7.6/101 Votes Alchetron
Theme music composer Earle Hagen
Original language(s) English
First episode date 15 September 1965
Starring Robert Culp Bill Cosby
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 3
|Developed by David Friedkin & Morton Fine|
Writers Robert Culp, David Friedkin, Morton Fine
Genres Espionage, Spy film, Adventure Film, Action fiction, Action/Adventure
Cast Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Sheldon Leonard, France Nuyen, Eartha Kitt
1965 66 television season 50th anniversary tribute i spy
I Spy is an American television secret-agent buddy adventure series. It ran for three seasons on NBC from 1965 to 1968 and teamed US intelligence agents Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander "Scotty" Scott (Bill Cosby), traveling under cover as international "tennis bums". Robinson poses as an amateur with Scott as his trainer, playing against wealthy opponents in return for food and lodging. Their work involved chasing villains, spies, and beautiful women.
- 1965 66 television season 50th anniversary tribute i spy
- i spy tv intro
- Characters and settings
- Comedy and drama
- Culp as writer
- Awards and nominations
- Original novels, comic books, and reference books
- Home video
- Other uses
The creative forces behind the show were writers David Friedkin and Morton Fine and cinematographer Fouad Said. Together they formed Triple F Productions under the aegis of Desilu Productions where the show was produced. Fine and Friedkin (who previously wrote scripts for radio's Broadway Is My Beat and Crime Classics under producer/director Elliott Lewis) were co-producers and head writers, and wrote the scripts for 16 episodes, one of which Friedkin directed. Friedkin also dabbled in acting and appeared in two episodes in the first season.
Actor-producer Sheldon Leonard, known for playing gangster roles in the 1940s and 1950s, was the executive producer (receiving top billing before the title in the series' opening title sequence). He also played a gangster-villain role in two episodes and appeared in a third show as himself in a humorous cameo. In addition, he directed one episode and served as occasional second-unit director throughout the series.
i spy tv intro
Characters and settings
I Spy broke ground in that it was the first American television drama to feature a black actor (Cosby) in a lead role. Originally an older actor was slated to play a fatherly mentor to Culp's character. After seeing Cosby performing stand-up comedy on a talk-show, Sheldon Leonard decided to take a chance on hiring him to play opposite Culp. The concept was changed from a mentor-protégé relationship to same-age partners who were equals. It was also notable that Cosby's race was never an issue in any of the stories. Nor was his character in any way subservient to Culp's, with the exception that Culp's "Kelly Robinson" was a more experienced agent. (Culp revealed in his audio commentary on the DVD release that he and Cosby agreed early on that "Our statement is a non-statement" regarding race, and the subject was never discussed again.) As a strait-laced Rhodes Scholar fluent in many languages, Cosby's "Scotty" was really the brains of the team. His partner was the athlete and playboy who lived by his wits.
I Spy was a trailblazer in its use of exotic international locations in an attempt to emulate the James Bond film series. This was unique for a television show, especially since the series actually filmed its lead actors at locations ranging from Spain to Japan, rather than relying on stock footage. (Compare with the recent series, Alias, which also utilized worldwide settings but rarely filmed outside the Los Angeles region, and I Spy's contemporaries Mission: Impossible & The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Also on NBC), which were completely filmed on the Desilu and MGM back lots.) Each season the producers would select four or five scenic locations around the world and create stories that took advantage of the local attractions. Episodes were filmed in Athens, Rome, Florence, Madrid, Venice, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Acapulco, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Morocco.
The success of the show is attributed to the chemistry between Culp and Cosby. Fans tuned in more for their hip banter than for the espionage stories, making I Spy a leader in the buddy genre. The two actors quickly developed a close friendship that mirrored their on-screen characters, a friendship that would last until Culp's death in 2010. The show also coined unique phrases that, briefly, became catchphrases, such as "wonderfulness". Wonderfulness was used as the title of one of Cosby's albums of stand-up comedy released concurrently with the series. Cosby also occasionally slipped in bits of his comic routines during his improvised badinage with Culp. (In one episode Scott, being interrogated under the influence of drugs, says his name is Fat Albert.) Many details of Cosby's life were also written into his character. Scott does not drink or smoke—while Kelly Robinson does both. There are frequent references to Scott's childhood in Philadelphia and attending Temple University (Cosby is sometimes seen wearing his own Temple sweatshirt), and in the "Cops and Robbers" episode, Scotty returns home to Philadelphia to revisit his old neighborhood.
Comedy and drama
I Spy was a fixture in the popular secret agent genre of the 1960s—a trend that began with the James Bond films. By 1965, virtually every studio was producing secret agent TV shows, films, and spin-off merchandise. What set I Spy apart from contemporary programs such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, and The Wild Wild West was its emphasis on realism. There were no fanciful 007-style gadgets, outlandish villains or campy, tongue-in-cheek humor. Although Culp and Cosby frequently exchanged breezy, lighthearted dialog, the stories invariably focused on the gritty, ugly side of the espionage business.
Occasionally the series produced purely comedic episodes such as "Chrysanthemum," inspired by The Pink Panther, and "Mainly on the Plains" with Boris Karloff as an eccentric scientist who thinks he's Don Quixote. However, most episodes dealt with more serious subjects (e.g., heroin addiction in "The Loser") and did not shy away from ending on a somber note. This is perhaps the only television drama in the Sixties to set an episode in the then-taboo region of Vietnam ("The Tiger," written by Robert Culp). While filming this episode in 1966, a romance ensued between Culp and Vietnamese–French guest star France Nguyen. The two were married the following year, and Nguyen went on to appear in several more episodes.
Season 1: 1965-66
Season 2: 1966-67
Culp as writer
Co-star Culp wrote the scripts for seven episodes (one of which he also directed), including the show's first broadcast episode, "So Long, Patrick Henry." Prior to joining I Spy, Culp wrote a pilot script for a proposed series in which he would have played an American character like James Bond. He took the script to his friend Carl Reiner, who recommended he meet with Sheldon Leonard, who was in the midst of creating I Spy. This script was eventually rewritten by Culp and produced as the episode "The Tiger." In the DVD audio commentary for the "Home to Judgment" episode, Culp reveals that his seven episodes were the only ones filmed exactly as written. He wrote them to establish a specific dramatic tone and level of quality for the other writers to follow. Nevertheless, Culp and Cosby were dissatisfied with the often frivolous and formulaic scripts they received and rewrote most of their dialog and improvised a great deal during filming.
Awards and nominations
In I Spy Returns (1994), a nostalgic television movie (and unsold pilot episode for a new series), Culp and Cosby reprised their roles as Robinson and Scott for the first time since 1968. The original opening title sequence is reused with no changes other than the addition of the word 'Returns' beneath 'I Spy' and a new arrangement of the theme music. Cosby was the executive producer. Here, Robinson has become director of the agency, while Scott has left the business. However, the aging agents have to leap into action once again, this time to keep an eye on their children, Bennett Robinson (George Newbern) and Nicole Scott (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) who are now operatives. This was shown as a "CBS Movie Special" on February 3, 1994.
Culp again reprised the role of Kelly Robinson during a dream sequence in a 1999 episode of Bill Cosby's series, Cosby, entitled "My Spy." Cosby's character falls asleep while watching I Spy on television and dreams he's caught up in an espionage adventure. With Cosby's name replaced with that of his character here, Hilton Lucas, the old title sequence was again faithfully recreated.
A movie remake, also titled I Spy, followed in 2002 with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. In this iteration, the character names are reversed, so Alexander Scott (Wilson) is now the white secret agent and Kelly Robinson (Murphy) the black athlete, now a boxer. The film was initially a commercial and critical failure. In his 2009 Movie Guide, film critic Leonard Maltin describes the film as an "In-name-only reincarnation of the smart 1960s TV show.... An object lesson in bad screenwriting, with an incoherent story, and characters that make no sense."
The original television series and the 1994 reunion movie are both available on DVD. Episodes 1-25 of the first season of the television series are also available on Joost and all 82 episodes are available on Videosurf, from the DMGI Classics channel, and can be streamed on Hulu.
Get Smart, the spy-spoof television series, did a parody of the show in the 1968 episode titled "Die Spy". In this, agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) pretends to be an international table-tennis champion. The episode faithfully recreates the theme music, montage graphics, and back-and-forth banter between Robinson and Scott—with actor/comedian Stu Gilliam imitating Cosby. Robert Culp makes an uncredited cameo appearance as an inebriated Turkish waiter.
Original novels, comic books, and reference books
A number of original novels based upon the series were published, most written in the mid-to-late 1960s by Walter Wager under the pseudonym "John Tiger." The I Spy novels were published by Popular Library:
The following tie-ins, not by Wager, were also published.
Gold Key Comics also published six issues of an I Spy comic book between 1966 and 1968.
Unlike many television series of the time, every episode of I Spy received an original score - as was the case with the other shows from Sheldon Leonard, like The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Earle Hagen, Leonard's regular composer, wrote the main theme and scored most of the episodes (collaborating on three with Carl Brandt; Hugo Friedhofer, Nathan Van Cleave, Robert Drasnin and Shorty Rogers also wrote music for the series). During the show's run, two albums of re-recorded music composed (except where indicated) and conducted by Hagen were released.
Music from the Television Series I Spy (Warner Bros. WS-1637):
- I Spy (1:57)
- Tatia (3:00)
- Hi Yo Scotty (2:42)
- Angel (2:44)
- Away We Go To Tokyo (2:25)
- Rickshaw Ride (2:50)
- Away We Go To Mexico (2:18)
- Ah So! (2:16)
- The International Set (2:23)
- Another Kind Of Blues (2:46)
- Fiesta Del Sol (2:05)
- The Wonderfulness of You (2:23)
- Made In Hong Kong (2:17)
I Spy (Capitol ST-2839):
- I Spy (2:10)
- Over The Wall (2:15)
- Montezuma's Revenge (2:25)
- Islands In The Sea (3:06)
- The Golden Age (2:08)
- The Voice In The Wind (Earle Hagen and Gene Lees) (2:58)
- To Florence With Love (Hugo Friedhofer) (2:20)
- Sophia (2:40)
- Rots Of Ruck (2:20)
- There's No Escape (3:40)
- Domingo (2:25)
- The International Set (2:21)
In 2002 Film Score Monthly released a limited-edition disc of original soundtrack music from the series.
- "So Long Patrick Henry": The Defector/Main Title (1:05)
- Hong Kong/Elroy (1:25)
- What's the Trouble? (1:05)
- Keep Running/You Lose (4:10)
- That's My Man (1:27)
- Stop That Plane (2:25)
- The Whistle Blows (2:14)
- "007" (:45)
- End Title (:52)
- "The Time Of The Knife": Tokyo/Jean and Kelly/Jean's Pad/Trailing (6:19)
- Oops, the Troops!/Away We Go/Shiftycraft/Dead for Real (3:32)
- "Turkish Delight": Away We Go to Mexico/Bye Bye Scotty/Rapido/On the Road Again/Trunk Store/Chicken Hearts/Lt Hernandez (5:14)
- Taxi Tour (2:01)
- Japanese Trick/Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow/How About That/Babe, With Rocks (5:15)
- End Title (:38)
- "The Warlord": Burma/The Chase/And On and On/Of Some Value (9:14)
- My Lord/She Is Chinese (4:47)
- Prelude to Dreamsville/The General Dies (4:12)
- Down the River (1:55)
- "Mainly On The Plains": The Plaza/Main Title (3:19)
- Don Silvando/Blonde Gothic/Travelin'/Sighted (3:37)
- Don Quixote II/Attack/Upsy Daisy (4:45)
- My Professor, the Nut/Wild Stuff/Goodbye Crooks (3:55)
- Don Strikes/So Long, Don (2:41)
- End Title (:38)
The underlying rights to the original series are now owned by independent film company Peter Rodgers Organization, Ltd. (PRO), but original production company Triple F Productions remains the copyright holder.
Selected episodes of the series were made available on VHS in North America in the early 1990s.
Image Entertainment released the complete series on DVD in Region 1 in 2002, initially in a series of single-disc volumes (each with four episodes), which were later compiled into three box sets. The episodes were not presented in any particular order. In addition, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the 1994 reunion made-for-TV film on DVD in Region 1 on October 8, 2002. This release has been discontinued and is now out of print.
In April 2008, Image/PRO reissued the series, this time organized in order of original broadcast, in three box sets, one for each season. This includes Robert Culp's bonus audio commentary on four episodes that he wrote (originally issued in 2002 on a single DVD called The Robert Culp Collection). As of 2012, these releases have been discontinued and are now out of print.
On March 7, 2014, it was announced that Timeless Media Group had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1 and will be releasing a complete series set on June 24, 2014.
In Region 4, Umbrella Entertainment has released all 3 seasons on DVD in Australia.
In 2011, I Spy aired twice a day, six days a week, on FamilyNet. The series also airs in the United States on broadcast television channels Retro Television Network and the Soul of the South Network. In 2015, reruns of I Spy were pulled by the Aspire and Cozi TV networks as a result of allegations of sexual assault by Cosby.
I Spy was also the title of a short-lived thriller series starring Raymond Massey that aired in 1956.