Today it is nearly unknown for a British show to air on the American broadcast networks. What it is more, this has been the case for decades. This was not always the case, however, as in the Fifties and Sixties the American broadcast networks regularly aired shows that had originated in the United Kingdom. The appearance of British shows on American broadcast network schedules reached its peak in the 1965-1966 season, when no less than four British shows aired on American networks (Secret Agent AKA Danger Man, The Baron, The Avengers, and Court Martial). While the peak for British shows on the American broadcast networks may have been in the 1965-1966 season, the late Sixties would see the debut of some of the most successful British shows to air on the networks.
The TV show The Saint was based on the character of Simon Templar, also known as "The Saint". The Saint first appeared in Leslie Charteris's novel Meet the Tiger in 1928. He is essentially a "Robin Hood" type figure who uses his considerable skills as a con man and thief to battle the "ungodly" (as he calls criminals who prey upon the innocent). Simon Templar proved to be one of the most successful creations of the 20th Century. He appeared in numerous novels and short stories by Leslie Charteris, as well as several movies, and four different radio shows. It was perhaps inevitable that Simon Templar would eventually find his way to television.
It was in 1961 that film producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman decided to make a TV series based on the character of The Saint. Fortunately, the two men were acquainted with director John Paddy Carstairs, who had directed the 1939 film The Saint in London and, more importantly, also happened to be a friend of Lesile Charteris. Mr. Carstairs was able to arrange a lunch at which the two producers could meet Leslie Charteris. Fortunately, they were able to convince the creator of The Saint to give them a three month option for a TV series. The proposed series for The Saint was pitched to Associated-Rediffusion (the ITV franchise that provided weekday programming for London), who turned it down due to the proposed series' projected budget of £15,000 per episode. Fortunately they were able to sell the proposed series to Lord Lew Grade of ITC. Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman then bought the television rights to The Saint from Leslie Charteris, with the condition that Mr. Charteris would have input on the show's scripts.
As the star of The Saint Patrick McGoohan, who had just finished with Danger Man, was considered, but it soon became apparent that he would not be right for the part. He objected to the character becoming entangled with women, and also lacked the tongue in cheek sort of humour necessary for the show. Ultimately the role of Simon Templar would go to Roger Moore, who was already familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. He had already starred in the swashbuckler series Ivanhoe (shown in the UK on ITV and syndicated in the United States), the American adventures series The Alaskans, and one season of the popular Western Maverick (on which he played Beau Maverick). Arguably Roger Moore was perfect for the part. Aside from having the necessary sense of humour and no objections to the character becoming involved with women, he was already a fan of The Saint. Indeed, according Sir Roger Moore in his book Bond On Bond: Reflections on 50 years of James Bond Movies, he had earlier tried buying the television rights to The Saint himself.
The Saint debuted on October 4 1962 on ITV in the United Kingdom. It proved extremely successful, so much so that it was second in popularity among male viewers only to wrestling. Lord Lew Grade offered The Saint to the American broadcast networks, only to have it rejected by all of them. In fact, Mort Werner, then senior vice president for programming at NBC, commented after viewing two episodes of the show, "I have never seen so much crap in my life." Needless to say, NBC would eventually change their minds on The Saint.
With none of the American networks having bought the show, The Saint then entered first run syndication in the United States in 1963. It easily became the most popular syndicated show in the United States at the time. Curiously, among the stations that picked up The Saint in syndication was NBC's flagship station, WNBC in New York City. WNBC aired The Saint at 11:15 PM on Sunday night following their nightly news. The Saint proved phenomenally successful in the time slot. The Saint would also prove a success on NBC's stations in Chicago and Los Angeles. The success of The Saint on NBC owned stations was not an isolated case, as throughout the United States the show proved extremely popular. In the end The Saint would become one of the most successful syndicated shows of all time in the United States.
After 71 episodes of The Saint nearly every one of Leslie Charteris's short stories had been adapted as episodes of the show. At the same time Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman's contract with Leslie Charteris was set to expire. There was a very real possibility that The Saint could end in 1965. A new contract with Leslie Charteris was then signed. Producer Robert S. Baker and star Roger Moore then formed a new company, Bamore, to produce a new series of The Saint in colour. As to Monty Berman, Mr. Baker's partner on the first 71 episodes of The Saint, he went onto produce The Baron.
The move to colour would be one of the reasons that The Saint would finally land a spot on an American broadcast network schedule after several years in syndication. While NBC had rejected The Saint when it was initially offered to them by Lord Lew Grade, the network could hardly ignore its success in syndication. With the show now being shot in colour, NBC then bought The Saint.
The Saint debuted on NBC on May 21 1967. It went off the network in September 1967, only to return in February 1968 as a mid-season replacement. The Saint would leave NBC again in September 1968. It returned for one last time as a summer replacement in April 1969. In all NBC broadcast 32 of the 47 colour episodes of The Saint. The colour episodes were aired on ITV in the United Kingdom in black and white, as ITV would not made the transition to colour until late 1969.
After six series and 118 episodes of The Saint Roger Moore decided it was time to quit playing Simon Templar. The final episode of The Saint aired in the United Kingdom on ITV on February 9 1969. The Saint ended its run on NBC on September 12 1969. In the end The Saint came in second only to The Avengers as the longest running British adventure series of the Sixties. And like The Avengers its reruns would persist in syndication in the United States for literally years.
By the 1967-1968 television season the spy craze was coming to an end in the United States. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the series that had started the cycle towards spy shows, had dropped in the ratings during the 1966-1967 season. During the 1967-1968 season yet other spy shows, including I Spy and Get Smart, would falter in the ratings. While the latest James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, did well at the box office in 1967, several other spy films bombed that year, including Billion Dollar Brain, Casino Royale, Fathom, In Like Flint, and The President's Analyst. It should be little wonder, then, that the next British spy show to debut on an American broadcast network would not last long. In the United States Man in a Suitcase really did not have a chance.
Early in the development of the show Jack Lord was considered for the role of McGill. Jack Lord had played Felix Leiter in Dr. No (1962) and starred in the TV show Stoney Burke. He would soon go onto lasting fame as Detective Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O. Ultimately the role of McGill went to American actor Richard Bradford, who had studied at the Actor's Studio. After working several years on stage he was cast in a small role in Arthur Penn's film The Chase (1966). In turn Mr. Bradford's part in The Chase attracted the attention of Lord Lew Grade, and the actor was cast as McGill in Man in a Suitcase.
Man in a Suitcase was produced by Sidney Cole, a veteran of British film who had also produced the TV shows The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Buccaneers, Sword of Freedom, The Four Just Men, and the hour long version of Danger Man (aired in the United States as Secret Agent). In addition to Sidney Cole, several other people who had worked on the hour long version of Danger Man would work on Man in a Suitcase. Rose Tobias Shaw, who was the casting director on Danger Man, served in the same capacity on Man in a Suitcase. Several writers who wrote scripts for Danger Man wrote scripts for Man in the Suitcase as well, and the crew of Man in a Suitcase included cameramen, sound men, and set dressers who had worked on Danger Man.
Man in a Suitcase debuted in the United Kingdom on ITV on September 27 1967. It debuted in the United States on ABC on May 3 1968. Man in a Suitcase proved popular in the United Kingdom, but that would not be the case in the United States. Although scheduled against rather weak competition on NBC (a low rated science fiction show titled Star Trek), it was scheduled against Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. (which ranked #3 for the season) and the first half hour of The CBS Friday Night Movies (which ranked #15 for the season) on CBS. Ratings for Man in a Suitcase were then less than sterling and ABC cancelled the series. This meant that there would be no second series for Man in a Suitcase in the United Kingdom either.
Sadly today Man in a Suitcase is largely known only to those who had the opportunity to see it when first aired, television historians, and connoisseurs of classic British television. This would not be the case for the next British show to debut on an American broadcast network in the 1967-1968 season. In fact, it would become one of the most famous British television shows of all time.
The ideas that would form the basis of The Prisoner appear to have come to Patrick McGoohan over time. In an interview in the October 9-October 15 1965 issue of TV Times Patrick McGoohan said, "You know, I fear by A.D. 2000 we'll all have numbers, no names." The article also says, "Just now his imagination has been caught up with the idea of a film of life in A.D. 2000; of the day when workmen 'will be able to operate their lathes by push-button from their beds. How are we going to educate people for an abundance of leisure like that?'" In particular, the replacement of names with numbers would form the basis for much of The Prisoner.
Regardless, it was in April 1966 that it was announced that Patrick McGoohan was working on a new series. In the April 16 1966 issue of The Daily Express there was an article in which it was announced that "Now McGoohan has put up a new TV idea to ATV's managing director Lew Grade." Lord Grade said, "It is another adventure series but a very different sort of character. It promises to be very exciting. Lord Grade said: Mr. McGoohan is coming to see me tomorrow to discuss the details." Patrick McGoohan went to that meeting with Lord Lew Grade with a format for The Prisoner, as well as photographs of "the Village". According to later accounts from Mr. McGoohan, Lord Grade did not read the format. Instead Mr. McGoohan talked to Lord Grade for ten minutes, after which Lord Grade gave the go ahead for The Prisoner. According to Lord Lew Grade in his autobiography he later met with William S. Paley, founder and chief executive of CBS, regarding The Prisoner.
From the beginning The Prisoner was intended to be what would later be called a "mini-series" or a "limited series". That having been said, there is some question as to how many episodes were initially planned to be made. In a July 1966 article by Robert Musel published in the Los Angeles Times, Patrick McGoohan was quoted as saying that there would be a minimum of 13 episodes and a maximum of 30 episodes. An August 1967 article by Dorothy Manners published in The Washington Post reported that CBS had wanted Patrick McGoohan to produce 36 episodes, but he would only agree to 17 episodes. According to Mr. McGoohan in the 1977 interview with Canadian journalist Warner Troyer, he had only wanted to produce seven episodes of The Prisoner, but Lord Lew Grade maintained he could not make a sale to CBS unless he had 26 episodes. Patrick McGoohan thought that 26 episodes would be spreading it thin. Patrick McGoohan was able to develop 17 stories, and in the end the series would last for 17 episodes.
The Prisoner centred on a British intelligence agent who had resigned, and afterwards found himself abducted and sent to a mysterious place called the Village. In the Village individuals are assigned numbers that they use in lieu of their names; the British intelligence agent is designated "Number Six". Escape from the Village is not permitted, and is often prevented by balloon-like creations called "Rovers". Throughout the series the administrators of the Village try a variety of methods to extract information from Number Six. The series combined elements of spy drama, psychological drama, allegory, and science fiction.
It has been assumed by many that John Drake of Danger Man and Number Six of The Prisoner are the same character. That having been said, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that this is not the case. In the above cited April 1966 Daily Express article Lord Lew Grade said that the new series would have "... a very different sort of character." In the above cited July 1966 Los Angeles Times article, Patrick McGoohan said, "John Drake of 'Secret Agent' is gone, but we're not foolish enough to try to change the image we have established with TV." In a 1985 interview with Barrington Calia published in the Fall–Summer issue of New Video, Patrick McGoohan said that Number Six was not the same character as John Drake, and he had even considered having a different actor play the role of Number Six. From articles both before and during the broadcast of The Prisoner, as well as remarks made later by Patrick McGoohan, it would appear that The Prisoner was not meant to be a follow up to Danger Man and Number Six was not supposed to be John Drake.
The Prisoner debuted in the United Kingdom on ITV on September 29 1967. The series proved very popular in the United Kingdom. That having been said, many viewers were unhappy with the final episode "Fall Out". Rather than a climax one might see in a Bond film or another spy drama, "Fall Out" was instead one of the most surreal episodes of any show on television. The episode's ambiguity caused a great deal of controversy when it first aired in the United Kingdom, with both viewers and critics unhappy with the episode. Reportedly, Patrick McGoohan even had to go into hiding for a few days.
The Prisoner debuted in the United States on CBS on June 1 1968. Although at the time it was widely reported in the press that CBS would air all 17 episodes, the network ultimately aired only 16. The reasons for CBS's alleged objections to "Living in Harmony" have varied from the use of a mind altering drug to what could be perceived as the episode's anti-war sentiment. According to Moor Larkin on the blog Number Six was Innocent, it seems more likely that the omission of "Living in Harmony" was simply due to the fact that the episode set to air on CBS on June 8 1968 was pre-empted by coverage of Robert Kennedy's funeral. To stay on schedule, then, CBS could only air 16 episodes. "Living in Harmony" was then most likely dropped because it played out as a Western and even lacked the show's usual opening sequence. Moor Larkin points out that at the time there was no mention in the press that CBS had censored one of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner. Regardless, The Prisoner was very well received in the United States. CBS reran the series in the summer of 1969.
Lord Lew Grade obtained funding for the series from NBC in the United States. It is for that reason that Stuart Damon, who had guest starred on Naked City, Man in a Suitcase, and The Saint, was cast as Craig Stirling. Ian McShane tried out for the role of Richard Barrett, but the part ultimately went to William Gaunt, who had starred in the Victorian police drama Sgt. Cork. For the role of Sharron Macready several actresses were considered, including Ilona Rogers (who had guest starred on both Doctor Who and The Avengers) and Annette Andre (who guest starred on The Avengers and The Prisoner and would go onto to be a regular on Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Alexandra Bastedo would be cast in the role after director and creative consultant Cyril Frankel found her in a European advertising campaign.
The Champions would debut in the United States before it debuted in the United Kingdom. It debuted on NBC on June 10 1968. It would not debut in the United Kingdom until September 25 1968, and then only in London. It would not air throughout Britain until November 1968. The Champions proved very popular in the United Kingdom, and even around the world. It would ultimately air in 60 different countries. Unfortunately, it performed poorly in the ratings in the United States so that NBC cancelled the series. Since The Champions needed funding from the United States to survive, it ended after thirty episodes.
The next British show to debut on an American broadcast network would be very different from the majority of British shows that aired on American television in the Sixties. The vast majority of British shows that had aired on the American networks throughout the decades had been adventure shows of some sort. Journey to the Unknown was not only a horror, fantasy, and science fiction show, but it was also an anthology show. It was also the first television series ever produced by Hammer Films, the British studio best known for their horror movies.
Like many British shows produced with an eye on the American market, Journey to the Unknown utilised both British and American actors. Among the British actors to guest star on the show were Jane Asher, Edward Fox, Michael Gough, Barbara Jefford, Bernard Lee, Justine Lord, Sue Lloyd, and Roddy McDowall. Among the American actors who appeared on the show were Joseph Cotten, Patty Duke, Brandon De Wilde, Chad Everett, Julie Harris, Carol Lynley, Vera Miles, and Stefanie Powers. Directors on the show included Don Chaffey, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and Robert Stevens.
Journey to the Unknown debuted in the United States before it did the United Kingdom. In the United States it debuted on ABC on September 26 1968. In the United Kingdom its air dates varied according to region. The earliest it aired appears to have been on November 16 1968 on London Weekend Television. It would not air on ATV Midlands until June 23, 1969. Unfortunately, Journey to the Unknown would not prove be a success. It aired against CBS Thursday Night Movies on CBS and Dragnet 1969 and the first half of The Dean Martin Show on NBC. ABC cancelled Journey to the Unknown at mid-season.
This is Tom Jones was produced by Lord Lew Grade's company ITC. Episodes were shot in both Los Angeles and London. This is Tom Jones aired on American television before it did in the United Kingdom. It debuted in the United States on ABC on January 9 1969. It debuted in the United Kingdom only a few days later, on ATV Midlands on January 12 1969. This is Tom Jones proved somewhat successful. It was nominated for Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction of a Variety, Musical or Dramatic Programme and Outstanding Achievement in Makeup in 1970, and won the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography. Ultimately it ran for three seasons and 65 episodes.
In many respects the 1968-1969 season can be considered the end of an era for British shows. In fact, it was that year that both The Avengers and The Saint, the two most popular British shows to air in the United States in the Sixties, would end their runs. At the same time the number of British shows airing in any given season on the broadcast networks had declined from what it had been in the 1965-1966 season. While the next few seasons would see a few British shows air on the American broadcast networks, there were not nearly as many as there once were. The early Seventies would see the end of British shows regularly airing on the American broadcast networks.