GET SMART

U.S. Spy Parody

The premise of this cult-classic television comedy series is that an evil organization, KAOS, is attempting to take over the world. The forces of good, symbolized by the organization CONTROL, constantly battle KAOS to preserve order in the world. Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) is CONTROL Secret Agent 86. Yet Smart was anything but. A short, stupid, self-centered man, Smart is the antithesis--and parody--of everything conventionally represented by secret service agents in popular culture.

Smart's immediate superior is The Chief (Ed Platt), the head of the Washington Bureau of CONTROL. In his fight against KAOS Smart is assisted by his side-kick, Agent 99, played by former model Barbara Feldon. Unfailingly faithful to Maxwell Smart and always willing to let him take credit of her proficiency, 99's admiration of Smart goes well beyond professional respect. It is obvious to anyone, except of course Maxwell Smart, that Agent 99 is in love with him, and indeed, in a later show they marry.

The success of Get Smart has been linked to three primary factors. The first was the spy craze that was all the rage in early 1960s popular culture. Second was the talent of persons involved in the production of the series both in front and behind the camera. And third was the more tenuous sense of a new mood in the American public, a willingness to accept television humor that went beyond sight gags and family situation comedies. In the aftermath of 1950s McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, and increasing criticism of the policy in Vietnam, these newer forms of television humor included satiric jabs at an increasingly questioned status quo.

In the mid-1960s spies were hot: The Man from Uncle aired on NBC in 1964. I Spy appeared in 1965. The Avengers, a British production, came to U.S. television in March of 1966. Burke's Law premiered in 1963 but in the 1965 season changed its name to Amos Burke-Secret Agent. In the same year The Wild, Wild West appeared on the small screen. Honey West, a Burke spin-off, featured Anne Francis as a female private detective who depended on technological marvels--tear gas earrings and garters that converted into gas masks--to solve crimes. CBS imported Secret Agent from Britain, and ABC aired The F.B.I.

In this context Mel Brooks (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs), Buck Henry (The Graduate, Saturday Night Live), Jay Sandrich, who would go on to direct Soap, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Cosby Show, and Carl Reiner (Mary Tyler Moore) were brought together by Dan Melnick and David Susskind. Melnick and Susskind owned Talent Associates, the company that had produced the highly acclaimed television series East Side/West Side (1963-64). Brooks and Henry developed the idea for Get Smart.

Don Adams had played a house detective on The Danny Thomas Show before signing on as Agent 86. His ability to deliver lines that stuck in the viewers mind was uncanny. On several occasions, for example, after being asked if he understands that his current assignment means he will be in constant danger, unable to trust anyone, and face torture or even death, Smart, assuming a cavalier stance, responds with, "And loving it." Another catchy phrase, "Sorry about that, chief," was usually uttered when Smart accidentally caused his boss some problem.

Finally, the mood of the American public seems to have contributed to the success of a program like Get Smart. In 1965 protests against the war in Vietnam, riots by African Americans in many urban centers, organized efforts by Mexican and Mexican American migrant workers to strike for higher wages, and an increase in new political activism on the part of women eventually led to a questioning of fundamental assumptions about the role of the United States government in domestic and world affairs. A television series like Get Smart was able to make pointed--some might say subversive--statements about many political issues in a non-threatening, humorous way. McCrohan provides an example she refers to as "probably the strongest anti-bomb statement made by situation comedy up to that time". The dialogue she cites takes place between Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 in the episode titled Appointment in Sahara. Behind the two characters is an image of a mushroom cloud:

99: Oh, Max what a terrible weapon of destruction.

Smart: Yes. You know, China, Russia, and France should outlaw all nuclear weapons. We should insist upon it.

99: What if they don't, Max?

Smart: Then we may have to blast them. That's the only way to keep peace in the world.

Get Smart is credited with paving the way for other comedy programs and broadening the parameters for the presentation of comedy on television. While it was on the air, from 1965 to 1970 a total of 138 half-hour programs were produced.

In the 1994-95 television season an attempt was made to revive the series with some of the original actors. This time Don Adams was cast as The Chief, Barbara Feldon is a Congresswoman and Secret Agent Smart is their son. The series lasted only a few episodes, its jokes, and perhaps its cast, unable to attract a large audience.

-Raul D. Tovares

 


Get Smart

CAST

Maxwell Smart, Agent 86......................... Don Adams Agent 99 ...........................................Barbara Feldon Thaddeus, The Chief (1965-1970)........... Edward Platt Agent 13 (1965-1970).......................... Dave Ketchum Carlson (1966-1967).............................. Stacy Keach Conrad Siegfried ((1966-1969)............... Bernie Kopell Starker (1966-1969)................................ King Moody Hymie, the Robot (1966-1969)................ Dick Gautier Agent 44 (1965-1970)........................... Victor French Larrabee (1967-1970)........................ Robert Karvelas 99's Mother (1968-1969)............................. Jane Dulo

PRODUCERS

Leonard B. Stern, Jess Oppenheimer, Jay Sandrich, Burt Nodella, Arnie Rosen, James Komak

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 138 Episodes

NBC
September 1965-September 1968   Saturday 8:30-9:00 September 1968-September 1969   Saturday 8:00-8:30

CBS
September 1969-February 1970          Friday 7:30-8:00 April 1970-September 1970                Friday 7:30-8:00

FURTHER READING

Green, Joey. The Get Smart Handbook. New York: Collier, 1993.

McCrohan, Donna. The Life and Times of Maxwell Smart. New York, St. Martin's, 1988.

 

See also Spy Programs