Article from :  "NBC Gets Smart," Newsweek, January 3, 1966. page 52.


NBC Gets Smart





From the first ring of Agent 86's telephone-equipped evening shoe in the pilot film, "Get Smart" set out to be, if nothing else, different.  Here was a show that would make its bid for success one one ground:  ridicule-ridicule of every past TV comedy success, ridicule of the blooming mania for spies, and most important, ridicule of itself.  The question was, how would an audience react to such outright lampoon.  ABC's program head, Edgar Scherick, thought the idea was too far out, and after putting up some of the money for the pilot film, turned the idea down.  It was one of those mistakes that cause epidemics of neuroses among network vice presidents.  NBC's Mort Werner bought the show ten days after it was offered, and as soon as the first episode was aired, "Get Smart" took off.  It has been in the top ten of most national Nielsen surveys, has consistently been one of the top two new shows and the Nielsens show that it is one of the favorites of college students and young couples.

        Part of the show's success is due to "The 2,000-year-old Man," Mel Brooks (NEWSWEEK, Oct. 4).  Brooks was hired by "Smart's" creator, David Susskind, to write the pilot film (after Mike Nichols announced he was busy until 1970) and has written four episodes since then.  "We are the only restaurant in town for the gourmet comedy writer," said Brooks.  "Here he has a chance to swing, to go as crazy as he wants."  With a lunatic retinue of four other writers, including Buck Henry of the late lamented "That Was the Week That Was," Brooks has created weird plots.  Security-conscious  Agent 86 (the bartender's code for cutting off service to a drunk) insists on using the "cone of silence" when he talks to his chief, but when the plastic device is lowered over the desk, they can't hear each other.  He comes on bold with such claims as "I can smash four boards with one blow," but when challenged, he says weakly, "Would you believe three?  No?  Would you believe two?"  He bungles everything, from using jet shoes (they shoot him into the ceiling of a train) to reading secret messages (he is so security-minded that he eats them before he can read them).

        One contributor, an ex-song lyricist named Joe Mikolas, has even added to the national idiom.  His line, "Sorry about that, chief," has become so popular that NASA ground control took it over to commiserate with Gemini 7 when a urine bag burst inside the cabin.  (Mikolas himself took the phrase over from the Vietnam GI's, whose phrase "Sorry about that" is applied to everything from a short round to a warm beer.)

        Agent 86, otherwise known as Maxwell Smart, is played by Don Adams, 37, whose last credit was as Detective Glitz on "The Bill Dana Show."  "We are not playing for comedy, we are dead serious," said Adams, whose voice sounds like a thousand fingernails scraped over a blackboard.  "Smart is dedicated and sincere-he's myself.  I guess I'm a bit of a klutz.  I would like to be James Bond, but I knock glasses onto other people's laps."  Adams' humor is basic, almost slapstick, and riddled with clichés.  "We appeal to the hip and the square," he said.  "It is partly satire, and the clichés appeal to the sophisticated."

         Tiger:  Adams' fawning, lissome assistant is Barbara Feldon, who used to writhe about on a tiger skin for the Revlon people.  As straight man for Smart, she manages to compensate for Max's blunders and extricate him from perilous situations, such as the time KAOS used a dog as a spy and filled the Orient Express with poison gas.

        The philosophy of the show, according to the 42-year-old producer, Leonard Stern, "is earn your laughter and hire top writers."  In future shows the staff will continue to earn like mad.  In "All in the Mind," Smart is caught in a phone booth that fills with water.  In "Dear Diary," he works in Spy City, a senior spy retreat that is infiltrated by KAOS.  Farthest out of all will be an episode that stars Miss Feldon as a captive of KAOS being held in a lovers' lane.  Smart, in secret pursuit, carries an inflatable girl in his auto glove compartment so he won't look conspicuous on lovers' lane.  Of course, his romance deflates at the critical moment. 

        With "Smart's" success, it was only logical that other producers would copy it, and next year's schedule may well include such take-offs on take-offs as "Run Buddy Run" and "The Secret Life of Henry Phyffe."  But how long can you elaborate on a show that features characters like "Maryjack Armstrong," the strongest woman in the world?


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