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The F.B.I. is an American police television series created by Quinn Martin for ABC and co-produced with Warner Bros. Television. The series was broadcast on ABC from 1965 until its end in 1974. Starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Philip Abbott and William Reynolds, the series, consisted of nine seasons and 241 episodes, chronicles a group of FBI agents trying to defend the US Government from unidentified threats.

Based in part on concepts from the 1959 Warner Bros. theatrical film The FBI Story, the series was based on actual FBI cases, with fictitious main characters carrying the stories. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. played Inspector Lewis Erskine, a widower whose wife had been killed in an ambush meant for him. Philip Abbott played Arthur Ward, assistant director to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Stephen Brooks played Inspector Erskine's assistant, Special Agent Jim Rhodes, for the first two seasons. Lynn Loring played Inspector Erskine's daughter and Rhodes' love interest, Barbara, in the first few episodes of the show. Although the couple was soon engaged on the show, that romantic angle was soon dropped.

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In 1967, Brooks was replaced by veteran actor William Reynolds, who played Special Agent Tom Colby until 1973. The series would enjoy its highest ratings during this time, peaking at No. 10 in the 1970–1971 season. For the final season, Shelly Novack played Special Agent Chris Daniels.

Not to be confused with the 2018 series FBI

Tropes in The F.B.I.:

  • Accident, Not Murder: In "The Insolents", a man is shot dead in his locked cabin, with only one obvious suspect. However, it is eventually revealed that the victim was planning murder but changed his mind and threw his gun away. The gun hit the wall and discharged, shooting him in the heart.
  • Angry Guard Dog: In "All the Streets are Silent", a gang of heavily armed criminals are holed up inside a fenced-off motel. Two angry guard dogs prowl the yard and bark at anyone who comes close, making it impossible for the FBI to approach undetected.
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  • As Himself: More to the point, as themselves...the band Little Feat, who had just signed to Warner (Bros.) Records at the time, appear in the episode "Judas Goat", as the backing band to the rock singer played by John Davidson.
  • Badass Bystander: In "Special Delivery", the manager of a car rental yard shoots and critically wounds a bank robber who has just shot his mechanic and stolen one of the cars.
  • Badges and Dog Tags: Inspector Lew Erskine was a captain in the US Army during The Korean War.
  • Banana Republic: "The Exiles" features Balagua, an obvious stand-in for Cuba. Erskine and Jim have to infiltrate a group of Balaguan exiles in Florida who are planning a military invasion of the island.
  • Bank Robbery: Multiple cases as bank robbery falls under the remit of the F.B.I. In "Slow March Up a Steep Hill", Erskine and Jim go after a bank robber who keeps robbing the one branch of the same bank.
  • Bar Brawl: In "Pound of Flesh", tensions are running high in a town because of a series of murders connected to the local army base. When three soldiers enter a local bar, a mouthy local sparks a brawl between a brawl between the locals and the soldiers.
  • Based on a True Story: All of the episodes are based on cases from the F.B.I.'s own files.
  • Berserk Button: In the episode "Scapegoat", making fun of Harley Garnett's manhood is a bad idea, as Karen Blakely finds out when he strangles her to death, just like he'd done previously to another girl.
  • Bloodless Carnage: There are plenty of gunfights, but the dead men never have any blood on them.
  • The Bluebeard:
    • In "The Chameleon", the FBI pursues a Con Man with an M.O. of romancing wealthy widows, then murdering them, and disappearing with their wealth in cash.
    • In "The Impersonator", the con man who romances well-to-do women, fleeces them of their cash, and sometimes kills them, poses as wealthy professionals to entice his victims.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The Villain of the Week in "Quantico" is Willard Smith: an anarchist with a hatred of laws who is bombing Federal buildings. He even says "I'm not a communist. They have even more rules than the squares".
  • Bound and Gagged: In "To Free My Enemy", a pornographer is kidnapped and his kidnappers keep him bound and gagged on the bed in the abandoned hotel they are using as a hideout.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Inspector Erskine and all of his partners throughout the series always do everything by the book. As the programme was made with the cooperation of the F.B.I., the agents had to be portrayed as straight arrows.
  • Cain and Abel: Ricky Kriton and his brother Neil in "Blood Tie". Ricky re-enters his brother's life after years of estrangement, and Neil hires him to work in the warehouse he owns, not realizing that Ricky is wanted by the FBI and that he and his cohorts are planning to rob the warehouse.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: In the episode "Line of Fire", fugitive Richie Macklin escapes capture and commandeers a vehicle driven by student nurse Carol Grant. He not only needs Carol to drive him around Los Angeles, but also to tend to his wounds after he's critically wounded by a motorcycle cop. It doesn't help that she's emotionally unstable, especially in a crisis situation such as this.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Barbara Erskine goes off to college halfway through season 1 and then is never seen or heard from again: despite her being Lewis Erskine's daughter and Jim Rhodes' fiancee.
  • Clear Their Name:
    • In "Courage of a Conviction", Erskine begins to have doubts about the man he arrests for check forging and eventually works to clear him.
    • In "Scapegoat", Erskine discovers that Everett Giles (Harrison Ford) was imprisoned for a rape and murder similar to the one he and Colby are investigating and, suspecting that the killer in that murder and the current one are the same, works to clear him.
    • In "Gamble With Death", Harry Springer believes his brother is innocent of the murder that his brother was convicted for. He believes that witness Alexander York is the real killer and takes a drastic approach to prove it, by sending York an extortion threat. Although his initial motive was to get York to confess, Springer soon winds up changing it to a demand for money when his wife is hospitalized after an accidental fall.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: In the opening scene in "The Harvest", a group of bank robbers are hiding out in a cabin in the Pennsylvania woods when another gang of robbers shows up, mows down almost all of that gang and steals the money the first gang stole.
  • Compilation Movie: The two-part episode "The Executioners" was spliced together and released as a theatrical movie for overseas audiences entitled Cosa Nostra, Arch Enemy of the FBI.
  • Cop Killer: In "Slow March Up a Steep Hill", a bank robber guns down an FBI Agent while making his getaway. Erskine and Jim visit the agent's widow, which is particularly poignant as Jim has just become engaged to Erskine's daughter.
    • The episode "Nightmare Road" not only features an FBI agent being killed in the opening scenes, it also features his funeral as well. J. Edgar Hoover considered this episode his favorite for the way it handled the death of an agent in the line of duty.
  • Crusading Widower: Inspector Lewis Erskine has devoted himself to his work at the FBI and the pursuit of justice ever since his wife was killed in an ambush intended for him.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: In "The Forest of the Night", the extortion notes are made from letters from common magazines, and the envelopes are addressed with cut-out letters.
  • Cyanide Pill: In "The Sacrifice", a communist stooge is given a cyanide pill by his superiors before being sent to assassinate Erskine, in the hopes that he will kill himself if he bungles the murder. Turns out to be a Red Herring as while the pill is toyed with, it is never actually used.
  • Da Chief: Assistant Director Ward. However, as his agents are By-the-Book Cops, he seldom has much in the way of trouble to deal with.
  • A Day in the Limelight: In the season 1 episode "The Insolents", Jim takes the lead on an investigation in California when Erskine has to testify at a trial in Washington, D.C.. It just happens to be a case where Erskine has reason to doubt Jim's impartiality.
  • Death by Falling Over: In "Sky On Fire", George Bellamy (Bradford Dillman) punches out his blackmailer Carl Platt (Charles Grodin), causing him to fall and fatally strike his head on a fireplace hearth.
  • Death Seeker: Pvt. Byron Landy (Bruce Dern) in "Pound of Flesh", who becomes angry when the base chaplain requests that he be removed from the roster of troops to be sent to Vietnam. He later makes a False Confession to the murder of the chaplain's wife. Erskine works out that he is looking to die, and doesn't care if it happens on the battlefield or in the Gas Chamber.
  • Decoy Convoy: "The Giant Killer". Convinced that a fanatic is going to launch an attack a convoy transporting a missile, the FBI persuades the Air Force to send out a decoy convoy first, and send out the real convoy two hours later on an alternate route. The fanatic does attack the decoy, but on realizing it is a fake, sets out to locate the real convoy.
  • Definite Article Title
  • Demolitions Expert: In "The Problem of the Honorable Wife", Maury Maddock served as an army explosives technician in The Korean War, but defected to the North Koreans. He is employed by a ring of Dirty Communists to blow up an army warehouse. Erskine sums it up when he examines the remains of one of Maddock's bombs and comments that they looking for an 'an amateur, expert bomb maker'.
  • Dirty Communists: In "The Problem of the Honorable Wife", Erskine and Jim have to bust up a ring of American communists planning to bomb an army warehouse full of materiel bound for The Vietnam War.
  • Disability Alibi: In "The Insolents", Jim is investigating a shooting death on board an ocean liner, and seems to have an airtight case against a suspect who has motive, means and opportunity. However, he discovers that the suspect suffers from a crippling phobia of guns and could never have even picked up the gun, let alone fired it.
  • Dunking the Bomb: In "The Problem of the Honorable Wife", a Demolitions Expert is spotted before he can plant his bomb in an army warehouse on the docks. As the timer on the bomb has already been activated, he tosses it into the harbour to get rid of it as he flees from the MPs. The bomb explodes harmlessly in the water and he is able to escape in the confusion. However, divers are able to collect enough of the bomb fragments to allow the FBI to construct a signature for the bomb-maker.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • In "Slow March up a Steep Hill", Ward is talking to Erskine about Erskine's daughter's engagement. He uses the phrase 'king of the hill', and Erskine suddenly has an insight into the bank robbery he is investigating and abruptly leaves the room.
    • In "Courage of a Conviction", Erskine and Jim are sticking pins in a map to mark all the locations where a notorious forger has passed forged cheques. Jim comments that the only connection he can see IDs that they are all major cites. Erskine says that he is certain there is something they are missing. Jim replies "Well, you play your hunch and I'll play mine. That's what makes a horse race". At that Erskine suddenly realises that all the cities marked have major race tracks and, on checking the dates the bad cheques were passed, learns the cheques were all passed around the date of major horse races at those tracks, and deduces that the forger is a gambler who follows the big money horse races round the country.
    • In "The Hijackers", Lew's uncle Walter makes a comment about how everything became worse once he retired and had nothing to fill his time. This causes Lew to rethink the case and realize that the hijack was never about the loot; it was about the company.
  • Everybody Owns a Ford: Proudly sponsored by Ford (who trumpeted it in the opening credits for the first five seasons), the series could easily pass for an hour-long Ford commercial, as EVERY CAR featured on the show was a Ford. The closing credits featured Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. driving the latest Ford car around D.C....except he wasn't driving the actual car, but just the shell of the car! Zimbalist mentioned in an interview that he had to be very careful closing the door, lest the car fall apart. Every Quinn Martin-produced series after this used Ford vehicles, but this is the most extreme example.
  • Faked Kidnapping: In "Boomerang", Terry Shelton (Jeff Bridges), with the help of three friends, fakes his own kidnapping to sock it to his rich dad Gar (Carl Betz). The friends have other ideas, and it soon becomes a real kidnapping with a ransom demand.
  • False Confession: In "Pound of Flesh", Byron Landy (Bruce Dern)—the prime suspect in a murder—suddenly confesses after first denying the charges. Erskine is suspicious because Landy gets several basic details of the crime wrong. He eventually figures out that Landy is looking to die, and doesn't care if it happens in Vietnam or in the gas chamber.
  • FBI Agent: All of the main characters.
  • Fiery Coverup:
    • In "The Insolents", Erskine and Jim are called in to investigate when a murder is committed on an ocean liner. Before they they reach the ship, someone sets fire to the cabin where the murder occurred to destroy the evidence.
    • In "Sky On Fire", after accidentally killing a man who was blackmailing him, George Bellamy sets the cabin where the crime occurred afire. The FBI becomes involved as the cabin was on a Federal reservation.
  • Fresh Clue: In "The Hijackers", Erskine and Jim are searching a parking garage for the hijacked truck. The owner tells them the fifth floor has been closed up for a month. But Erskine finds a fresh pool of gasoline that had leaked from the truck.
  • Freudian Excuse: In "The Monster", a Serial Killer who strangles women with their own hair was raised by an incredibly strict grandmother who home-schooled him and grew his hair to shoulder length curls—like Gainsborough's Blue Boy—which got him mercilessly bullied by the other boys in the neighbourhood.
  • Grenade Launcher: In "The Giant Killer", a disgruntled air force vet uses uses World War II issue rifle grenades to attack a Vulnerable Convoy.
  • Hair-Trigger Explosive: In "Pound of Flesh", a pair of crooks have secured a thermos-sized container of nitroglycerine that they are intending to use to blow a safe. During a shootout with the FBI, a stray shot hits their car and it explodes.
  • Handy Cuffs: In "A Mouthful of Dust", Cloud has his hands cuffed in front of him when the marshals arrive to transport him to court. He tricks the sheriff into loosening the cuffs for the trip. As the cuffs are loosened, Cloud yanks one hand free and shoves the sheriff away, and uses the cuffs on his other wrist to slug the marshal, fracturing his skull.
  • Heat Wave: "Forest of the Night" is set in a small town in Oregon where it hasn't rained for more than 90 days. Everyone is on edge, tempers are fraying, the forest is tinder dry...and then a small religious community receives an extortion note threatening to torch their farm if they don't pay $5,000.
  • I Have Your Wife:
    • In "Deadfall", a trio of kidnappers grab the wife of a ticket window clerk at Philadelphia's Veteran's Memorial Stadium, in order to force him to help them rob the ticket office.
    • "The Exchange" also features a trio of kidnappers who take a ticket window clerk's wife hostage. In this one, the clerk works at the box office for a race track, and they want him to steal the receipts from the ticket sales as ransom. Erskine and Daniels are investigating the theft, and when they bust the poor clerk and find out what his motivation is for the theft, help to get his wife back safely.
    • In "The Confession", Abel Norton (Hal Linden), the demented former manager of jazz singer Darlene Clark (Nancy Wilson), kidnaps her young daughter. He's upset with her because she refused to loan him money for an operation that would have saved his son's life. The ransom that Norton is demanding, is for Darlene to confess to a fatal hit-and-run accident where she struck a man crossing the street and fled the scene. He wants the world to see her for the callous person that she really is.
  • Identity Amnesia: In "An Elephant is Like a Rope", a young man staggers into F.B.I. headquarters suffering from a head would and clutching almost half a million dollars in bloodstained notes. He collapses unconscious. He has an operation to relieve pressure on his brain, and when he wakes up he has no memory of who he is. Erskine and Jim have to investigate to discover who he is, where he came from, and ow he came to be in possession of all that cash.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Central protagonist Inspector Lewis Erskine avoids romantic entanglements because his wife was killed in an ambush intended for him. He also tells one potential Love Interest that he wouldn't encourage his daughter to marry an FBI agent either.
  • MAD: The F.I.B. (*Ford Idea Better). Mad's parody focused on the fact that the show was oftentimes an hour-long Ford commercial.
    • Mad did a second parody a few months later, The F.D.A.
  • Mafia Princess: In "To Free My Enemy", an international pornographer is kidnapped just before he is about to leave the business. His daughter, who is studying to be a teacher, knows nothing of his true occupation and believes he is a publisher of textbooks and religious tracts. She firstly refuses to believe her mother when she tells her his real occupation, but then later cooperates with the FBI (unlike her mother) because she believes they are her best hope of getting her father back alive.
  • Manslaughter Provocation: In "A Mouthful of Dust", Joe Cloud comes home unexpectedly and finds a man attacking his wife. In a fit of blind rage, he chokes her attacker to death.
  • Master of Disguise: In "The Chameleon", the FBI pursue a Con Man and wife murderer who is an expert at changing his appearance.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Albert Dirkes in "The Detonator" hires a hit man whose specialty is explosives to kill the prosecutor who sent him to prison. He was a relatively minor figure in a gambling ring, yet the prosecutor went after him aggressively, rather than the higher-ups.
  • Molotov Cocktail: In "The Forest of the Night", a religious community is being extorted. When one of the house on the community is torched, Erskine and Jim find the remains of a Molotov cocktail at the scene.
  • The Most Wanted: Efrem appeared at the end of most episodes, asking for the public's help in tracking down real criminals wanted by the actual FBI.
  • Mr. Smith: In "Pound of Flesh", Erskine and Jim track down a pair of suspects to a No-Tell Motel where they had checked in as the Smith brothers. When Jim asks "Smith?", the proprietor replies:
    "Face it, honey. If it weren't for the Smiths of this world, I wouldn't have any business at all."
  • Mugged for Disguise: Although not part of his original plan, the perp of the week in "The Giant Killer" knocks out a motorcycle cop and steals his uniform and motorcycle to join a Vulnerable Convoy.
  • No-Tell Motel: In "Pound of Flesh", Erskine and Jim track a pair of suspects to a low rent motel. They just miss them and the proprietor tells them that "the Smith brothers" checked out that morning. When Jim asks "Smith?", she replies:
    "Face it, honey. If it weren't for the Smiths of this world, I wouldn't have any business at all."
  • Outside Ride: In "Special Delivery", Erskine is inside a semitrailer that is transporting a wanted fugitive. He stops the truck by climbing out the back, across the roof of the trailer, and dropping down between the cab and the trailer to yank out the air brake lines.
  • Phoney Call: In "Image in a Cracked Mirror", Jim is interrogating the young son of a fugitive and not getting far. He has a local cop phone him and then hang up as soon as he picks up. He then talks into the dead line and acts like they have picked up a lead in Texas. By gauging the son's reaction, he is able to work out how close to the truth he is getting.
  • Phony Psychic: Charles Ridgeway in "The Deadly Gift", who's out to fleece a rich widow by convincing her that he can contact her dead husband. He's played by Fritz Weaver, who would play a similar character two years later on another Quinn Martin series, Barnaby Jones.
  • Pistol-Whipping:
    • In "Image in a Cracked Mirror", an embezzler tricks a photographer into opening his door and then cracks him over the skull with pistol so he can ransack the studio.
    • In "Pound of Flesh", the Victim of the Week is bludgeoned to death with a .45 automatic.
    • In "Conspiracy of Silence", Erskine's law professor and FBI mentor Russell Clay is cracked over the back of the head with a pistol, then dropped into his swimming pool where his body is found.
  • Plot-Sensitive Latch: In "Image in a Cracked Mirror", an embezzler attempting to escape from Erskine throws the briefcase containing the stolen money off a train, planning to jump after it. But he is grabbed by Erskine before he can jump, and the briefcase bursts open when it hits the ground and the money blows away in the wind.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: In "The Insolents", the Victim of the Week appears to have been murdered: shot from the opposite side of his cabin. However, Jim eventually discovers that the victim had been planning murder himself, but changed his mind and threw the gun across the room. The gun went off when it hit the vent and shot him through the heart.
  • The Rez:
    • "A Mouthful of Dust" is set an Apache reservation in New Mexico. When the suspect goes on the run, Erskine and the local enforcement have to chase him across the Thirsty Desert.
    • "The Young Warriors" is an episode set entirely on an Indian reservation, from the arson and murder at the beginning of the episode to the pursuit of the killer (Scott Marlowe) at the end of the episode.
  • Ripped from the Phone Book: In "The Monster", fugitive Francis Jerome looks up the phone number of the woman he is hunting in a directory in a phone booth, then calls her to make sure she is there. When she answers, he hangs up and rips the page from the phone book.
  • Run for the Border: In "Image in a Cracked Mirror", Erskine and Jim chase an embezzler whom they know is heading for the Mexican border, but not where he is intending to cross.
  • Serial Killer: In "The Monster", fugitive Francis Jerome was arrested for extortion, is also a serial killer: something the FBI does not discover until after he escapes custody. He seduces women with long hair and then strangles them with their own hair.
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: In "The Forest of the Night", the sheriff of Stanton temporarily subdues a group of rioters attempting to lynch two members of a religious community by firing a few shots over their heads. This cows them long enough for their victims to escape into the sheriff station.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: In "A Mouthful of Dust", Joe Cloud — an old army buddy of Erskine's — returns home to find a man attacking his wife. In a fit of rage, he strangles him. Because the crime happened on The Rez, that makes it 'Crime on an Indian Reservation' and brings it under the jurisdiction of the FBI.
  • Thirsty Desert: In "A Mouthful of Dust", Erskine and the local law enforcement have to pursue an escaped prisoner across a desert in New Mexico where all of the usual water sources have dried up. In a moment of madness, the prisoner attempts to drink a mouthful of sand just before he passes out from dehydration.
  • Thriller on the Express: In "How to Murder an Iron Horse", a disturbed young man blows up a freight train. He is now blackmailing the railroad — he'll do the same to a passenger train unless he is paid $100,000. Jim has to ride on the targeted train in attempt to stop the extortionist.
  • Tranquilizer Dart: In "All the Streets Are Silent", the FBI use a tranquilizer gun borrowed from the local zoo to knock out the two Angry Guard Dogs guarding the crooks' hideout.
  • Underground Railroad: In "Special Delivery", Erskine is tracking a fugitive when he learns of an underground railroad smuggling wanted criminals from the west coast of the US to South America. He goes undercover as a criminal on the run to both track the fugitive and shut down the railroad.
  • Unintentionally Notorious Crime: In "The Hijackers", a former trucker named Smitty and two of his friends hijack a truck belonging to Smitty's former boss as an elaborate practical joke to pay him back for sacking Smitty. However, the company had changed its schedule and, instead of stealing a truck full of cheese, they steal a trucking a half a million dollars worth of furs.
  • Vulnerable Convoy: In "The Giant Killer", a fanatic launches an attack on a convoy transporting a missile from Texas to California using a rifle grenade.
  • Wire Dilemma: In "The Problem of the Honorable Wife", Jim and a local field agent shoot down a communist agent who was smuggling a bomb into a union meeting. However, they are then confronted with the bomb. The timer has been set and there is no time to call in a bomb disposal team. Jim looks at the other agent, who tells him "Go for it". Jim pulls out one wire, seemingly at random, and the bomb stops. However, given the bomb-maker's reluctance to construct this particular bomb, it is entirely possible that he rigged it so pulling any wire would defuse it, hoping that someone would stop it.

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