The irony is that the people responsible for the success of I Spy went out of their way to avoid focusing on the fact that co-star Bill Cosby was an African American. Their show was simply about two friends who happened to be spies. It was incidental that one was white and one was black. In fact, racial insults were banned from the show after a season one episode ("Danny Was a Million Laughs") in which Martin Landau's smarmy criminal flips a coin to Scotty (Cosby) and tells him: "Here you are, boy. I'll leave my shoes out for you tonight."
The series was the brainchild of actor-turned-producer Sheldon Leonard. After producing such hits as The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leonard wanted to create an hour-long drama. With the James Bond craze in full throttle in 1965, Leonard developed the idea for an espionage series that utilized international locales--but few gadgets. Robert Culp, who had approached Leonard with a proposed TV series about a retired spy, was a natural choice for one of the roles. The original premise was for Culp to play a protege to an older spy. Leonard dropped that idea when Carl Reiner suggested the other role be played by an up-and-coming stand-up comic named Bill Cosby--who had no acting experience.
Cosby's "test" episode "Affair in T'sien Cha" did not go well. The acting novice was stiff and his natural charm came across as muted. Still, Leonard and and Culp pushed ahead with the series (that episode was eventually broadcast midway through the first season). I Spy debuted on September 15, 1965, with Culp starring as Kelly Robinson, a veteran espionage agent who maintains his cover as an Ivy League-educated tennis pro. His Rhodes scholar partner, Alexander Scott (or Scotty), acts as Robinson's trainer.
|Yes, that's Culp as Chuang Tzu.|
The success of I Spy can be attributed almost entirely to the breezy interplay between Culp and Cosby. The two, who became good friends off-screen, sometimes improvised their dialogue. A favorite expression was "wonderfulness," which was first used in the second episode "A Cup of Kindness." As Scotty makes a homemade explosive to escape from a warehouse, he explains how he'll use a cigarette as the fuse. Kelly quips back: "Is there no limit to the wonderfulness of your mind?"
|Mr. & Mrs. Culp in "The Tiger,"|
an episode written by Robert Culp.
|The snazzy credits complimented|
|Hickey & Boggs movie poster.|
The new I Spy boxed set from Timeless Media includes all three seasons on 18 discs. The picture and sound quality are excellent. Although the discs feature no extras, there is an attractive booklet containing a brief history of the series, synopses of each episode, and interesting trivia.
The Cafe received a review copy of the I Spy boxed set from Timeless Media.