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"The FBI",appearing on ABC-TV from 1965 to 1974,was the longest running
series from the prolific offices of QM Productions,the production
company guided by the powerful television producer,Quinn Martin. Long
time Martin associate and former writer Philip Saltzman produced this
series for QM with the endorsement and cooperation of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation. For the nine years that it ran on the ABC-TV
network this show ran opposite,"The Wonderful World Of
Disney","Lassie", "Bonanza", and "The Ed Sullivan Show". This was in
fact an Sunday night institution of entertainment that even after some
30 years off the air,it was one of the most realistic cop shows of all
time,second to another successful crime drama show,"Dragnet".
"The FBI",marked the first time that Quinn Martin productions chronicled the exploits of an actual federal law enforcement body and each episode was subject not only to general Bureau approval,but to the personnel approval of director J. Edgar Hoover. And in each episode came with the proper procedure for bringing down and indicting some of the most dangerous criminals that were on the Bureau's most wanted list and bringing them to justice. This was a show that was acted in the utmost accuracy and exclusive detail with a genuine sincerity,and it reflected on the decency and majority of the FBI agents in the field,since most of the acting and the action sequences kept viewers tuned in each week. The show featured the brilliant talents of Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. as FBI Inspector Lewis Erskine. During the show's first two seasons(1965-1967), Agent Jim Rhodes(Stephen Brooks),was Erskine's associate and boyfriend to Erskine's daughter(Lynn Loring). But it was during the show's third season,that Brooks left the show,and he was replaced by Agent Tom Colby (William Reynolds),who was Erskine's sidekick for the remainder of the series. All the principals answered to Agent Arthur Ward(Philip Abbott) who was the head of the division of the FBI Offices along with the head of security for the FBI(Lex Barker). During the series run,these individuals were the infantry in an endless battle of crime,and received its assurance from those in the Bureau. Several more FBI agents joined the cause including,during the show's final season,a female agent,Chris Daniels(Shelly Novack),and a African-American agent appeared on the last season of the series.
The series drew critical scorn but it was very successful for ABC,slipping in and out of the Top Twenty shows for the nine years of its run,and quickly rising to the tenth position of the Nielsens during the 1970-1971 season. This was one of Quinn Martin's most successful show and it was second only to his other venture,the drama,"The Fugitive",which was on the same network for four seasons(1963-1967). One thing that was interesting about this show. Toward the end of each episode,Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. would step out of his character and would present the audience pictures of some of the most wanted criminals in America and request assistance in capturing them(the same format that is used today by John Walsh of America's Most Wanted). One of the most prominent names from this segment was James Earl Ray,the man who assassinated the civil rights leader,Dr.Martin Luther King,Jr. Another interesting concept was that in almost every episode,you get to see these FBI agents or criminals always driving around in a new Ford product,since the show's sponsor was The Ford Motor Company,and even at the ending credits you always saw Inspector Erskine driving towards his Washington,DC brownstone in a shiny brand new Ford product.
Shortly after the series left the air in 1974,Quinn Martin produced two made-for-television films,"The FBI versus Alvin Karpis"(1974),and the Emmy nominated "The FBI versus the Ku Klux Klan"(1975). What really canceled this successful show? For one,the loss in faith with the government,the scandal at Watergate,and trauma leading to the resignation of President Nixon,and the distrust of the Vietnam War,led ABC's decision to pull the plug on this brilliant show,which was still in the Top Ten of the Nielsens when it was cancelled.
For years, this show ran opposite the Disney show and "Bonanza," yet I
personally preferred watching this one because it seemed more
realistic. Years later, it is clear this show is still VERY watchable.
Watergate, the loss of faith in government it caused and the resulting
trauma led to the show being canceled in 1974.
Never mind what went on in J. Edgar Hoover's life. The show is acted with a genuine sincerity, and reflects the decency of the majority of the FBI agents in the field. The acting is very good, and one can also see many interesting guest stars. Just seeing Efrem Zimbalist Jr. alone is a delight. Indeed, it took over the mantle for "The Twilight Zone," as a show where so many performers could show their work. Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas did early performances, and it also had such seasoned performers as Gene Tierney and Jessica Tandy.
This was one show that may not have had the flash of "Batman," "The Avengers" or "The Smothers Brothers Show," but it had enough staying power to last nine years. And for a time, it was the longest-running crime drama on TV.
The first season focused more on the human element. While the late Stephen Brooks was a good actor, I loved what William Reynolds did as SAC Tom Colby from 1967 to 1973. Shelly Novack also did a great job, proving the show did not "jump the shark." Incidentally, Messrs. Zimbalist and Reynolds and Lynn Loring (who played Inspector Erskine's daughter, Barbara) are, as of 2012, the surviving lead cast members.
If the show itself did not fully reflect the reality of the Bureau, the stories told and the acting make up for it. It is a fun piece of film making from the 1960s and '70s. And I am glad to see the series coming on DVD.
Now that the show is back in syndication, I've watched as many as I can and see some major differences between the early shows (1965 or so) and later ones (in the early 70s). The early ones SHOWED more violence and often the bad guys were "pushing up daisies" by the end of the show. Later, the FBI agents hardly ever shot the bad guys or if they did it was just in the leg or arm--hardly realistic, but an apparent bow to overly sensitive pressure groups that had grown in the early 1970s. Also, the earlier episodes made the characters seem a little more human--often, Erskine was shown with a good looking woman or would complain about having to work too hard, while later he was pretty much a robot. Finally, the earlier episodes were occasionally more histrionic--sometimes too much and some times very juicy and exciting! In general, I prefer the earlier shows--they may have been a little campier, but they seemed more exciting.
This is one of those series that raised the "Lost" generation, and that
was my generation.
I was watching this program when I was 5 years old and I swore I was going to grow up to work for the F.B.I. -- that's how wonderful and influential this program was.
I learned what kidnapping, extortion, drug traffic etc., all of it was...and I knew what the consequences were if you did it..and I wanted to be a part of the team of folks to put these guys/gals out of business.
Not a lot of special effects, this Quinn Martin series relied on story..and told the story well. If I remember my "Media 101" from college, I believe the FBI was part of the "Ben Brady" programming touch...Ben Brady brought A LOT of ground breaking stories to television including the first prime time soap opera, "Peyton Place"..which we all knew made stars out of many. This is what made this series, the FBI, captivating..and dare I say..."Patrotic".
This was Washington, DC, the Nation's Capitol back in the day....where the FBI was respected and looked upon to perform duties we the layman knew nothing about. But hey, I'm only 5 years old watching this...so besides that, what got me hooked was how "cool" Det. Erskin was!
He had a convertible RED Mustang!!! He would travel the world, take out the criminals...and then at the end cruise Washington, DC in a RED CONVERTABLE MUSTANG!!! And...end up at his Washington, DC Brownstone!! I mean, how cool of a job was THAT?!?!?!
Erskin had a lot of cool American made cars (well, back then they were American made), and let me just say, the theme music was one of the best themes there was. I dare anyone out there to say that that orchestration does not make your heart swell with American pride. Well...it did make mine. Still does, when I hear it.
This IS still one of the great series and even today, TV shows with the FBI cannot touch the stories of this one. As a fellow poster wrote: Hawaii 5-0 is just as classic as this..and when I think of the better crime series for my generation (and with the best theme songs ever written for TV!!!) : The Mod Squad, Hawaii 5-0, Mission Impossible, The FBI is one of the bests as well.
I remember watching this great crime drama as a child every Sunday night
with my Father. He was a big fan of the show and I got to be one also.
Ephrem Zimbelist Jr. was great in the part and the stories were always
believable. I think this was one of the best crime dramas ever made.
rank this one up there with Dragnet.)
My complaint is: Please bring back this wonderful series in reruns! I do not think I've seen it since it went off the air in 1974 and I'd love to see it again. It's hard to believe a great show like this was never shown in syndication.
The great shows are the ones that are many times overlooked.
As a young kid, I remember watching The F.B.I. on Sunday nights at
8:00pm eastern time on ABC. No matter which episode I saw, it was
always clear who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.
As of this posting, I am having some fun watching various episodes of The F.B.I. on AOL's IN2TV website. Even though the show lasted for 9 seasons (1965-1974) and the actual F.B.I. did play a part in the production of the TV series, I have to admit that the show is nothing more than a typical crime drama. When it came to crimes and crime solving, there were no gray areas. The lead characters were rather robotic with no personal lives whatsoever. There was an attempt in the first season to humanize Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) whose partner was dating his daughter but that clumsy story line was dropped very quickly.
Just like with many television shows from past decades, I am always amazed seeing actors who paid their dues acting in TV shows before becoming famous or infamous. From the shows I viewed, I noticed future Academy Award winners including Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman, Jessica Tandy, Robert Duvall, Michael Douglas and Ron Howard (as Ronny Howard).
Some actors who became famous in other TV shows including Hal Linden (Barney Miller), Nicholas Colasanto (Cheers), William Shatner (Star Trek, TJ Hooker and Boston Legal among others) and Donna Mills (Knots Landing).
In the infamous category, there are appearances by Robert Blake and Claudine Longet. Then again, the ultimate infamous person indirectly associated with the show was the late F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover. Check out their IMDb biography pages for more information.
Since the Ford Motor Company sponsored the show, all you tended to see were cars by Ford. The Ford logo was prominent during the opening credits from seasons 1-5. I still find the abrupt edit rather humorous. Is Ford unwilling to put up the cash to show off their now classic cars?
When I look at past and present crime shows like Hill Street Blues, Law and Order and CSI (all editions), it reminds me how The F.B.I. (the show) was more of a dinosaur. Despite changing cultural and creative values, the program did not change with the times. It was a rather bland and sometimes not very challenging show, despite a few episodes that did kept my interest. And although it's always nice to see future stars, overall, The F.B.I. was just a standard crime drama. Competent but not a classic.
I don't think it was an accident that The FBI came to television when
it did and left when it did. If J. Edgar Hoover was one thing it was
that he was conscious of the image of his agency. He really did
personally supervise films like The Street With No Name, The House On
92nd Street, and The FBI Story, anything where the Bureau was involved.
And it was never shown in a bad light.
But in 1965 we had just lost a president through assassination and while the FBI does not have direct responsibility for presidential protection, the rumblings about Hoover's relationship with the Kennedys were being heard. I think Hoover felt that the FBI needed some good publicity so this show was aired.
It wasn't a bad show, it wasn't the best police action adventure show on television, but it had its share of well acted episodes. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. was a stalwart defender of law and order and he was ably assisted first by Stephen Brooks and later William Reynolds for most of the show's run and then Shelley Novack. Take a look at the cat list, a whole lot of people who later became prominent appeared in this show.
Hoover died in 1972, rather suddenly and the FBI then became a casualty of the Watergate Scandal. It was put forth in that film The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover that if Hoover had lived a few more years, Watergate would never have seen the light of day. I think there's some truth to that. In any event acting director L. Patrick Gray was forced to resign in the whole Watergate mess and a show about The FBI just wasn't a big item any more for television.
Indirectly I think the show was a casualty of Watergate as well though it was probably nearing its end in any event. No coincidence it ended in the year Richard Nixon resigned as president.
Still The FBI is both a reflection of the times and it somehow stood outside the changes that were going on in America during its run.
One day I was changing channels on the remote and could you believe that the seldom seen Quinn Martin series was part of an History of Television and Radio special? Indeed,it was ahead of its time and when I was a kid growing up it was a Sunday night staple in the house opposite whatever came on that night either 60 minutes or some James Bond movie afterwards. Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. was the John Walsh of his day,taking down all types of criminals,rapists,terrorists,and serial killers who were breaking the law,and brought to justice with the help of special agents who worked under him in the FBI. An interesting part about the show is at the end,Efrem would stepped out of his character and give you a report of criminals and fugitives who were wanted by the FBI and would tell you that these people were extremely armed and dangerous. Could you believe that Lex Barker (who played in the Tarzan movies of the 1950's) was the head of security for the FBI as a special agent? Yes,he was for the entire shows' nine year run which was on ABC from 1965-1974,and was of the longest running crime shows ever on television. I had a friend who was asking me if they have any of these episodes on videocassettes,and if they do,you do not want to miss one single episode of The FBI. A Quinn Martin Production.
"The FBI" is one of those wonderful old shows I remember from when I
was a kid, and it was great finding it being rerun on the "American
There was no question who the good guys and bad guys were, and Inspector Lewis Erskine is as straitlaced as they come, he and Sargent Friday were two of a kind.
The theme music is perfect, it has a serious solidity to it, and the writing is just what it should be. I also love seeing all the new, old cars, and seeing what high technology (like their computers) was in those days helps us to appreciate what we have today.
Great show, well worth watching again.
Indeed, yes, I remember this series... and I don't believe I've seen it
in reruns myself, although I'm aware of it being rerun on stations I
could not receive. I think I tuned into this two to four years before
it came to an end in 1974. I am old enough to remember that the show
was produced with the cooperation of the director of the FBI,
whats-his-name, um, J. Edgar Hoover. The last season or so had
different names since Hoover had died.
I really liked the way they set up the episodes, showed the crimes being initiated, the charges being shown on the screen. The oft-repeated scene of showing Erskine listening on the phone at the same time as a crime victim or victim's family. Erskine going under cover, like masquerading as a blind man. The high school boys trapping a friend in an old mine shaft or whatever and discovering, just after they were arrested, that the field had been leveled and buried with fill.
This would be good to see on DVD, but I'd be happy if it was rerun on one of the cable specialty channels.
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