This was not my original choice for my next pick in the TV show draft. Yes, it was on my list of shows, but I had planned on writing about it later in the draft. I decided to move it up the list because after binge watching some episodes as I recovered from my surgery, I realized I could tie it in with my first draft pick.
You may recall that my first pick was Police Squad – a show that was cancelled after 4 episodes (of 6) aired. The reason given for its cancellation was that people had to watch it to get the jokes. The top brass said that it required too much of the viewer. I guess they thought that no one would actually watch and pay attention to what was happening on the screen.
As I sat and watched episodes of Mission: Impossible, I realized that it truly was a show that viewers HAD to watch. There are LONG periods of action scenes where there is no dialogue and the characters are executing the episode’s plan. Maybe that required wiring up a camera, or cutting a false bottom in a safe, or creating a fake set to fool someone. These scenes were silent, with the exception of suspenseful music playing underneath. The bottom line is that half the fun of this show is watching how the team gets the plan to work. People were obviously watching, too, because the show lasted for 7 seasons.
Bruce Geller created the series, which focuses on a small team of government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force. In early seasons, the team was used for secret missions against third world dictators, evil organizations, and Iron Curtain governments. Later seasons they were used for battling organized crime, con men, and corrupt industrialists. Occasionally, the mission would be a private one on behalf of members of the team itself. The show never really says who is the organization that oversees the IM Force, but it seems to be some sort of independent agency of the US government.
The episodes almost always began with the team leader going to some place (phone booth, roof top, police box, etc…) and finding a tape machine and envelope. The voice on the tape would then offer the team leader the scenario and instructions. The team leader ultimately has the choice whether or not to accept the mission, as the voice would say, “Your mission, should you chose to accept it …” The voice would then warn, “If you or any member of your IM Force should be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Finally, the tape would “self destruct.”
In the first season, Steven Hill is the head of the team. He plays Dan Briggs.
There are many stories surrounding the fact that he only appears in the first season. Some say he was a very difficult person to work with. Other stories say that his religious responsibilities interfered with the shooting schedule. Still others say that he just wasn’t able to do all that was required physically to play the role. At any rate, as the first season winds down, it seems he gets less and less screen time.
He was replaced in the second season by Peter Graves, who plays Jim Phelps.
After receiving listening to the mission and the self destruction of the tape, the team leader would retreat to his apartment where he was to assemble his team. He would pull out a briefcase with photos of various team members. He would pull out photos one by one. Each member had some special skill and if that skill fit the mission, the leader would pull that photo and place it in a pile.
He almost always picked the same people, but occasionally, there would be a guest star and the photo would allow the show to introduce them. In later seasons, they would skip this scene all together, assuming that the viewer understood that the leader had chosen the team.
The regular line up of agents included:
- Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) – a fashion model and actress
- Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) – an actor, make up artist, magician, and “man of a million faces”
- Barney Collier (Greg Morris) – a mechanical and electronics genius
- Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus) – world record-holding weigh lifter
As cast members left the show, the ones that replaced them often had the same kind of skills. Other actors included Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Ann Warren, Lee Meriwether, and Sam Elliot. Only Greg Morris and Peter Lupus appear in every season of the series.
Once the team was chosen, they would assemble in the team leader’s apartment to discuss the plan of how they were going to accomplish the mission. It is during this scene that we often are introduced to one or more of the specialty gadgets that they would use.
Once the plan was in place, the remainder of the show focused on putting the plan in action. This is where the viewer really had to pay attention. So much action happens without any dialogue at all.
There are times that you are on the edge of your seat as you are watching the action. The team members are always seconds away from being caught or discovered. It is always fun to watch how this intricate plan comes together piece by piece. In most cases, the action of the show lasts right up until the final seconds. At that time, the mission would conclude with the IMF team making their escape.
One of my favorite things about the show is the fact that they were always able to create some sort of rubber mask to impersonate someone. Usually this would involve Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), the master of disguise. He always seemed to be able to mimic the voice of whoever he was playing (with the help of overdubbing, of course).
While much of the content of the show is very dated, it still holds up today. I don’t ever tire of watching it.
You simply cannot talk about Mission: Impossible without mentioning the theme song! It is perhaps one of the most recognizable theme songs in all of television. It was composed by an Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin. What is unique about the theme is that it is written in 5/4 time. It is an unusual time signature. The Mission Impossible Theme and Dave Brubeck’s Take Five are the two best known songs written in that time signature.
Schifrin wrote a book entitled Music Composition for Film and Television. In it, he stated that he sometimes would use Morse Code as inspiration for songs. In Morse code, the letter M is two dashes and the letter I is two dots (M I = Mission Impossible). As you listen to the theme song – you can here those letters in Morse code (Dash Dash Dot Dot – Dash Dash Dot Dot).
Schifrin won two Grammy Awards for music from the show.
Mission: Impossible remains one of the great shows of classic television. I’m off now to think about my third draft pick.
This blog will self destruct in 5 or 10 seconds …..