12 unclassified facts about the TV show 'The F.B.I.'

The ABC series had deep ties to the real F.B.I. — including Deep Throat.

Image: The Everett Collection

Few American television shows in history have been as deeply tied to the government as The F.B.I. In many ways, the ABC action series acted as the mouthpiece and P.R. machine of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Sunday evening staple aired from 1965–74, one of the most tumultuous times for the Bureau and our nation. As the newspapers were filled with headlines about Watergate, Vietnam, the Weather Underground and assassinations, The F.B.I. presented viewers with a pristine, powdered-up depiction of G-men.  

The series was produced by Quinn Martin, the television giant with a cinematic flair who was behind hit series like The FugitiveThe Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., former star of the hip cop drama 77 Sunset Strip, took the lead role as the straight-laced Inspector Lewis Erskine. Both men had the approval of J. Edgar Hoover.

As you will see, Hoover's approval was a running theme behind the scenes. It's not just coincidence that the series ended shortly after his death. The ties between the fictional F.B.I. and the real F.B.I. make for one of TV's more fascinating production stories. Let's take a look.

1. "Deep Throat" was a technical advisor.

In the early 1970s, Mark Felt served as Associate Director of the F.B.I. During that time, he acted as an anonymous informant to Washington Post journalists Woodward and Bernstein, earning the immortal nickname "Deep Throat." Felt also served as an unpaid technical advisor to the TV show. He even hung out on the set with Zimbalist. "[Erskine] was a cool character," Mark Felt, Jr., told Vanity Fair, "willing to take risks and go outside of the rule book to get the job done."

Image: AP Photo / Bob Daugherty

2. J. Edgar Hoover also had a heavy hand in the series.

As we mentioned in the intro, Hoover was more than an advisor. The book Cop Shows: A Critical History of Police Dramas on Television described the F.B.I. Director as the show's "ghost in the machine, an unseen by omniscient hand guiding both onscreen action and the production process behind it." Hoover was no fan of Hollywood, to say the least, but he came to trust Warner Bros. after the studio made the flattering Jimmy Stewart film The F.B.I. Story.

Image: AP Photo

3. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had to okay every script.

The Bureau had the power of script veto throughout the show's entire run. According to historian Richard Gid Powers, "scripts… shuttled back and forth between Hollywood and Washington."

Image: AP Photo

4. The actual F.B.I. vetoed certain guest stars.

The Bureau did not just have veto power on the script — it also had final say in which actors got to act out the dialogue. According to memos later released under the Freedom of Information Act, both Robert Blake and Bette Davis were black listed from appearing on the show.

Image: AP Photo

5. Guest stars like Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall were paid quite well.

Some of the actor that did get the stamp of approval were paid quite well, especially those that are now household names. Hackman and Duvall reportedly earned $5,000 for their guest spots in single episodes. That might not sound like much, but let's put things in perspective. The most the Brady kids ever made was $1,100 per episode, according to Barry Williams.

Image: Warner Bros.

6. Ford was a major sponsor of the show.

To help foot the bill for that budget, the show turned to the Ford Motor Company for sponsorship. The series is filled with Ford vehicles. Zimbalist notably would drive home in a new Mustang in the closing credits of each episode. The car was updated to the latest model each season.

Image: Warner Bros.

7. Zimbalist asked the audience to help catch MLK's assassin.

After the show concluded, Zimbalist would appear in a Public Service Announcement, announcing some of the F.B.I.'s most-wanted criminals, in a sort of precursor to America's Most Wanted. On April 7, 1968, days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Zimbalist came onscreen after the episode "The Predators" to ask for help catching the killer, James Earl Ray.

Image: AP Photo

8. Zimbalist was made an honorary agent.

In 2009, F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller bestowed Zimbalist with the plaque of an honorary special agent. The Bureau thanked the actor for helping shape the image of agents, and for assisting with those post-episode bulletins.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. William Reynolds was working in real estate before joining the series.

Of course, Zimablist was not the only star of the show. William Reynolds appeared in several seasons as Special Agent Tom Colby. The actor had previously appeared in The Twilight Zone. In the mid-1960s, however, he backed away from Hollywood, instead working for three years in real estate. A guest appearance on The F.B.I. in 1966 spurred his acting comeback.

Image: TV Guide

10. The show was quite divisive with the public.

The American public was deeply divided into pro-Nixon and anti-Nixon camps, and the split was reflected in this show's fandom. Nixon's so-called "silent majority" adored the series and what it stood for, while others felt it was a piece of sanitized propaganda for J. Edgar Hoover's often dubious agenda.

Image: Warner Bros.

11. The show was the longest-running Quinn Martin production.

The series was an undeniable success, airing for nearly a decade. No other Quinn Martin series lasted as long. The F.B.I. peaked in the ratings in 1970, when it just cracked into the Top 10 in the Nielsen charts.

Image: Warner Bros.

12. ABC attempted a reboot in the 1980s with the star of 'Mannix.'

In 1981, ABC launched Today's F.B.I. starring veteran TV tough guy Mike Connors. Unlike the original, this series was based on actual case files of the F.B.I. That realism hardly helped. It lasted just 18 episodes.

Image: Columbia Pictures Television


Dean Martin, James Bond and Richard Nixon all have ties to Zimbalist's earlier series. You can watch it on MeTV! READ MORE

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LittleMissNoName 40 months ago
I think this or MI should take the 1a.m. slot. Since I'm a fan of all the other QM productions, I would watch it.
Gljin40517 40 months ago
William Reynolds remains ,in my opinion,the best looking man to ever grace the tv screen.
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