Do you remember the show 'A Man Called Sloane'?
The Wild Wild West's Robert Conrad played a super spy, assisted by a man with a metal hand.
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Robert Conrad was no stranger to spycraft; he had been doing it for decades. Well, for over a century, if you consider his fictional life. In The Wild Wild West, he was the James Bond of the American frontier, a secret agent for President Ulysses S. Grant. Before that series, Conrad had played sleuth in paradise on Hawaiian Eye.
In the late 1970s, Conrad took to the skies as World War II flying ace Pappy Boyington on Baa Baa Black Sheep — or Black Sheep Squadron, as it is known in syndication. Around the same time, the ruggedly handsome actor proved his mettle as NBC's team captain on Battle of the Network Stars. He took the competition quite seriously. Perhaps you remember him arguing with officials and challenging Gabe Kaplan to a 100-yard dash re-do.
In other words, Conrad was a man's man. Yet he was not the first choice to star in Quinn Martin's A Man Called Sloane. Nor the second or third. The series would be a throwback to the spy shows of the 1960s — Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, etc. — albeit with the zippy tone of contemporary Roger Moore Bond films.
Martin, the television titan behind series such as The Fugitive, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon and Barnaby Jones, produced a pilot film called T.R. Sloane in 1979. The TV movie starred Robert Logan as Thomas Remington Sloane, secret agent for U.N.I.T. The spy must prevent the evil K.A.R.T.E.L. from using a dehydrator that would turn innocent civilians into skeletons. Indeed, fans of Batman would not be lost here. The series would be Martin's final production.
However, network executive Fred Silverman was not too hot on Logan. He wanted someone else in the role. The part was offered to Stephen Collins and Armand Assante. Silverman pushed for Conrad. QM Productions was not sold on the idea, reportedly calling the actor "stocky and heavy and very American." Nevertheless, Conrad was cast. The pilot would not hit the airwaves until 1981, retitled as the very Roger Corman–esque Death Ray 2000, after A Man Called Sloane had ended its run.
Advertisements for the 1979–80 season series proclaimed Sloane to be "America's Sexiest Superagent" while warning of "Killer Robots on the March!" Ji-Tu Cumbuka played Torque, the muscle at Sloane's side with a detachable metal hand. Like an action figure, he could snap on guns, drills and other sinister tools.
Conrad was initially meant to sport a mustache. Promotions were shot with the actor having a 'stache. However, on the first day of filming, he showed up to set cleanly shaven. Silverman had requested a more recognizable Conrad, according to Jonathan Etter's book Quinn Martin, Producer.
At first, A Man Called Sloane fared well against its Saturday night competition, Paris and Hart to Hart. However, when the latter was moved and replaced with Fantasy Island, Sloane suffered in the ratings. After 12 episodes, the series was canceled.
NBC would continue to struggle with that 10PM time slot in subsequent seasons, throwing everything from the lurid soap Secrets of Midland Heights to The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour up against Fantasy Island. But those are titles for another "Do You Remember…"