WHY WE’RE DOING THIS
AndersonVision is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mel Brooks classic spy spoof, Get Smart, by releasing the series digitally for the first time. During the show’s run, Maxwell Smart a bumbling secret agent assigned by his “Chief” to foil KAOS’ latest plans for taking over the world. Invariably, Smart’s bumbling detective style lands him in hot water. Lucky for him, his faithful assistant “99” is there to bail him out.
This Friday (September 18th) marks the exact date the show first premiered in 1965.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SPY SPOOF
“Get Smart” was the brain child of Buck Henry and Mel Brooks. The comedy duo wanted to create an attempt to spoof the Connery Bond films and the runaway success of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” that NBC was already enjoying. So, the Peacock Network gave a go to the spoof of the spy genre that was rather new to American audiences. Unfortunately for NBC, the duo offered the show to ABC at first.
Henry and Brooks were told that it was un-American to make light of the American intelligence community. Among the demands made for the series was to add a dog and make sure that Maxwell Smart’s mother appeared in many episodes. The demand for an older female figure in a macho series would carry over to the following year’s “Batman” series on ABC.
To stay within network standards, dialogue was rarely improvised for the first two seasons. Speaking of the dog demands, NBC eventually added Fang to the show as an ill-mannered CONTROL agent. Fang appears in the pilot as Agent K-13, but was used sparingly until disappearing into the sunset with the Season 2 finale.
MAXWELL’S BLUETOOTH SHOES
The tech used on “Get Smart” was meant to poke fun at spy fiction conventions during the Cold War. A recurring joke introduced by Mel Brooks is Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone that he has to take off to answer. Sometimes, the shoe has different functions and one episode it was a golf shoe complete with cleats. One could make the connection to the rise of cell phones and other remote communications devices. But, I’m not Buzzfeed and I’m not going to blast you with a few sentences matched by some images.
Agent 99 got to get in on the hidden phone fun. During the series, she had a phone in her compact and in her little fingernail. Why? Well, because she was a girl and that’s all the Network could understand. The show would also make use of gun phones, a bowl of soup that would take your picture and the worst bulletproof glass device.
Still, the most famous device used on the show was the Cone of Silence. The pilot scene using the Cone was shot ahead of NBC picking up the series and it seems to be credited to Buck Henry. However, the concept of The Cone of Silence had appeared on Science Fiction Theater and the first publishing of “Dune”. However, Henry had the concept played for fun. While CONTROL tries to keep things secret from KAOS, the device would malfunction and make it harder for higher-ups to communicate in privacy.
AGENT 99: MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
Barbara Feldon offered up Agent 99 as one of the greatest TV heroines of the 1960s. Unfortunately, network standards couldn’t match her efforts to flesh out the character. Buck Henry has gone on record in the DVD commentaries stating that he didn’t want Agent 99 to be pretty, but funny. Not funny as in disarming, but as an equal to Maxwell Smart.
Most of the early network demands would later find their way worked into Agent 99’s development. Her mother would play a big role on the series, while the efforts to force Maxwell and her together ended up with their wedding in Season 4. The couple would later have twins and somehow this lead to Andy Dick playing their kid in the FOX revival. The less we say about that, the better.
Agent 99 would later go on to become a feminist hero by her decision in Season 5. It was the first time on American TV that a woman had children and then chose to return to the workplace. While that sounds small now, it was quite revolutionary for the time (1969-1970). But, that did happen after NBC dumped the show on CBS for its final season. It’s hard out there for Television Pioneers.
THE SPY WHO WAS BEFORE MY TIME
When I hear Don Adams’ voice, I don’t hear Maxwell Smart. I come from an era where the man is forever tied to Inspector Gadget. It’s weird that a modern audience automatically ties a character to a parody of the satiric character he created a generation before. In a way, it’s insanely meta.
Maxwell Smart was the Union Negotiator for the Guild of Surviving CONTROL Agents. His super spy days are almost incidental, as he just seems to keep surviving the oddity of his career. He spends episodes using KAOS’ member benefits to squeeze group perks and extra pay out of the Chief.
While he was a parody of Napoleon Solo and James Bond, Smart was a man of a new era. The working class schlub who knew that he was but a cog in the larger machine. He wanted to protect America, but he also knew that he needed to get paid. Plus, he hooked up with the only woman at CONTROL that wasn’t a female impersonator. Sorry, Agent 38.
Get Smart turns 50 today. Check it out on Digital HD from HBO.