I Spy (1965 TV series)
I Spy title card
|Developed by||David Friedkin & Morton Fine|
|Theme music composer||Earle Hagen|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||82|
|Executive producer(s)||Sheldon Leonard|
|Running time||50-51 min.|
|Production company(s)||Three F Productions|
|Distributor||Peter Rodgers Organization, Ltd. (PRO)|
|Original run||September 15, 1965– April 15, 1968|
I Spy is an American television secret-agent adventure series. It ran for three seasons on NBC from 1965 to 1968 and teamed Robert Culp as international tennis player Kelly Robinson with Bill Cosby as his trainer, Alexander Scott. The characters' travels as ostensible "tennis bums", Robinson playing talented tennis as an amateur with the wealthy in return for food and lodging, and Scott tagging along, provided a cover story concealing their roles as top agents for the Pentagon. Their real work usually kept them busy chasing villains, spies, and beautiful women.
The creative forces behind the show were writers David Friedkin and Morton Fine and cinematographer Fouad Said. Together they formed Three F Productions under the aegis of Desilu Studios where the show was produced. Fine and Friedkin (who previously wrote scripts for radio's Broadway Is My Beat and Crime Classics under producer/director Elliott Lewis) were co-producers and head writers, and wrote the scripts for 16 episodes, one of which Friedkin directed. Friedkin also dabbled in acting and appeared in two episodes in the first season.
Actor-producer Sheldon Leonard, best known for playing gangster roles in the 1940s and '50s, was the executive producer (receiving top billing before the title in the series' opening title sequence). He also played a gangster-villain role in two episodes and appeared in a third show as himself in a humorous cameo. In addition, he directed one episode and served as occasional second-unit director throughout the series.
I Spy was banned from being shown by certain television stations in the South due to the showcasing of an African-American (Bill Cosby) in a leading role.
Characters and settings
I Spy broke ground in that it was the first American television drama to feature an African-American actor (Cosby) in a lead role. Originally an older actor was slated to play a fatherly mentor to Culp's "Kelly Robinson." But after seeing Cosby performing stand-up comedy on a talk-show, Sheldon Leonard decided to take a chance on hiring him to play opposite Culp. The concept was changed from a mentor-protégé relationship to same-age partners who were equals. It was also notable that Cosby's race was never an issue in any of the stories. Nor was his character in any way subservient to Culp's, with the exception that Culp's "Kelly Robinson" was a more experienced agent. (Culp revealed in his audio commentary on the DVD release that he and Cosby agreed early on that "Our statement is a non-statement" regarding race, and the subject was never discussed again.) As a strait-laced Rhodes scholar fluent in many languages, Cosby's "Scotty" was really the brains of the team. His partner (Culp) was the athlete and playboy who lived by his wits.
Another way in which I Spy was a trailblazer was in its use of exotic international locations in an attempt to emulate the James Bond film series. This was unique for a television show, especially since the series actually filmed its lead actors at locations ranging from Spain to Japan, rather than relying on photography and stock footage. (Compare with the recent series, Alias, which also utilized worldwide settings but rarely filmed outside the Los Angeles region.) Each season the producers would select four or five scenic locations around the world and create stories that took advantage of the local attractions. Episodes were filmed in Athens, Rome, Florence, Madrid, Venice, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Acapulco, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Morocco.
The success of the show is attributed to the chemistry between Culp and Cosby. Fans tuned in more for their hip banter than for the espionage stories, making I Spy a leader in the buddy genre. The two actors quickly developed a close friendship that mirrored their on-screen characters, a friendship that would last until Culp's death in 2010. The show also coined unique phrases that, briefly, became catchphrases, such as "wonderfulness." Wonderfulness was used as the title of one of Cosby's albums of stand-up comedy released concurrently with the series. Cosby also occasionally slipped in bits of his comic routines during his improvised badinage with Culp. (In one episode Scott, being interrogated under the influence of drugs, says his name is Fat Albert.) Many details of Cosby's life were also written into his character. Scott does not drink or smoke—while Kelly Robinson does both. There are frequent references to Scott's childhood in Philadelphia and attending Temple University (Cosby is sometimes seen wearing his own Temple sweatshirt), and in the "Cops and Robbers" episode, Scotty returns home to Philadelphia to revisit his old neighborhood.
Comedy and drama
I Spy was a main fixture in the wildly popular secret agent genre of the 1960s—a trend that followed hot on the heels of the hugely successful James Bond films. After the blockbuster earnings of Goldfinger in 1964 and Thunderball in 1965 (which confirmed the spy craze was more than a passing fad), the "gold rush" was on at every studio to produce its own brand of secret agent TV shows, films, and spin-off merchandise. What set I Spy apart from contemporary programs such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, and The Wild Wild West was its emphasis on realism. There were no fanciful 007-style gadgets, outlandish villains or campy, tongue-in-cheek humor. Although Culp and Cosby frequently exchanged breezy, lighthearted dialog, the stories invariably focused on the gritty, ugly side of the espionage business.
Occasionally the series produced purely comedic episodes such as "Chrysanthemum," inspired by The Pink Panther, and "Mainly on the Plains" with Boris Karloff as an eccentric scientist who thinks he's Don Quixote. However, most episodes dealt with more serious subjects (e.g., heroin addiction in "The Loser") and did not shy away from ending on a somber note. This is perhaps the only television drama in the Sixties to set an episode in the then-taboo region of Vietnam ("The Tiger," written by Robert Culp). While filming this episode in 1966, a romance ensued between Culp and Vietnamese guest star France Nuyen. The two were married the following year, and Nuyen went on to appear in several more episodes.
Season 1: 1965-66
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Prod.
|3||1||"So Long, Patrick Henry"||Leo Penn||Robert Culp||September 15, 1965||101|
|5||2||"A Cup of Kindness"||Leo Penn||Morton Fine & David Friedkin||September 22, 1965||102|
|2||3||"Carry Me Back to Old Tsing-Tao"||Mark Rydell||David Karp||September 29, 1965||103|
|6||4||"Chrysanthemum"||David Friedkin||Edward J. Lakso||October 6, 1965||104|
|7||5||"Dragon's Teeth"||Leo Penn||Gilbert Ralston||October 13, 1965||105|
|8||6||"The Loser"||Mark Rydell||Robert Culp||October 20, 1965||106|
|4||7||"Danny was a Million Laughs"||Mark Rydell||Arthur Dales||October 27, 1965||107|
|10||8||"The Time of the Knife"||Paul Wendkos||Gilbert Ralston||November 3, 1965||108|
|9||9||"No Exchange on Damaged Merchandise"||Leo Penn||Gary Marshall & Jerry Belson||November 10, 1965||109|
|11||10||"Tatia"||David Friedkin||Robert Lewin||November 17, 1965||110|
|12||11||"Weight of the World"||Paul Wendkos||Robert Lewin||December 1, 1965||111|
|14||12||"Three Hours on a Sunday"||Paul Wendkos||Morton Fine & David Friedkin||December 8, 1965||112|
|13||13||"Tigers of Heaven"||Allen Reisner||Morton Fine & David Friedkin||December 15, 1965||113|
|1||14||"Affair in T'Sien Cha"||Sheldon Leonard||Morton Fine & David Friedkin||December 29, 1965||114|
|16||15||"The Tiger"||Paul Wendkos||Robert Culp||January 5, 1966||115|
|17||16||"The Barter"||Allen Reisner||Harvey Bullock & P.S. Allen||January 12, 1966||116|
|15||17||"Always Say Goodbye"||Allen Reisner||Robert C. Dennis & Earl Barrett||January 26, 1966||117|
|18||18||"Court of the Lion"||Robert Culp||Robert Culp||February 2, 1966||118|
|19||19||"Turkish Delight"||Paul Wendkos||Eric Bercovici||February 9, 1966||119|
|20||20||"Bet Me a Dollar"||Richard Sarafian||David Friedkin & Morton Fine||February 16, 1966||120|
|21||21||"Return to Glory"||Robert Sarafian||David Friedkin & Morton Fine||February 23, 1966||121|
|22||22||"The Conquest of Maude Murdock"||Paul Wendkos||Robert C. Dennis & Earl Barrett||March 2, 1966||122|
|23||23||"A Day Called 4 Jaguar"||Richard Sarafian||Michael Zagar||March 9, 1966||123|
|25||24||"Crusade to Limbo"||Richard Sarafian||Teleplay by: Morton Fine & David Freidkin & Jack Turley Story by: Jack Turley||March 23, 1966||124|
|26||25||"My Mother, The Spy"||Richard Benedict||Howard Gast||March 30, 1966||125|
|27||26||"There was a Little Girl"||John Rich||Teleplay by: Stephen Kandell Story by: Robert Bloch||April 6, 1966||126|
|28||27||"It's All Done with Mirrors"||Robert Butler||Stephen Kandell||April 13, 1966||127|
|24||28||"One Thousand Fine"||Paul Wendkos||Eric Bercovici||April 27, 1966||128|
Culp as writer
The series was additionally notable in that co-star Culp wrote the scripts for seven episodes (one of which he also directed), including the show's first broadcast episode, "So Long, Patrick Henry." In the Sixties it was exceedingly rare for an actor in a dramatic series to write scripts for, much less direct, their own show. Prior to joining I Spy Culp wrote a pilot script for a proposed series in which he'd play an American James Bond-like character. He took the script to his friend Carl Reiner, who recommended he meet with Sheldon Leonard, who was in the midst of creating I Spy. This script was eventually rewritten by Culp and produced as the episode "The Tiger." In the DVD audio commentary for the "Home to Judgment" episode, Culp reveals that his seven episodes were the only ones filmed exactly as written. He wrote them to establish a specific dramatic tone and level of quality for the other writers to follow. Nevertheless, Culp and Cosby were dissatisfied with the often frivolous and formulaic scripts they received and rewrote most of their dialog and improvised a great deal during filming.
Awards and nominations
- First-time actor Bill Cosby won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1966, 1967 and 1968. Robert Culp was also nominated in the same category for all three seasons of I Spy.
- Eartha Kitt, who played a drug-addicted cabaret singer in "The Loser" (written by Culp), was nominated in 1966 for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama.
- In 1967 Culp was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in a Drama for his third-season script "Home to Judgment."
- In addition to writing the theme music, Earle Hagen composed an original musical score for many episodes of the series, often flavored with the ethnic music of the Far East, Mexico or the Caribbean. Hagen received Emmy nominations for all three seasons of the show and won for the "Laya" episode in 1968.
- I Spy won as "Best Dramatic Series" at the 1967 Golden Globe Awards for its 1966-1967 season.
In I Spy Returns (1994), a nostalgic television movie (and unsold pilot episode for a new series), Culp and Cosby reprised their roles as Robinson and Scott for the first time since 1968. The original opening title sequence is reused with no changes other than the addition of the word 'Returns' beneath 'I Spy' and a new arrangement of the theme music. Cosby was the executive producer. Here, Robinson has become director of the agency, while Scott has left the business. However, the aging agents have to leap into action once again, this time to keep an eye on their children, Bennett Robinson (George Newbern) and Nicole Scott (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) who are now operatives. This was shown as a "CBS Movie Special" on February 3, 1994.
Culp again reprised the role of Kelly Robinson during a dream sequence in a 1999 episode of Bill Cosby's series, Cosby, entitled "My Spy." Cosby's character falls asleep while watching I Spy on television and dreams he's caught up in an espionage adventure. With Cosby's name replaced with that of his character here, Hilton Lucas, the old title sequence was again faithfully recreated.
A movie remake, also titled I Spy, followed in 2002 with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. In this iteration, the character names are reversed, so Alexander Scott (Wilson) is now the white secret agent and Kelly Robinson (Murphy) the black athlete, now a boxer. The film was initially a commercial and critical failure. In his 2009 Movie Guide, film critic Leonard Maltin describes the film as an "In-name-only reincarnation of the smart 1960s TV show.... An object lesson in bad screenwriting, with an incoherent story, and characters that make no sense."
The original television series and the 1994 reunion movie are both available on DVD. Episodes 1-25 of the first season of the television series are also available on Joost and all 82 episodes are available on Videosurf, from the DMGI Classics channel, and can be streamed on Hulu.
Get Smart, the spy-spoof television series, did a parody of the show in the 1968 episode titled "Die Spy". In this, agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) pretends to be an international table-tennis champion. The episode faithfully recreates the theme music, montage graphics, and back-and-forth banter between Robinson and Scott—with actor/comedian Stu Gilliam imitating Cosby. Robert Culp makes an uncredited cameo appearance as an inebriated Turkish waiter.
Original novels and comic books
A number of original novels based upon the series were published, most written in the mid-to-late 1960s by Walter Wager under the pseudonym "John Tiger." The I Spy novels were published by Popular Library:
- I Spy (1965, no book series number on cover)
- I SPY #2: Masterstroke (1966)
- I SPY #3: Superkill (1967)
- I SPY #4: Wipeout (1967)
- I SPY #5: Countertrap (1967)
- I SPY #6: Doomdate (1967)
- I SPY #7: Death-Twist (1968)
The following tie-ins, not by Wager, were also published.
- Message From Moscow (1966) by Brandon Keith. This was a hardcover novel published for young readers by Whitman.
- I Spy (2002) by Max Allan Collins - novelization of the motion picture remake
Gold Key Comics also published six issues of an I Spy comic book between 1966 and 1968.
Unlike many television series of the time, every episode of I Spy received an original score - as was the case with the other shows from Sheldon Leonard, like The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Earle Hagen, Leonard's regular composer, wrote the main theme and scored most of the episodes (collaborating on three with Carl Brandt; Hugo Friedhofer, Nathan Van Cleave, Robert Drasnin and Shorty Rogers also wrote music for the series). During the show's run, two albums of re-recorded music composed (except where indicated) and conducted by Hagen were released.
Music from the Television Series I Spy (Warner Bros. WS-1637):
- I Spy (1:57)
- Tatia (3:00)
- Hi Yo Scotty (2:42)
- Angel (2:44)
- Away We Go To Tokyo (2:25)
- Rickshaw Ride (2:50)
- Away We Go To Mexico (2:18)
- Ah So! (2:16)
- The International Set (2:23)
- Another Kind Of Blues (2:46)
- Fiesta Del Sol (2:05)
- The Wonderfulness of You (2:23)
- Made In Hong Kong (2:17)
I Spy (Capitol ST-2839):
- I Spy (2:10)
- Over The Wall (2:15)
- Montezuma's Revenge (2:25)
- Islands In The Sea (3:06)
- The Golden Age (2:08)
- The Voice In The Wind (Earle Hagen and Gene Lees) (2:58)
- To Florence With Love (Hugo Friedhofer) (2:20)
- Sophia (2:40)
- Rots Of Ruck (2:20)
- There's No Escape (3:40)
- Domingo (2:25)
- The International Set (2:21)
In 2002 Film Score Monthly released a limited-edition disc of original soundtrack music from the series.
- "So Long Patrick Henry": The Defector/Main Title (1:05)
- Hong Kong/Elroy (1:25)
- What's the Trouble? (1:05)
- Keep Running/You Lose (4:10)
- That's My Man (1:27)
- Stop That Plane (2:25)
- The Whistle Blows (2:14)
- "007" (:45)
- End Title (:52)
- "The Time Of The Knife": Tokyo/Jean and Kelly/Jean's Pad/Trailing (6:19)
- Oops, the Troops!/Away We Go/Shiftycraft/Dead for Real (3:32)
- "Turkish Delight": Away We Go to Mexico/Bye Bye Scotty/Rapido/On the Road Again/Trunk Store/Chicken Hearts/Lt Hernandez (5:14)
- Taxi Tour (2:01)
- Japanese Trick/Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow/How About That/Babe, With Rocks (5:15)
- End Title (:38)
- "The Warlord": Burma/The Chase/And On and On/Of Some Value (9:14)
- My Lord/She Is Chinese (4:47)
- Prelude to Dreamsville/The General Dies (4:12)
- Down the River (1:55)
- "Mainly On The Plains": The Plaza/Main Title (3:19)
- Don Silvando/Blonde Gothic/Travelin'/Sighted (3:37)
- Don Quixote II/Attack/Upsy Daisy (4:45)
- My Professor, the Nut/Wild Stuff/Goodbye Crooks (3:55)
- Don Strikes/So Long, Don (2:41)
- End Title (:38)
Syndication and home video
The underlying rights to the original series are now owned by independent film company Peter Rodgers Organization, Ltd. (PRO), but original production company Three F Productions remains the copyright holder.
Selected episodes of the series were made available on VHS in North America in the early 1990s.
Image Entertainment released the complete series on DVD in Region 1 in 2002, initially in a series of single-disc volumes (each with four episodes), which were later compiled into three box sets. The episodes were not presented in any particular order. In addition, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the 1994 reunion made-for-TV film on DVD in Region 1 on October 8, 2002. This release has been discontinued and is now out of print.
In April 2008, Image/PRO reissued the series, this time organized in order of original broadcast, in three box sets, one for each season. This includes Robert Culp's bonus audio commentary on four episodes that he wrote (originally issued in 2002 on a single DVD called The Robert Culp Collection). As of 2012, these releases have been discontinued and are now out of print.
In Region 4, Umbrella Entertainment has released all 3 seasons on DVD in Australia.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|Region 1||Region 4|
|I Spy Returns||1||October 8, 2002||N/A|
|I Spy Season 1||28||April 29, 2008||September 1, 2007|
|I Spy Season 2||28||April 29, 2008||December 1, 2007|
|I Spy Season 3||26||April 29, 2008||December 15, 2008|
|The Complete Series||82||June 24, 2014|
As of September 2011[update], I Spy currently airs twice a day, six days a week, on FamilyNet. The series also airs in the United States on broadcast television channels Retro Television Network, Cozi TV, Aspire cable network, Soul of the South Network, and formerly on American Life TV Network cable channel.
- The Avengers
- Honey West
- James Bond
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- The Saint
- Danger Man aka Secret Agent
- Spy film
- The November 9th, 2007 Episode of The O'Reilly Factor featured an interview with Culp. It also showed a clip of one early episode titled "Danny was a Million Laughs" in which Cosby's character was the brunt of a shoeshine racial remark. Culp said he and Cosby went to the producers after that episode and insisted it never happen again
- Lukas Kendall, liner notes, I Spy: Original Television Soundtrack, FSM Vol. 5 No. 10, 2002
- Packaging Pics for Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in 'The Complete Series
- I Spy Returns
- [dead link]
- "Umbrella Entertainment - I SPY - VOLUME TWO". Umbrellaent.com.au. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
- "Umbrella Entertainment - I SPY - VOLUME THREE". Umbrellaent.com.au. December 15, 2008. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to I Spy (1965 TV series).|
- I Spy at the Internet Movie Database
- I Spy at TV.com
- I Spy: The Series
- Museum of Broadcast Communications
- I, Spy Fanfiction Archive
- I SPY: A History to the Groundreaking Television Series, info on 2007 book
- Official Bill Cosby Site
- Official Robert Culp Site
- Sound samples of the TV series score