The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Synopsis of TV Show
“Open Channel D”
If, as a kid in the 60’s, you wanted to be a spy, you probably watched The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And if you didn’t want to be a spy, watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. probably changed your mind. There was something about the suave Napoleon Solo and the shaggy-haired, handsome Illya Kuryakin that made espionage look like a dream career. They got to travel the world, talk through pens, play with high-tech gadgets, drive fancy cars, meet and woo beautiful women, and keep the world free from terrorist plots and assorted other nastiness. What more could a kid (or an adult, for that matter) want out of life?
There was more than a little James Bond in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and that wasn’t by accident. Dr. No had hit movie screens in 1962, and the following year, TV producer Norman Felton sat down with Bond creator Ian Fleming to talk about a television spy series. The Bond movie producers soon yanked Fleming out of the mix, but not before the writer gave Felton the name that would become synonymous with 60’s TV spy fare: Napoleon Solo. Sam Rolfe continued to develop the show with Felton, and by the fall of 1964, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was on the air.
U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) was an international organization that kept tabs on world threats while serving no specific government. In keeping with that spirit of international cooperation, Solo was given a Russian agent as his partner (in the midst of the Cold War, no less): cool, mysterious Illya Kuryakin. Together, the two received assignments from Alexander Waverly, who directed the two field agents from inside U.N.C.L.E.’s secret New York headquarters (concealed inside Del Floria’s innocent-looking tailor shop).
In true superspy form, Solo and Kuryakin could be called anywhere in the world, but no matter where they went, two things were constant: 1) The men from U.N.C.L.E. would almost certainly be matched up against the evil organization known only as THRUSH, and 2) an innocent bystander would always get involved in the case. Felton and company wanted the audience to feel like they were there in the middle of the intrigue, and having a different everyman caught up in Solo and Kuryakin’s affairs seemed like a good way to do it.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t catch on immediately, but it had a few tricks in its spy bag to boost ratings. For the spy-crazy kids, the U.N.C.L.E. men had a variety of gadgets, most notably the pen communicators (originally housed in a cigarette case) and the agents’ fancy guns with multiple attachments. For the older kids, the show offered the kind of sexy spy intrigue that made James Bond an international icon. The U.N.C.L.E. men weren’t quite as randy as our man Bond, but Solo could certainly turn on the charm in a pinch. It also helped that David McCallum (the British actor who played Illya) quickly found his brooding face pinned up on the bedroom wall of many a young lass.
By its second season, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a hit, especially popular in college dorms, where students would huddle around common televisions for each week’s installment. By 1966, however, that “college hip” crown was being passed to the campy superheroics of Batman. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. responded by changing the show’s relatively serious nature into a mod parody of the spy genre, also adding a spin-off series titled The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. The first season’s episodes had taken titles like “The Vulcan Affair” and “The Green Opal Affair” (every episode was some kind of “Affair,” by the way), but later seasons brought “The Sort of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair” and even “The Batcave Affair.” Serious spy fans were disappointed with the show’s new direction, and fans of camp mostly stuck with Batman. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. turned serious again for its fourth season, but it wasn’t enough to save the show from cancellation in 1968.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. only lasted four seasons in prime time, but its cult following was strong. From the beginning, the show’s producers had expanded TV episodes into features like To Trap a Spy and The Spy With My Face, and these full-length U.N.C.L.E. adventures became especially popular in Europe. Fan clubs were organized, conventions were held, and in 1983, Solo and Kuryakin reunited for the TV movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. Old fans began to rediscover the show, new ones caught the spy bug for the first time, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. once more began to convince young and old that international espionage just may be the coolest profession in the world.
Release History of Prime Time Show9/22/64 - 1/15/68 NBC
TV Sub Categoriescomedy
Television StudioArena Prods., MGM Television
TV CastNapoleon Solo Robert Vaughn
Illya Kuryakin David McCallum
Alexander Waverly Leo G. Carroll
Lisa Rogers (1967-68) Barbara Moore