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Entertainment Earth

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"Her name is Dancer, April Dancer".

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator

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The 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 Moonglow Affair.

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.

Mary 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.

Television 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..

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Unlike 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 campy plots.

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.

Despite 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.

The 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.

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Content intended for informational and educational only purposes under the GNU Free Documentation Areement.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures Corp

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