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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1966 – PART 2

Written By:

Alan Boon
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Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Knight Rider there’s two Street Hawks. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

1966-67

From a base of just nine percent in 1950, television ownership in the United States had grown to ninety-three percent by 1966, and while the denizens of the United Kingdom were celebrating a World Cup win, American families were sitting down to a new season of their favourite shows. Returning from the 1965-66 season were the Irwin Allen shows Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, while Batman was grooving his way to ridding Gotham City of crime. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart went undercover to roots out spies, and just what will Samantha do next on Bewitched?

Joining the schedules for the new season were the surreal adventures of The Monkees, Quinn Martin’s alien drama The Invaders, more superheroics in the shape of The Green Hornet, and another Irwin Allen show, as The Time Tunnel opened its portal. Oh, and a little show called Star Trek began its run on NBC. But what of the shows that made it to air but didn’t linger in the collective memory? These are the misses of 1966…

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (NBC): Introduced in a backdoor pilot in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s fifth season, April Dancer – her name suggested by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, who was working as a consultant for the show – was an American spy who specialised in undercover missions, alongside her British partner, Mark Slate.

In the introductory episode, the pair were played by Mary Ann Mobley and Norman Fell, but for the series – which aired on Tuesday at 7.30pm – the roles were filled by Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison, the son of Rex. Powers had made an impact as a young girl in trouble in various film productions, and these skills were put to good use as Dancer often acted as bait for the bad guys, while Slate did the heavy work.

The show desperately wanted to be the hip younger sister to its parent series, and TV Guide reported that Powers was allotted $1000 per episode for “the latest mod fashions from Swinging London’s Carnaby Street.” Despite several crossover episodes with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Girl… failed to get a grip on its timeslot, with was dominated by the lion-botherers of Daktari, and was cancelled after just one season of twenty-nine episodes.

Several tie-in novels and a five-issue comic book series from Gold Key were produced, and the series is available on DVD, but is rarely spoken of when memories of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. are dragged up. Powers, of course, went on to play Robert Wagner’s unmurdered wife in Hart to Hart, and Noel Harrison returned to his first love of music, having a huge hit with the haunting “Windmills of Your Mind” in 1968.

The Man Who Never Was (ABC): Just as the campy superhero fun of Batman-inspired several copycat shows on rival networks, CBS and ABC both scrambled for a rival to NBC’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The Man Who Never Was was developed by John Newland, who had directed and hosted the supernatural anthology series One Step Beyond for the network from 1958-61, and featured Robert Lansing as spy Peter Murphy.

When the series begins, Murphy is on assignment in Europe, and encounters playboy millionaire Mark Wainwright, who is his exact double (and also played by Lansing). Enemy agents kill Wainwright, thinking he is Murphy, and Murphy adopts Wainwright’s identity, using his newfound wealth to aid him on his missions.

There was the slight wrinkle that Wainwright was married, and although his wife Eva immediately realises that Murphy is not her husband, she plays along because Murphy is kinder than her abusive ex. The two eventually fall in love, and he proposes in the show’s final episode, pledging to retire from the spy business.

Despite the clever premise, ratings were not good (especially against the talking pig on Green Acres), and the decision was made to cancel the show, allowing them to wrap things up neatly. Two feature films – Danger Has Two Faces and The Spy with the Perfect Cover – were later created by stitching episodes of the show together, both with the same beginning and end but with different stories filling out the plot.

T.H.E. Cat (NBC): The conveniently-named Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat is a reformed thief who operates out of a bar named Casa del Gato on San Francisco’s waterfront, taking cases from those denied justice by other means. Played by Robert Loggia, The Cat, as he was obviously known, was a former cat burglar (and circus performer of Gypsy heritage) who used martial arts skills to solve crimes and protect the needy, and he exploded onto television screens on Friday nights at 9.30pm.

The actor was proficient in several disciplines, with black belts in karate and jiu-jitsu, but sought help from Bruce Lee – who was working on The Green Hornet as Kato – with fight choreography. Loggia, who had played a character called The Cat before in the western series The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, was joined by a cavalcade of guest stars, with the likes of James Whitmore, Robert Duvall, William Daniels, Cesar Romero, Henry Darrow, Susan Oliver, and Victor Buono popping up, often in different roles.

With a stylish musical score by Lalo Schifrin, the feel of the show attracted a strong teenage audience, and has since become a cult hit on both sides of the Atlantic (it aired in several ITV regions in the UK), but it did not warrant renewal for the 1967-68 season and was ended after twenty-six half-hour episodes.

The concept was revived in 1968 for ABC’s It Takes a Thief, which starred Robert Wagner, and Robert Loggia went on to carve out a solid career in Hollywood, appearing in blockbusters like An Officer and a Gentleman, Scarface, and Big, returning to TV for the occasional regular role on crime shows like Mancuso, FBI. The series has never been released on DVD but most episodes can be found on video sharing sites.

Hawk (ABC): Slightly ahead of its time, Hawk starred Burt Reynolds, fresh off Gunsmoke, as John Hawk, a full-blooded Native American NYPD detective working the night shift. Reynolds, who was part-Cherokee, wanted to portray Hawk as a policeman who happened to be Iroquois, rather than the caricature of Native Americans seen on screen to that point (and to which Reynolds himself had added to in both Gunsmoke and Navajo Joe).

Nevertheless, Hawk was on the receiving end of some racism from his colleagues and the criminals they caught, and the show didn’t shy away from racial themes which went beyond Native Americans and included the plight of urban African-Americans. Hawk was hostile, bristling and ready for action, and it made for an intense action show, perfect for its 10pm Thursday slot.

Unfortunately, audiences didn’t agree, and although early ratings were good they soon fell off a cliff, and the show was cancelled after just twelve episodes had been completed, despite ABC’s contract calling for seventeen. Despite swearing he’d never play a cop on TV again, Reynolds returned to the police for Quinn Martin’s Dan August in 1970, but again the offbeat show failed to gain much of an audience.

Off the back of Dan August, Reynolds was offered – and turned down – the role of James Bond after Sean Connery quit, and then hit big with Deliverance in 1972. This brought Hawk back to screens in re-runs in 1976, and it occasionally pops up on classic TV stations, although it has never been released on DVD.

Cops, spies, and superheroes ruled the roost on US TV in the mid-1960s, and that was just the shows that made it to air. Next time on The Telephemera Years, we’ll take a look at a handful of shows that should have been given full series, but never made it past the pilot stage…

Further STARBURST Reading:

THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1966 – PART 1

Alan Boon

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