Creating a TV Show Is WORK
One of television’s most popular dramatic shows is “The Man From UNCLE.” For a week, a writer followed the production of an UNCLE episode. He reports about the crew, the cast, the stars and the whole business of putting together a serial that has sailed high into the TV orbit. This is the first of a five part series. By Joseph N. Bell.
Hollywood, Calif.—There was only a mild ripple of elation on “The Man From UNCLE” set the October day that the Nielsen television ratings showed UNCLE in first place for the first time. Said Robert Vaughn, intrepid UNCLE agent: “I remember when we were 93rd.” Said a harassed assistant director: “I’d rather be fourth. When you’re first, you have to worry about staying there.” (He got his wish a week later when the show dropped to fourth.) Mostly the reaction was business as usual. It had to be, because the UNCLE crew is turning out the equivalent of a feature length film every two weeks. And that means work and more work—far beyond the ken of those starry eyed citizens who still regard film making as a glamorous pastime. On the contrary, it’s a weary, tough, demanding business. Saw It Created I spent a week following an UNCLE episode through the complete creative process, from casting and script revision to final filming and editing. This show is called “The Children’s Day Affair,” and it was seen on your TV screens last Friday night. I saw it created at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Hollywood during the week of Oct. 11-15. The first thing that strikes a visitor to UNCLE is the frenetic immediacy of these shows. Only the script is prepared ahead of actual production, and even that sometimes comes right down to the wire. “The Children’s Day Affair” started in mid-July, when writer Dean Hargrove—who, along with Peter Ross, does almost three-fourths of the UNCLE scripts—told a story meeting: “Here’s a springboard that might work. How about hanging a show around a school for children being trained as THRUSH agents?” (As everyone under 18 knows, THRUSH is an organization of bad guys, deadly enemies of U.N.C.L.E.) The group liked the idea and told Hargrove to develop it. On July 23 he came in with a 19 page outline, with occasional bits of dialog. This went to the network (NBC) for approval of the story line. When it came back OK’d, Hargrove met with producer Mort Abrams, made some refinements, ironed out some details, then was told to go ahead with a finished script. Outline Revised Meanwhile, a revised outline was sent to the various production departments. Specialists there checked it to catch any insoluble production problems before they were written into the script. In the story, for example, a sequence that involved several villains being crushed by a falling boulder was eliminated because it couldn’t be simulated without looking “terribly phony.” The finished script was delivered on Sept. 29, less than two seeks before production was to start. A director, Sherman Marks (who had done one other UNCLE episode), was chosen, and the script distributed for “intensive production breakdown”—meaning the actual design and assembly of costumes, props, scenery and similar accouterments. On Thursday, Oct. 11, the heads of all of the UNCLE production departments met around a conference table at MGM studios. On a near-by sound stage, shooting was being completed on the previous UNCLE episode. The next day the filming crew would be ready for the episode under discussion. That’s how close to the chest filmed television is played these days. Needed Toy Train The conversation around the table sounded almost surrealistic at times. Abrams, a small, wiry man with cropped hair and an incredibly even disposition, presided. The prop director was worried about a toy train needed in the show. “The setup we’ve got just doesn’t look right,” he said. “We’ve found one just like the prince of Monaco has. There’s a car waiting right now to go and look at it. But it’s expensive.” Abrams: “We’ll look at it. Let’s don’t compromise until we have to.” Prop director: “In scene 175, can’t we knock these two guys off when the truck backs into them? We don’t need another fight, do we? We already had a karate blow earlier.” Abrams: “How are you going to do it? We can’t even run over a stunt man?” Prop man: “So we’ll write a scene of remorse afterward.” Problem of Shirt Wardrobe director: “We have an incongruous situation with David McCallum’s wardrobe. He’s been whipped in the story, but when Bob (Vaughn) finds him, he looks neat. If we fray a shirt too much, it will fall off him. And we can’t show him bare chested because his frame is too slight.” Abrams: “Why can’t we have his shirt and coat lying nearby? Bob can get him into them.” Wardrobe: “Okay, but he’ll have to play the rest of the show favoring his back. Don’t forget that.” So it went for several hours. The group agonized over such decisions as the location of the driver’s side of a car in Switzerland, whether or not a knife should be used to open a box containing a bomb, and the minimum number of children that could be used to give the illusion of a full bus stopped by the side of the road. “Let’s just say the rest of them have gone to the bathroom.”) Once a waiter serving Abrams a sandwich in the conference room poured coffee on his arm and the producer didn’t appear even to notice. A tiny portable radio with an ear attachment rested on the middle of the table; periodically one of the conferees would pick it up and plug it in his ear to check the progress of the world series. At 1:30 p.m. a secretary poked her head in the door and said to Abrams: “Those girls have been waiting to read for Anna for over an hour.” He got up abruptly, excused himself, said “you can finish without me. I’ve got to cast this show,” and left.
Click here for more information about the single season of "The Girl from U..N.C.L.E." spin off by Bill Mavis at DVD Talk.
Click below to access a current look back at the series by John Walsh as he recalls the thrill of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.".
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. started as a collaboration between M-G-M-TV executive producer Norman Felton and the creator of the modern spy novel, James Bond's Ian Fleming, who was looking to branch out into television. Ideas were bandied about, but nothing concrete was hatched except for Fleming giving Felton a name for his TV protagonist: Napoleon Solo.
Writer/producer Sam Rolfe joined Felton and created the initial framework for the series: a multi-national spy agency, with no specific political agenda, drawing agents from every country who worked together to protect and maintain "world peace." Named "U.N.C.L.E.," the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement had five main headquarters around the world. U.N.C.L.E’s New York futuristic headquarters, hidden away behind the changing room in the innocuous Del Floria's Tailor Shop somewhere in the east forties served as home base for the organizations top two enforcement agents American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Piloting the New York offices and personally directing the operations of the various teams was U.N.C.L.E.’s Number 1 of Section 1, Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll).
Steering away from the 60’s cold war realities, U.N.C.L.E. needed a nefarious organization to battle, which was provided by Thrush, a shadowy world-wide criminal organization that gave aid and comfort to a bizarre amalgamation of steely-eyed opportunists, cold, deadly assassins, mundane bureaucrats, and half-crazed megalomaniacs - all of whom would stop at nothing to subvert world peace in order claim dominion over the civilized world. Solo puts it best about Thrush's ruthlessness when he states, "Thrush kills people like people kill flies."
In almost every episode an "innocent," an ordinary person (often a housewife or minor functionary), is drawn into the adventures of Solo and Kuryakin, often playing a pivotal, certainly dangerous role in the covert operation. Solo and Illya, whose physical capabilities, while never in question, certainly aren't infallible. They're just as much "thinking" spies as "shooting" spies, and as such, more open to utilizing someone else's talents to complete their mission. This, along with "the innocent" often being a woman who finds a certain kind of liberation and new-found freedom after working with the U.N.C.L.E. agents, were additional departures from the conventions of most mid-60's TV shows.
Bill Mavis for DVD Talk
Concerns by the MGM Legal department about possible New York law violations for using the abbreviation "U.N." for commercial purposes resulted in the producers clarifying that U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Each episode of the television show had an "acknowledgement" credit to the U.N.C.L.E. on the end titles that read "We wish to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without who assistance this program would not be possible", this lead to hundreds of fans applying to the U.N. and the FBI in hopes of getting in touch with U.N.C.L.E..
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
TV series 1964-1968
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Complete TV Series DVD Box Set
Excerpt from Geeks of Doom.
By T. E. Pouncey
When I was a kid, there were so many spy shows on network TV, that prime time looked like a propaganda project for the Department Of Defense.
But one of the first spy TV shows — and some would say one of the best — was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68) The series was a huge hit and top-rated series that spawned several TV movies, a reunion a spin-off (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. 1966-67), comic books, and countless toys and other merchandise.
TimeLife issued all 105 Man From U.N.C.L.E. episodes on 41-disc DVD set. Some included highlights are the first U.N.C.L.E. pilot, simply called “Solo”; an interview with Vaughn and McCallum; a background feature on the series and a feature on the various U.N.C.L.E. episode guest stars (including a great clip of William Shatner, playing an intoxicated character, having a conversation with Leonard Nimoy, playing a deadly foreign agent).
In the “Untold History Of U.N.C.L.E.” feature, we learn that James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, played a fundamental role in developing the series. We learn that the U.N.CL.E. organization got its name to evoke “Uncle Sam” and that U.N.C.L.E. was supposed to represent the United Nations, but they couldn’t say that on TV for some reason, so U.N.C.L.E. became an acronym meaning “United Network Command [for] Law Enforcement” and NOT “United Nations Command [for] Law Enforcement” as was originally intended. If you are a fan of the series, this segment provides a wealth of information and U.N.C.L.E. trivia, and if you’re not, it gives you the solid background information on the program’s creation that will draw you into U.N.C.L.E. mythos.
There is also a lengthy interview with Vaughn and McCallum about the series. Some of the interview is pretty cool — we hear that the production offices for the TV series were in the same building as Elvis Presley’s record office, so Vaughn and McCallum passed the King Of Rock on their way to work almost every day.
If you were a fan of the Man From U.N.C.L.E., the DVD series will be a delight. I can still recall watching the closing credits when I was 8-year-old and in the credits each week it would say: “The producers would like to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose assistance, this series would not be possible.” I would read that and think: “Holy Crap!!! U.N.C.L.E. is a REAL spy organization!!!!” and then try to figure out a way I could get them to recruit me as an international spy after I graduated from high school.
You can’t imagine how disappointed I was that I was never asked to join them.
The UNCLE Files
For more information link here.
The UNCLE Files
50 Fascinating Facts about
"The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
AMT PIRANHA SUPER SPY CAR / The U.N.C.L.E. Car
AMT’s full-size Piranha CRV Super Spy Car is back in model kit form! The Kats have retooled the window and taillight parts to resurrect this super detailed and sought after model. It features many spy goodies along with opening gull wing doors, fully detailed motor and authentic interior.
Incredible overview of the history of the TV series.
As the rigid cultural logic of the Red Scare began to collapse, spy shows became more playful, self-referential, and even critical of the ideals professed in their own scripts. From parodies such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart to the more complicated global and political situations of I Spy and Mission: Impossible, Kackman situates espionage television within the tumultuous culture of the civil rights and women’s movements and the war in Vietnam.
In the mid 1960s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was the coolest show on television. It was cool in the way media theorist Marshall McLuhan used the term. Debuting the same year that McLuhan's groundbreaking book, Understanding Media, appeared, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. presented a universe in which fantasy and reality collided, interacted, and blended together. It invited audiences to participate and the fans responded, embracing the show as their own. Employing a new methodological approach that considers the creative as well as the economic, the producer as well as the consumer, this book explores how cultural work/text like the Man from U.N.C.L.E. developes through the many dialogues occurring, often simultaneously, between and among various collective partiesm growing from the first spark of an idea into a complex multileveled media ecosystem of multiple relationships, collaborations, interpretations, and communities.
Drawing on extensive interviews with the cast and crew of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Jon Heitland has assembled an incredibly comprehensive, fully illustrated account of the show's history, including:
-the program's conception in conference with Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond
-U.N.C.L.E.'s remarkable surge in popularity
-the camaraderie between Robert Vaughn and David McCallum
-a complete episode guide, including companion program The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
-plus information and anecdotes on the show's production, filming, guest stars, stunts, props, merchandising, and much more.
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At the peak of its popularity, during the spring of its second season, the series earned audience shares as high as 55 (MGM Research Department, personal communication, January, 1968). This meant that in 1966, over half the television sets that were turned on Friday nights at 10 p.m. were tuned into The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV Guide dubbed it "the mystic cult of millions" ("Mystic Cult," 1966). In a memo to programming vice president, Mort Werner, the NBC research department reported that viewers were watching U.N.C.L.E. "... not just because they dislike other programs that are on ...[but] because they are fans, fanatics... They talk about the program with other fans and go beyond that: they proselytize, they want to convert non-viewers!" (J. Burns, personal communication, February 5, 1965).
The original series returns to broadcast TV in Japan on the day the new film opens.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. movies are featured in this amazing new book; "The International Spy Film Guide".
Batman meets "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is now
available in hardback as a graphic novel.
Returns in a new DC comic book
Batman 66' meets The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Warner Bros. released a new "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." DVD set of the first season on Aug, 4th 2015 as a tie in to the new feature film.
The All Plastic Car
Featuring the U.N.C.L.E. car and the history behind the first ever all plastic automobile!
Copies can be ordered by email from Nick Whitlow at: