Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the television series. See I spy for the guessing game, and I-Spy for the series of spotter's guides for children.
I Spy is a 1960s NBC American television series spoofing the spy thriller genre. It teamed Robert Culp as international tennis pro Kelly Robinson, and Bill Cosby as his trainer Alexander Scott. In reality they were both top agents for the CIA and, while ostensibly traveling the world on the pro tennis circuit, were usually busy chasing villains, spies and beautiful women.
I Spy broke new ground in that it was the first American television show to feature an African-American actor (Cosby) in a lead role. It was also notable that Cosby's race was never an issue in any of the stories. Nor was his character in any way subservient to Culp's, with the exception that Culp's character was a more experienced agent. Another way in which I Spy was a trailblazer was in its use of exotic international locations in an attempt to emulate the James Bond film series, but this was unique for a television show, especially since the series actually filmed its lead actors at locations ranging from Japan to Italy, rather than relying on second unit photography and stock footage. (Compare with the current series, Alias which also utilizes worldwide settings but never actually films outside the Los Angeles region.)
The success of the show is attributed to the chemistry between Culp and Cosby. Fans tuned in more for their hip banter than for the espionage stories, making I Spy a leader in the buddy genre. After the show went off the air, they teamed again for the film Hickey & Boggs (1972), a downbeat and violent story that failed to capitalize on what I Spy audiences had loved. In 1994 they teamed once more for the nostalgic television movie I Spy Returns (in which the aging spies have to leap into action once again to rescue their children, who are also spies).
A movie remake I Spy followed in 2002 with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. As with most remakes, it diverged from its source material, including for some reason switching the character name around so that Alexander Scott (Wilson) was now the experienced agent and Kelly Robinson (Murphy) the amateur, possibly due to Murphy's popular Mr. Robinson character on Saturday Night Live. The film was a critical and commercial flop.
The original television series and the 1994 reunion movie are both available on DVD.
Original novels and comic books
A number of original novels based upon the series were published in the late 1960s, most written by John Tiger:
- I Spy (1965)
- Masterstroke (1966)
- Message From Moscow (1966) by Brandon Keith . This was a hardcover novel published for young readers.
- Superkill (1967)
- Wipeout (1967)
- Countertrap (1967)
- Doomdate (1967)
- Death-Twist (1968)
- I Spy (2003) by Max Allan Collins - novelization of the motion picture remake
Gold Key Comics also published six issues of an I Spy comic book between 1966 and 1968.
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