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 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.
It’s been talked about for years, as either a feature film or a new TV series, but FOX appears to be the latest player in the attempt to bring back Stephen Cannell’s GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who wrote and directed THE LEGO MOVIE and also directed a big screen version of Cannell’s 21 JUMP STREET, have apparently been given the green light to film a pilot for a new series. Based on the brief description provided by Deadline.com, it sounds like the characters will be all new and will not be reboots of Ralph, Pam and Bill respectively.
Despite the rather dismal track record for TV reboots, Hollywood keeps trying. We’ll reserve judgment on this one until the pilot episode actually sees the light of a TV screen.
With the recent posts over on Facebook regarding CoziTV’s schedule for I SPY airings, I’ve learned it comes down to basically two things: The first being if your satellite or cable provider offers CoziTV, RetroTV or ASPIRE in their packages and the second being if the affiliate that broadcasts the channel follows the parent channel’s schedule (and doesn’t, say, run paid programming in place of a show, usually at the wee hours of the morning.)
In other words, you need a score card to keep track of where to find I SPY on TV these days!
So where can you watch I SPY on TV or online now? Well, as of May 8, 2014, here’s where you can find I SPY. As always, check the listings for you area to see if these channels are available and for time and schedule.
Previously back in 2011 I posted that Robert Culp’s documentary “Operation Breadbasket” was awarded a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to be preserved in a project being spearheaded by his son, Joseph Culp. I recently learned from Joseph that the restoration of the film is nearly complete and that they were working on getting funding to make a new documentary to follow up on the original. Possibly a Kickstarter campaign but more details to come!
I recently learned that I Spy: The Complete Series is slated for release on June 24, 2014 from the folks at Shout! Factory and Timeless Media. This will be a complete box set of all three seasons of I SPY on 18 discs. Shout! Factory promises an official press release in the coming weeks with more details but the set is available for pre-order at Shout! Factory’s website and from Amazon.com.
I SPY previously was released on DVD in season sets back in 2008 from Image Entertainment. The only extras included at the time were audio commentaries from Robert Culp, attached to the episodes he wrote, and used previously in a DVD release of episodes packaged by common theme. Although the Image Entertainment season sets were “newly remastered” the film was not exactly digitally remastered. The master tapes used were excellent but there are specks and dust noticeable from time to time. With 2015 marking the 50th anniversary of the show’s debut, a digital remaster of the episodes would be wonderfulness.
Although I SPY fans will be wise to not set their hopes too high for new extras or digitally remastered episodes, if you’re watching Shout! Factory, fans will nonetheless have some great expectations for this set.