"Mission Impossible" (1966) was one of the great shows. For the most part, it was intelligently written. As it did not always telegraph what it was going to do, and characters did not do something and then tell you what they did, every moment had to be watched. However, the old series was often set-bound and limited in what it could do.
The Impossible Mission Force Leaders, Dan Briggs (Steven Hill, first season) and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves, whose character achieved iconic status) received a tape (or record) of an anonymous voice briefing him on the mission (photographs included). The tape or record then self-destructed (in a few cases, Briggs or Phelps destroyed them).
The leader then chose the IMF agents best qualified to assist in the upcoming mission. Choosing the team gave the viewer a sense that the Impossible Mission Force was large and went on more missions than were depicted on-air. (As the show focused on a nucleus of a few agents, the team selection process was scrapped).
Then the leader met with the team and they discussed the plan. Electronics genius Barney Collier (Greg Morris) showed off some device he invented. But the viewer is not told exactly how all these cryptic bits of the plan fit together.
This format worked well for seven years. Frequent cast changes kept the show fresh. The cast changes also emphasized that the Impossible Missions Force was a larger organization than just the four of five agents in each episode.
Long after it went off the air, "Mission Impossible" remained in the public consciousness. It had one of the best and most recognizable signature tunes in television. After the theme, the voice on tape, in the space of a minute, gave the viewer all the necessary exposition for the story without sounding like a boring recitation of facts. (This was because the tape scene always took place in a different venue, and it self-destructed -- actually, a smoke bomb hidden in the machine, but it was extraordinarily effective).
And the taped voice added suspense. It always said that should any of the force be caught or killed, "the Secretary" will disavow any knowledge of their actions. The word "disavow" was tantalizing.
So well-remembered was the old show that when a writer's strike threatened an upcoming TV season in the late '80s, "MI" was revived with updated scripts from the old series. The taped voice (Bob Johnson) was brought back, and so was iconic Peter Graves.
But no longer did Phelps choose from a large pool of agents. He chose a team and stuck with it until he had to get a replacement (with the occasional adjunct).
Because the new series used old scripts (for several shows) it was easy to fit new actors into the old patterns. One quickly realized Nicholas Black (Thaao Penghlis) was serving the same function as Rollin Hand (Martin Landau). Another agent on the team was Grant Collier, Barney Collier's son (played by Phil Morris, actual son of the old series' popular Greg Morris).
Though second-unit shots fooled the viewer into thinking the IM force was dashing around the world, the series was largely shot in Australia. As the Australian terrain is varied and can represent many parts of the world, this opened the new series up from the stage-bound old series.
Unfortunately, obvious matte-paintings made some scenes look phony. And one episode, set in Washington, has a cityscape in the background that looks like it was cut out of construction paper. So even though the new series did some realistic-looking location shooting, it was undercut by poor production design.
And later script work was not good. In one episode, a character is seen wrapping a long fishing net around a ship's propeller. Coming out of the water, he says the ship won't move with forty feet of fishing net wrapped around its propeller. The old series would simply have shown the wrapping of the net and the result. In the new series, plot points were often labored.
The new series is also hurt by some of the acting. This may be the reason for the first series had a major cast change, since one of the actors simply could not deliver a believable line.
Spoiler alert: In the first season one of Phelps' team is killed on a mission. This first-season cast change led to one of the more exciting developments in the new series: a regular team member is disavowed! Actually, disavowing turned out to be rather disappointing, as "disavowing" looks like a bureaucratic process, or it had became one by this time. I always pictured a foreign premiere banging his shoe on his desk and railing against western interference and "the Secretary" assuring him he'd never heard of these loose cannons. Still, an actual disavowing is one thing the new series has going for it.
Overall, the new "MI" wasn't totally dreadful, but the new "Mission" moved around a lot on the schedule, finally coming to rest opposite "The Cosby Show." As "Cosby" was no. 1 in the 87-88 and 88-89 seasons and slipped no further than second in 89-90, defeating Cosby was a mission too impossible to overcome. Phelps' IMF was disbanded.
Looking back, the '88-'89 "MI" series is just for franchise fans. It was hardly must see TV.