Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wanna watch ‘I Spy’?

My friend who blogs as Intrepid Ideas just informed me that Hulu.com is streaming episodes of “I Spy.”

As a kid, I never watched “I Spy.” Not once. (I was hardcore into “Mission: Impossible” and “The Avengers,” but gave less than a damn about “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” or “The Wild, Wild West.”)

Anyway, you know “I Spy” was a breakthrough, right? Bill Cosby was the first black actor with a lead role on a TV drama... and he won three Emmy Awards for his work.

I have embedded a complete episode of “I Spy” at the bottom of this page. Originally shown in 1965, this episode guest-stars Eartha Kitt as a strung-out nightclub singer in Hong Kong. (She acts and sings a couple of tunes!)

The script was written by Cosby’s co-star, Robert Culp. (Remember when Culp visited “The Cosby Show”?)

UPDATE (11/28/08): I just found out that Eartha Kitt was nominated for an Emmy Award for this performance.


cnulan said...

Man, I can't believe you just dissed my boys Jim West and Artemis Gordon???

Though Jules Verne would have to be given ultimate credit as the original steampunk, the notion 40 years ago that there was an undercurrent of high tech crime and criminality in the old west - James Bond meets the spaghetti western - was fly as hell. I loved me some Wild, Wild West.

Not to mention West's skintight pimp suits. That wardrobe had to have been a key influencer of Flagg Brothers and much else that followed in the 70's.

As for I Spy, I can't recall ever sitting through an entire episode, and given how excited and conscientious my parents were about "firsts" in any field of endeavor, and would have been glued to that show if it had any chops, I'm thinking that's a testament to its having been somewhat lame.

Like you, we were Mission Impossible addicts, Greg Morris was one of my mother's virtual sweeties and the Black Q/McGyver steez was cool as the bottom of a pillow.

I didn't get into the Avengers until a little later when they were in syndication. On any given saturday, if I was lucky, I'd see The Saint, The Avengers, and Wild, Wild West at my grandparents house.
They had the big console color teevee with big fat acoustic remote control. Those were the days...,

Vince Spence said...


Considering it was the mid-60's and we only had 5-6 total stations in the Balto-Wash area, you and I should not have been too picky about our shows. I Spy was huge. But, you and Craig are right - the competition was tough...

I do believe this show put Cosby on the entertainment map, not his Fat Albert show or his stand-up comedy albums, even though they were fabulous.

eeaster said...

Correction: Baltimore- Washington in the 60s was Ch. 2, Ch. 11, Ch. 13 and Channel 67 (PBS) on UHF - that was the full extent of it. Channels 45 and 20 came later.

Anyhoo, I'm with Cnulan. Wild Wild West was and still is funky as hell. I was hurt by that stupid Will Smith movie. Plus WW West was first to employ an evil midget as a villian.

Another first for I Spy is that Cosby was the first Black man to strike a white man on TV, repeating Sidney Poitier's first on the big screen in The Defiant Ones.

cnulan said...

Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless

b'more sounds as bad as Wichita KS. (my hometown) back in the day.

Channel 3(NBC) Channel 10(ABC) and Channel 12(CBS) and then finally Channel 8 (KPTS) our PBS affiliate.

With UHF options, y'all enjoyed an embarrassment of programming riches.

Undercover Black Man said...

... an undercurrent of high tech crime and criminality in the old west - James Bond meets the spaghetti western - was fly as hell.

That's what I couldn't get my head around, CNu. I just couldn't grasp it conceptually.

Theme song was dope, though. I watched those opening titles a whole lot... then went on about my business.

Undercover Black Man said...

I do believe this show put Cosby on the entertainment map...

You're right about, Vince. Back in the mid-60s, a hit series would draw, like, 30 million pairs of eyeballs. Nothing else compared to that breadth and depth of exposure.

Of course, today, you're more likely to get famous on YouTube than starring in a primetime show.

Vince Spence said...

eeaster said...
Correction: Baltimore- Washington in the 60s was Ch. 2, Ch. 11, Ch. 13 and Channel 67 (PBS) on UHF - that was the full extent of it. Channels 45 and 20 came later.

Close, e

Balto-Wash area
Baltimore - 2,11,13
Washington - 4,5,7,9
plus WDCA (UHF)

I lived in southwest Baltimore and was lucky enough (with rabbit ears and tin foil) to get both cities, though the programming was virtually identical...

cnulan said...

Just found this out this morning;

Michael Garrison was no late-comer to the James Bond craze; he and his partner at the time, Gregory Ratoff, purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, back in 1955. They pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox, but the studio turned them down. After Ratoff died in 1960, his widow and Garrison sold the film rights to Charles K. Feldman, who eventually produced the spoof Casino Royale in 1967. Garrison, meanwhile, had brought James Bond to television in a unique way.

The pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno", was produced by Garrison and scripted by Gilbert Ralston, who had written for numerous episodic TV series in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1997, Ralston sued Warner Brothers over the upcoming motion picture based on the series. (Wild Wild West was released in 1999.) In a deposition, Ralston explained that he was approached by Michael Garrison, who '"said he had an idea for a series, good commercial idea, and wanted to know if I could glue the idea of a western hero and a James Bond type together in the same show."[2] Ralston said he then created the Civil War characters, the format, the story outline and nine drafts of the script that was the basis for the television series. It was his idea, for example, to have a secret agent named Jim West who would perform secret missions for a bumbling Ulysses S. Grant.

Ralston's experience brought to light a common Hollywood practice of the 1950's and 60's when television writers who helped create popular series allowed producers or studios to take credit for a show, thus denying the writers millions of dollars in royalties. Ralston died in 1999, before his suit was settled. Warner Brothers ended up paying his family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.[3]

wikipedia splains the Bond type steez...,

cnulan said...

Well David, I'll go you one genre-hopping step better.

I have derived the greatest imaginal pleasure from cowboy/samurai mashups like Red Sun and The Master Gunfighter - and I've always found the idea of conquistadore/samurai mashups during the centuries of Spanish globalization - before Great Britain messed up Espana's ruthless good thing - intensely fascinating.

It's the ill-documented eras that provoke the greatest curiosity for me, kind of like Sinbad (Dark Ages) or Tokugawa era west meets east a la Shogun.

Anyway, enough about my idiosyncrasies, did you find the I Spy episode appealing or bland?


One of the few American TV shows I got to see as a kid in Lagos, Nigeria in the 70s. Never missed an episode! Although the significance of Cosby's role meant nothing to me at the time.

Haven't watched an episode in ages. Too bad that some will associate the title, "I Spy" with that horrid studio feature film remake with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.


intrepidideas said...

Thanks for the Love UBM. It's nostalgic to hear everyone ring in on your post from so many perspectives. I/we were big M.I. fans too. I also loved the whole "Saint portfolio." What about Mannix and Hawaii Five O? Any fans out there. It's interesting that you picked one of my memorable I Spy episodes to stream. Even though the episode was slow, I thought Eartha played a strong role. The whole jazz singer/heorin addict character. Speaking of roles, one of the things I liked about I Spy was that it worked in so many African Americans into the scripts. Ivan Dixon, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge and others were give some good screen time.

cnulan said...

What about Mannix and Hawaii Five O?

Oh LAWD!!!! Book'em Danno! The best theme music of ALL TIMES.

Arch-villain Wo Fat!

Mama used to love her some Mannix - so as you might imagine - that mean't me and pops was watchin it too!

Undercover Black Man said...

The "V for Vashon" trilogy... classic greatness!

Undercover Black Man said...

Anyway... did you find the I Spy episode appealing or bland?

I made it through about 20 minutes, then I said, "Eh. Maybe I'll finish it later."

Intrepid says this particular episode was slow, but let me tell you... a whole lot of hourlong shows from the '60s and '70s feel slow to me now.

"Hill Street Blues" recalibrated everybody's clock when it came to story speed. Then "ER" recalibrated it again.

That said... I'm gonna check out the Godfrey Cambridge episode of "I Spy" at the earliest opportunity. Godfrey hasn't gotten his due.

Plot description: "An Oxford-educated African seeks revenge for racial injustice by selling industrial diamonds to the Chinese."

Yeah. I'm there.

Undercover Black Man said...

What about Mannix and Hawaii Five O? Any fans out there.

Hells yeah, Intrepid! "Hawaii Five-O" still stands up. I've stumbled upon episodes on TV out here in recent years. Still poppin'.