TV Show Draft – Round 10 – The Untouchables

We have reached the final round of the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft. I want to take a moment and thank Max from the Power Pop Blog for taking up the reigns and helping us continue this round in Hans’ absence. It truly has been a fun draft!

For my final pick, I have gone back to another classic – The Untouchables. The show ran from 1959 to 1963 and starred the great Robert Stack as Eliot Ness. It is hard to imagine anyone but Robert Stack in the role of Ness, but believe it or not, Desi Arnaz had originally offered the role to actor Van Johnson. Supposedly, he wanted double what they were offering to pay for the role, and it ultimately went to Stack.

When asked about the character some years later, Stack said, “Ness was a precursor of Dirty Harry. He was a hero, a vigilante in a time when breaking the law meant nothing because there was no law because Capone owned Chicago, he owned the police force.”

The show was based on the book of the same name written by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley. Brian De Palma would use the book as the basis for his 1987 film of the same name.

According to Wikipedia:

The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the US Department of Justice and led by Eliot Ness (Stack) that helped bring down the bootleg empire of “Scarface” Al Capone, as described in Ness’s bestselling 1957 memoir. This squad was nicknamed “The Untouchables” because of its courage and honesty; squad members could not be bribed or intimidated by the mob. Eliot Ness himself had died suddenly in May 1957, shortly before his memoir and the subsequent TV adaptation were to bring him fame beyond any he experienced in his lifetime.

The pilot for the series, a two-part episode entitled “The Untouchables,” originally aired on CBS’s Westinghouse Desilu Placyhouse (and was introduced by Desi Arnaz) on April 20 and 27, 1959. Later re-titled “The Scarface Mob”, these episodes, which featured Neville Brand as Al Capone, were the only episodes in the series to be more-or-less directly based on Ness’s memoir, and ended with the conviction and imprisonment of Capone. CBS, which had broadcast most of Desilu’s television output since 1951 beginning with I Love Lucy, was offered the new series following the success of the pilot film. It was rejected it on the advice of network vice president Hubbell Robinson. ABC agreed to air the series, and The Untouchables premiered on October 15, 1959. In the pilot movie, the mobsters generally spoke with unrealistic pseudo-Italian accents, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series debuted.

The weekly series first dramatized a power struggle to establish a new boss in Capone’s absence (for the purpose of the TV series, the new boss was Frank Nitti, although this was, as usual for the series, contrary to fact). As the series continued, there developed a highly fictionalized portrayal of Ness and his crew as all-purpose, multi-agency crime fighters who went up against an array of 1930s-era gangsters and villains, including Ma Barker, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, and in one episode, Nazi agents. On many occasions during the series run, Ness would blatantly violate suspects’ Fourth Amendment rights with no legal ramifications.

The terse narration by gossip columnist Walter Winchell, in his distinctive New York accent, was a stylistic hallmark of the series, along with its ominous theme music by Nelson Riddle and its shadowy black-and-white photography, which was influenced by film noir.

The series produced 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his team against Capone, and in reality the Untouchables disbanded soon after Capone’s conviction. The series continued after the pilot and book ended, depicting the fictitious further exploits of the Untouchables against many, often real life, criminals over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1935.

The show came with some controversy. Italian-American groups protested over what they felt was an unfair presentation of their people as Mafia-types. “We are plagued with lawsuits after certain shows” one of the show’s producers Josef Shaftel explained, noting that the series was “heavily insured against libel.” With good reason – the first lawsuit against the show was instigated by Al Capone’s angry widow. She didn’t like the way her deceased husband was made into a running villain on the show and wanted a million dollars for unfair use of his image. (She lost.)

The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were ticked off too. They were the ones who collared the famous names that Ness was supposedly busting each week on TV and they rightfully wanted credit for it. The second episode of the series, for example, depicted Ness and his crew involved in the capture of the Ma Barker gang, an incident in which the real-life Ness played no part. The producers agreed to insert a spoken disclaimer on future broadcasts of the episode stating that the FBI had primary responsibility for the Barker case. Even the Bureau of Prisons took offense, complaining that the show made their treatment of Al Capone look soft.

The show itself was considered one of the most violent television shows of its time. Of course, by today’s standards it’s not that bad, but it was violent enough at the time to spark protests from parents who were worried about their children seeing this violence.

My Thoughts

This is one of those shows that I just love! Robert Stack’s delivery of almost every line as Ness is perfect. He won an Emmy in 1960 for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for his portrayal of Ness.

Despite the fact that many of the stories are fictionalized to work the Untouchables into them, they are great! The show really was a forerunner to shows like The FBI, Crime Story, and even Hawaii 5-0. I love the film noir feel of it. Every episode plays like a good 50 minute movie.

The Lebanon Pennsylvania Daily News said of The Untouchables: “Between the hard-nosed approach, sharp dialogue, and a commendably crisp pace (something rare in dramatic TV at the time), this series is one of the few that remains fresh and vibrant. Only the monochrome presentation betrays its age. The Untouchables is one of the few Golden Age TV shows that deserves being called a classic.” It really does hold up well.

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I love about these old shows is seeing big stars (who are not quite yet stars) show up. In regular roles throughout the series you could see Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on the Beverly Hillbillies), Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Nichols, Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on MASH), and Henry Silva.

The list of guest star appearances is long and amazing. They include: Jack Elam, Paul Frees, Jim Backus, Sam Jaffe, Martin Balsam, John Dehner, William Bendix, Whitt Bissell, Charles Bronson, James Caan, James Coburn, Mike Conners, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Alan Hale Jr., Brian Keith, Jack Klugman, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lord, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Ricardo Montalban, Rip Torn, Jack Warden, Dick York, Cliff Robertson and so many more!

“The Untouchables” Paul Picerni, Robert Stack circa 1961

You know, they play reruns of Law and Order on TV all the time. Many of the shows I have seen numerous times. I know what’s going to happen, yet I still watch (a lot like my previous picks – Perry Mason and Columbo). The Untouchables is a show that could very easily be rerun like a Law and Order. It is that good.

I love Walter Winchell’s narration

And I love the theme song!

It has been so much fun writing on some of my favorite shows. It’s been just as fun to read about the shows picked by other members of the TV Show Draft. I hope you have enjoyed my picks…

Thanks for reading!

TV Show Draft – Round 4 – Columbo

Welcome to my fourth round pick in the Hanspostcard TV Draft. Last round I chose Perry Mason, which was the ultimate court room “whodunit!” You never knew who committed the crime until the end of the episode. I thought it appropriate to choose Columbo for this round, because it is almost the exact opposite of Perry Mason, in that you know who the killer is right from the get go. It was called a murder mystery where the murder was no mystery.

The show pioneered the “inverted mystery” technique/format. Almost every show begins with a crime and the audience knows who the culprit is. Then enter the LAPD’s Lieutenant Columbo who spends the remainder of the show looking for clues, pestering the criminal, and eventually solving the case. The show was not a “whodunit” like Perry Mason, but rather it has been described as a “how’s he gonna catch him?”

The first season of Columbo began in September of 1971. I know that most of the shows being picked by others in the draft ran on a weekly basis. Columbo did not. Most episodes were featured as part of the NBC Mystery Movie rotation. It ran for 35 years with a total of 69 episodes.

The show was created by schoolmates Richard Levinson and William Link. The character first appeared in 1960 on The Chevy Mystery Show in an episode called “Enough Rope.” That episode was then adapted for a stage play entitled Prescription: Murder, which was then adapted for television in 1968. Columbo was played by Bert Freed in Enough Rope and by Thomas Mitchell in the stage version in 1962.

The writers of the show had originally wanted Lee J. Cobb to play Columbo, but he was unavailable. They next approached Bing Crosby, who turned down the role because it would take away from his time on the golf course. Peter Falk came across the script for Prescription: Murder and contacted Levinson and Link and said, “I’d kill to play that cop!”

Peter Falk and Gene Berry

They weren’t really sure about Peter Falk, who was only 39 at the time. They envisioned the character as being older. He won the role, and he plays him as a much straighter, cleaner, and firmer Columbo in the first episode. It was a huge hit! The Columbo quirks and mannerisms that fans came to know and love would develop as he continued to play the role.

Peter Falk really threw himself into the role. He wore his own clothes. The suit was one that he had dyed brown, because he felt that looked better. He wore his own shoes. The world famous raincoat was one that he purchased in New York City while caught in a rainstorm. It cost him a mere $15. One difference between Peter and Columbo – Columbo preferred cigars, while Falk enjoyed cigarettes.

I am currently reading a fantastic book on the show written by David Koenig.

Columbo is like no other cop. Koenig says, “There was nobody or nothing like Columbo at all before him. All the detectives were these hardboiled, emotionless, tough guys. And he was the opposite of that in every way. He hated guns and violence.” He describes the show this way, “Columbo wasn’t really a cop show. It was a drawing-room mystery done backwards with a cop as the lead. It was an anti-cop show.”

During the first few seasons of Columbo, it really set the standard for what some refer to as “event television.” There were some fabulous guest stars who played the murderer. Those stars included Gene Berry, Jack Cassidy, William Shatner, Dick Van Dyke, Ruth Gordon, Robert Vaughn, Anne Baxter, Janet Leigh, Robert Culp, Donald Pleasence, Eddie Albert, Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Cash, and Patrick McGoohan – just to name a few!!

After the murder, when Columbo finally shows up, his genius is hidden by his often confused look. It is also hidden by the way he is dressed and by his friendly demeanor. He is looked upon as a stupid fool. The killer has no idea what a brilliant man Columbo is and they are lured into a false sense of security. The killer becomes even more arrogant and dismisses Columbo as a dope, only to be caught in the end.

One of the things that certainly added to the character was his little idiosyncrasies like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence, asking to borrow a pencil, or being distracted by something in the room in the middle of a conversation. Falk adlibbed those moments on camera while film was rolling as a way to keep the other actors off-balance. He felt that it really helped to make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo more genuine. It really truly worked.

On the show, the murderer is often some famous person, or someone who is cultured or from high society. Either that, or some sort of successful professional (surgeon, psychologist, etc…). Paired up against Columbo, it is gold! The interactions between the two become such a marvelous part of the show and brings out Columbo’s character and cunning genius!

In those conversations Columbo is often confused. He doesn’t know anything about classical music, chess, fine wines, photography or pieces of art. One article on the show stated that his “ignorance” will often “allow him to draw in the murderer with a cunning humility that belies his understanding of human behavior and the criminal mind.”

The last episode of Columbo aired in 2003 and was entitled “Columbo Likes the Nightlife.” Falk had planned for one final episode. It was to be called “Columbo’s Last Case” which was to begin at his retirement party. There was a lack of network interest and with his age and failing health, the episode was never to be.

Columbo remains as popular as ever. It was one of the most watched shows on streaming platforms during the pandemic. Author David Koenig says about the show, “It has stood the test of time for 50-plus years now. That character is still vibrant and alive, appealing to people. People love that central character, that basic format, the fact that it’s not political, it’s not violent, it’s not all the things television shows are today, it’s something different. And that is charm. That’s what people love about it.”

Columbo Facts:

  • Steven Spielberg directed the first episode of Season 1 – Murder by the Book.
  • Peter Falk won 4 Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Columbo (1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990)
  • He also won a Golden Globe Award for the role.
  • Patrick McGoohan played a murderer more times than any other actor – 4 times. Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp each had 3 times, William Shatner and George Hamilton each played a killer twice.
  • Columbo’s name is never revealed – although a close up of his badge in the first season says it is ‘Frank.’ The creators of the show have stated that his first name was never known, so take that however you want to.
  • Columbo drives a 1960 Peugeot 403 convertible.
  • Columbo’s favorite food is chili and black coffee is his drink of choice.
  • In the 1972 episode entitled, “Etude in Black,” Columbo rescued a basset hound from the dog pound. The dog could be seen in many other episodes, and was as close to a sidekick/partner as Columbo ever got.
  • In 1997, the episode Murder by the Book was ranked #16 in TV Guide’s “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time” list.
  • In 1999, Lieutenant Columbo was ranked #7 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time.”
  • There is a bronze statue of Columbo (and his dog) in Budapest, Hungary. It was unveiled in 2017. Peter Falk is rumored to be a distant relative of the well-known Hungarian politician Miksa Falk (1828-1908).
Columbo Statue in Budapest, Hungary

I thought I would close with little treat for you. In one of the Dean Celebrity Roasts, Frank Sinatra was the Man of the Hour. Now, these roasts were often edited down to make sure all the best stuff was shown on TV. In Lee Hale’s book, he stated that there was only one performance that was shown in its entirety – Peter Falk’s appearance during the Sinatra roast.

Falk appears from the audience – as Lt. Columbo. The entire 11 minute bit is just priceless. It is a must see. Enjoy:

TV Show Draft – Round 3 – Perry Mason

This blog post is part of the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft.

My choice for the third round draft pick is Hollywood’s first weekly one-hour series that was filmed for television – Perry Mason. The show ran for 9 seasons (September 1957 – May 1966) and starred Raymond Burr in the title role.

Raymond Burr

The character of Perry Mason was well known before he was ever on TV. The attorney was the star of novels and stories written by a lawyer-turned-author Erle Stanley Gardner. There were some movies made by Warner Brothers and also a radio series based starring the character, by Gardner hated them! As a matter of fact, he refused to license the character of Perry mason for any more adaptations. (Interestingly, the radio series continues and evolved into the famous soap opera The Edge of Night.)

Gardner’s agent married actress Gail Patrick and she was the one who talked him into adapting the novels into a TV series. He made it clear that he wanted a lot of control over the show and how it was presented. He also had a hand in helping pick the cast. Many of the stories he wrote were turned into episodes for the series.

The Cast

It is hard to imagine anyone other than Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. However, among the actors in the running were Mike Conners, Richard Egan, William Holden, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., William Hopper, and Fred MacMurray. Raymond Burr actually auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger, the DA. Gail Patrick remembered his performance from the 1951 film “A Place in the Sun” and told him he was perfect for the role.

At the time, Burr was about 60 pounds overweight, so he went on a crash diet and tested for the role again with about 50 other actors. Erle Stanley Gardner saw him and reportedly said, “THAT is Perry Mason!” Burr continued to lose weight as the series continued. He stated, “I just don’t have time to eat.”

Syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson wrote, “Every six days Burr stars in what almost amounts to a full-length feature movie. He’s in 98% of all the scenes.” Burr stated, “I had no life outside of Perry Mason. And that went on 24 hours a day, sox days a week. I never went home at night. I lived on the lot. I got up at 3 o’clock every single morning to learn my lines for that day, and sometimes I hadn’t finished until 9 o’clock. I had a kitchen, bedroom, office space, sitting room – al of that – on every lot I ever worked on.

Burr won three Primetime Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Perry Mason (1959, 1960, and 1961).

Raymond Burr IS Perry Mason

Other major players in the cast included Barbara Hale as Perry’s secretary, Della Street. Hale had done some feature films, but wanted to avoid going away for long periods of time to shoot them because she had a rather young family. According to Gail Patrick, it was Hale who called her to inquire about the role of Della.

Perry and Della (Barbara Hale)

William Hopper, as I mentioned before, auditioned for the role of Perry Mason (I believe you can find some of the audition tapes on YouTube). After not getting the role of Mason and auditioning for Private Detective Paul Drake, he walked in the room and said, “You hate my mother!” His mother was Hedda Hopper, the famous gossip columnist. Patrick said he was the perfect Paul Drake, so he got the role.

William Hopper as Paul Drake with Burr’s Mason

For the role of District Attorney Hamilton Burger, Patrick knew exactly who she wanted. She had seen William Tallman in The Hitch-Hiker and knew he was perfect for the role. She said, “He never disappointed.” In an interview he was asked how he felt about his character losing to Perry Mason every week. His response is perfect. He stated, “Burger doesn’t lose. How can a district attorney lose when he fails to convict an innocent person?” When Burr was asked by a fan why he won every case, he told her, “But madam, you only see the cases I try on Saturday!”

William Tallman – Hamilton Burger

Another one of Perry’s foils was Police Lt. Arthur Tragg. Ray Collins’ voice was known to so many listeners of the Mercury Theater on radio. He had also been in movies and other TV shows. Patrick joked saying, “We overlooked the fact that on an actual police force, he would probably be long retired.” He was 68 years old when the show debuted on CBS. The playful interaction between Tragg and Mason are priceless.

The great Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg

The Plot

The basic formula for each episode was the same. The first part of the show introduced the viewer to a client who is hiring Perry Mason for some legal work or is introduced to him in some way. We then see the murder victim and other “suspects” introduced. The victim is murdered and Perry’s client is wrongfully accused of the crime. The remainder of the episode focuses on Burger and Tragg gathering evidence to convict the said “murderer”, Perry, Drake and Della take up their own investigation to prove their client is innocent.

The second half of the show would shift to the courtroom where Perry and Hamilton would duke it out in the preliminary hearing. In the novels, Perry likes to clear the client before they are bound over for trial, so this was worked into the show. They happen, but jury trials are rarely seen on the show.

The show would often culminate with Mason recalling a witness and questioning them until they cracked and admitted committing the murder OR causing someone else in the courtroom to admit that THEY committed the murder. The show would then wrap with a scene in Perry’s office or the courtroom where details would be presented on what led Perry to discover the real killer.

The formula worked for 9 seasons and eventually 30 TV made for TV movies.

Episodes of Interest

Throughout the run of the series, there were some very unique episodes. In the entire run of the series, Perry tackles an astounding 271 cases, and wins almost all of them! He actually lost thre cases (that we know of). In The Case of the Witless Witness, he loses a non-murder case. In The Case of the Terrified Typist, his client is found guilty of murder, but he is eventually able to clear her name. Finally, in The Case of the Deadly Verdict his client is found guilty of murder and is actually sentenced to death in the gas chamber! Perry, of course, is able to save the day before the execution is scheduled to take place.

A fun episode to watch is The Case of the Dead Ringer. Raymond Burr plays a dual role in this episode playing a man named “Grimes.” It’s fun to watch Burr question Burr as two different characters!

In season 6, Burr had some episodes where is appeared briefly, but guest actors filled in for Perry. Among those actors were Bette Davis, Michael Rennie, Hugh O’Brian, and Walter Pidgeon. Two years later, Burr was hospitalized for jaw surgery and Mike Conners and Barry Sullivan filled in for him.

How about the three that never set foot in a courtroom? Those were The Case of the Baited Hook, The Case of the Velvet Claws, and The Case of the Careless Kitten.

One of the most interesting shows was the one – and only – show that was shot in color. In the 9th season, CBS was hoping that the show would shoot a 10th season. Many shows were being shot in color by this time and they wanted to see what the show would look like. The Case of the Twice-Told Twist aired – in color – on February 27, 1966.

A must see episode is the series finale, The Case of the Final Fade-Out. First of all, it features cameos by all of the Perry Mason Crew in various roles. Second, it features the creator of the character, Erle Stanley Gardner, as the judge, and the murderer is … spoiler alert … a young Dick Clark!

Before They Were Famous

Many soon-to-be stars appeared on Perry Mason. I guess that is another reason why I love watching it. You never know who will pop up. Some examples: Barbara Eden, Cloris Leachman, Lee Meriwether, Pat Priest, Yvonne Craig, James Coburn, Angie Dickenson, George Kennedy, Diane Ladd, Frankie Laine, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Claude Akins, Richard Anderson, Barbara Bain, James Best, Whit Bissell, Frank Cady, Bert Convey, Richard Deacon, Norman Fell, Alan Hale Jr., Harvey Korman, Gavin MacLeod, Allan Melvin, Leonard Nimoy, Denver Pyle, Marion Ross, Adam West, and MORE!

The Theme Song

Let’s be honest, the Perry Mason Theme Song is one of the most recognizable in all of television. The task of writing the theme went to composer Fred Steiner. He set out to write a song that would convey two of Perry’s prime characteristics – sophistication and toughness. The piece he wrote was called “Park Avenue Beat.”

Here is Fred discussing how he came up with the theme:

Here is the theme from the first season:

As much as I love the original version, I have to admit that when Perry Mason returned to TV in the two hour movies, I loved the version used for these films better. They just sound more full and better produced to me. So here it is:

I may as well touch briefly on the TV movies. In December of 1985, Perry Mason Returns aired on NBC.

In the movie, Perry is now a judge and steps down from the bench to defend Della Street, who is accused of murder.

William Hopper died in 1970, so William Katt (Barbara Hale’s son) was called in to play Paul Drake Jr. The movies followed the same formula as the TV show. Burr and Hale had aged, but their on screen chemistry hadn’t changed at all. Burr was fantastic in this of course, he proves that Della is innocent! The successful reception and ratings of the reunion show led to 29 more Perry Mason Movies (Burr starred in 26 of them before passing away in 1993).

I never tire of watching Perry Mason. Despite being a bit dated, I think it still holds up today. HBO has created a “pre” Perry Mason show supposedly showing how he became the famous lawyer. I have no desire to watch it. To me, there is one and only Perry Mason!

FUN FACT: Raymond Burr started playing the character in 1957 and played him until his death in 1993. He played Perry Mason for a whopping 36 years!

So if you ever find yourself accused of murder … there is only one lawyer to call….

TV Show Draft – Pick #2 – Mission: Impossible

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.

The Show

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).

That’s a pretty good Martin Landau mask ….

While much of the content of the show is very dated, it still holds up today. I don’t ever tire of watching it.

Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Peter Graves.

Theme Song

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 …..