1 9 6 5 – 1 9 6 8 (USA)
82 x 60 minute episodes
I Spy was different from other espionage series’. Both of its lead characters were realistically portrayed and could see the humour in situations, and they sure had fun with their work.
It had its share of action too, but never took itself too seriously.
Comedian Bill Cosby provided much of the humour in the show but also proved he was an accomplished, serious actor.
He also had the added distinction of being the first black performer to have a starring role in a regular dramatic series on American Television.
I Spy ran on NBC from 1965 to 1968 and chronicled the exploits of fictional characters Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Cosby).
Kelly and Alexander were American agents. Kelly’s cover was that of a top-seeded tennis pro travelling around the world for tournaments. A former law student at Princeton, he had played on two Davis Cup teams. Alexander’s cover was as Robinson’s trainer.
A Rhodes Scholar, his knowledge of languages was often useful in dealing with people all over the world. Both of them were dedicated to government service and America, but their dedication did not stop them from questioning some of the motives and purposes behind some of the missions in which they were involved.
Unlike many shows of the genre, I Spy dealt with agents dying cruel deaths, burning out on the spy game, and often even doubting the nature of orders from superiors. This questioning of authority was more at home in programming based on the “counterculture” pitched toward the youth of the times.
Virtually the entire first season was filmed on location in Hong Kong and other Asian locales. The studio had no qualms about spending money to avoid a “backlot” look to the show.
Associate producer Ron Jacobs and location manager Fuad Said worked with both their own crew and film crews from NBC News’ Asian bureaus to get much of the location footage used in that first season.
The second season was filmed almost exclusively in Greece, Spain, and other Mediterranean locations, using similar techniques.
In 1972 Cosby and Culp paired up gain, this time for the feature film Hickey & Boggs (directed by Culp), in which they played a pair of down-at-heel private investigators.
In 1994, an I Spy reunion movie was broadcast, but more than a quarter of a century had passed since Robinson and Scott last toiled to preserve world security and the viewing audience was not as welcoming as it had been.
Originally, the role of Alexander Scott was to have been that of a bodyguard for Kelly Robinson. Both Cosby and Culp conferred with the producers and the decision was made to have Robinson and Scott as equals.
I Spy also showcased the talents of other African-American actors of the time including Godfrey Cambridge, Ivan Dixon, and Eartha Kitt.
Harold J. Stone