“Mission to Italy.” From The John Forsythe Show. First aired: 7 March 1965 (Monday at 8 pm, 30 minutes). NBC – Universal – Forsythe Productions. Cast: John Forsythe as John Foster, Guy Marks as Ed Robbins, Elsa Lanchester as Miss Culver and Ann B. Davis as Miss Wilson. Guest Cast: Jack Kruschen, Susan Silo and Paul Birch. Written by Joseph Bonaduce. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Produced by Peter Kortner.

   Available (at this time) for viewing on YouTube in three parts:

   THE JOHN FORSYTHE SHOW is one of those forgotten series few care to remember. The premise of the series would change more than once. The episode “Mission To Italy” is from the “spy” period.

   General Pierce (Paul Birch) arrives at Miss Foster’s School for Girls to ask Air Force Reserve Major John Foster, who runs the school, to take top-secret plans (for the Space program) to a new tracking base in Italy. Foster agrees, and with his aide the former Sergeant Ed Robbins soon find themselves lost and stranded in a small Italian village. Miss Culver and Miss Wilson are left behind to run the school while they think John is giving a speech at a school related function in Rome.

   There is little to no spy activity in the episode as Foster ends up in trouble when his friendship with a young beautiful but neglected Italian woman is misunderstood. Foster doesn’t understand how the men of the village can reject such a beautiful woman just because she can’t cook. The Italian men can’t understand why any man would want a wife who can’t cook. While the cast tried, some such as Guy Marks and Jack Kruschen tried too hard, they could not overcome the stupid (not unusual for 60s sitcoms) and unfunny story.

   According to Alice B. Davis interview for the TV Academy’s Archive of American Television

(starting at 16:45 and ending at 18:25), the series originally involved Peter Tewkesbury (Emmy award winning director for FATHER KNOWS BEST) as writer and was loosely based on the British films by Alastair Sim based on Ronald Searle’s cartoons and books about St. Trinian’s School for Girls.

   Imagining John Forsythe in drag is enough for me to understand why that idea (and Tewkesbury) was replaced with THE MISTER AND THE MISSES (the original title that appeared in NBC pre-season ads and press releases and would wisely change before air date to THE JOHN FORSYTHE SHOW). The premise had Air Force Major John Foster inheriting Miss Foster’s School for Girls from his Aunt when she dies. Foster and his aide Robbins retire from active duty to run the school with the help of Principal Miss Culver and gym teacher Miss Wilson.

   The series aired opposite the last half hour of ABC’s 12 O’CLOCK HIGH and CBS’ I’VE GOT A SECRET. The ratings were not good and during the season the format changed from stories about running an all-girl school to stories with Foster and Robbins doing undercover work for the government.

   In his interview for Television Academy Archive for American Television, Forsythe called the series “one of my low points” and “not very good.”

(begin at 28:10 until end). In the next part of the interview he denied the series was a spy series.

   If “Mission To Italy” was typical of THE JOHN FORSYTHE SHOW as a spy series, Forsythe had a point about this not being a spy series. In the “Mission To Italy,” Major Foster was no James Bond he wasn’t even Maxwell Smart (GET SMART). The change in premise was an attempt to open the plots to romantic locales beyond the limitations of an All-Girls school setting.

   “Mission To Italy” was less interested in the spy plot (which made little sense) than the lame cliché 60’s sitcom plot. Judging by this episode, THE JOHN FORSYTHE SHOW offers nothing to interest fans of spy comedies or anyone looking for a funny sitcom.

      Recommended reading:

TV Obscurities: http://www.tvobscurities.com/spotlight/the-john-forsythe-show