"Please, Somebody, Get Smart: Prime-Time Cannibalism."† Life.† May 6, 1966.
by Josť M. Ferrer III
Saturday, 8:30p.m. Lights dimmed.† TV set flickering on. Decision.† Maybe watch bumbling blooper-spy Maxwell Smart on Get Smart!† Or maybe watch cool-witted, smooth-sleuthing John Drake on Secret Agent.† Click, click, click.† Check out Smart on NBC.
††† "But Chief, isn't this a top security matter?† I think we better have the cone of silence."† "The cone of silence?† Oh, Max, all right, bring down the cone of silence."† "O.K., Chief, now what did you want to tell me?" "What did you say, Max?"† "I can't hear you, Chief.† Speak up a bit."
††† Funny, but quick, the Secret Agent plot must be starting on CBS--click, click.
††† A terribly proper, brolly-and-all Englishman is climbing into a London taxi.† "Where to, sir?" "Switzerland," says the umbrella bearer.† "I'm sending you there to look into something for us," he adds as the cabbie turns and reveals himself to be John Drake.† Click, click.
††† "Would you believe eight boats are on the way to rescue me right now?" wonders Smart.† "Would you believe three?"† Click, click.
††† "You work for the cause or for the money?" Drake asks a fellow agent.
†† "The cause.† I believe in free enterprise. . . It will cost you plenty."† Click, click.
††† "That's the second time I've fallen for the old garbage trick this month," says Smart.† Click.
††† "I think," says Drake, polishing off the last of four henchmen, "you should get better help the next time."
†† Click, clickety, clunk.† Set and viewer have simultaneous breakdown.
††† Maybe it is not quite that bad.† But of the shows offered by the three networks, Get Smart! and Secret Agent are among the few with any claim to merit, and it is all too typical of TV that the two shows are locked in mortal ratings combat.† It did not work that way during the days of radio.† If one network had a good show going, the others usually politely held their best offerings in the wings.† It was a nice way to live, especially from the listener's point of view.† But now the Big Theory is that if one network has a huge hit, the leadbottomed viewer is going to keep his dial fixed on that channel all night.† So the biggies put good show against good show and the boob viewer is inevitably the loser.
††† Get Smart! made it big for a good reason.† To have a master spy bumble and bollix strictly for laughs was a master stroke.† We always knew that James Bond was superhuman, supererogatory and supercilious; and we were glad to go along for the silly ride.† But Max Smart gave us the chance to laugh.† Max is a complete dunderhead who handles the assignments his chief reluctantly gives him with an eptitude that makes the Bay of Pigs look like a perfect textbook operation.† When he lowers a bulletproof shield in the middle of his living room -absurd in the first place- he lowers it so that he is trapped on the same side with the opposition.† As played in living color by reformed Stand-up Comic Don Adams, Smart carries himself with an innocent's air of impenetrable confidence.† It all works so well that the show has stumbled firmly to the top.†
††† Then counterattack.† Last December CBS brought on Secret Agent same day of the week, same hour of course.† Strictly speaking, the show is not CBS's.† It is a British TV offering and does quite well over there under the name Danger Man.† The central character, John Drake, is played by a corking good-looker named Patrick McGoohan, an Irish Englishman with a lilt and restraint in his performance that makes him a joy to watch.† Secret Agent scripts are entirely believable, with sharp dialogue and tricky, intricate plots that are closer to Eric Ambler than Ian Fleming.† It is easily the best of the many spy series now glutting television and movies.
††† But in TV, to be good is not quite enough.† Agent is in trouble.† If it were opposite some of the many dregs on the market, it would, at a guess, be doing far better.† Instead it is up against the biggest new hit of the season and competing for precisely the same audience.† Smart had already devastated one CBS rival, Trials of O'Brien, which was actually a pretty good show but could not buy a rating and wound up as a Friday night rerun.† (It will die when summer does.)† The same sort of executhink which doomed Trials of O'Brien may yet get Secret Agent.
††† TV cannot afford such cannibalism, and executhinkers had better realize it soon.† This year there were so few good shows that, although there were 1.3 million more potential adult viewers than last year, there were an average 730,000 fewer adults actually watching.† Please, somebody, get smart.
Webmaster's note: Secret Agent began its run in the US and UK as Danger Man in 1961.† It was revived in 1965, expanded to an hour, was renamed Secret Agent, and was finally put to pasture in September of 1966.† According to some schools of TV thought, Secret Agent Drake returned in The Prisoner which lasted two seasons as a summer replacement.† This fiasco all goes to show that it's really not how good you are, it's where you stand in the ratings!