Girl from U.N.C.L.E. is an American spy-fi TV series that aired on
NBC for one season from September 16, 1966 to April 11, 1967. The
series was a spin-off from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and used the same
theme music composed by Jerry Goldsmith, which was rearranged into a
slightly different, harder-edged arrangement by Dave Grusin.
The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
stars Stefanie Powers (left) as American U.N.C.L.E. agent April
Dancer and Noel Harrison (son of Rex Harrison) as her British
partner, Mark Slate. Leo G. Carroll plays her superior, Alexander
Waverly, in both series. The character name "April Dancer"
was suggested by James Bond creator Ian Fleming who was a consultant
in the creation of the parent program.
Unlike The Man from
U.N.C.L.E., the spin-off was more campy than serious and despite
decent initial ratings was not as successful as its parent program
and was cancelled after 29 episodes due to low ratings.
NBC introduced The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. as part of its 1964-1965 schedule. The series starred
Robert Vaughn as secret agent Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as his
partner, the Russian Illya Kuryakin. Leo G. Carroll played Alexander
Waverly, head of U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and
Enforcement), the spy agency employing Napoleon and Illya.
U.N.C.L.E.'s mission was to combat the evil agents of THRUSH, a
global criminal organization bent world domination. The black-and-white
series was initially scheduled on Tuesdays from 8-9 PM against The
Red Skelton Show on NBC and McHale's Navy/The Tycoon on ABC, in
January 1965 the series moved to Mondays from 8-9 PM. It ranked 62nd
for the season. For the 1965-1966 season, the series transitioned to
color and NBC shifted it to Fridays from 10-11 PM, opposite with Slattery's
People on CBS and Long, Hot Summer on ABC. Those programs provided
little competition for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which easily won its
time slot and moved into the top twenty programs in the national
Nielsen ratings. The new found success of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. led
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the production company behind the series, to
propose in early November 1965 a spin-off to be called The Girl from
U.N.C.L.E. A pilot would be filmed as a regular episode of The Man
from U.N.C.L.E., tentatively set to be broadcast in January 1966.
Former Miss America Mary
Ann Mobley (above) was given the role of inexperienced young agent
April Dancer and Norman Fell (later Mr Roper on Three's Company)
appeared as Mark Slate, an agent who had reached U.N.C.L.E.'s
mandatory retirement age. Production on the episode, titled The
As an episode of The Man
from U.N.C.L.E., The Moonglow Affair did well in the ratings, ranking
fourth for the week in Nielsen's
major market ratings with a 27.0 rating, behind the Thursday edition
of Batman on ABC, Get Smart on CBS and Bewitched on ABC. The episode
saw April Dancer brought in to retrieve a radiation weapon from
THRUSH that had already immobilized Solo and Illya. Waverly assigned
Slate to assist and train Ms. Dancer, despite the fact that he was
technically too old to work for U.N.C.L.E. After successfully
completing their mission and saving Solo and Illya, Waverly decided
to turn a blind eye to Slate's age and allow the two to continue
their partnership. M-G-M officials had screened the episode in
January 1966 but it was reportedly not among NBCs top picks for the
new fall season in early February but by the time the episode was to
be aired, the networks released early versions of their 1966-1967
schedules. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was given the 7:30 - 8:30PM time
slot on Tuesday evenings, where it would compete with ABCs Combat and
CBSs Daktari. As for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it stayed on Fridays
but would now be aired from 8:30 - 9:30P M opposite ABCs The Milton
Berle Show and CBSs Hogan's Hero and the start of The CBS Friday Movie.
Ann Mobley was replaced by Stefanie Powers (left) in the role of
April Dancer in early March. Later that month, Noel Harrison (son of
Rex Harrison) took over the role of Mark Slate from Norman Fell.
Harrison was 32-years-old at the time, Powers was 23. By comparison,
in 1966 Norman Fell was 42 and Mary Ann Mobley was 27. No reason was
given for the casting changes. The two would make for a younger,
perhaps hipper partnership, and there would np longer be such a large
age discrepancy between the two agents. Mark Slate would also be British.
Another new character, a
young and eager agent named Randy Kovacks (played by Randy Kirby) was
added to the series. Leo G. Caroll would appear simultaneously in
both The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and Man from U.N.C.L.E. in his role as
head of U.N.C.L.E. Plus, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum could
potentially make crossover appearances to help the new show find an audience.
The promotional push for
The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. started before production on the series
began and Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison were sent out on photo
shoots and conducted interviews across the country. When the show
premiered critics were almost uniformly negative in their response to
the series. Harriet Van Horne of The New York World Journal Tribune
called it, "violently sadistic and altogether repellent".
Paul Molloy of The Chicago Sun-Times seemed to write it off as
simply, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in high heels". On the
other end of the spectrum, The Los Angeles Times, Walt Dutton praised
the series, saying it, "moves along nicely, thanks to some
clever dialogue". Television Magazine polled 24 television
critics about their opinions of the new fall shows, including The
Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. Only two rated the series good, twelve rated it
bad and ten were indifferent.
critics weren't the only ones concerned with the series. Both
Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison expressed if not trepidation at
least some worry that The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. would be unable to
stand apart from its parent series. According to Harrison, "the
only way it will work is if our show is different, rather than the
same. More towards laughs, I mean."
Likewise, Powers didn't
appear happy about the way early episodes were written. After
"mockingly" describing an episode to The Chicago Tribune,
she was quoted as saying: "Silly, isn't it? Absolutely campy.
Noel and I are having a field day. We curse the script and make
changes all the time. The writers haven't found our style yet."
David McCallum, one of the
stars of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., when asked about the new series,
replied that, "I don't feel anything about the new show, I feel,
personally, numb." He continued, "We have worked very hard
here, and we have a good show going. So, now they came along and pull
out a Girl from U.N.C.L.E., to run parallel. It's not as tho we're
going to have one U.N.C.L.E. one week and the other the next. No,
we're going to see both U.N.C.L.E.s every week."
Powers and Harrison (and
McCallum) had reason to be concerned. Its first season on the air,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was strictly a straight spy drama with some
humor woven into the episodes. During the second season, some
episodes were a little looser, a little more outrageous. And then
ABCs Batman took the nation by storm midway through the 1966-1967
season, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s
second. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. seemed designed to capture some of
the wackiness that made Batman so successful.
But unlike Batman, which
was intentionally exaggerated to the point of absurdity, The Girl
from U.N.C.L.E was supposedly a dramatic show. The preposterous plots
and harebrained schemes on the part of the bad guys clashed with the
concept of U.N.C.L.E. agents as serious spies. At times, The Girl
from U.N.C.L.E. appeared to have more in common with sitcom Get Smart
than with The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
her fellow U.N.C.L.E. agents, the ladylike April is not required to
kill the bad guys. Her feminine charms serve as the bait, while her
partner Noel Harrison provides the fireworks. She does carry,
however, a perfume atomizer that sprays gas, earrings and charm
bracelets that explode, among other interesting gadgets. In addition,
April Dancer sometimes wore outlandish avant-garde outfits intended
to make her appear hip and modern. Powers was featured on the cover
of TV Guide (Dec. 31st, 1966 - Jan.
6th, 1967), and the article on her mentions the show. Aallocating
roughly $1,000 an episode for stretch vinyl jackets and skirts, a
bare-midriff harem-dancer outfit, miniskirts and the latest mod
fashions from London's Carnaby Street.
Similar to the later spy series Alias,
April Dancer often went on undercover missions where she had to
affect a foreign accent (Powers is fluent in several languages). Her
dance training was also put to good use in several episodes,
particularly "The Mata Hari Affair" where Powers recreated
the famous Greta Garbo dance from the 1932 film Mata Hari as April
impersonated the daughter of an Arab sheik and posing as a belly
dancer. Alias also did a homage of sorts to the Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
in one episode as Sydney (Jennifer Garner) captures a boat full of
bad guys armed only with a spray can of knock-out gas just as April
Dancer had done years earlier. Like April, Sydney was an undercover
agent who wore wigs, disguises and used a variety of accents. One
might think Alias was the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. done right without the
In the series premiere, April and Mark
were tasked with getting their hands on the antidote to a drug THRUSH
had developed. The drug caused people to move in slow motion. The
antidote had been hidden in fleas living on a dog. In short order
April lost track of the dog and was captured by THRUSH and strung
over a pit filled with piranhas.
She was able to free herself, got the dog
back and met up with Mark. The two were then captured only to escape
again by provoking a rowdy barroom brawl. During the climactic fight
scene, April stood clutching the dog while Mark was roughed up.
Ultimately, the two saved the dog and the antidote. The premiere set
the tone of the series, which rarely saw April involved in any
physical fighting. In contrast to her dynamic, karate-chopping
contemporaries Honey West and Emma Peel (The Avengers), the demure,
"ladylike" conception of April Dancer weakened the
character and often turned her into a helpless damsel-in-distress and
just arming her with gimmicks and gadgets was not enough.
attempts at cross-promotion with its parent series the show failed
to build an audience. Harrison appeared as Slate in an episode of Man
from U.N.C.L.E. while the memorable Girl crossover episode "The
Mother Muffin Affair", (left) featured Napoleon Solo (Robert
Vaughn) teaming up with April Dancer to face off against Boris
Karloff dressed in drag as the fiendish villainess Mother Muffin who
wanted to turn April and Napoleon into wax figurines.
Over the course of the series plots
involved a variety of dangerous devices and substances including a
chemical transported by birds that slowly kills humans; laser
crystals; an anti-aging serum; a pill that can give anyone superhuman
strength; a molecular reorganizer; and a machine that can remove all
the color from anything it is pointed at.
Guest stars included Pernell Roberts,
Leslie Uggams, Patricia Barry, Peggy Lee, Nanette Fabray, Dom
DeLuise, Sorrell Booke, Tom Bosley, Ed Asner, Victor Buono and Ann Southern.
The absurdity of the plots did not
negatively impact ratings for the debut of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E..
The September 13th, 1966 premiere episode easily beat it competition.
Nationally, the first two episodes of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
averaged a 19.7 Nielsen rating, ranking 24th overall. The following
two episodes averaged a 17.9 Nielsen rating, dropping to 47th, and
viewers apparently quickly tired of the new series.
NBC officially canceled The Girl from
U.N.C.L.E. in late February 1967. For the season as a whole, the
series ranked 69th (Girl's competition, Combat ranked 54th and
Daktari 7th). As for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it ranked 46th for the
season and was renewed for the fall of 1967 and would move back to
Mondays from 8 - 9 PM.
failure of Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was considered a contributing factor
in Man's mid-season cancellation in early 1968. Despite attempts to
downplay the camp during its fourth season, increased competition
from Gunsmoke and The Lucy Show on CBS led NBC to cancel The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. in December 1967. Only 16 episodes were produced during
the 1967-1968 season, for a total of 105 over the course of three and
a half seasons.
Some television critics, like Clay Gowran,
laid the blame for the failure of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. squarely
on the shoulders of Stefanie Powers. In his year-end wrap-up in
December 1966, Gowran called The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. the worst
non-comedy series of the new fall season. He suggested that Powers,
she of the condescending smirk and calamitous acting, is just more
than we can take.
Although it only aired for one season, The
Girl from U.N.C.L.E. produced a slew of commercial tie-in products.
There were five novels (only two of which were published in the
United States), a series of five comic books from Gold Key, a digest
magazine from Leo Margulies Corp. which ran for seven issues between
December 1966 and December 1967 and a soundtrack album. There were
also several toys. Louis Marx & Co. released an action figure in
the United States with more than 30 accessories. A combination
radio/pistol was also sold in the United States. Lone Star Toys in
the United Kingdom sold a spy kit that included a purse, an
U.N.C.L.E. badge, a garter holster and pistol, a walkie talkie
compact and a decoder. A larger plastic garter holster was sold separately.