TV Espionage & Spies

TOM CLANCY’S JACK RYAN. “Pilot.” Season 1, Episode 1. Streaming on Amazon Video, beginning on August 31, 2018. (All eight episodes were available on the same date.) Based on a character created by Tom Clancy. John Krasinski (Jack Ryan), Wendell Pierce (James Greer, Ryan’s boss at the CIA), Ali Suliman (Mousa Bin Suleiman), Dina Shihabi (Hanin Ali, Suleiman’s wife), Abbie Cornish (Cathy Mueller, Ryan’s girl friend). Director: Morten Tyldum.

   The place to see action thrillers such as this has definitely shifted from the movies to cable and streaming TV, no doubt about it. Previous versions of Jack Ryan stories have starred Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine, but the point to emphasize is that they appeared in movies made for the big screen. This latest version is a solid indicator as to which way the future is going, if indeed it isn’t already there.

   I’ve seen only this first episode, but if anyone wanted to, all eight could have been watched in one long evening from the very beginning — all were available at the same time, which is just another way series TV is changing. Before our eyes, so to speak!

   If this were a comic book, this first episode would be considered Jack Ryan’s “origin story,” for it goes back to his early days at the CIA, where he’s a financial transactions analyst covering the Middle East. Boring, yes, but when he uncovers millions of dollars in funds accumulated covertly over a short period of time, it tells him him that another Osama bin Laden may be on his way — an Islamic terrorist named Suleiman — his life is, as they say, turned upside down.

   At first his new boss at the CIA, James Greer, disparages Ryan’s conclusions, but soon enough Ryan is hustled off to Yemen to help interrogate two suspects that have been picked up there on the basis of ordinary surveillance. At which point all hell, in terms of guns, bombs and every other kind of firepower you can think of, breaks loose.

   There is more to the story, of course, but I can’t tell you anything more, since this all I’ve seen. I’m sure most of the primary threads of the story line to come have already been planted, but no more than that. Everything is extremely well done. The locations look authentic, the acting is top notch, and the explosions and all are impressive as anything I’ve seen in the past, big screen or small.

   Maybe I have to sign up with Amazon. I’ll definitely start sampling more of their various series while I can, and see if I can’t finish this one. You might say I’m hooked, and all they need to do is reel me in.

      The Jack Ryan series —

The Hunt for Red October. Alec Baldwin. 1990.
Patriot Games. Harrison Ford. 1992.
Clear and Present Danger. Harrison Ford. 1994.
The Sum of All Fears. Ben Affleck. 2002.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Chris Pine. 2014.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. John Krasinski. 2018.


THE SANDBAGGERS. ITV/Yorkshire Television. First Series: September 18, 1978 – October 30, 1978; second series: January 28, 1980 – March 3, 1980; third series: June 9, 1980 – July 28, 1980. Created by Ian Mackintosh. Cast: Roy Marsden as Neil Burnside, Ray Lonnen as Willie Caine, Bob Sherman as Jeff Ross, Alan MacNaughtan as Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, Jerome Willis as Matthew Peele. Executive Producer: David Cunliffe. Producer: Michael Ferguson (all episode but one) or Derek Bennett (one episode).

   Forgotten today, the British TV spy series THE SANDBAGGERS remains one of television’s greatest spy dramas. THE SANDBAGGERS featured a dark realism style. It was a cynical spy drama that existed during a time when it was difficult to know who the good guys were. THE SANDBAGGERS showed life in the real SIS (MI5) and gave a more truthful look at both sides during the Cold War then they taught us in school.

   The series was originally meant to be a temporary fill-in when another planned series for Yorkshire TV fell apart. THE SANDBAGGERS was to last only one series (series is the British term for season) of seven episodes. It would prove popular enough to last two more series and would have made a fourth if not for the mysterious disappearance of creator and probable spy Ian Mackintosh.

   In an outline attempting to sell the premise as a TV series Mackintosh described the series primary focus would be “with the triumphs and failures of SIS headquarters, the power-struggles within SIS itself and the uses and abuse of its power vis-à-vis Government policy.”

   It is impossible to think of THE SANDBAGGERS without Ian Mackintosh. Hamish Ian Mackintosh MBE (July 26, 1940 – last known alive July 7, 1979) served in the Royal Navy from 1958-1976 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. On his retirement from the Royal Navy he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

   Mackintosh tried writing while still in the Navy and his first of five thrillers A SLAYING IN SEPTEMBER was published in 1967. All five were failures with critics and readers and our own Mystery*File reviewer Steve, which you can read here.

   In 1973 Mackintosh co-created the admired BBC TV series WARSHIP (1973-1977). Ian would go on to create and write WILDE ALLIANCE (ITV 1978), THUNDERCLOUD (ITV 1979) and THE SANDBAGGERS, all three for Yorkshire Television. He also wrote tie-in novels for WARSHIP, WILDE ALLIANCE and THE SANDBAGGERS. One other tie-in novel for THE SANDBAGGERS was THE SANDBAGGER: THINK OF A NUMBER (1980) written by Donald Lancaster (YELLOWTHREAD STREET writer William Marshall). Ian also wrote some non-fiction books many featuring his interest in planes and military history.

   While Ian Mackintosh was the creative spirit behind the success of THE SANDBAGGERS others played equally important roles in the series success. David Cunliffe had worked in British television since the 1950s. He first met Mackintosh when both worked on the series WARSHIP and became friends. Cunliffe was the Controller of Drama at Yorkshire Television and worked with Ian on all three YTV series Mackintosh created and wrote. Yorkshire Television was the local Leeds and Yorkshire area ITV affiliate and produced television programs for ITV including such series as HARRY’S GAME, THE MAIN CHANCE and RAFFLES. Cunliffe was in charge of every aspect of THE SANDBAGGERS including final script approval.

   Derek Bennett was the director and producer for the first episode filmed (the third episodes aired) IS YOUR JOURNEY REALLY NECESSARY but a disagreement between Bennett and Mackintosh forced Derek to leave. Michael Ferguson would replace Bennett. Cunliffe turned daily production decisions over to Ferguson who as producer and sometime director would remain for the entire run.

   Not surprisingly for British TV, at the time the series had a low budget and sometimes it showed. During series one Roy Marsden was the highest paid in the cast making around $1900 an episode.

   The soundtrack was a positive aspect of the series. It did not have one (with rare exceptions). Often such absence of music (not unusual for early British TV) can make scenes seem awkward or slow paced, but it worked to this realistic drama’s advantage. TV and film spies are known for great theme songs and THE SANDBAGGERS has one of the best, written by Roy Budd (GET CARTER).

   Roy Marsden (P.J. JAMES’ ADAM DALGLIESH CHRONICLES) was the perfect fit and first choice to play Neil Burnside — the ruthless, arrogant Director of Operations. Marsden modeled his portrayal of Burnside on his observations of Mackintosh. It was a good choice as Marsden gave Burnside a depth and allowed the audience to still root for and respect the at times unlikable character.

   Burnside had two advantages in running the SIS operations. His first was based on the very real special relationship the SIS had with the CIA. The CIA respected the opinions of the SIS and thus shared information with the small British agency that it shared with no other country or agency. This gave Burnside information others did not have.

   Head of London Station for the CIA was Jeff Ross. Ross and Burnside worked well together and respected each other but that did not stop both from using the other when it was in the best interest of their agency.

   The second advantage was more personal. Burnside was the ex-son-in-law and still a friend of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary Godfrey Wellingham who in the government chain of command was above both of Burnside’s bosses Director – General or “C,” and the Deputy Director of SIS. Wellingham had hopes Burnside and his daughter would reunite but also realized Neil had chosen his work over his marriage.

   The first “C” of the series was Sir James Greenley, whose lack of spy experience left him naive at times about the reality of the world of SIS. Burnside would grow to respect him. Greenley trusted Neal’s judgment and experience even if he was horrified by the immorality of their actions. Greenley would retire due to health problems and was replaced by John Tower Gibbs, a long time opponent of Burnside.

   The Deputy Director was Matthew Peele who served in intelligence during WWII, ambitious, clueless, and someone Burnside usually found easy to manipulate.

   The confident and determined Burnside often went over the heads of his SIS bosses to use his ex-father-in-law influence, and he had no problem lying to all of them if it suited his vision of what was right and how to handle the problem.

   The gratuitous sex, over the top violence, and absurdly complicated gadgets of James Bond was fiction in this world. This was a world where work in the field could be dull but was always dangerous. The turnover of Special Agents (field agents at SIS) was high during the series.

   Due to the SIS small budget Burnside had only one to three Special Agents at a time. It takes a special person to become a SIS Special Agent, these were the agents who were assigned the dirty jobs no one else wanted or could handle.

   Head of Special Section (Sandbagger One) was Willie Caine, a womanizing, working-class, ex-military with a strong moral code. Willie and Burnside respected each other but also had major disagreements over Burnside’s methods. Ray Lonnen (HARRY’S GAME, YELLOWTHREAD STREET) was able to make spy Willie Caine a sympathetic human living a life of loneliness but surviving because of his pride in his work.

   The series featured believable characters, realistic dialog and plots that were cynical with dramatic twists that can sometime still surprise forty years later. The focus was less on the Russians and more on the self-interest power plays among the British government and its allies.

    “Special Relationship” was the scheduled final episode for this fill-in TV series. It is arguably the best episode of the series and certainly the most important. The cast strongly objected to the story’s ending. However, the critics and public’s reaction lead Yorkshire TV to approve THE SANDBAGGERS for another series of six episodes. Shortly after that Yorkshire added seven more episodes and two weeks of location shooting at the luxurious Malta.

   Roy Marsden commented on the reaction to the episode, saying, “When “Special Relationship” was shown, the response all over the country was staggering. Every radio program was taking about what had happened.”

“Special Relationship” (October 30, 1978) Written by Ian Mackintosh. Directed by Michael Ferguson. Additional Cast: Diane Keen as Laura Dickens and Richard Vernon as Sir Greenley. *** Burnside and agent Laura Dickens have fallen in love. During an assignment in East Germany Laura is captured. Burnside searches for a possible prisoner in Allies hands to exchange for Laura. He finds one but there is a price.

   Due to a labor strike that forced Yorkshire and ITV off the air for two months and the disappearance of Mackintosh, it would be fourteen months after the first series aired that THE SANDBAGGERS returned to the air. It had been decided to split the thirteen episodes up into two series. The second series aired six episodes from January 28 to March 3, 1980. The final seven episode third series aired from June 9 to July 28, 1980.

   It was July 1979, six episodes for the second series had been filmed and Mackintosh had finished the scripts for all of the rest of the scheduled episodes but three. This is when the cast and crew headed off for two weeks of on location filming in Malta. David Cunliffe remained behind to run his other series for Yorkshire. Producer Michael Ferguson remained in London dealing with production work.

   Ian decided to take a break. Mackintosh loved to travel, as did his girl friend of over two years Susan Insole. Mackintosh’s family and friends were used to him disappearing for a while and then suddenly reappearing. For this trip they had invited an old friend of Mackintosh British Airways pilot Graham Barber.

   The trip would take them to the United States mainland and then to Hawaii and finally back to London by Alaska. They were flying over the Gulf of Alaska, an area of beautiful sights and an area of intense interest of both sides during the Cold War. The weather was clear and the waters calm when Graham Barber radioed an emergency call for help, “We are going down in the sea. I’m going to make for the very, very, small island just to the east of Shuyak Island.”

   The plane, a Rallye 235, and its three passengers were never found.

   A lack of proof of death and Mackintosh’s long habit of disappearing and returning without warning put everything on an awkward hold. Reportedly the American state department held meetings discussing the possibility Mackintosh had defected to the Russian. Even today Ian’s brother Lawrie does not believe Ian died in the plane crash.

   Series Two began with a less confident Neil Burnside who was more protective of his Special Agents. Below is the sixth and final episode of the second series and is a good sample of the characters and how Mackintosh’s SIS worked.

“Operation Kingmaker.” (March 3, 1980) Written by Ian Mackinston. Directed by Alan Grint. Additional Cast: Dennis Burgess as John Tower Gibbs and Elizabeth Bennett as Diana Lawler/ *** Burnside learns an enemy from his past John Gibbs may become the new “C.” Neil attempts to maneuver the system to install a boss he can control. His desperate choice is the ambitious idiot Matthew Peele, current Deputy Director.

   Eventually Cunliffe could no longer wait for Ian’s return and with three episodes left that needed to be written, Cunliffe hired two writers to write the needed episodes. Gidley Wheeler (WARSHIP) wrote two episodes, MY NAME IS ANNA WISEMAN and WHO NEEDS ENEMIES. Arden Winch (WINGS) did SOMETIMES WE PLAY DIRTY TOO. All three were passable adventures but were too heavy-handed and lacked the style of Mackintosh.

   Mackintosh had alreadyfinished the script for the last episode. Oddly enough for a man about to disappear, the episode ended in a cliffhanger. It is also one of Ian’s weakest scripts and suffers from believability issues.

“Opposite Number.” (July 28, 1980) Written by Ian Mackintosh. Directed by Peter Cregeen. Additional Cast: Michael Cashman as Mike Wallace and Sue Holderness as Marianne Straker *** Burnside has grown weary of the constant fighting within the system. As a long passionate opponent of the Salt talks (Strategic Arms Limitations) Neil decides destroying his career was a worthy price to pay if he can get the Russians to leave the talks.

   The cliffhanger was not a surprise since Mackintosh expected a fourth series. Lonnen had signed for a fourth series. It is believed that Ian’s plans for series four had Willie promoted to Director of Operations and Burnside would become “C.” But without Ian Mackintosh the decision was made to end THE SANDBAGGERS. Cunliffe, Ferguson and Marsden moved on to do the series AIRLINE.

   Some today wonder how popular THE SANDBAGGERS really was if so few who watched TV at the time remember it. Not having access to the ratings of 1978 or 1980 I suspect THE SANDBAGGERS critical acclaim had more to do with its success than number of people watching.

   THE SANDBAGGERS did appear on American television in the late 1980s and inspired some enthusiastic fan clubs. It currently can be seen on streaming service BritBox.

   On October 12, 2003 appearing in the New York Times was “TELEVISION; Spies Who Were Cool and Very Very Cold” by Terrence Rafferty. He wrote:

   THE best spy series in television history, “The Sandbaggers,” is now available complete on DVD, 23 years after the last of its 20 episodes was broadcast in England. The show, which was produced by Yorkshire Television, is unknown to most American viewers; a few PBS stations picked it up in the late 80’s, after its star, the brilliant minimalist Roy Marsden, had become a public-television sex symbol as P. D. James’s brooding poet-detective, Adam Dalgliesh.

   Whatever happened to Ian Mackintosh, Susan Insole and Graham Barber will most likely remain a mystery, but it left us all with a story worthy of an episode of THE SANDBAGGERS.




JOHN O’GROAT JOURNAL AND CAITHNESS COURIER (3/1/13) “Did Spy Writers Disappearance Mirror His Fiction?” by Calum Macleod

NY TIMES (10/12/03) “Television Spies Who Were Cool and Very Very Cold” by Terrence Rafferty

by Michael Shonk

   As the fate of next season’s pilots are currently being decided, lets take a look at four more failed pilots of the past: PISTOL PETE, ZERO EFFECT, MR. & MRS. SMITH, and ROADBLOCK.

PISTOL PETE. Fox / Castle Rock, 1996, never aired. Writed and Executive Producer: John Swartzwelder. Directed by John Rich. Cast: Steve Kearney as Pistol Pete, Brian Doyle-Murray as the Mayor, Mark Derwin as Deputy Langley.

   The Old West town Abilene is tired of the bad guys killing their sheriffs so the Mayor writes back East and offers the job to Dime Novel hero Pistol Pete. Pistol Pete may be a true crackshot and a fast draw with the gun, but he also is no real Western hero. He is working as the star of a second-rate Wild West Show in New York. Blaming a faulty memory for not remembering his adventures, Pete believes the books stories about him are true. Pete accepts the job as the latest Sheriff in Abilene. The citizens of his new home share Pistol Pete’s belief that his adventures are all true, only the Mayor and Deputy know Pete is a clueless fraud.

   The pilot is funny if you enjoy absurdist comedy. It has never aired and was desperately sought out by comedy writers and fans until the Internet and YouTube rode to the rescue. The reason for PISTOL PETE’s status as cult comedy classic is the creator and executive producer John Swartzwelder.

   Swartzwelder is considered by many comedy writers and fans to be a comedic genius. Among his strongest fans are the writers and producers of THE SIMPSONS. Swartzwelder began writing for THE SIMPSONS in the first season (1990) and would continue until the fifteenth (2003). He would write more SIMPSONS episodes than any other writer (59 plus returning in 2007 to help write the SIMPSON MOVIE). Adding to his legendary status, Swartzwelder is an eccentric who shuns all publicity giving his fellow writers plenty of material to share with the rest of us.

   Here is a great article about the pilot and Swartzwelder. (Antenna Free TV, June 27, 2013, written by Will Harris).

   One of the reported stranger demands by Swartzwelder for the 1996 pilot (for the fall 96-97 season) was that the film crew be from the TV series GUNSMOKE (CBS, 1955-75). There was a serious attempt to honor that request. The director John Rich is remembered today as one of the greatest TV comedy directors of the 60s-70s era (DICK VAN DYKE and ALL IN THE FAMILY), but he also directed several episodes of GUNSMOKE and BONANZA. Producer Kent McCray worked on BONANZA.

   Swartzwelder wanted the feel of old TV and movie Westerns. The plan was for him and his writing friends from THE SIMPSONS to parody Westerns each week.

   Currently Swartzwelder is writing a series of absurdist comedy PI novels and short stories featuring time traveling PI Frank Burly. The self-published books began in 2004 with THE TIME MACHINE DID IT. The tenth in the series and most recent is BURLY GO HOME (2017).

ZERO EFFECT. NBC / Castle Rock / Warner Brothers, 2002, never aired. Writers and Executive Producers: Jake Kasdan and Walon Green. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Cast: Alan Cumming as Daryl Zero, David Julian Hirsh as Jeff Winslow

   The 1998 film is a cult favorite, but I preferred the TV pilot. The movie’s writer and director Jake Kasdan (FREAKS AND GEEKS) also directed and co-wrote the TV pilot. Walon Green (WILD BUNCH) helped Kasdan write and produce the TV pilot.

   The two versions are much alike in style and tone. Both make good use of Daryl Zero writing his memoirs to narrate the action. Zero calls the case in the pilot “The Case of the Billionaire Pervert With a Parking Problem.”

   My central problem with the film was the pace was too slow and at almost two hours the film was too long leaving me often bored. The pilot, seen in this YouTube thirty-eight minute version, forced Kasdan to speed things up.

   A good example is the opening scene where the genius and character of the unseen Daryl Zero is introduced. Both versions reveal exposition by telling the story of one of Zero’s most awe-inspiring cases. The movie had Zero’s assistant and anti-Watson Steve Alto (Ben Stiller) tell the story to a possible client. The scene was long, static and boring. The TV version had people of various types and locations tell excited crowds about the now World famous as well as Greatest Detective Daryl Zero. The camera rarely stopped as the story jumped from one storyteller to the next. This gave the TV version a faster pace from almost the beginning.

   Both versions focused less on the mystery of the crime and more on the mysteries of the characters. In the TV pilot the case revolves around a billionaire’s missing mistress, but the key to the mystery is not where she is but who she and the other characters are.

   Zero is basically the same in the film and TV pilot. Meant as a satire of Sherlock Holmes, Daryl Zero is a brilliant, self-centered, social inept, recluse with a fondness for disguises and music.

   Bill Pullman’s performance in the film as Zero is generally praised, but I prefer Alan Cumming’s Zero. The many faces and behavior of Zero as done by Pullman was too random. He failed to connect it all to Zero. Cumming was hyper sometimes on the edge of hysteria behavior showed Zero inability to deal with people personally. The music producer character Zero plays as he searches for the missing mistress illustrates his understanding of people but the method and over the top producer character is more an extension of Zero than a music producer.

   Zero realizing he needs an assistant, a “face man,” some one to deal with people (there is no Steve Alto in the pilot). He finds a candidate in Chicago. Jeff Winslow is an unhappy defense attorney with a strong sense of justice.

   Jeff’s girlfriend dumps him on the phone while he is in the middle of a frustrating argument with his boss. Jeff gets a phone call from a mysterious voice (Zero) convincing him to quit and go to Los Angeles for a new job.

   Jeff arrives in Los Angeles without even knowing who is hiring him. Zero then puts him through a bizarre series of job interview tests such as the lost luggage test where Zero steals Jeff’s luggage to see how Jeff would respond.

   Jeff is an idealist, with a conscience and a belief in justice. Zero is none of these and tries to teach Jeff the Zero Method, the “obs” – objectivity and observation. Zero solves the case, but it is Jeff that makes sure justice is served.

MR. AND MRS SMITH. ABC / Regency Television Dutch Oven Production, 2007, never aired. Creator and Executive Producer: Simon Kinberg. Executive Producer: David Bartis. Directer and Executive Producer: Doug Liman. Cast: Jordana Brewster as Mrs. Jane Smith, Martin Henderson as Mr. John Smith, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Ann, and Rebecca Mader as Jordan * There were no credits on film. The above credits are from

   This TV pilot was based on the movie MR. & MRS. SMITH (2005) that starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a married couple who work as assassins for different spy agencies. Both the film director (Doug Liman) and writer (Simon Kinberg) returned to do this TV pilot.

   Jane and John are married and living in the suburbs of Washington D.C. while they continue their careers as spies/ assassins. Both characters are one dimensional modern day clichés. She is smart, sexy, able to handle herself in a fight, and successful career woman – you know, perfect. He is an idiot, self-centered, uses excessive force and has been fired, you know, clueless.

   Now that he is unemployed John wants Jane to join him as partners in their own spy/killer agency. She is highly respected and employed at the all-woman spy agency Executive Cleaners and resists the idea of a Mr. & Mrs. Smith Spy agency.

   He is worried about their marriage and wants to have a date night. She agrees to the date night to humor him but then has to cancel twice due to work. Her assignment is to stop a terrorist who has a nuclear device. After listening to too much Dr. Phil and the neighborhood ladies gossip, John begins to suspect Jane is cheating on him. This bad sitcom plot causes problems with Jane’s plan to save the world.

   The idea of exploring the challenges of marriage through a marriage of two spies is not bad if it was not done so heavy-handedly. Women are brilliant and men are idiots belong in another type of comedy, not one about marriage that needs both characters to be admirable and both to have flaws.

   The script has its moments and some nice dialog but little action. The direction offers no help to make this pilot exciting or visually interesting. The cast was nice to look at but failed to bring their characters to life.

   The pilot hinted at a future where Mr. and Mrs. Smith are partners as spies and in marriage as they try to keep their secrets and live the normal life among their suburban neighbors. While that sounds like a bad sitcom, it would be better than to suffer through these cardboard characters with trust issues every week.

ROADBLOCK. March 29, 1958. An episode of STUDIO 57 (Dumont 1954-55; syndicate, 1955-58.

   Syndicated pilot for proposed series MOTORCYCLE COP. Teleplay by Frederic Brady. Story by John D. MacDonald. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Cast: Mike Connors as Patrolman Jeff Saunders, John McIntire as Sheriff Sternweister, and Wallace Ford as Sheriff Thomas

   Mike Connors played a special enforcement agent for the California Highway Patrol who was sent on a variety of assignments. This story finds him helping out local sheriffs investigating a deadly bank robbery where one of the robbers’ cars turns out to be the cop’s best witness.

   Based on a short story by John D. MacDonald (“The Homesick Buick” (ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY magazine, September 1950) ROADBLOCK was turned into just another typical TV crime drama of the 50s. Everything is in black and white, including the characters. The story is slow moving with no surprises. The cast walked through their roles in the simple slow-moving story unburdened by too many twists or much action until a dull car chase at the end.

   IMDb claims the episode (titled “Getaway Car”) originally aired as episode 19 during the fourth season of STUDIO 57 (aka HEINZ STUDIO 57) on March 29, 1958. According to Vincent Terrace “Encyclopedia of Television Pilots” (McFarland), it was meant to be a pilot for a proposed syndicated TV series to be called MOTORCYCLE COP.

   STUDIO 57 was a low budget anthology series that aired on the DuMont network from 1954 through 1955 when the series turned to syndication and lasted until 1958.

   Why pilots sell or fail has always been a mystery. Jake Kasdan (ZERO EFFECT) even did a movie called THE TV SET (2006) about the process.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Remember MGM-TV’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.? It was one of the most successful of the many quasi-spy series that flooded prime time in the wake of the early James Bond movies. The stars were Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, with Leo G. Carroll as their boss, Alexander Waverly. The series ran for four seasons (1964-68), the first in black-and white and the remaining three in color.

   I began law school at around the time U.N.C.L.E. debuted but, despite a grueling study schedule, managed to catch most of the first season’s episodes, which were reasonably serious with lots of action. Once the series switched to color it also switched to spoofery and camp. I stopped watching.

   But millions stuck with Solo and Illya, and once the ratings showed that U.N.C.L.E. was a hit, MGM-TV commissioned a series of tie-in novels, 23 in all, the first of which was written by Michael Avallone (1924-1999). I had no interest in junk paperbacks but in 1970, when I moved to East Brunswick, New Jersey and was working as a Legal Aid attorney, I discovered that my apartment was only a few blocks from Avallone’s house and called him.

   That was the beginning of a weird off-and-on relationship that lasted till his death. Before becoming a neighbor of his I had known very little about him, but after we met I began to collect his books, of which there were dozens. Many of them were movie or TV tie-in novels for which he was paid around $2,000 apiece and which he ground out on his smoking typewriter in a few days or a week. I don’t recall reading any of these, but I did get him to sign them and squirreled them away.

   After my wife died and I moved into a condo, I segregated all the tie-in books and put them into a cabinet with sliding doors which were generally kept closed. A couple of months ago I happened to open one of those doors and, since the books were arranged alphabetically by author, discovered a bunch of Avallone that I’d never read, including that MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. novel and two tie-ins from the unsuccessful spin-off series THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68), which starred Stefanie Powers as April Dancer and Noel Harrison as Mark Slate. I decided it was time to tackle the trio.

   Avallone’s great contribution to pop culture was the Avalloneism. You can’t pick up any of his 200-odd books without finding yourself awash in lines you’d swear couldn’t possibly have been published. But they were. Thousands of them. Small wonder that I soon began to think of Avallone as the Ed Wood of the written word. These three tie-in books offer further proof that my name for him was not off the mark.

   In THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR (Ace pb #G-553, 1965) Solo and Illya fly to a remote German village to find out what diabolical device killed an U.N.C.L.E. scientist while in his tub and why, just before dying, he put on his clothes backwards.

   It’s no surprise that the culprit is a minion of the evil agency THRUSH, a villain called Golgotha who comes straight out of the Weird Menace pulps of Avallone’s teens. Solo solves the puzzle when he remembers that the dead man was a mystery nut with a particular fondness for Ellery Queen—and that one of the best known Queen novels, THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY (1934), had to do with a corpse who was also dressed backwards.

   Someone, quite possibly Avallone himself, called the book to the attention of Fred Dannay, who was half of the Ellery Queen collaboration and the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known. A number of years after the incident Fred told me that he’d been furious with Avallone for having given away the raison d’être of the CHINESE ORANGE puzzle. But Avallone couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Hadn’t he promoted Queen? In a paperback that sold a gazillion copies, hadn’t he plugged one of the most famous EQ titles?

   Whether the book really sold that well remains a mystery. In later years Avallone publicly accused the publisher of having cheated him out of huge royalties. The name in the copyright notice is MGM-TV, and most likely he wrote it as a work made for hire, earning a flat fee and no more. In any event Ace had nothing more to do with him. But a year later, when MGM-TV launched the GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. series and made a tie-in book deal with another publisher, it was Avallone who was tapped to write the first two entries, the only ones that appeared in the U.S. although three more came out in England.

   More than half a century has passed between the time Avallone’s contributions to the U.N.C.L.E. saga appeared and the time I pulled them out of my sliding-doored cabinet and read them. I was not disappointed.

   First let’s take THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR, which should have won an Edgar had there been such an award for largest number of words misspelled. In a mere 160 pages we encounter such gems as propellor, esconced, earthern (twice!), jodphurs and cemetary. We are also treated to butchered German locutions like dumbkopf, Vast ist?, Seig heil! and nicht yahr.

   Illya’s patronymic or middle name, never given in the TV series, is rendered as Nickovetch, which is gibberish. (The genuine Russian name closest to Avallone’s invention is Nicolaievitch, which I happen to know only because it was the patronymic or middle name of Tolstoy.) And there’s hardly a page without at least one juicy Avalloneism. I will show mercy and offer only a handful, complete with page references.

   There was something damnedably odd— (19)

   The mechanized bug shot over the road, whipping like the mechanical rabbit at a quinella. (41)

   Stewart Fromes’ ten stiff naked toes wore no shoes. (57)

   Jerry Terry said “Oh!” and that was all. For Napoleon Solo, it said it all. Oh, indeed. (82)

   Like a dead fish, Solo’s right arm fell to his side. (100)

   The unexpected was always likely to happen when you least expected it. (140)

   When we turn to the second and third of Avallone’s contributions to the saga we find more of the same. THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. #1: THE BIRDS OF A FEATHER AFFAIR (Signet pb #D3012, 1966) not only recycles some of the misspellings like propellor and esconced, it describes one of the bad guys as both a Hindu and a Sikh.

   On one page he’s killed by a bullet in the back of the neck and on the very next page we are told that “[b]lood from his blasted skull dripped to the floor.” As if those gaffes weren’t enough, Stefanie Powers’ first name is spelled wrong on the front cover. (That one we have to chalk up to Signet.)

   Storywise it’s typical Avallone, with first Slate and then Dancer kidnapped by THRUSH in a plot to swap them for a top enemy scientist, who claims to have discovered the secret of eternal life and is being held at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. It turns out that the scientist has an identical double who’s operating as a mole inside the good guys’ stronghold but no one in U.N.C.L.E. suspects they might be twin brothers as in fact they are.

   At one point while April Dancer is being held prisoner, a THRUSH man relieves her of “her handbag, personal effects, and even her bra (without having had to undress her).” Neat trick if you can pull it off!

   Of Avalloneisms the book has no shortage. This time I’ll limit myself to five.

   Noise echoed around the room, gobbling up echoes. (20)

   “You’re a fool,” the redhead hissed. (23)

   His kindly brown eyes were unaccustomably grim. (69)

   Her bra, taut from immersion, was strangling her breasts. (72)

   The whipsaw wore a long green velvet dress. (80)

   Tugs and seagoing freighters mooed like enormous cows in the harbor. (103)

   Whoops! Was that six? Just goes to show that quoting from Avallone is habit-forming.

   THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. #2: THE BLAZING AFFAIR (Signet pb #D3042, 1966), in which Stefanie Powers’ name is again misspelled on the front cover, pits our heroic agents against an organization calling itself TORCH and described on the back cover as “so fantastically evil it puts THRUSH to shame!”

   April begins by foiling an assassination plot in the Ruritanian kingdom of Ostarkia, then joins Slate in Budapest before the two of them go on to Johannesburg on the trail of a TORCH scheme to fund its plans for world domination with South African diamonds. There seem to be fewer Avalloneisms this time around, but those that survived the Signet editorial process, such as it was, are choice.

   Kurt’s beady eyes roved between them, not sure what they were talking about, not certain as to exactly what to do next. (59)

   The colt in the chair was straining at the leash now. (69)

   The man with the withered face frowned a frownless frown. (71)

   Like so many little men wanting to be bigger than they ever really were in the first place. (126)

   In case I’ve whetted your appetite and you’re determined to read more of these cubic zirconia without visiting your shelves or a secondhand bookstore, I’ve put together a much more extensive catalogue from the trilogy, again complete with page references, which I’ve provided because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m making this stuff up. You’ll find the bonanza of boners by clicking HERE. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


ADAM HALL (ELLESTON TREVOR) – The Tango Briefing. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1973. Dell, paperback, 1974. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1973.

QUILLER. “Tango Briefing.” BBC One; September 5, 1975. Written by Adam Hall, based on characters he created. Cast: Michael Jayston as Quiller and Moray Watson as Angus Kinloch. Guest Cast: Nigel Stock as Loman, Prunella Gee as Diane, Reg Lye as Chirac and Paul Angelis as Vickers Designer: Peter Blacker. Produced by Peter Graham Scott. Directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot.

   My experience with Quiller is limited. I began with the disappointing film QUILLER MEMORANDUM, then the good but nothing special book NINTH DIRECTIVE. Recently I read the book TANGO BRIEFING and watched a rare copy of the British TV episode based on the book.

   Both versions of TANGO BRIEFING were written by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) and featured Quiller searching for a lost plane in the Sahara desert. A mission that had already cost lives.

   I enjoyed the book, and even though it was fifth in the Quiller series it felt like an introduction story to the character. Narrated in first person by the character Quiller, and while he remained a self-effacing enigma, the book was filled with many details about his job and his life (which amounted to the same thing).

   Actor Michael Jayston (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, 1979) was well chosen for the role, better than the film’s version played by George Segal. Quiller has a lack of respect and trust for authority figures. Segal played it with more Connery-as-Bond-like humor, while Jayston had a meaner, rude touch.

   The book TANGO BRIEFING was a well-written thriller full of tension and excitement. The TV episode was loyal to the book, but due to time and budget, made a few changes, changes that stripped the story of much of its suspense and drama.

   Few have ever seen the QUILLER TV series. Even in the collectors market the series is difficult to find. Apparently only three episodes of the series thirteen survive. Luckily TANGO BRIEFING was one of them. The short-lived series aired only once on the BBC and was never shown again. Its episodes met the same fate of many BBC genre series of that era such as DOCTOR WHO, and ADAM ADMANT LIVES (reviewed here ) when the stuffy old men at BBC in a fit of snobbery purged its entertaining non-socially conscious series from its warehouse.

   Anyone aware of the TV series probably best remembers it for its popular theme song written by Richard Denton and Martin Cook (HONG KONG BEAT, THE GREAT EGG RACE).

   The song was released on a 45 record with “General Direction” from QUILLER soundtrack on the B-side.

   The mission in TANGO BRIEFING was to recover the cargo of a downed plane in the Sahara desert. The mission had gone bad and The Bureau sends Quiller in to complete the job. He was not told why the plane’s cargo was so important or what it was, but he realized it was vital to the British government that he reach the plane before the local Algerian government or anyone else who might be looking for it.

   His “director” on the mission was Loman. Loman would make the plans and handle all the details while “the executive” or “ferret” Quiller was out in the field. The two had worked together before and neither liked the other or approved of the other’s methods.

   After Quiller met with Loman there is an attempt on his life. In the book Quiller barely escaped alive and was physically weakened for the rest of the adventure, while in the TV episode he escapes with no injuries as a young native sets off the trap. I am not sure why writer Hall made the change but it was an important one.

   The book Quiller is a superspy, a man able to do what few men can. Forced to overcome his injuries, Quiller goes beyond the average spy. From watching the three available episodes, the TV series producers seemed to want to make Quiller a more fallible realistic human but keeping Quiller’s arrogance and attitude. Unlike the book Quiller the TV Quiller was an unlikable one-dimensional character.

   Every scene in the book added to the risks for Quiller, with time running out and others getting closer. TANGO BRIEFING the book makes powerful use of time and its passing. But the TV episode limited by its hour length could not fit it all in and what was used often felt contrived.

   Four of the book’s characters made it from book to TV episode. Besides Loman, the other member of Quiller’s support team was inexperienced radio operator Diane. The character served a better purpose in the book with Quiller’s disapproval of her inexperience and concern for her youth adding tension and jeopardy to the story. The character of Diane was badly misused in the TV episode. TV Quiller was fast to forgive her inexperience and shook her hand accepting her to the team, there were G-rated hints of possible romance, and a scene was clumsily dropped in where she beat up a bad guy who attacked her in the radio room.

Two local characters, Chirac, the man who flies Quiller to the desert, and Vickers, the freelance oil driller, make it to the TV episode. Chirac goes from the book’s lovable old ex-war hero to the TV episode’s weak link. Vickers was a minor character in the book. His appearances in the TV episode were obviously forced by the need to foreshadow the TV’s version different ending.

   Then there is the desert search for the plane that takes up much of the book and the TV episode. The TV version greatest mistake was to abandon the book’s first person narration. The scenes in the desert are among the highlights of the book. Quiller’s narration allows us inside the character, fleshing him out. We may not learn his real name or details of his past but we do learn how he thinks and feels. This is where Quiller becomes someone we care about.

   In the TV episode, plot information and characterization was limited to the radio conversations between Quiller and Diane and Loman at the radio base in Kaifra. Without Quiller’s explaining his thoughts and exploring the details of his situation, we never feel his fear and stress as we do reading the book. This left the story in the TV version underdeveloped and less powerfully dramatic.

   While the QUILLER theme song is great, the episode soundtrack was awful and let down the episode. The desert scenes could have worked better if the soundtrack had supplied the emotions of the scenes that the narration gave readers in the book.

   Director David Sullivan Proudfoot (WARSHIP) did his best. His highlight was a shot of the shadow against a desert dune of a vulture circling over an unconscious Quiller.

   The two versions differed in endings. The book’s final scenes would have made an exciting end for a theatrical film. The TV ending was weak, contrived and obvious.

   The book is well worth reading. It is hard to believe the same man who wrote the book wrote the TV version. I suspect Hall’s final draft was not the final shooting script.


Action TV:

The Unofficial QUILLER website

The Encyclopedia of TV Spies by Wesley Britton (BearManor Media, 2009)

KAREN A. ROMANKO – Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters: 600 Characters and Shows, 1950s to the Present. McFarland, softcover, February 2016.

   The full title of this book is self-explanatory, I’m sure. I’ve only browsed through it myself, so this is not a review, but in my opinion this is a book that every reader of this blog ought be know about, if you don’t already.

   To open the book, author Karen Romanko provides a long and knowledgeable introduction to the overall history of female crimefighters on television, followed in the main portion of the book by a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all relevant TV series and their significant characters, cross-referenced between the two. For example, the TV series Elementary and the character Joan Watson each have their own entries, each mentioning the other in bold face.

   The first entry is Acapulco H.E.A.T., followed by Lydia Adams (Southland); the last two are Roberta Young (Snoops) and The Zoo Gang, a British production that aired in this country on NBC in 1975.

   This is a book that’s easy to get caught up in, following one familiar show to its star and then to others not so familiar, and vice versa for (in my estimation) hours on end.

by Michael Shonk

   Most TV junkies claim Fall premiere week as their favorite time of the year, but mine has always been the May upfronts. Upfronts are parties the networks throw for major advertisers, ad agencies and the media in attempt to get them drunk enough to believe next Fall’s TV series will be the best ever and hope they forget the lies the networks told about the quality of last season’s shows.

   In the past, May was the most dramatic month for the TV fanatic. TV viewers embraced hope of the new, relief when their favorites survived, and the devastation when they didn’t. But it is just not the same anymore.

   The broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CW) have joined cable networks in the effort to supply original programming all year round. New television series never stop coming. The Big Four and-a-Half networks just announced their fall lineup with huge fan fare ignoring that September is no longer the best month of TV.

   Pushing the limits of space here, let’s check out the highlights of what is coming this week, this Summer, this Fall, and in 2017.

   Just because the main season is over, it doesn’t mean the broadcast networks abandon original programming. WAYWARD PINES is back on FOX. CW has the final season of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. CBS has the return of ZOO and two new series starting in June that sound better than any of CBS new fall shows. AMERICAN GOTHIC tells the story of a family that has discovered one of them is a serial killer. From the creators of THE GOOD WIFE, BRAINDEAD is a comedy thriller about a young woman who discovers aliens are eating the brains of politicians and government workers. NBC has the Olympics this summer but also airs AQUARIUS.

      NBC medical drama NIGHT SHIFT returns for its third season:

   Cable networks offer original scripted programs in May and June including AMC’s new crime drama set in a restaurant, FEED THE BEAST, and the last season of HELL ON WHEELS, HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, TNT’s LAST SHIP, MAJOR CRIMES, MURDER IN THE FIRST, and RIZZOLI & ISLES (final season), TBS’s ANGIE TRIBECA, Cinemax’s OUTCAST, Netflix’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, ADULT SWIM’s DECKER: UNCLASSIFIED, and SYFY’s 12 MONKEYS.

   The heck with Marvel and DC, give me an IDW comic book like the fun horror/western WYNONNA EARP.

   Cable original scripted programs continue through the summer with returning series such as SYFY’s KILLJOYS and DARK MATTER, FX’s TYRANT and THE STRAIN, STARZ’s POWER, USA’s SUITS and last year’s hit MR. ROBOT.

   New series include Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS set in the 1980s, a supernatural series centered on a missing boy, SYFY’s post-apocalyptic drama AFTERMATH, and TNT’s GOOD BEHAVIOR based on the Letty Dobesh books by Blake Crouch.

      Based on Stephen Hunter’s book POINT OF IMPACT, USA network new series SHOOTER premieres in July.

   This fall live television, especially sports such as the NFL and World Series, will distract the viewing public. Cable lead by one of the most watched TV series in all television, AMC’s WALKING DEAD will hold its own. TNT reboots TALES FROM THE CRYPT, this time from M. Night Shyamalan.

         Netflix starts another series featuring a Marvel comic character – LUKE CAGE.

   Midseason 2017 promises to offer some entertaining new series on cable networks. USA’s FALLING WATER is a supernatural thriller about three strangers who find they can share dreams. SYFY’s horror anthology CHANNEL ZERO,

      Syfy’s THE EXPANSE, the best TV series I watched in 2015-16, will return for its second season in January 2017.

   Top network CBS will add three new dramas this Fall. BULL starring NCIS Michael Weatherly as Dr Phil back when he was a consultant specializing in manipulating… uh, I mean analyzing juries. Medicine meets technology in the new drama PURE GENUIS.

      The pilot of MACGYVER had many behind the scenes problems. Let’s hope Macgyver can find the right knick knack to save the show.

   Two new CBS series wait for their turn and midseason. DOUBT a lawyer show starring Katherine Heigl, and TRAINING DAY, based on the film. But more important are two series that CBS hopes to premiere in 2017 on CBS ALL ACCESS, its streaming service. First original new series will be the sequel to THE GOOD WIFE. The second is perhaps TV most famous franchise in history. It began on NBC, cancelled and resurfaces as a successful film series. It was used to establish Paramount in the syndicated market. It began UPN (now CW) and tried to save the network before the merger with WB. As Paramount continues to pump out theatrical films, CBS will use STAR TREK to jumpstart its streaming service.

         Without a title or any idea what it is about, the new STAR TREK series is the most anticiated television series of next season.


   SUPERGIRL reminded CBS what its TV audience likes, so the new shows look like the old shows and SUPERGIRL flew off to CBS little sister CW. The comic book superhero will feel comfortable with the rest of DC comic superheroes, ARROW, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and CW’s top show FLASH. CW continues to specialize in comic books, horror and the weird.

      New this fall to the mini-me of broadcast networks is FREQUENCY based on the film.

   Returning during midseason will be THE 100, iZOMBIE, THE ORIGINALS, SUPERNATURAL, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

   Midseason, CW will add FOX reject RIVERDALE, based on the characters from Archie comics focused on a murder mystery. But this is not Scooby Doo or your old Archie (even the comic books are not your old Archie), this Archie deals with “adult issues” such as him sleeping with his teacher.

   While CBS remains the top network, NBC is close behind. Its two biggest hits are SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL and THE VOICE, each hogging up much of NBC’s fall schedule. This fall NBC adds five games of Thursday night football (CBS shows the first five, NBC has the last five). Without any major holes in its fall schedule, NBC saved its most promising new series for midseason, adding only three to the fall lineup.

      NBC’s only new drama this fall is TIMELESS, the most promising series of the many this season featuring time travel.

   Some of the series returning this fall are BLACKLIST, BLINDSPOT, CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO MED, CHICAGO PD, GRIMM, LAW AND ORDER SVU. SHADES OF BLUE will have to wait for SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to end.

   Other new shows waiting for their turn include comedies POWERLESS (insurance office comedy set in the world of superheroes), TRAIL & ERROR (court comedy). New dramas are BLACKLIST – REDEMPTION (spinoff), EMERALD CITY (based on Baum’s Land of Oz books), MIDNIGHT, TEXAS (based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD)), TAKEN (prequel to film series) and what would any NBC list be without another Dick Wolf CHICAGO series, in this case CHICAGO JUSTICE.

   There is hope at FOX. This year they have the Super Bowl guaranteeing better numbers at the end of the season. Ratings are changing, and FOX is pushing the hardest to find a way to count those of us who no longer watch TV live or on a TV set.

   TV is about to enter an era of MONEYBALL. For those not familiar with baseball or the movie or the book, sabermetrics uses an endless amount of numbers to measure performance. Networks like FOX are all ready there, someday the media will catch up.

   Speaking of baseball, FOX will have the World Series this fall as well as new series PITCH (story of first woman to play in Major League Baseball). Other new series of interest coming this fall are THE EXORIST (based on William Blatty’s novel), and LETHAL WEAPON (based on the film).

      My pick for first fall show cancelled is FOX’s SON OF ZORN, an animated barbarian tries to cope in live action modern world.

   Shows returning in fall include BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, insane GOTHAM, LUCIFER, ROSEWOOD, SCREAM QUEENS, and QUINTCO. Series returning in midseason include SLEEPY HOLLOW and the final season of BONES.

   Among the new series waiting for 2017 are APB (rich man buys a police precinct), MAKING HISTORY (time travel comedy), SHOTS FIRED (racially charged shooting involving a cop), and PRISON BREAK (sequel to 2005 TV series).

      FOX is hoping 24 – LEGACY will be as successful as the original 24.

   ABC did not have a good year. Its president of programming was sacrificed to the Nielsen Ratings Gods in prayers for better numbers in the demo.There was not enough time to change the fall offerings, but it is expected ABC will copy CBS and NBC with less soap operas and more procedurals.

   ABC’s new fall dramas of interest to us begins with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development ends up President after a terrorist attack takes out most of the leaders of the American government. CONVICTION with Hayley Atwell (AGENT CARTER) as a spoiled former first daughter who is forced under threat of jail to lead a small group investigating cases where the convicted might be innocent.

      NOTORIOUS is about the seduction between law and the media.

   Returning this fall are HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and ONCE UPON A TIME. While these returning series have to wait until midseason their turn – AMERICAN CRIME, THE CATCH, SCANDAL and SECRETS & LIES.

      Among the new ABC shows waiting for midseason is TIME AFTER TIME, based on the movie and stars Freddie Stroma as H.G. Wells.

   Over one hundred TV series in the 2015-16 season were cancelled or ended. RIP.


by Michael Shonk

WORLD OF GIANTS. ZIV Productions, 1959; syndicated. Cast: Marshall Thompson as Mel Hunter, Arthur Franz as Bill Winters and Marcia Henderson as Miss Brown.

SPY SHADOW. NBC, 1967-68. Depatrie-Freleng Productions with Mirisch-Rich Television. Voice Cast: Ted Cassidy, June Foray, Shepard Menkin, Don Messick, Paul Frees. Producers: David H. Depatie and Fritz Freleng.

FORTUNE HUNTER. Fox, 1994. BBK Productions Inc. / Columbia Pictures Television. Cast: Mark Frankel as Charlton Dial, and John Robert Hoffman as Harry Flack. Created by Steven Aspis. Co-Executive Producers: Steven Aspis & Paul Stupin. Executive Prodcuers: Frank Lupo & Carlton Cuse.

MR. I.A. MOTO. NBC Radio, 1951; sustaining. Cast: James Monk and Mr. I. A. Moto. Produced by Carol Irwin or Doris Quinlan. Announcer: Fred Collins or Ray Barret. Director: Harry W. Junkin. Writers include Harry W. Junkin, Robert Tallman and Jim Haines.

* * * * * * *

WORLD OF GIANTS (WOG). “Special Agent.” Teleplay by Donald Duncan and Jack Laird; story by Donald Duncan. Directed and produced by Otto Lang. Guest Cast: John Gallaudet and James Seay *** While on a mission behind the Iron Curtain, American spy Mel Hunter suffered an accident that shrank him to six inches. “Special Agent” is the series first episode and is the story of Mel’s first case as a six-inch man. Mel and his normal sized partner Bill search an office for secret papers.

   There are two episodes available on YouTube – the first and last. Both are slow paced and clumsily written, even for the late fifties era. Direction and special effects did what they could with the limits of technology at the time. Drama was mocked as the most serious threats to life of our hero spy came from a cat and a falling pencil.

   According to Broadcasting, (July 28 1958, August 18 1958 and July 28 1958) WOG was originally scheduled for the 1958-59 fall season on the CBS network. It would have aired on Wednesday following Invisible Man. Production problems caused the series to be delayed. The 1958 season was a bad time for network’s ad sales; the networks were still struggling with the fallout from the quiz show scandals. Both Invisible Man and World of Giants were replaced by the live drama Pursuit. WOG would finally air in syndication starting September 1959 and last only thirteen episodes.

SPY SHADOW. “Evila the Terrible” Credits can be found here on the Big Cartoon Database. *** Villain Evila is trying to take over the World again. Her servant has invented a hypnosis ray gun that Evila uses to obtain everyone’s jewels and money. Interspy agent Richard Vance is sent to stop his old flame.

   This poorly animated and written Saturday morning cartoon is bad enough to be fun to watch. Spy Shadow was a segment of Saturday morning cartoon series, Super President Show. (Super President was the President of the United States and when needed turned into costumed superhero Super President who could change his molecular structure to any form).

   Spy Shadow featured Richard Vance, an agent for an organization named Interspy. Thanks to his training in mysterious Tibet, Vance and his shadow could separate to fight Super-villains. The episodes usually began with the villain succeeding in his/her/it evil plot of the week. Vance would try to stop the crime and bad guys. Vance would fail and get captured. The villain would usually leave Vance in an over complicated death trap. Vance’s shadow would separate from his body and save the spy/detective from the trap. The only thing that could stop the shadow was darkness, as the shadow needed light to exist.

   Both Spy Shadow and Super PresidentT episodes can be found on YouTube.

FORTUNE HUNTER. “Red Alert.” Written by Carlton Cuse; directed by Mike Levine. Guest Cast: J.G. Hertzler and Karen Witter. *** The plot has a mad man seeking to free the Ukraine from Russia by blackmailing the World with nerve gas. The nerve gas had last been seen stored in an out of date Russian satellite that had crashed in South Carolina.

   “Red Alert” featured a better than average script for the series by Carlton Cuse (Lost). Frankel offered some appeal as a cut-rate Bond while Hoffman was less hammy than usual. Karen Witter was terrible as the 90s stereotype – the female brilliant scientist/kick ass soldier with a beauty queen’s looks.

   I would not be surprised that this series still has fans, especially young men who grew up during the 90s. Fortune Hunter is a typical example of the 1990s Action TV series with a style best described as 90s version of Stephen J. Cannell does James Bond.

   However Fortune Hunter lacked any originality. The premise was a rip-off of TV series Search (1972, NBC). Former top British spy Charlton Dial now worked for Intercept Corporation, a private company specializing in high-risk assignments recovering objects. Dial was the field agent who had special contact lens and earpiece that allowed comedy relief and Intercept tech Harry to monitor Dial’s activity as a one man “Probe Control.” And not surprisingly the series had a fondness for gadgets.

   While all thirteen episodes were filmed and reportedly successfully aired around the World, Fox pulled it off the air after only five episodes aired. “Red Alert” was the last to air on Fox.

MR. I. A. MOTO. “The Bazaloff Paper.” Written and directed by Harry W. Junkin. Produced by Carol Irwin. Cast: James Monk as Moto. Guest cast: Ross Martin and Connie Lembeke. *** Moto is in the Far East searching for a murdered scientist’s paper that could change the balance of power in the Pacific.

   The character of Mr. Moto first appeared in a series of books written by John P. Marquand. I have a great fondness for the film version of Mr. Moto as portrayed by Peter Lorre. Both the books and films are still remembered today, but the same can not be said about the NBC radio series.

   The radio series was well-written, racist, sexist and an excellent example of the culture at the time. Japanese-American Moto worked as an international secret agent fighting communism and crime all over the world.

   The series aired on NBC in 1951 without a sponsor. It was a difficult time for radio, as TV was replacing it as the public’s favorite home entertainment. The focus of NBC was more on TV, and while the network produced 23 half-hours without a commercial sponsor, NBC paid little attention to promoting the series. Because of this there remains some confusion and questions about Mr. I. A. Moto.

   For example, there are two versions surviving of the same story – “Bazaloff Paper” and “Kuriloff Paper.” Some believe one was for the West Coast and the other for the East Coast. Others believe one was a rehearsal copy and the other the final air version. Here are both versions:

               Bazaloff Paper:

               Kuriloff Paper:

   More details about Mr. I. A. Moto can be found at The Digital Deli Too.

THE GRID. “Hour One/Hour Two.” TNT, US, 19 July 2004 as the first two episodes of a six-part mini-series. First shown on BBC Two, UK, 2004. Dylan McDermott, Julianna Margulies, Bernard Hill, Jemma Redgrave, James Remar, Piter Marek, Silas Carson, Olek Krupa, Barna Moricz, Emil Marwa, Robert Forster, Tom Skerritt. Director: Mikael Salomon.

   A failed poison Sarin attack in London post 9/11 leads to the creation of a international counter-terrorism team in the US led by Maren Jackson (Julianna Margulies) of the National Security Council. Others are members of the FBI (Dylan McDermott) and the CIA (Piter Marek). Characters on the British end of things are played by Bernard Hill (MI5) and Jemma Redgrave (MI6).

   In spite of the stated spirit of cooperation between the various agency involved, not-so-hidden rivalries between agencies break out almost immediately, not to mention the squabbles between MI5 and MI6 in the UK, the latter which also resents the US team’s “know it all” involvement, which by the end of episode two has proven quite wrong.

   They must have spent a lot of money putting this mini-series together. It shows, but the dazzling switches from scene to scene and country to country is just that, dazzling, and there are a lot of characters to keep straight at the same time. By the end of Hour Two, I think I was doing well, but I had better keep watching, or I am afraid all I have put together so far will be lost.

   But I say with an ulterior motive: as a bit of persuasion to make sure I do so. The story, while very dramatically done, does not seem to break any ground that hasn’t been plowed over many times before, and I am not talking about the threat of Islamic terrorism in specifics, but anti-espionage efforts in general.

   The inclusion of intimate details in terms of personal backgrounds and animosities as well as inter-agency squabbling falls into the same category. It’s nice on the eyes so far, but while I’m sure I will continue, there’s no sense of urgency about it either, which is too bad on many levels, including the amount of time and energy that was put into this.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

17 MOMENTS OF SPRING. Gorky Film Studios, USSR, TV Mini-Series, 12 x 70m episodes, 1973. Original title: Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny. Vyacheslav Tikonov, Oleg Tabakov, Rotoslav Plyatt, Yekterina Gradova. Narrated by Yefim Kopelyan. Screenplay by Yulian Semyenov, based on his own novel. Director: Tatyana Lioznova.

   A man and an elderly lady stand in the wood and discuss the beauty of nature and the glory of spring after a long winter. We are in Germany, outside Berlin in February 1945 in the last days of WWII and it has indeed been a long winter.

   The man, Mr. Bolyan, is also Standartenfuherer Otto Von Stirlitz, a decorated and trusted intelligence officer in the SS who has the ears of Walter Shellenberg a popular and important officer with ties to Hitler, the general staff, and Reichmarshall Himmler of the SS. Darkly handsome and Nordic, Stirlitz seems the perfect Nazi and for six years he has been. For six years he has buried his real identity as Colonel Maxim Isayev of Soviet Intelligence while working in German intelligence and rising to an important position in SS intelligence.

   So begins the low key Soviet spy drama from 1973 that brought to life the adventures of Stirlitz, the creation of novelist Yulian Semyenov in a twelve part mini-series that rocked Soviet television and popular entertainment to its core. Power shortages happened whenever 17 Moments of Spring aired because ninety percent of television sets in Russia were tuned to Stirlitz’s adventures. Even today Stirlitz jokes are common in post Soviet Russia (and simply don’t translate into English — I tried) mostly drawing on the dour deliberate Stirlitz glacial resolve to show no emotion whatsoever and his plodding ways.

   Yulian Semyenov was the Russian Ian Fleming, like his British counterpart a journalist with intelligence ties from the war and well known by his superiors. His creation, known as Stirlitz rather than Isayev, is no James Bond however. Stirlitz is stoic, sexless, dour, brooding, self sacrificing (at one point he sees his wife he has not seen for six years and cannot reveal himself and we are treated to three minutes of baleful sad eyes), and there is precious little violence in his adventures.

   That isn’t to say Semyenov was unaware of Fleming and Bond. One of his novels about Stirlitz is called Diamonds for the Revolution of the Proletariat, in which the young Isayev is assigned to find the jewels of the Royal family that have gone missing after their execution and which are needed to fuel the new Soviet Republic, you have to wonder since that Republic certainly wasn’t forever, about the Fleming influence.

   Some of the novels were even printed in English, at least one as by Julian Semyenov even getting into an American paperback edition, but far and away 17 Moments of Spring is the best known of his works and Strilitz adventures, covering, as the title suggests, in semi documentary style, seventeen days in early spring 1945 as Strilitz strives to uncover transcripts of talks between the Western allies, England and the United States, with the crumbling panicked Nazi elite, Soviet paranoia under Stalin at least providing the McGuffin for a deliberate but fairly fascinating documentary style spy drama populated with a spate of historical characters on both sides.

   The project came into being during the period of detente, when things loosened up considerably and even a James Bond film or two got into the hands of Soviet elites. While there is a clear implication the West is not always up to any good in relation to the Soviets (and that was a two-way street in reality) the real bad guys are the Nazis and it takes a surprisingly soft middle ground stance on the role of the West, certainly giving credit where it is due despite the McGuffin about possible Western double dealing (in truth, by that point the West would not have settled the war with anything but unconditional surrender, but you have to give a spy story it’s McGuffin — nonsense or not — certainly there were those in the West arguing to save what was left of Germany to turn against the Russians). In short, the propaganda isn’t noticeably intrusive.

   Vyacheslav Tikhonov as Stirlitz and Oleg Tabakov as Shellenberg are the stand out performances here, a subtle cat-and-mouse game underway as Stirlitz falls under suspicion and the inevitable end of the Reich puts every nerve on edge as rats either try to desert the sinking ship or fanatics refuse to see the truth. Shellenberg is presented as a charming ruthless Nazi who nonetheless sees the writing on the wall and that it is increasing late to save anything including his own neck.

   While Semyenov and Stirlitz are pretty much it for Cold War Soviet spy fiction from Russia for something livelier, you might seek out the adventures of Boris Stolitzy, a smart charming hard drinking and womanizing KGB agent whose Cold War adventures were penned by a Finnish writer and who bore a resemblance to later 007 outings in that his adventures never really seemed to pit him against the West. Since the fall of the Soviet Union mystery and thriller fiction is somewhat livelier than before with writers like Boris Akkunin, but still far from well known here.

   Currently BBC 4 Extra is airing The Soviet James Bond, a half hour documentary about Semyenov and Stirlitz, and the complete series of 17 Moments of Spring can be seen on YouTube with English subtitles. It’s worth watching one episode just to see how the other side did it, and in its quiet way it is surprisingly like a John Le Carre tale crossed with early spy dramas like The House on 92nd Street and Walk East on Beacon Street. Actually it is considerably less leftist than Le Carre to be brutally honest resembling one of those politically uneasy WWII flag-wavers where the Soviets are reluctantly embraced as Allies.