Home of the Forgotten: TV Spies

Dana Wynter and Robert Lansing starred in the Cold War spy series The Man Who Never Was
Welcome to the place where forgotten, neglected, and lost mystery fictions of all kinds are welcomed. We do not judge here. Many here have been forgotten unjustly, while others deserved their fate. But who is to decide which is which? Every mystery is someone’s favorite, even if why is the biggest mystery of all.

Today I wish to show you the part of the Home where forgotten TV spies wait for the call to save the world that may never come again or at least get its own DVD.

The first TV spy with a weekly series was John Randolph (played first by Mel Ruick) on NBC’s Doorway to Danger (aka Door With No Name) that premiered in the summer of 1951. Since then there have been countless TV spy series, too many remain forgotten.

The Man Who Never Was (1966-67): One of ABC’s many failed attempts to cash in on the spy craze of the ’60s. Robert Lansing starred as Peter Murphy, an American spy in East Berlin. When his cover is blown he flees to West Berlin with a killer on his tail. He enters a bar and discovers a man who looks just like him. The double is evil billionaire Mark Wainwright. When Mark exits the bar, the killer arrives and mistakes him for Peter and kills him. With Peter Murphy believed dead, he takes the dead victim’s (Mark Wainwright) identity to continue his work for the American government.

The Delphi Bureau (1972-73): This series, along with Assignment Vienna and Jigsaw, was part of a rotating ABC series called The Men. Laurence Luckinbill played researcher Glen Garth Gregory, who had a photographic memory and a fear of action. Tough spymaster Sybil Van Loween (Celeste Holm in the TV movie pilot; Anne Jeffreys in the series) poses as a flighty Washington, D.C., socialite. This light drama treated the spy genre much like The Rockford Files treated the PI genre. Lets hope that Warner Archive adds this series, or its TV movie pilot, to its growing list of series saved by MOD.

Linda Evans and James Franciscus in Hunter
Hunter (1977): This CBS spy series is so near lost that the only copy I have seen has Norwegian subtitles. James Franciscus is Jim Hunter, an ex-government spy turned bookstore owner who is hired by spymaster General Baker (Ralph Bellamy) to work for an agency that protects America from visiting foreign agents or traitors within our own government. Linda Evans plays Hunter’s partner and lover Marty Shaw whose cover is top model.

The Fifth Corner (1992): This was a six-hour neo-noir miniseries pilot for a possible weekly series that lasted two Saturdays before NBC took it off the air leaving nearly all the questions unanswered. Alex McArthur played a man who wakes up in bed with no memory of who he is or who is the murdered woman lying next to him. James Coburn plays the evil billionaire who runs a secret organization that wants the man, aka “The Fifth Corner,” back. Kim Delaney was the sexy Erica Fontaine, top investigative reporter for the New York Times who is out to stop Coburn and the “Corporation.”

Maria Bello and Scott Bakula in Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1996): Scott Bakula and Maria Bello played the two title characters who work for The Factory, a private spy organization in which no spy knows his or her partner’s real name. The series had our two agents spending much of their time trying to discover the other’s name. Scott Bakula’s company produced this series that was influenced by ’80s TV PI series Remington Steele, and created by former Remington Steele producers Kerry Lenhart and John J. Sakmar. CBS removed the series from the air after the ninth of thirteen episodes. The final episode explaining all, written by Remington Steele co-creator Michael Gleason, never aired on CBS (the syndicated foreign market saw the entire series).

Secret Agent Man (2000): Nearly forgotten network, UPN offered a spy series with its tongue in cheek so hard it came out its ear. The Bond spoof featured a juvenile attitude toward sex and violence, and had episodes with titles such as “WhupSumAss” and “Supernaked.” Monk (Costas Mandylor) was the Bond of the series, with backup from the “will they or won’t they” coworker Holiday (Dina Meyer) and wingman Davis (Dondre Whitfield) with a fondness for gadgets. CSI fans would enjoy seeing sour Captain Jim Bates, Paul Guilfoyle play the boss here with a sense of humor.

Feel free to give a shout out to your favorite forgotten TV spy series in the comments below.


Michael Shonk has the word “former” in front of many occupations including retail book buyer, critic, editor, writer, and movie usher. Michael has always favored the lesser known since when at two years old he rejected Disney for Terrytoons. Now he spends his time searching for the forgotten mystery, and occasionally sharing his discoveries at Mysteryfile.com/blog.

 

Read all posts by Michael Shonk for Criminal Element.

Comments

  1. DavidBushman

    AMC’s Rubicon is certainly gone and very likely forgotten, even though it aired in 2010. I thought it was a terrific show with a very complex riddle at its core. AMC was feeling very heady at the time because of the success of Mad Men, but now journalists are always pointing to Rubicon as one of its failures. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I acknowledge that the show had this very aloof and uncompromising ambience to it, and the pacing was very deliberate — all aspects I admired. I was disappointed AMC didn’t give it at least a second season.

  2. michael shonk

    David, I agree about Rubicon. The series is available to view only if you have Amazon Prime. The DVD relase is out of print and forgotten.

    It was on the same night (Sunday) as USA’s Covert Affairs. Realistic spy drama vs pretty people spies. The poor thing never stood a chance.

  3. kathleen eddy

    Don’t forget The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I had a mad passion for Ilya Kuriakin–in fact, I watch NCIS just to see David McCallum. Between UNCLE and the Delphi Bureau, my childhood dream was to be a spy. Other little girls wanted to be teachers or moms or ballerinas–I wanted to be a spy!

  4. michael shonk

    #3, reddox, according to FX’s The Americans you could have been a Mom and a spy. If we only knew then.

    I still remember my toy Man from U.N.C.L.E. badge. I also preferred Ilya over Solo. Now I know the man who created Delphi Bureau, Sam Rolfe also played a major role in the beginning of Man From U.N.C.L.E. No wonder I am a fan of both.

  5. minstrel

    Man From UNCLE was the best. What about Middleman? Obscure shows include Coronet Blue and Blue Light. Don’t forget The Wild, Wild West!

  6. michael shonk

    5. minstrel, great choices. The Middleman and Blue Light remain two of my favorite shows of time. Larry Cohen would be pleased you remembered two of his shows (Coronet Blue and Blue Light).

    Blue Light was a WWII spy show where the biggest shock was that Robert Goulet was a good dramatic actor.

  7. Tom A.

    I loved the Delphi Bureau. 1972 was my favorite TV year.

    You missed the original Secret Agent (or in England, Danger Man), with a pre-Prisoner Patrick McGoohan. (While looking up how to spell his name, I came across a very interesting article on the series in Wikipedia.)

    Wish 1) there were more Delphi Bureau episodes, and 2) they were available.

  8. David Richards

    Nowhere Man, Search, Fortune Hunter

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