Mission: Impossible (the television series)

caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent
edited May 20 in Off Topic Chat

Good morning ajb007

the logo you see before you is that of (the real) Mission: Impossible, an American television series which ran on CBS from 1966-1973, a Desilu production. The show was a one hour spy series starring an ensemble cast, who each week engaged in intricately planned schemes to rescue prisoners, prevent assassinations, extradite criminals from foreign countries, and various other low level Cold War espionage activities. The focus of the show was on the execution and fine details of these schemes, rather than character interplay.

Over the coming days and weeks I shall make a series of posts discussing the first season of this show. I know little of its history except that which I see as I watch each episode in order, so shall be sharing with you something close to real time reaction.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to participate in discussion of the Mission: Impossible television series. You may discuss any aspect of the show you like, regardless of the content of whatever latest post I may have made, leaping ahead if you choose, adding information or opinions, or best of all telling me I'm wrong and explaining the correct information whenever you feel like it. You may also discuss parodies, related shows, and the history of the various actors and behind the scenes creators of the show. All discussion relevant to the show, be it formal essays, informal chitchat, or best of all cool screenshots, is permitted. If some TV historian would care to explain what is Desilu productions that would be excellent.

Should this thread lag and fall off the first page of the Off-Topic SubForum, you are encouraged to bump it and return it to the top, even if you have nothing to add.

However there is one condition: in the event that one of you should attempt to discuss a similarly named film series about a smug Scientologist who does his own stunts, the Secretary shall disavow any knowledge of the horrible fate that awaits you. Start another thread for that sort of talk.

Good luck ajb007. This opening post shall self-destruct in five seconds.


  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 33,214Chief of Staff

    Desilu as it's name suggests was a production company started by Lucille Ball and her then husband Desi Arnaz.

    The original plan was to make "I Love Lucy", which in its time was a hugely successful show, independently from the major TV networks. This succeeded, and Desilu went on to make other shows including "Star Trek" and of course "Mission Impossible".

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,980MI6 Agent

    I've never seen it

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent

    here are the opening credits for Season 1, I think this is the very first episode.

    Classic tension building music from composer Lalo Schifrin, in 5/4 time. Like Batman or the Adams Family, this is one of those 1960s teevee show themes I've had tattooed on my brain ever since I was a little boy.

    The hand lighting the fuse is that of series creator Bruce Geller. The photos we see are all from this week's episode, each new episode would begin with a new montage of photos. My own analysis: the relentless left-to-right movement of the burning fuse towards an implicit end is a concise graphic summary of the formulaic logic of each episode. The show focusses on Process, the Process of the intricately planned Mission unfolding across 60 minutes, usually with split second timing somehow anticipating all contingencies. Once the fuse is lit the outcome is inevitable.

    Variations on Schifrin's theme play throughout the show rising and falling as suspense builds, character "parts" are revealed, technical elements in the scheme are set up then used, some chance setback leads to a tense pause (always minor and within the range of predictable contingencies) then final culmination of all steps having fallen into place and mission completed for another week. The plots of the show have a mathematical precision and the music does as well.

    here is a 16 minute suite of some more of the incidental music to give you better feel

    there were two LPs of Lalo Schifrin's music from the show released at the time

    Music From Mission: Impossible 1966 (discogs link)

    More Mission: Impossible 1969 (discogs link)

    Lalo Schifrin began in jazz and bossa nova (he collaborated with Dizzy Gillespie!) before becoming a film composer, and also did the music for The Liquidator, Murderers Row, Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, Enter the Dragon, and Dirty Harry amongst dozens of others. I now realise I've heard a lot of his music before.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,841MI6 Agent
    edited May 22

    I've never seen it either but it's interesting to note how Desilu as a production company has a similarly with Danjaq as the legal holding company of Eon as both were made from a convergence of two first names.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,661MI6 Agent

    I loved the TV series but I don’t remember seeing the first season with Steven Hill as leader of IMF. I’m looking forward to seeing your reviews and I might purchase the series to stream on Amazon. Lalo Schifrin’s theme is right up there in the top TV themes of all time with The Prisoner and Hawaii Five-0.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent

    Mission: Impossible was created by Bruce Geller, whose previous work was all with cowboy/western series: Zane Grey Theater, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Rebel, The Rifleman, and Rawhide (Rawhide's the only one I'm familiar with, and thats because the theme-song was covered by both The Blues Brothers and The Dead Kennedys). Geller worked as a writer and director on earlier series, but he only wrote the first episode ever of Mission: Impossible, Pilot (S1E01 September 17, 1966), which introduces the essential structure which will be repeated in all subsequent episodes.

    At the beginning of each episode, IMF team leader Dan Briggs picks this weeks teammates from his dossier of photographs. Many photos show unseen teammates who never get picked, and these are supposedly photos of the behind the scenes creative team. Here we see Bruce Geller being considered but not picked for a Mission.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent
    edited June 7

    The first scene of each and every episode is the much parodied sequence in which team leader Dan Briggs receives his instructions from a recording. See my opening post if you don't know how these recorded instructions always go. Even if you've never seen a single episode of this show you've heard these recorded instructions parodied, they are the most iconic aspect of the show. I'm not sure that Briggs ever actually meets his boss or if it is all handled through intermediaries. The unseen boss works in turn for someone called The Secretary, presumably a White House Cabinet member, but secretary of exactly what is not specified either.

    The recording is always found somewhere everyday yet unexpected, and the steps to locate the tape are part of the ritual. Each and every episode Briggs walks into a small private office, or hotel room, or backroom of a shop, and asks a normal-sounding question to a stranger, like "do you have any chewing gum". The stranger will look at Briggs closely and ask something of Briggs, like "what sort of chewing gum", and Briggs will give a somewhat odd answer, like "the kind with extra bubbles", then the stranger will lead him through a door and leave him alone. Like asking to borrow a match, these are passwords to verify his identity.

    Once left alone, he will find a recording device, usually a tape recorder, sometime a vinyl LP sealed in plastic. He goes to a lot of oddball locations to find these recordings. At least once he sits in an empty theatre, with a silent film projecting faces and the tape recorder is in the next seat, and another time he climbs a roof and finds a tape recorder next to a pigeon coop. At least twice he pulls into a parking lot and enters the next car over, finding a tape recorder in the glove compartment. Once its inside the emergency call phone on an out-of-order elevator. Somehow there are usually photos accompanying the tape, and the tape explains the identities of the people in the photos and the problem, which Briggs must solve. I think Briggs gets to keep the photos, but the tape either self-destructs or orders Briggs to dispose of it in the usual manner (a lot of these locations have refuse burning stoves nearby, which I never notice in real life when I need to destroy a tape). Therefor Briggs must have a very good memory, as a lot depends on his correct recollection of the information on that tape, including the survival of his teammates and the fate of the world.

    (In one episode only this season, it is not an Briggs but his teammate Cinnamon Carter who receives instruction on the tape, found in a beauty parlour (Action! s1e23 March 4, 1967), as Stephen hill, the actor playing Briggs, was unavailable that week.)

    For this communication scheme to work, the organisation Briggs reports to must have a vast army of shopkeepers, dentists, and chambermaids who each lead Briggs to this week's tape. They all seem to be in on the scheme, otherwise they would think he's a looney, instead of leaving him alone in a back room burning tapes every where he goes. I get the idea is to eliminate any direct connection between him and his unaccountable superiors (who will deny any knowledge of his actions) but this all seems very inefficient at best, and massive security risk at worst. Any one of these simple seeming intermediaries could listen to the tape, and how do you keep the organisation secret when there are so many random people involved?

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,661MI6 Agent

    The intermediaries couldn’t listen to the tapes because they would self destruct and then the organisation would know that security had been breached. Logically, of course, it’s a silly way of getting messages to Hill, but it’s a TV series and logic is usually dispensed with, but these openings scenes to each episode are really good and parallel the scenes where M explains the mission to Bond. As is mentioned before, I don’t remember this first season and look forward to reading about it.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent

    and the tape ritual sure looks great on teevee. If Dan Briggs merely opened up a letter he got in the mail it would be a lot more boring, not taking full potential of the medium. This show may be light on character and really into the nuts and bolts of the Mission (also always hugely inefficient and unlikely to succeed as shown) but it all looks great, This is really highly stylised television, primarily a visual experience. and the music is so predominant, each episode is almost like an all-new music video to the variations of that classic theme, rather than a conventional narrative. and I think maybe the whole variations-on-a-ritual thing is also a uniquely teevee concept that would not work the same in any other medium.

    I apologise I've been dawdling on these reports. But its summertime and I've been preferring to be outside, its just we've had a rainy couple of days so I've finally taken some time to get on with it. When I get another moment I will file a report on IMF team leader Dan Briggs and his second ritual of every episode, his weekly choice of teammates. Spoiler: Dan Briggs is another teevee spy with a great apartment.

    @CoolHandBond I'm not surprised you've seen the show, since it was your job to know this sort of pop culture. Were there any tie-in books or annuals? otherwise, I notice the others who've never seen it are Brits, and wonder if an American show was maybe not broadcast in the UK? Did north americans like @Gymkata or @The Domino Effect ever watch it?

    For me, as a child of the early eighties, this show and Get Smart were the two vintage spy series I always could find reruns of on cable. I was very familiar with the music and ritual elements of both those shows. Don't think I ever saw The Man from UNCLE in those days, and never saw the great ITV spy adventure shows until one of our cable stations started playing The Prisoner in the mid-eighties. It seemed like all the Mission: Impossible episodes I saw had Lenard Nimoy, and he didnt join the cast til season 4. but that means by definition I also never saw any of the first season episodes with Stephen Hill (Dan Briggs). Turns out theres a reason for that, I'll get to in my next report.

    anyway, that was my M:I experience growing up forty years ago, trying to catch old spy shows on teevee when even on cable there were only a couple of channels to choose from. Nowadays I look for old spy shows on dvd in used shops, and Mission: Impossible is actually by far the easiest to find used copies of, used dvd's seem to be ubiquitous.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,661MI6 Agent

    The series was shown in the UK, and I’m presuming the first Steven Hill first season was, but I can only remember the Peter Graves episodes. There were UK annuals released as follows…

    There were also paperbacks, comicbooks and a couple of UK Whitman hardcovers published.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent

    thanks CoolHand!

    that looks like Hill on the cover of first annual, itd be strange to use his picture if his episodes werent shown in the UK

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,661MI6 Agent

    And these are the paperbacks…

    And the hardcovers…

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent

    thanks @CoolHandBond ! please all feel free to add content, don't wait for me (so longs its about the TV show not the movies)

    I know I'm being negligent here, but its mid-summer and the suns out to almost 10pm. I'm not wanting to sit inside and write long posts. At this rate I'll need to watch the Season again before I can complete my Reports. good thing the DVD wont self-destruct after 5 seconds....

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,388MI6 Agent
    edited June 20

    Dan Briggs is the original leader of IMF (the Impossible Missions Force), seen only in Season 1. Played by Steven Hill, Briggs seems an unlikely spy boss, stoop shouldered, a bit beady eyed, at first glance a bit nerdy and unassuming. While undercover he will typically play the part of a cuckolded husband or hapless defense attorney. But at the end of a mission, when their target knows he has been caught with no way out, Briggs will move in with a merciless glare and the target will realise at last who it is who's done him in.

    For example, in the early episode, Operation Rogosh (S1E03 October 1, 1966), the one where Briggs portrays the hapless defense attorney, there's a temporary crisis when their target suddenly realises he's been fooled (he spots a piece of furniture labeled Los Angles after believing he's been on trial in Eastern Europe all this time). He turns and spins round the room full of "judges" "prosecutors" and other assorted phony courtroom types, before seeing his own incompetent lawyer in a new light and saying "You! The most pathetic and useless of all! Of course! Only you could be the mastermind behind all this!" If it sounds like I'm being hard on Steven Hill, he does fall naturally into these type of undercover roles and its satisfying to see that unsmiling look of triumph, almost predatory, when his prey is trapped. Also nice to see a spy willing to selfdeprecate in an era when all the other spies were so studly and glamorous, his approach is more realistic and appropriate to getting the job done.

    That said, Briggs only goes in the field on a mission in maybe half the episodes. As often as not, he puts together the team specific to each mission, brainstorms the plan and gives them their instructions in the opening minutes, and is not seen again for the rest of the episode. Cinnamon Carter and Rollin Hand are the lead characters in far more episodes than Dan Briggs. There is behind the scenes reason for this: in real life, Hill was an orthodox jew who refused to work after sundown Friday, thus the producers started to write him out of his own show, easily done with the concept of the everchanging ensemble cast.

    In one episode near the end of the season, Shock (S1E25 March 25, 1967) where Briggs is meant to be the lead character, a few minutes in he applies heavy makeup to impersonate another man, and once "made up" another actor (James Daly) plays the part for the remainder of the episode, before pulling off the "rubber mask" in the very last scene. Unpersuasive enough, but all the more distracting once you know the real life reason.

    and as noted above, In the episode Action! (S1E23 March 4, 1967), Briggs is entirely absent and it is Cinnamon who listens to the instructions on the tape. It would have been awkward if Briggs had received this week's message anyway, as Cinnamon finds it in a beauty parlour.

    Next season of course Hill would be replaced, by Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) who would be team leader for the next six seasons. Graves certainly looks the type more. Upthread @CoolHandBond says he never saw the episodes with Briggs, and I don't remember seeing them either despite this show being in syndication afterschool in the late 70s/early 80s. There's reason for this: they had so many episodes with the better known Phelps character, there was no reason to confuse viewers with an earlier longforgotten teamleader. (Related to this is one really odd factoid about the show: they cancelled the show after seven season even though it was still popular because they had more than enough episodes for syndication, and the royalties would earn them enough that spending any money on more episodes did not make financial sense!)

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,661MI6 Agent

    I’m not going to buy MI Season 1, I will get Season 2 and start from there.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
Sign In or Register to comment.