Some think that comic book culture is a modern phenomenon. Yet, the 1966 television schedule was a sci-fi and comic lover's dream. In the wake of James Bond, the spy genre was booming, too. Mission: Impossible, Get Smart, The Man Who Never Was, I Spy and The Avengers were all fighting the Cold War with gadgets and secret agent skills. And then, of course, there was The Man from U.N.C.L.E., America's first spy show.
When The Man from U.N.C.L.E. premiered in 1964, the TV Guide schedule was a landscape of sitcoms. The popularity of the show signaled a sea change in programming. Over the course of its four seasons, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. underwent drastic changes as well — as we'll get to below — making it arguably the definitive action series of the decade.
Here are six reasons The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the coolest spy show of the 1960s — even when it became the silliest.
1) Like James Bond, Napoleon Solo and April Dancer were the brainchildren of Ian Fleming.
The show's creator, Norman Felton, enlisted former navel intelligence officer and novelist Fleming to come up with characters and premises for U.N.C.L.E
. The Bond author dreamt up Napoleon Solo and April Dancer
. The original title for the series was Ian Fleming's Solo
2) It is technically set in the Sherlock Holmes universe.
U.N.C.L.E.'s nemesis, T.H.R.U.S.H. was founded by Sherlock Holmes villain Col. Sebastian Moran. In the backstory, Moran created the evil organization after his boss, Moriarity, went over the Reichenbach Falls. So, in a way, U.N.C.L.E. is a sequel to Sherlock — it is set in the same world. The modern Sherlock Holmes films and the new U.N.C.L.E. flick were all directed by Guy Ritchie, who has quietly developed his own cinematic shared universe.
3) William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in an episode together — years before Star Trek.
In "The Project Strigus Affair," the ninth episode, the soon-to-be Kirk and Spock were on opposite sides. Shatner played a good guy, while Nimoy was a henchman. They appeared in one scene together, two years before the voyages of the Enterprise began! James Doohan also popped up on the show, Trekkies. And Sonny & Cher, for what it's worth.
4) It was three dramatically (and comedically) different shows in one.
The first season was in black & white, and befitting the shadowy look, took a more serious tone. In 1965, Napoleon Solo like Dorothy leapt into a world of bright color. In its four year run, the series had different showrunners each season, and each overseer brought a different style to a table. The show went from noir spy thriller to bright and light adventures to outright spoof, emulating the mod vibe of the hugely popular Batman.
5) A famous board game inventor designed the weaponry.
Reuben Klamer invented the classic Milton Bradley board game The Game of Life. He went from little pink and blue pegs and spinning wheels to deadly weaponry. Klamer designed "The Gun," Solo's nifty semi-automatic piece that could transform from a pistol into a rifle.
6) The United Nations made the writers come up with the acronym for U.N.C.L.E.
Initially, the creators hoped to leave the meaning of "U.N.C.L.E." undefined for added mystery. Considering the secret agency operated out of the east side of New York City, the real United Nations was worried that people would assume the "U.N." stood for, well, the U.N. So the writers came up with "United Network Command for Law and Enforcement."