Mission: Impossible is an
American television series that was created and initially produced by
Bruce Geller. It chronicles the missions of a team of secret
government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). In
the first season, the team is led by Dan Briggs, played by Steven
Hill; Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves, takes charge for the
remaining seasons. A hallmark of the series shows Briggs or Phelps
receiving his instructions on a recording that then self-destructs,
followed by the theme music composed by Lalo Schifrin.
The series aired on the CBS
network from September 1966 to March 1973, then returned to
television for two seasons on ABC, from 1988 to 1990, retaining only
Graves in the cast. It later inspired a popular series of theatrical
motion pictures starring Tom Cruise, beginning in 1996.
series follows the exploits of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF),
a small team of secret agents used for covert missions against
dictators, evil organizations and (primarily in later episodes) crime
lords. On occasion, the IMF also mounts unsanctioned, private
missions on behalf of its members.
The identities of the
organization that oversees the IMF and the government it works for
are never revealed. Only rare cryptic bits of information are ever
provided during the life of the series, such as in the third season
mission "Nicole", where the IMF leader states that his
instructions come from "Division Seven". In the 1980s
revival, it is suggested the IMF is an independent agency (as the FBI
can only legally operate within the United States and the CIA can
only operate outside the country). In the first motion picture,
unlike the TV show, the IMF is depicted as part of the CIA.
leader of the IMF is initially Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill
(left). As an Orthodox Jew, Hill had to leave on Fridays at 4 p.m. to
be home before sundown and was not available until after dark the
next day. Although his contract allowed for filming interruptions due
to religious observances, the clause proved difficult to work around
due to the production schedule and as the season progressed, an
increasing number of episodes featured little of Dan Briggs. Hill had
other problems as well. After cooperatively crawling through dirt
tunnels and repeatedly climbing a rope ladder in the episode
"Snowball in Hell," in the following episode
("Action!") he balked at climbing a stairway with railings
and locked himself in his dressing room. Unable to come to terms with
Hill, the producers re-shot the episode without him (another
character, Cinnamon Carter, listened to the taped message, the
selected operatives' photos were displayed in "limbo", and
the team meeting was held in Rollin Hand's apartment), and reduced
Briggs' presence in the five episodes left to be filmed to a minimum.
As far as Hill's religious requirements were concerned, line producer
Joseph Gantman simply had not understood what had been agreed to. He
told author Patrick J. White, "'If someone understands your
problems and says he understands them, you feel better about it. But
if he doesn't care about your problems, then you begin to really
resent him. Steven Hill may have felt exactly the same way".
was replaced without explanation to the audience after the first
season by Peter Graves (right) playing the role of Jim Phelps, who
remained the leader for the remainder of the original series and in
the 19881990 revival.
In theory, Briggs and Phelps are the only
full-time members of the IMF. As the series was originally conceived,
they would form teams made up of part-time agents who came from a
variety of professions, choosing their operatives based on the
particular skills necessary for the mission. In practice, however
(especially after the first season), Briggs and especially Phelps
would choose the same core group of three or four agents for every
single mission, leading these regulars to be considered de facto
full-time IMF agents. Still, many episodes also feature guest stars
playing one-time additional agents who have special skills.
Martin Landau was billed as a "special
guest star" during the first season; he had been cast as a
guest star for the pilot with the understanding that he would be one
of four or five rotating guest star agents. His contract gave
producers an option to have him "render services for (three or
four) additional episodes". To fill the void left by Hill's
Sabbath absences, producers wound up using Landau for more episodes,
always as a "guest star". He eventually struck a deal to
appear in all the first season's remaining episodes, but always
billed as a "guest star" so that he could have the option
to give notice to work on a feature film. Landau contractually became
a series regular in season two.
As actors left the series during it's run,
others became regulars. Replacements often possessed the same skills
as their predecessors. For example, "The Great Paris"
(Leonard Nimoy), Roland Hand's replacement in the fourth and fifth
seasons, is also an actor, make-up artist, magician and "master
Also seen in seasons five and six is Dr.
Doug Robert, played by Sam Elliott (according to White, the character
was introduced as a replacement for Willy, but the idea was dropped
once the producers realized how popular Willy was with viewers).
Cinnamon's "replacement" in
season four was a series of guest stars, only one making more than
one appearance: Lee Meriwether as Tracey. Season five saw the
addition of Dana Lambert, played by stage and movie actress Lesley
Ann Warren (billed as "Lesley Warren"). In seasons six and
seven, the female member of the team was cosmetologist and
mistress-of-disguise Lisa Casey (Lynda Day George), whose first name
was only established in the 19881989 revival. She was replaced
in a third of the total season seven episodes, during her maternity
leave, by Mimi Davis, played by Barbara Anderson, who had just come
from the show Ironside.
Morris and Lupus were the only actors to
last through the full run of the original series. Morris also
appeared in two episodes of the revival series, in which the
character's son, Grant Collier (played by Morris's real-life son,
Phil Morris), is also an IMF agent.
Although a Cold War subtext is present
throughout the series, the actual Cold War between the United States
and the Soviet Union is rarely mentioned over the course of the
series. However, in the early years, specific locations behind the
Iron Curtain are named (such as Lubyanka prison in the episode
"Memory") and many of the targets appear to be leaders of
fictional Slavic countries. Major named enemy countries include the
"European People's Republic"
and the "Eastern European Republic".
Additionally, real languages spoken in
Eastern Europe are used. In the Season One episode "The
Carriers," one of the villains reads a book whose title is the
(incorrect) Russian Na Voina (About War); police vehicles are often
labelled as such with words such as "poliiçia", and
"poIiia", and a gas line or tank would be labelled
"Gaz" which is a Romanian translation. This
"language", referred to by the production team as
"Gellerese", was invented specifically to be readable by
non-speakers of Slavic languages. Their generous use of it was
actually intended as a source of comic relief. Uniforms of the target
regime frequently include peaked caps, jackboots, and Sam Browne
belts, hinting at connections with Nazi Germany or the Warsaw Pact.
The IMF is also assigned to bring down
corrupt politicians and dictators of Third World countries uninvolved
in the Cold War, such as a particularly brutal practitioner of
apartheid, or corrupt Central or South American nations, as well as
organized crime figures, corrupt businessmen and politicians in the
US. In two different first-season episodes, the mission is to stop
the revival of the Nazi Party in Germany. Both episodes had Rollin
Hand (played by Jewish actor Martin Landau) impersonate a leading
Nazi figure Martin Bormann in one case in a successful
effort to stop the revival. In season two, Hand would successfully
impersonate Adolf Hitler in another mission to stop the revival of
the Nazi Party in Germany.
During the fifth season, with Paramount
executives having gained greater control, new producer Bruce Lansbury
began to phase out the international missions. These were more
expensive to film, often requiring sets to be purpose built, along
with special costuming, etc., all of which was far less necessary for
"domestic" settings. This would manifest itself the
following year with the IMF battling organized crime in most
episodes, though this season still featured more international forays
than not. These gangland bosses are usually associated with a
criminal organization called "The Syndicate," a generic
organization, or its franchises. Generally when describing such
assignments, the tape message notes that the target is outside the
reach of "conventional law enforcement."
The objectives of such missions is usually
simply to obtain evidence that might be admissible in court, often
taking the form of tricking the mobsters into making a confession
while being recorded. Manipulating the targets into killing one
another became much less frequent as well. Lansbury also attempted to
replace Peter Lupus, who was expressing dissatisfaction with his part
at this time, with Sam Elliott. Over the course of the fifth season,
Lupus' William "Willy" Armitage appeared in thirteen of its
twenty-four episodes, to the outrage of fans who demanded Armitage's
return. By the end of the fifth season, Elliott was gone; he did
appear in the first filmed episode of season six, and Lupus remained
in the last two seasons, with Armitage being given a larger share of
screen time and more demanding duties.
Mission: Impossible is noted for its
format, which rarely changed throughout the series. Indeed the
opening scenes acquired a ritualistic feel, befitting the "quasi-official"
aura the program sought for the clandestine operations.
title sequence started with a fuse being lit. As the fuse burned
across the screen, clips from scenes in the current episode were
shown. This was followed by credits introducing the actors.
Throughout the title sequence, only the show's theme song could be
heard. Most episodes begin with the leader of the IMF getting the
assignment from a hidden tape recorder and an envelope of photos and
information that explains the mission. Next we would see Briggs or
Phelps in a fancy apartment, retrieving an oversized, leather-bound
dossier folder from a locked drawer. Inside this folder were
plastic-wrapped dossiers (usually featuring standard 8×10
"glossies" of the respective actors) of the available IMF
agents. Briggs/Phelps would toss the selected agents' dossiers onto a
table. Most of the never-chosen dossiers were photographs of various
series staffers and their wives, including Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Geller.
A contemporary article in TV Guide claimed that many of the photos
put aside in the "dossier scene" were of studio and network
executives and that it was considered a measure of one's status in
the studio and network hierarchies to appear there.
early seasons, the agents selected often included guest stars
playing agents with skills not possessed by the usual team. A doctor,
particularly a specialist in a condition known to afflict the target,
was a common sort of "guest agent". In numerous early
episodes, the IMF leader would choose only two or three team members,
though at least one of the main credited cast members was always
involved. One episode, "Elena," featured a team consisting
of Rollin Hand and Dr. Carlos Enero (guest star Barry Atwater);
because of Landau's official status at that point as frequent guest
star this meant that technically none of the series' regular players
was involved. Almost as often, however, Briggs would choose all of
the regulars, plus one, two, or even three others.
In later seasons, the team was much more
stable, consisting of the regular cast for the season, and the use of
guest agents became markedly less frequent. Numerous dossier scenes
from the Peter Graves episodes feature Jim poring through the
photographs, only to once again choose the series regulars that had
just been shown in the opening credits. By the third season, the
dossier scene had been deemed somewhat disposable, appearing only
when needed to introduce a guest agent. The first mission submitted
by the Secretary that did not have the dossier scene was the last
mission of the second season, "The Recovery".
After a period of being seen only
occasionally, the dossier scene was seen again frequently in season
four, due to the lack of a regular female team member in that season.
It was dropped entirely as of season five.
In the pilot episode, the recorded message
states that the team leaders have unlimited resources and wide
discretion in choosing their team. Who devises the plan is never made
clear, although the team leader is often shown writing or making
notes. Preparations and the necessary logistics were almost never
shown, although they are generally implied by the scenes that depict
various steps of the mission. It is implied that only a short period
of time elapses from the initial assignment until the team is in the
field. Early episodes occasionally showed more of the preliminaries.
"Memory" features a montage of Dan Briggs training a guest
agent to assume the role he will play in the mission. "Old Man
Out, Part 1" includes a scene of Briggs approaching an operative
(played by Mary Ann Mobley) in order to recruit her, meeting with
resistance before he finally convinces her to join the mission.
In the third segment of the opening act,
the team would next be shown convening for their final briefing in
the leader's apartment. Although the series was shot in color, the
apartment had a color scheme composed of black, white, and shades of
gray, such that the apartment was sometimes referred to off-camera as
the black-and-white room. Steven Hill once suggested that an American
flag be placed on a wall of Briggs' apartment, but Bruce Geller
vetoed it in order to maintain the color scheme. Two exceptions are
the first season episodes, "Operation Rogosh", when the
team immediately springs into action to capture their target in a
staged auto accident, and the episode "Action!", where the
team meeting took place in Cinnamon Carter's apartment.
The Apartment Scene acted as a teaser. In
discussing the plan and their roles in it, the team members would
make vague references to preparations necessary for its successful
execution while leaving most details undisclosed. This scene also
demonstrated and thereby established credibility for various gadgets
or ploys that were key to the plan, such as a TV camera hidden in a
brooch, a miniature radio-controlled hovercraft, a chess-playing
computer, a "mentalist" or sleight-of-hand act, or a
trained animal. In addition, this scene would establish, or at least
hint at, the specialties and roles of any guest-star agents. Team
members posing questions about aspects of the plan or why an
alternative was not considered provided the writers with an
opportunity to offer explanations for what otherwise might have
seemed plot holes. When summing up, Phelps would often stress the
difficulties in the action they were about to undertake or some key
element of the plan vital to its success, such as a deadline by which
the mission had to be completed.
the fifth season, the producers decided to drop the dossier scene
and phase out the tape and apartment scenes. By the end of the
season, however, it had been decided to keep the tape and apartment
scenes, but the dossier-choosing scene was eliminated for the rest of
the series run. The 1980s revival reinstated the "dossier
scene" in the first episode, when Phelps selects his new team,
but since he keeps the same team in subsequent episodes, no
subsequent dossier scenes were made.
The episode then depicted the plan being
put into action. This almost always involved very elaborate
deceptions, usually several at the same time. Facilitating this,
certain team members are masters of disguise (Nimoy pictured above),
able to impersonate someone connected to the target or even the
target himself. This is accomplished with realistic latex face masks
and make-up. Some impersonations are done with the explicit
cooperation of the one being impersonated. Also bona fides would be
arranged to aid infiltrating the target organization. In some cases,
the actor playing the IMF agent also portrayed the person to be
impersonated (this most frequently occurred during Martin Landau's
tenure on the series, notably in the pilot) or the voice of the
person being impersonated was dubbed. In other cases, a guest star
would play the dual role of both the original and the imposter
(Rollin, Paris, or Casey). Sometimes one or more IMF team members
would allow themselves to be captured in order to gain more access to
or knowledge of the organization they are infiltrating, either by
conversing with the target or being held in a jail cell and hatching
their plan there.
few episodes of the early seasons showed the painstaking creation
and application of these masks, usually by disguise and make-up
expert Rollin Hand. This was later omitted as the series progressed
and the audience presumably became familiar with the mechanics of the
team's methods. In the 1980s revival, the mask-making process
involved a digital camera and computer and was mostly automatic. Most
episodes included a dramatic "reveal" (also referred to as
the "peel-off") near the end of the episode in which the
team member would remove the mask.
Various other technological methods are
commonly used as well. The team would often re-route telephone or
radio calls so these could be answered by their own members. Faked
radio or television broadcasts are common, as are elevators placed
under the team's control. In some missions, a very extensive
simulated setting is created, such as a faked train journey,
submarine voyage, aftermath of a major disaster, or even the taking
over of the United States by a foreign government. A particularly
elaborate ploy, used on more than one occasion, sees the IMF working
to convince their target that several years had passed while the
target was in a coma or suffering from amnesia. In one episode, the
IMF even convince their target (an aging mobster played by William
Shatner) that time has somehow been turned back more than thirty
years and he is a young man again.
team would usually arrange for some situation to arise with which
the target would have to deal in a predictable way, and the team
would then arrange the circumstances to guide the outcome to the
desired end. Often the plans turn on elaborate psychology, such as
exploiting rivalries or an interest in the supernatural. Many plans
simply cause the target to become confused or erratic or irrational,
lose self-assurance, lose trust in subordinates or partners, etc., so
that either the target would do what the team wanted (by falling back
on predictable acts of desperation), or else the target's
subordinates would replace the target and then act according to the
team's predictions. These various ploys would usually result in
either information being revealed to the team, or the target's
disgrace and discrediting, or both.
In many early episodes, the mission was to
"neutralize" the target and it was made clear that the
target is ultimately shot by his superiors, staff, or rivals, though
this was usually not shown on screen. In later seasons, where the
targets were usually organized-crime figures or similar, the goal of
the mission is often simply to collect incriminating evidence not
obtainable by "conventional law-enforcement agencies." The
team is not above falsifying such evidence as a last resort.
Dramatic tension was provided by
situations in which team members appear to be in danger of being
discovered (especially before commercial breaks). Sometimes
unexpected events occur that force the team to improvise. On
occasion, an outside party or one of the targets realize what is
happening and put the plan at risk.
William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter
served as story consultants for the first two seasons. According to
White, Woodfield and Balter relied heavily on The Big Con, written by
David W. Maurer, for their inspiration. Hence Briggs/Phelps became
the "grifter-in-charge;" Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter
were highly effective "ropers," and Barney Collier and
Willy Armitage were experts at building and/or equipping "big
stores." Woodfield and Balter later became producers of the
third season. They did not last long and were dismissed for believing
that executive producer Geller had no authority over them.
"As always should any
member of your IMF force be caught or killed, the secretary will
disavow all knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct
in five seconds. Good luck, Jim." Here are the opening credits
to the Mission: Impossible TV series. Buy
the entire series here!
The original series was filmed almost
exclusively around Hollywood and the Los Angeles Basin. The series
opener was held at the Griffith Park Observatory with special guest
star Wally Cox. Pasadena and the Caltech campus were common
locations. Another noted location was the Bradbury Building, used in
other films and series (from The Outer Limits to Blade Runner).
During the final season, most of the exterior shots are of San
Francisco, including the City Hall building and Opera House. The
later revival series (1988-1990) was shot entirely in Australia,
although it purported to have Phelps living in San Francisco.
times the series deviated from the standard format. In one episode
of the original series, a gangster kidnaps the daughter of a friend
of Dan Briggs and forces him to abduct a witness against him. In
another, a mistake causes Cinnamon Carter to be exposed and captured
by the villains, and Jim Phelps has to prepare a plan to rescue her.
Another episode featured Phelps on a personal mission, when he
returns to his small hometown for a visit and finds a series of
murders among his childhood acquaintances, which the local law
enforcement chief is, of course, unqualified to cope with. In one
episode, a friend of Jim Phelps is framed for murder, giving Jim only
24 hours to find the real killer, prove his friend's innocence and
save his life. On two occasions, he is captured and the team has to
rescue him. In the 1980s series, former IMF agent Barney Collier is
framed for a crime he did not commit and the IMF team has to
extricate him, leading to a reuniting of Barney with his son and IMF
agent Grant Collier (played by real-life father and son Greg and Phil
Morris). Willy is shot and captured in one episode, and captured and
tortured by a drug kingpin in another. Paris is kidnapped and
brainwashed in an attempt to get him to kill Phelps. Jim and Rollin
are on a hunting trip when Jim is taken mysteriously ill. (It turns
out the residents of a "Norman Rockwell" town are hired
assassins, who attempt to poison Phelps when he stumbles on their secret.)
In most cases, the action lasted right up
to the final seconds, with the episode ending in a freeze frame as
the IMF team make their escape, another successful mission concluded.
Most often they leave in a nondescript panel truck. A dramatic device
frequently used at the end was the sound of a gunshot or a scream in
the distance as the target is killed by his associates, while the IMF
team make their getaway. In the 1980s revival, this format was
altered with the addition of a tag scene showing the IMF team
regrouping (often still in disguise) and walking away.
Aside from the now iconic main theme, as
well as the motif called "The Plot" which usually
accompanied scenes of the team members carrying out the mission, the
background music would incorporate minimalist innovations of
percussion such as simply a snare drum and cymbals to build tension
during the more "sneaky" moments of the episodes (sometimes
accompanied by a flute playing in low tessitura). These quieter
passages would greatly contrast the more bombastic fanfares when a
mission member is at risk of getting caught just prior to a
main theme was composed by Argentine composer, pianist and conductor
Lalo Schifrin and is noted for being in 5/4 time. About the unusual
timing, Schifrin declared that "things are in 2/4 or 4/4 because
people dance with two legs. I did it for people from outer space who
have five legs." "The Plot" was also composed by
Schifrin, who scored three episodes in the first season and went on
to score at least one or two episodes for most of the other seasons
(season two is the only one to have no Schifrin-scored episodes, in
part because he was helping to launch Geller's new series Mannix).
Schifrin was awarded two Grammys at the
10th Grammy Awards for his work on the first series (Best
Instrumental Theme and Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV
Show). He was also nominated for two Emmys (for the first and third
seasons). Among the other composers to work on the series were Jerry
Fielding, Walter Scharf, Gerald Fried, Richard Markowitz, Benny
Golson, Robert Drasnin, and Hugo Montenegro. Gerald Fried worked on
Mission: Impossible concurrently while working on the Star Trek
television series and re-used the infamous "Star Trek fight
music" in several Mission: Impossible episodes.
Impossible is still recognized for its innovative use of music.
Composer Lalo Schifrin wrote several distinctive pieces for the
series. Most episodes included fairly long dialogue-free sequences
showing the team members, particularly electronics expert Barney
Collier, making technical preparations for the mission, usually to
the accompaniment of "The Plot." Lalo Schifrin also wrote a
theme piece for each main character and the sound track for each
episode incorporated variations of these throughout. Even when an
episode's score is credited to some other composer, Desilu's music
supervisor Jack Hunsacker would re-edit it, adding Schifrin melodies
from the library. The series had great impact on film and TV music.
Before Mission: Impossible, a common compliment was along the lines
of "the score worked very well but never got in the way or
called attention to itself." By contrast, Mission: Impossible
was praised for the prominence of its music.
A key inspiration for Geller in creating
the series was the 1964 Jules Dassin film Topkapi, innovative for its
coolly existential depiction of an elaborate heist. Geller switched
the story away from the criminals of Topkapi to the good guys of the
IMF, but kept Dassin's style of minimal dialogue, prominent music
scoring and clockwork-precision plots executed by a team of diverse
specialists. Several episodes in fact show close-up shots of an
agent's wristwatch to convey the suspense of working on a deadline.
One of the more controversial points of
Geller's was his insistence on minimizing character development. This
was done intentionally both because he felt that seeing the
characters as a blank slate would make them more convincing in
undercover work, and because he wanted to keep the focus on the caper
and off the characters themselves. Geller would even veto the
writers' attempts to develop the characters in the episodes. This is
why, even after Geller was removed from the show, the IMF agents
would only have one scene at Jim's apartment where they interacted,
and they were rarely if ever seen in their "real" lives.
a side effect of this, cast turnover was never once explained on the
show. None of the main characters ever died or were disavowed in the
original series, but a character could disappear between episodes
without ever being mentioned or acknowledged.
The 1980s revival, however, did kill off a
main character on screen; Bruce Geller had died on May 27th, 1978 in
a plane crash in Santa Barbara, California, so he was unable to
potentially veto the decision. Mimi Davis is the only character whose
recruitment as an IMF agent shown on screen, although such a scene
was filmed for Dana Lambert (Lesley Ann Warren) and discarded. The
1980s revival otherwise stayed true to Geller's edict, with the
occasional brief exception.
The producers of Mission: Impossible were
sued for plagiarism by the creators of an ABC show called 21 Beacon
Street. The suit was settled out of court. Geller claimed never to
have seen the earlier show; Beacon Street's story editor and pilot
scripter, Laurence Heath, would later write several episodes of M:I.
21 Beacon Street was an American detective television series that
originally aired on NBC from July 2nd to September 10th, 1959.
Produced by Filmways, the summer replacement series consisted of 11
black-and-white 30-minute episodes starring Dennis Morgan as private
investigator Dennis Chase. Other cast members included Joanna Barnes
as Lola, his aide; Brian Kelly as Brian, a law school graduate; and
James Maloney as Jim, a scientific and dialect specialist.
William Read Woodfield was a fan of David Maurer's nonfiction book
about con artists, The Big Con (also an unofficial inspiration for
The Sting), and many episodes are strikingly similar to cons
described in the book.
The tape scene is very similar to one
described in the 1964 Nick Carter-Killmaster novel Saigon, published
in December 1964 and repeated in the 1966 novel Danger Key. In the
novels, secret agent Carter receives a package from his boss which,
when activated, plays a tape-recorded message that self-destructs
after playing once.
Part of each episode's title sequence was
highly unusual, as it was composed of a number of very short clips of
key scenes from the subject episode. This was, and remains, very rare
for series television. However, it was already being done as of the
previous season on I Spy, which like Mission had the lighting of a
fuse leading to it. The hand with the match was, until sometime in
the sixth season, that of creator Bruce Geller; in the revival
series, the hand belonged to Peter Graves, who was shown holding the
match. Several British teleseries produced by Gerry Anderson and his
then wife Sylvia Anderson, the contemporaneous Thunderbirds and the
mid-1970s Space: 1999 (which starred M:I alumni Martin Landau and
Barbara Bain) among them, also did this. The reimagined Battlestar
Galactica TV series also used this device. The clips in the opening
sequence were chosen to showcase dramatic moments in the upcoming
mission, such as moments of surprise, moments of violence, or
equipment in use. In particular, the first clip shown was often
someone getting punched and/or knocked out. For the first two
seasons, the closing credits showed clips from that mission in freeze
frame. At the start of 1968, when Paramount took over from Desilu,
the same clips were shown during the closing credits across episodes;
later seasons eschewed that approach, featuring a freeze frame of the
hand lighting the fuse.
At 171 episodes, the original version of
Mission: Impossible held the record for having the most episodes of
any English-language espionage television series for over 35 years
(about 10 more episodes than its nearest rival, the UK-produced The
Avengers). Its record was broken during the eighth season of 24 in 2010.
In 1980, media reports indicated that a
reunion of the original cast was in the planning stages, for a
project to be called Mission: Impossible 1980. Ultimately this
project was delayed into 1983 (with the working title suitably
updated repeatedly) before being cancelled altogether due to one plot
after another being deemed inappropriate and unacceptable. In 1984,
another proposed M:I reunion was to have been a theatrical film,
titled Good Morning, Mr. Phelps (Mission: Impossible The Movie).
Ultimately, the proposed large budget sank this project.
In 1988, the American fall television
season was hampered by a writers' strike that prevented the
commissioning of new scripts. Producers, anxious to provide new
product for viewers but with the prospect of a lengthy strike, went
into the vaults for previously written material. Star Trek: The Next
Generation, for example, used scripts written for an aborted Star
Trek series proposed for the 1970s. The ABC network decided to launch
a new Mission: Impossible series, with a mostly new cast (except for
Peter Graves, who would return as Phelps), but using scripts from the
original series, suitably updated. To save even more on production
costs, the series was filmed in Australia; the first season in
Queensland, and the second in Melbourne. Costs were, at that time,
some 20 percent lower in Australia than in Hollywood. The new
Mission: Impossible was one of the first American commercial network
programs to be filmed in Australia.
original plan was for the series to be an actual remake of the
original series, with the new cast playing the same characters from
the original series: Rollin Hand, Cinnamon Carter, et al. Just before
filming began, the decision was made to rework the characters so that
they were now original creations, albeit still patterned after the
originals, with only Jim Phelps remaining unchanged.
The new series was not a hit, but it was
produced cheaply enough to keep it on the ABC schedule. The new M:I
ultimately lasted for two years; the writers' strike was resolved
quickly enough that only four episodes were actual remakes, which,
along with the decision to change the character names and
backgrounds, resulted in the series being considered a continuation
of the original series, rather than simply a remake.
The original series formula was largely
repeated in the second Mission: Impossible series of the 1980s,
though the writers took some liberties and tried to stretch the rules
somewhat. Most notably, by the time of the revival series, the
Impossible Mission Force was no longer a small, clandestine
operation, but larger in scale, with references now made to IMF
divisions and additional teams similar to the one run by Phelps. One
episode of the later series featured the only occasion in which a
regular IMF agent was killed on a mission and subsequently disavowed.
The 1980s series also had IMF agents using technology that nearly
pushed the series into the realm of science fiction, such as one
gadget that could record dreams, and another that allowed the IMF to
change the surfaces (actually digital screens) of special playing
cards to appear to be whatever cards the plan required.
The revived series included special
appearances by several 1960s70s IMF veterans, including Lynda
Day George, and Greg Morris as Barney; Morris's son, Phil Morris
(above), played Barney's son in the new series. Four guest stars from
the original run all played targets here, Alex Cord, James Shigeta,
and in the same episode, Barbara Luna and Australian Michael Pate.
A feature film based upon the series was
first proposed in 1978, then to be made for TV. This was the first of
several attempts through the 1980s, but no feature production
materialized. Later, a series of feature films were released,
produced by and starring Tom Cruise.