I Spy

1965 | United States

This slick espionage drama was notable for the fact that it was the first TV series on a national network to feature a black actor playing alongside a white one on a regular basis. It was not, however, the first TV series to do so. 

In 1953 WOR-TV, a New York station aired a series called Harlem Detective, a half-hour crime series featuring William Marshall and Owen Jordan as two plainclothes heroes. The series was written by Jay Bennett and directed by Bob Erle and Lawrence Menkin. So when I Spy came along in 1965 it was not exactly going into untested territory. Bill Cosby (who would become a major TV star in his own right but was later to be jailed for sex offences), starred as agent Alexander Scott, who alongside Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson toured the four corners of the world travelling to exotic locations under the guise of tennis ace and coach. 

Although outwardly liberal minded, NBC ensured that Culp took the superior role of player and that Cosby never appeared opposite a white woman. Even so the show set became a great hit and Cosby was awarded three Emmy's for his role. The show ran for four season's finishing in 1968, although the two paired up again in 1972 for the movie Hickey & Boggs, in which they played two down-and-out private eyes.

Published on December 22nd, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.