For Shame NBC

Once upon a time, NBC had guts.

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.

Guts? It would appear that NBC no longer has any.

~Lisa Philbrick

Trump Trackdown: Your Turn CBS

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.

Whatya say?

~Lisa Philbrick

“It’s Like We Never Did It.”

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.

~Lisa Philbrick

Hickey & Boggs: The Aero Theatre Q&A is BACK!

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.

I have also updated my original 2012 posting and placed the vids there as well.

Yet Another Open Letter to NBC

Dear NBC,

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.

Lisa