1 February 2005 | rcj5365
A Sunday Night Institution
"The FBI",appearing on ABC-TV from 1965 to 1974,was the longest running series from the prolific offices of QM Productions,the production company guided by the powerful television producer,Quinn Martin. Long time Martin associate and former writer Philip Saltzman produced this series for QM with the endorsement and cooperation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For the nine years that it ran on the ABC-TV network this show ran opposite,"The Wonderful World Of Disney","Lassie", "Bonanza", and "The Ed Sullivan Show". This was in fact an Sunday night institution of entertainment that even after some 30 years off the air,it was one of the most realistic cop shows of all time,second to another successful crime drama show,"Dragnet".
"The FBI",marked the first time that Quinn Martin productions chronicled the exploits of an actual federal law enforcement body and each episode was subject not only to general Bureau approval,but to the personnel approval of director J. Edgar Hoover. And in each episode came with the proper procedure for bringing down and indicting some of the most dangerous criminals that were on the Bureau's most wanted list and bringing them to justice. This was a show that was acted in the utmost accuracy and exclusive detail with a genuine sincerity,and it reflected on the decency and majority of the FBI agents in the field,since most of the acting and the action sequences kept viewers tuned in each week. The show featured the brilliant talents of Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. as FBI Inspector Lewis Erskine. During the show's first two seasons(1965-1967), Agent Jim Rhodes(Stephen Brooks),was Erskine's associate and boyfriend to Erskine's daughter(Lynn Loring). But it was during the show's third season,that Brooks left the show,and he was replaced by Agent Tom Colby (William Reynolds),who was Erskine's sidekick for the remainder of the series. All the principals answered to Agent Arthur Ward(Philip Abbott) who was the head of the division of the FBI Offices along with the head of security for the FBI(Lex Barker). During the series run,these individuals were the infantry in an endless battle of crime,and received its assurance from those in the Bureau. Several more FBI agents joined the cause including,during the show's final season,a female agent,Chris Daniels(Shelly Novack),and a African-American agent appeared on the last season of the series.
The series drew critical scorn but it was very successful for ABC,slipping in and out of the Top Twenty shows for the nine years of its run,and quickly rising to the tenth position of the Nielsens during the 1970-1971 season. This was one of Quinn Martin's most successful show and it was second only to his other venture,the drama,"The Fugitive",which was on the same network for four seasons(1963-1967). One thing that was interesting about this show. Toward the end of each episode,Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. would step out of his character and would present the audience pictures of some of the most wanted criminals in America and request assistance in capturing them(the same format that is used today by John Walsh of America's Most Wanted). One of the most prominent names from this segment was James Earl Ray,the man who assassinated the civil rights leader,Dr.Martin Luther King,Jr. Another interesting concept was that in almost every episode,you get to see these FBI agents or criminals always driving around in a new Ford product,since the show's sponsor was The Ford Motor Company,and even at the ending credits you always saw Inspector Erskine driving towards his Washington,DC brownstone in a shiny brand new Ford product.
Shortly after the series left the air in 1974,Quinn Martin produced two made-for-television films,"The FBI versus Alvin Karpis"(1974),and the Emmy nominated "The FBI versus the Ku Klux Klan"(1975). What really canceled this successful show? For one,the loss in faith with the government,the scandal at Watergate,and trauma leading to the resignation of President Nixon,and the distrust of the Vietnam War,led ABC's decision to pull the plug on this brilliant show,which was still in the Top Ten of the Nielsens when it was cancelled.