The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
Stefanie Powers played the title role in this often campy spin-off of popular NBC spy thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Noel Harrison co-starred as her partner. Leo G. Carroll appeared on both shows simultaneously as the head of U.N.C.L.E. Despite decent initial ratings, NBC cancelled the show at the end of the 1966-1967 season after 29 episodes.
Spies, Guns & International Intrigue
NBC introduced The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in September 1964. The spy series starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as secret agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Leo G. Carroll played their boss Alexander Waverly, who headed an international spy agency called United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Its mission was to combat the evil agents of THRUSH, a global criminal organization bent world domination.
The series ranked 62nd for the 1964-1965, when it was broadcast in black-and-white . For the 1965-1966 season, the series transitioned to color and shifted time slots. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. easily bested its new competition and moved into the top twenty programs in the national Nielsen ratings . The success of the series did not go unnoticed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
In early November 1965 the production company proposed a spin-off: The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. . An episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was to serve as a backdoor pilot; it was tentatively set air in January 1966.
Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley earned the role of inexperienced young agent April Dancer–the girl from U.N.C.L.E. Norman Fell signed on to play Mark Slate, an agent butting up against U.N.C.L.E.’s mandatory retirement age. Production on the episode–titled “The Moonglow Affair–wrapped in December 1965 .
The plot saw April tasked with retrieving a radiation weapon from THRUSH that had already immobilized Solo and Illya. Waverly assigned Slate to assist and train Ms. Dancer, despite the fact that he was technically too old to work for U.N.C.L.E. After successfully completing their mission and saving Solo and Illya, Waverly decided to turn a blind eye to Slate’s age and allow the two to continue their partnership.
A New Girl for The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
According to Broadcasting, as of early February The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was not among the “top contenders” for NBC’s 1966-1967 schedule but it still had a chance . At that point, the episode introducing April and Mark had yet to air.
“The Moonglow Affair” aired on Friday, February 25th and ranked fourth for the week in Nielsen’s major market ratings. It earned a 27.0 rating, behind only the Thursday edition of Batman on ABC, Get Smart on CBS, and Bewitched on ABC .
NBC released its 1966-1967 schedule in late February, right around the time “The Moonglow Affair” was broadcast. It’s unknown whether the network waited until early ratings were in before deciding to pick up The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. NBC gave the series the 7:30-8:30PM time slot on Tuesday evenings, where it would compete with ABC’s Combat and CBS’s Daktari . NBC also renewed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for a third season.
Casting changes were unveiled in early March. Out was Mary Ann Mobley. Replacing her in the role of April Dancer was Stefanie Powers . Later that month, Noel Harrison (son of Rex Harrison) took over the role of Mark Slate from Norman Fell .
Harrison was 32 at the time; Powers was 23. By comparison, when “The Moonglow Affair” was filmed Norman Fell was 42 while Mary Ann Mobley was 27. Thus, Harrison and Powers would make for a younger, hipper partnership. Also, Harrison’s version of Mark Slate would, like the actor, be British.
A new character was added to The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.–an eager young agent named Randy Kovacks played by Randy Kirby. Leo G. Caroll would appear simultaneously in both The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and Man from U.N.C.L.E. in his role as head of U.N.C.L.E. Plus, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum could potentially make crossover appearances to help the new show find an audience.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. finished the 1965-1966 season in the 13th spot, the only time the series would crack the Top 20. Its popularity was at an all-time high and the chances of a spin-off succeeding would never be better.
Powers Confuses Critics
The promotional push for The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. started before production on the series began on May 20th . Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison were sent on photo shoots and conducted interviews across the country. Powers seemed to confound newspapers. The New York Times noted the way she “swings from cool appraisal to blunt candor to girlish playfulness in one brief conversation” .
Copyright © 1966, 1967 Turner Entertainment Co.
Clay Gowran of The Chicago Tribune had a hard time even getting her to talk. “Miss Powers seemed more interested in reading a magazine than in talking about herself or her show,” he wrote, “but she finally offered a few tidbits, as negligently as she had posed” .
“I think if we go about making The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. in a civilized manner,” Powers said, “it has the greatest possibility of succeeding. I hope so, at least. I think Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the best show on TV–they don’t seem to spare the money in producing it” .
Gowran referred to this encounter with Powers in a later article about the popularity of spies and secret agents on TV. He declared that “from her glum expression the one time we met her she’s liable to deadpan enemy agents into submission” .
Poor Reviews for the Spin-Off
Critics were almost uniformly negative in their response to the series. Harriet Van Horne of The New York World Journal Tribune called it “violently sadistic and altogether repellent” . The Washington Post‘s Lawrence Laurent suggested that for the following season, “we’ll be ready for a new series about The Jackass from U.N.C.L.E.” . Paul Molloy of The Chicago Sun-Times seemed to write it off as simply “The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in high heels” .
On the other end of the spectrum, Walt Dutton praised the series in The Los Angeles Times, saying it “moves along nicely, thanks to some clever dialogue” .
Television Magazine polled 24 television critics about their opinions of the new fall shows, including The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. Only two rated the series “Good,” twelve rated it “Bad,” and ten were “Indifferent” . Anthony La Camera of The Boston Record American wrote that “Stefanie Powers looks like a road company Barbara Feldon, Noel Harrison wears a half smile, and all is chaos” .
Mary Ann Lee of The Memphis Press-Scimitar suggested the series “seems to have a slightly lighter touch than The Man from U.N.C.L.E., otherwise it’s business as usual” .
The Trouble with The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
Critics weren’t the only ones concerned with the series. Both Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison expressed if not trepidation, at least some worry that The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. would be unable to stand apart from its parent series. According to Harrison, “the only way it will work is if our show is different, rather than the same. More towards laughs, I mean” .
Likewise, Powers didn’t appear happy about the way early episodes were written. After “mockingly” describing an episode to The Chicago Tribune, she was quoted as saying: “Silly, isn’t it? Absolutely campy. Noel and I are having a field day. We curse the script and make changes all the time. The writers haven’t found our style yet.” .
When asked about the new series, David McCallum said “I don’t feel anything about the new show–I feel, personally, numb” . He continued:
“We have worked very hard here, and we have a good show going. So, now they came along and pull out a Girl from U.N.C.L.E., to run parallel. It’s not as tho we’re going to have one U.N.C.L.E. one week and the other the next. No, we’re going to see both U.N.C.L.E.s every week.” 
Powers and Harrison (and McCallum) had reason to be concerned. In its first season on the air, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a straight spy drama with some humor woven into the episodes. During the second season, a episodes were a little looser, a little more outrageous. Then ABC’s Batman took the nation by storm midway through the 1966-1967 season (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.‘s second). The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. seemed designed to capture some of the wackiness that made Batman so successful.
Copyright © 1966, 1967 Turner Entertainment Co.
Unlike Batman, which was intentionally exaggerated to the point of absurdity, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E was supposedly a dramatic show. The preposterous plots and harebrained schemes on the part of the bad guys clashed with the concept of U.N.C.L.E. agents as serious spies. At times, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. appeared to have more in common with sitcom Get Smart than with The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
Gadgets, Gizmos, Killers And Impersonations
In the series premiere, April and Mark are tasked with getting their hands on the antidote to a drug THRUSH has developed. The drug causes people to move in slow motion. The antidote is hidden in fleas living on a dog. In short order April loses track of the dog, gets captured by THRUSH, and is strung over a pit filled with piranhas.
She’s able to free herself, get the dog back and meet up with Mark. The two are then captured only to escape again by provoking a rowdy barroom brawl. During the climactic fight scene, April stands clutching the dog while Mark is roughed up. Ultimately, the two save the dog and the antidote. The premiere set the tone of the series, which rarely saw April involved in any physical fighting.
Other early episodes featured April impersonating the daughter of an Arab sheik and posing as a belly dancer. She and Mark were sent to Mexico to free several scientists, flew to Denmark to rescue a hapless man who accidentally ate some cheese containing a THRUSH microdot, and teamed up with Napoleon Solo in London to face off against the fiendish Mother Muffin (played by Boris Karloff) who wanted to turn April and Napoleon into wax figurines.
Over the course of the series plots involved a variety of dangerous devices and substances: a chemical transported by birds that slowly kills humans; laser crystals; an anti-aging serum; a pill that can give anyone superhuman strength; a molecular reorganizer; and a machine that can remove all the color from anything it is pointed at.
Guest stars over the course of the season included Pernell Roberts, Leslie Uggams, Patricia Barry, Peggy Lee, Nanette Fabray, Dom DeLuise, Sorrell Booke, Tom Bosley, Ed Asner, Victor Buono and Ann Southern.
Ratings Initially Good–Soon Disappoint
The absurdity of its plot did not negatively impact ratings for the debut of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. The September 13th, 1966 premiere episode easily beat it competition, drawing a preliminary 19.7/39 Arbitron rating and a 22.3/44.6 26-city Trendex rating. By comparison, Combat on ABC had a 12.6/25 Arbitron rating and a 12.1/24.1 Trendex rating; Daktari on CBS had a 13.4/32 Arbitron rating and a 13.6/27.1 Trendex rating .
Nationally, the first two episodes of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. averaged a 19.7 Nielsen rating, ranking 24th . The following two episodes fell somewhat, averaging a 17.9 Nielsen rating and tying for 47th . Viewers apparently quickly tired of the new series. Based on national Nielsens for October through December 1966, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. ranked a dismal third in its time slot with an average 16.6 rating, behind both Combat on ABC with a 17.2 and Daktari on CBS with a 21.9 .
Copyright © 1966, 1967 Turner Entertainment Co.
NBC officially canceled The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. in late February 1967 . For the season as a whole, the series ranked 69th (Combat ranked 54th and Daktari 7th) . As for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it ranked 46th for the season and was renewed for the fall of 1967 but would move back to Mondays from 8-9PM .
Despite attempts to downplay the camp during its fourth season, increased competition from Gunsmoke and The Lucy Show on CBS led NBC to cancel The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in December 1967 . Only 16 episodes were produced during the 1967-1968 season, for a total of 105 over the course of three and a half season.
Legacy of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
Some television critics, like Clay Gowran, laid the blame for the failure of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. squarely on the shoulders of Stefanie Powers. In his year-end wrap-up in December 1966, Gowran called The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. the worst non-comedy series of the new fall season. He suggested that Powers, “she of the condescending smirk and calamitous acting, is just more than we can take” .
Although it only aired for one season, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. produced a slew of commercial tie-in products. There were five novels (only two of which were published in the United States), a series of five comic books from Gold Key, a digest magazine from Leo Margulies Corp. which ran for seven issues between December 1966 and December 1967, and a soundtrack album.
There were also several toys. Louis Marx & Co. released an action figure in the United States with more than 30 accessories. A combination radio/pistol was also sold in the United States. Lone Star Toys in the United Kingdom sold a spy kit that included a purse, an U.N.C.L.E. badge, a garter holster and pistol, a walkie talkie compact and a decoder. A larger plastic garter holster was sold separately.
After its cancellation, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. aired in local syndication. Cable channel TNT aired the series in the 1990s. Around 2005 or 2006, AOL’s defunct In2TV video portal streamed episodes of the series.
In August 2011, Warner Archive released The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. on DVD in two half-season sets.
2 For the first two weeks of the 1965-1966 season, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. averaged a 22.4 rating, tied for 12th with Get Smart, according to an article in the October 18th, 1965 issue of Broadcasting (Page 93).
3 Adams, Val. “TV to Tour Capital With First Lady on Nov. 25.” New York Times. 1 Nov. 1965: 83.
4 Adams, Val. “Barbra Streisand’s 2d TV Solo Is Set for March 30 on C.B.S.” New York Times. 9 Dec. 1965: 95.
5 “Networks sift their pilots.” Broadcasting. 7 Feb. 1977: 59-60.
6 Gent, George. “Coonskin Parker Fights Kentucky.” New York Times. 5 Mar. 1966: 37.
7 “Here’s how the network programs shape up for next fall.” Broadcasting. 28 Feb. 1966: 24.
8 “Program Notes.” Broadcasting. 7 Mar. 1966: 77.
9 Gent, George. “Young Harrison to Be Assistant For the Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” New York Times. 19 Mar. 1966: 59.
10 Gowran, Clay. “Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Is a Cool Customer.” Chicago Tribune. 29 Apr. 1966: C16.
11 Stone, Judy. “U.N.C.L.E. Gets a Girl.” New York Times. 31 Jul. 1966: 87.
12 Gowran, Clay. “Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Is a Cool Customer.”
14 Gowran, Clay. “Cloak and Dagger Shows Still Strong.” Chicago Tribune. 5 Jun. 1966: I17.
15 All quoted in “Critics’ views of hits, misses.” Broadcasting. 19 Sep. 1966: 58-64; 91.
19 “Consensus.” Television Magazine. November 1966: 52-55; 64-68.
22 Gowran, Clay. “Should U.N.C.L.E. Have a Relative?” Chicago Tribune. 18 Sep. 1966: F12.
23 Stone, Judy. “U.N.C.L.E. Gets a Girl.”
24 Gowran, Clay. “Should U.N.C.L.E. Have a Relative?”
26 “The numbers game, part one.” Broadcasting. 19 Sep. 1966: 58-60.
27 Gowran, Clay. “Nielsen Ratings Are Dim on New Shows.” Chicago Tribune. 11 Oct. 1966: B10.
28 Gowran, Clay. “Nielsen Shows New Series Still Slipping.” Chicago Tribune. 25 Oct. 1966: B7.
29 “Hindsight 66/67.” Television Magazine. March 1967: 26-29; 34-35.
30 Gent, George. “N.B.C. To Cancel 11 Shows In Fall.” New York Times. 28 Feb. 1967: 74.
31 “TV’s Vast Grey Belt.” Television Magazine. August 1967: 54-55; 81.
32 Gent, George. “N.B.C. To Cancel 11 Shows In Fall.”
33 Gent, George. “Those Men from U.N.C.L.E.–Going, Going, Really Gone.” New York Times. 17 Dec. 1967: 119.
34 Gowran, Clay. “Best–and Worst of Season’s TV.” Chicago Tribune. 4 Dec. 1966: 10C.
Originally October 14th, 2003
Last Updated April 20th, 2018