact that I have not seen all of season three. So I put the question out to other fans on Facebook and over at the I SPY FORUM to try to come up with The List of the 10 best I SPY episodes. These would be the ones that just stick in your mind, the ones that if you were introducing someone new to the show you would have them watch, the ones that had the best story lines, the best performances, the best use of exotic scenery, the best score by Earle Hagen – and more often than not, all of these elements would be in the same episode!
So here we go, in order of season/air date…
So Long, Patrick Henry (Season 1, Episode 1)
I SPY’s original pilot episode, “Affair in T’Sien Cha,” was already in the can, promo photos were being used by the press but NBC wasn’t happy with it. They decided not to go with “Affair” and instead, selecting from other episodes completed, they picked this one to set the tone for the series. And they couldn’t have picked a better episode. Written by series star Robert Culp, the episode features Ivan Dixon (Hogan’s Heroes) as a disgruntled US Olympic athlete who defected to China after the ’64 Olympics. Appearing to not be happy with his decision after a year, the US government is prepared to offer him a chance to come back and Scotty and Kelly are sent to deliver the message. The episode has a great mix of drama and comedy and overwhelmingly succeeded in starting the series off on the right foot.
Tatia (Season 1, Episode 10)
Kelly falls for a freelance photographer, Tatia Loring, who Scotty suspects is an enemy agent. Nearly everyone Tatia has ever photographed has ended up dead. Kelly’s feelings are strong and he doesn’t believe his partner – to the point they have a knock down drag out fight over it. Set in Japan, the episode showcases the Japanese scenery and backdrops beautifully and has an excellent mix of romance and angst.
The Tiger (Season 1, Episode 15)
Prior to taking the role of Kelly Robinson in I SPY, Robert Culp had written a script for a pilot for a potential spy series called “Danny Doyle.” That script was reworked and became this episode. Kelly is sent on a dangerous mission to Vietnam to locate a philanthropist doctor who has gone into hiding. The doctor’s daughter, Sam Than McLean, a US government agent herself, is captured by the enemy in order to lure the doctor out. Scotty waits in the wings to assist in picking Kelly, Sam and her father up but they are under a desperate time table – the US Airforce is set to bomb the area whether Kelly and all make it out or not.
Bet Me a Dollar (Season 1, Episode 20)
The most dangerous thing Kelly can do is get bored. And he does in this episode which prompts him to challenge Scotty to “find” him. The game would be fun, except it takes on a serious turn when Scotty finds out that the knife wound Kelly suffered prior to the challenge has exposed him to anthrax. Meanwhile, Kelly befriends a young Mexican boy who accompanies him through the “game.” Kelly, however, gets sicker as the challenge goes on but refuses to let Scotty find him and it’s up to the young boy to be Kelly’s salvation.
Vendetta (Season 2, Episode 4)
What did I say about Kelly getting bored? This time he’s hanging out by the pool of the hotel he and Scotty are staying at when he spots an attractive Italian girl. She turns out to be bait for a set up and Kelly is held against his will by the family of a man who was killed during the Korean War under Kelly’s command. Kelly is accused of having shot the man in the back and is placed on trial by the family. If convicted, his sentence is death.
Bridge of Spies (Season 2, Episode 9)
Sheesh, you’d think Kelly would be more careful of beautiful women by now but…nope! This time it’s an Italian tourist guide (Barbara Steele) who sets him up so she and an accomplice can retrieve information on other agents and take them out of circulation. Scotty and Kelly’s set ups for contact with other agents are super secretive and the loss of the agents starts to make Scotty and Kelly suspicious of each other.
Room with a Rack (Season 2, Episode 21)
Quite possibly the most disturbing opening for television at the time, we see Kelly chained to a medieval rack, stretched. Subsequent images follow, making it clear that Kelly has been tortured. We then see him in a hospital, recovering – and that’s all before the opening title sequence. He’s given a 30 day vacation but at the same time the Department thinks he’s damaged beyond repair. While on break, Kelly is happy to meet an old friend but the enemy agents who tortured him have found him too. Culp’s performance is fantastic as the nearly broken Kelly, who flinches and cowers much too easily after his ordeal and falls to his knees in tears when he’s brought back to the torture chamber for the second time.
Mainly on the Plains (Season 2, Episode 22)
Kelly befriends Don Silvando, a scientist (Boris Karloff), in Spain and with Scotty must convince him to work for the US. (The Communists are attempting the same but when their agent fails to befriend the scientist they just try to go with force). When Kelly and Scotty offer to drive with the Don to Madrid they discover that his car is full of books – hundreds of copies of all the same book, Don Quixote, in multiple languages. The Don loves the story so much, and has been under quite a bit of strain as of late, along the way to Madrid he has moments of hallucination and thinks he is Don Quixote. The Don saves a damsel in distress, battles the windmills and inadvertently releases a truck load of prisoners.
Magic Mirror (Season 2, Episode 25)
Sam McLean (seen previously in The Tiger) whom Kelly has fallen for is shown to be having an affair with a vicious dictator currently in exile. The dictator plans to return to power with help from the Soviets in exchange for allowing missiles to be based in his country. Kelly and Scotty must find out what he’s up to, stop him and if need be, destroy Sam for her traitorous ways. But is she really a traitor?
Home to Judgment (Season 3, Episode 14)
Consistently a top choice among fans as a favorite, I think I can safely assume that if any I SPY fan were to be stuck on a desert island and could only take one episode with them, this would be it. Kelly and Scotty blow an assignment and escape from the criminals they had been in pursuit of who are now in pursuit of them. The boys seek refuge on an old farm that turns out to be Kelly’s aunt and uncle, whom he hasn’t seen in years. Not wanting to bring heat down on his family, Kelly and Scotty figure to move on as quickly as possible but are caught by Kelly’s Uncle Harry as the bad guys are closing in.
It’s All Done with Mirrors (Season 1, Episode 27)
Kelly is abducted by a Russian scientist (Carroll O’Connor, totally NOT Archie Bunker here) and brainwashed into believing that Scotty is a traitor and must be killed. Kelly is controlled by light reflecting off a mirror and when he fails to kill on the first attempt, the department writes him off and wants him destroyed. Scotty doesn’t believe his partner has deliberately gone rogue and manages to finagle 48 hours to bring Kelly in or otherwise dispatch him himself.
Blackout (Season 2, Episode 24)
Kelly woos a Russian ballerina in order to try to find out who in the ballet company is passing information. He wakes up in a seedy hotel in Spain, the ballerina dead and he unable to recall what’s happened. Colonel Benkovski of the KGB gives Kelly and Scotty approximately 12 hours to figure out what happened and who killed the ballerina before taking the matter to the Spanish authorities.
Laya (Season 3, Episode 3)
A Central African country, recently independent thanks to the Communists, has been receiving arms shipments from the same. Scotty is assigned to befriend an embassy clerk who has access to the information but the assignment becomes complicated when he develops genuine feelings for the woman.
The Lotus Eater (Season 3, Episode 12)
Scotty loses contact with Kelly for 10 days eventually finding him on a Greek isle, literally enjoying wine, women and song. Kelly claims he’s quit the service, has taken up light housekeeping with a pretty Greek girl and dances at the local tavern smashing plates over his head. Scotty suspects something’s up and when he’s jumped by two thugs who work for Sorgi (Sheldon Leonard, previously seen in “Three Hours on a Sunday Night”) he has no doubt. Kelly’s dependence on Ouzo isn’t by accident.
Think there’s an episode that should have been on this list? Let me know in the comments below!