I Spy is an American spy series which aired from 1965 to 1968 on NBC, shepherded by Sheldon Leonard and produced by Triple F Productions (named after the show's creators/showrunnersnote Mort Fine and David Friedkin, and cinematographer Fouad Said). In the series a white tennis pro, Kelly Robinson (played by Robert Culp (Trackdown, The Greatest American Hero) and his black trainer, Alexander "Scotty" Scott (Bill Cosby) are really spies, saving the world approximately Once an Episode.
I Spy fills an important role in the history of television. Not only was it the first show to be filmed in exotic locations around the world (and utilized revolutionary filming techniques to do it) but it was also the first to feature a black actor in a co-starring role that was in every way equal to the white lead actor's role. Bill Cosby was also the first black actor to win an Emmy Award because of his wonderful work on this show. It is also worthy of note that before being cast in I Spy he had no acting experience. Although Bill Cosby was second-billed (simply because Culp was the more well-known personality at the time) he was not simply a Token Minority but was to be an integral part of the show since its conception. Also, although both characters were created as equals, Alexander Scott was depicted as having a better education (including being a Rhodes scholar) than his partner Kelly Robinson. A very enjoyable series with some truly wonderful chemistry between its two leads.
A TV movie sequel, I Spy Returns, was broadcast back in 1994 and a movie based on the series appeared in 2002 starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. In it, Wilson plays the actual spy, while Murphy is a boxing champion taken along for the ride. It was critically lambasted and bears no resemblance at all to the original series (ironically, the film's dedicated to series creators Fine and Friedkin), though some still find it enjoyable. Arguably the best follow-up to I Spy was a 1999 episode of Cosby's sitcom titled, er, Cosby, in which his character dreams that he is Alexander Scott and shares an adventure with Kelly Robinson - played once again by Robert Culp.
As of January, 2015, the series is being broadcast on Cozi TV.
This series provides examples of:
- Asshole Victim: Racist, double-crossing, obnoxious drug smuggler Danny Preston in "Danny was a Million Laughs." Kelly and Scotty save him, but only so he can testify against his associates. Even then, they're tempted to let him get whacked.
- Cartoon Bomb: Culp lights one and throws it at the camera in the Title Sequence.
- Chekhov's Gun: The pendant given to the wife of a not-so-late traitor actually contains 131 photos of secrets.
- Chekhov's Skill: Seen practicing judo; minutes later they kick a gun out of a (moronic) gunman's hand.
- Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Culp lights a Cartoon Bomb off his cigarette in the Title Sequence.
- Comic-Book Adaptation: Gold Key Comics produced several issues of an I Spy comic book.
- Creator Cameo: Executive producer Sheldon Leonard cameoed in a few episodes of the series, at least once As Himself. Actual (co-)creator David Friedkin, meanwhile, appears in "A Cup Of Kindness" and "Tigers Of Heaven."
- Expy: Executive Producer Sheldon Leonard created a 2 hour movie pilot called Top Secret! starring Cosby and Tracy Reed as spies. The unsold pilot aired 6/4/78.
- Failure Hero: The Movie makes Scott a hard-core example of this (to the point that the reason why he's assigned to the mission is because Carlos The Rival super-spy is ordered to check another lead and thus can't be with Kelly — and thus Scott ruins things for him, too). By the end of the mission the only good thing the heroes can say is that they ruined things for the villains as well as the other good spies.
- The Film of the Series: In Name Only, in 2002.
- Gone Horribly Right: In "The Barter," Kelly and Scotty need information about a kidnapped girl from Punch-Clock Villain Merritt (Roger C. Carmel). So, they set it up so that Merritt's Russian bosses will think he's being paid off by the Americans, causing a scared Merritt to give up the information in return for undoing the frame. It works, and Merritt agrees to talk, but the Russians kill him for disloyalty before he can say anything.
- Hallucinations: The General's "musical chairs" vision as he is dying in "The Warlord."
- I Know Karate: Both Kelly and Scotty are Black Belts.
- Masquerade: The official secret cover is a tennis player and his trainer. Pretty often they have to do their best to keep it that way, with the events of the episode threatening to blow it open.
- Promoted to Opening Credits: While he was always in the title credits, the second season saw Cosby's credit given the same font size as Culp's.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- In "Tigers of Heaven," Scotty tries to give one to a group of anti-American would-be samurai who are about to execute him and Kelly. But he gives up in disgust when he realizes they're too fanatical to listen.
- At the end of "Danny was a Million Laughs" Danny gets one from Nancy, who's been hired to kill him. She tells him that he's such a lowlife sleazeball that her employers offered a pittance for his life...and she'd have happily killed him for even less.
- Recycled Soundtrack: Averted, unusually for the time but not for Sheldon Leonard - as he hated tracked-in music (he once equated it to "wearing someone else's underwear"), every episode of this and his other shows had an original score written for it (Earle Hagen, who wrote the show's theme music and scored most of the episodes, won an Emmy for season three's "Laya").
- Reunion Show: Culp and Cosby reunited for a TV movie called I Spy Returns in 1994, to mixed reviews. Most fans consider the true reunion to be "My Spy," a 1999 episode of the sitcom Cosby in which Cosby and Culp reunited for a mini-I Spy adventure under their original character's names.
- Running Gag: When our heroes find themselves locked in a room or otherwise cornered by the badguys - "Ok what's the plan?" "Oh, no, I thought of the plan last time....it's your turn this time."
- Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: In "So Long Patrick Henry," Kelly is annoyed that Scotty hired a kid as a look out for them who keeps making 007 references, having seen the then still-in-theatres movie Goldfinger 27 times.
- Special Guest: Boris Karloff guest-starred in "Mainly on the Plains" as an eccentric scientist who thinks he's Don Quixote.
- Spy Cam: Parodied in The Movie. Alex Scott is complaining about the size of his supposed "spy camera" (about the size of an old-school studio camera) in comparison with the "sexier" pocket-sized camera of rival super-spy Carlos. A more straight example within the movie is a pair of two-way mini-camera contact lenses that are worn by members of a team (one lens for each) that allow them to see what the other is seeing at all times.
- Spy School: The Department has a training school on a military base in the San Francisco Bay Area, featured in the episodes "Anyplace I Hang Myself Is Home" and "Tag, You're It." While the name of the base is never stated, given its location, San Francisco Bay, it is probably "The Presidio" (the base was decommissioned in 1989 and became part of the National Park Service in 1994).
- Those Wacky Nazis: At least one episode features an ex-Nazi villain.
- Whole Episode Flashback: "Return to Glory" consists of Scott explaining to a government auditor why he and Kelly charged $5.00 for glass pants.
- Witty Banter: One could almost drown in it with this show. Lots of it is Kelly and Scotty sniping at each other.
- World Tour: Filmed mostly on location, too!
- Wunza Plot: One is a professional spy. The other is a professional tennis player that gets dragged into the spy stuff when he normally would just be the unassuming cover guy.