Article from: "Smart Money: Get
Smart!," Time, October 15, 1965.
Among television's vast lexicon of
there are three inviolable tenets: 1) don't offend minority
groups--they write letters; 2) don't tell sick jokes--they
offend critics; 3) don't knock the hero--the audience
identifies with him. Failure to obey these laws is punishable
by death--for the show, and sometimes for the career of the
creator. The result, inevitably, is a season like the present
one--limp scripts and look-alike actors, the halt leading the
No wonder then that the industry is confounded by the outsized success of NBC's Get Smart! Thumbing its nose at the rule book, Smart features an impossibly stupid hero, and deformed and sometimes nonwhite villains. Yet it is near the top of the ratings
Karate Chop. Get Smart! began as a product of groupthink when Talent Associates saw The Man from U.N.C.L.E. rising on the ratings and shrewdly suspected that the Bondwagon had room for one more. They commissioned Old Pro Mel Brooks (The 2,000-Year-Old Man) and Young Pro Buck (TW3) Henry to hack out a script about a fumbling hero. Instead, Brooks and Henry decided to make him a bumbling zero. Brooks recalls, "I was sick of looking at all those nice sensible situation comedies. They were such distortions of life. If a maid ever took over my house like Hazel, I'd set her hair on fire. I wanted to do a crazy, unreal comic-strip kind of thing about something besides a family. No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to be the first."
The idiot is Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, played by reformed Stand-Up Comic Don Adams. Smart has little piggy eyes, a voice that sounds like a jigsaw on slate, and a perpetual self-satisfied smirk. When challenged, he is too dumb to panic, bluffs fluently: "Would you believe that I can break eight boards with one karate chop? No? Would you believe three boards? Would you believe a loaf of bread?"
Mother Hate. His enemies--other than his left foot and his right foot--are the kind of men who are more often rubbed out by network censors than by heroes. The first episode featured a villainous dwarf, the second a one-armed Chinese (The Claw) with a magnetized prosthesis. When he asked Smart, "Do you know what they call me?" Smart thought it over, replied: "Lefty?"
Brooks and Henry originally took Smart to ABC, where network officials pronounced the script "too wild" and demanded a lovable dog to give the show more heart. Brooks and Henry went back and perversely put in a cowardly, mangy, wheezy dog that chased cars and bit strangers. "The executive who read the script, I'm told, screamed, 'It's un-American!' " recalls Henry. Adds Brooks: "They wanted to put a print housecoat on the show. Max was to come home to his mother and explain everything. I hate mothers on shows. Max has no mother. He never had one."
Everyone in the industry has his own pet theory for the show's success. Some believe that Smart is like one of his enemies, a freak, a mutation that has no ancestors and will have no decendants. Others feel that he is the first eccentric ripple in a new wave of insane, absurd television comedy. If they are right, by next season the screen will be Smarting with maimed heavies and mentally defective detectives. And so it will go, until one day someone looking for Big Money in television comes up with a new idea: "People are tired of crazy, improbable situation comedies. How about a show with a nice normal middle-class family. Only they have this maid, see? And she tries to take over. . ."
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