This was the first time I had seen this series. When it was broadcast in 1975, I was a young wife and mother of two little boys in a Dallas, Texas suburb. Why didn't I watch then? More on that later.
The Invisible Man was first shown on May 6, 1975 on NBC as a TV movie to be the pilot for the series. The series was picked up and the first regular episode broadcast on Sept. 8, 1975. The screen cap above is from this episode, The Klae Resource. Besides David McCallum as Dr. Daniel Westin, Melinda Fee played his wife, Dr. Kate Westin, and Craig Stevens played Walter Carlson, their boss and the head of operations (president? COO?) of the Klae Corporation, a well-funded think tank in Los Angeles. McCallum is the invisible man, also referred to as the Klae Resource throughout the series. Melinda Fee was a beautiful actress; she reminds me of a more attractive Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels) and her character was intelligent, optimistic, and perky. David, besides being serious eye candy for the ladies, was a very effective lead in the show. He had no problem carrying it.
The premise established in the pilot movie is that the Drs. Westin are both physicists. Daniel has developed a machine that can make both animate and inanimate objects invisible. He decides to try it on himself (why do scientists on TV or in movies make themselves the guinea pig?) and eventually can't become visible again. He also discovers that his invention is being marketed by the Klae Corp. to the military/industrial complex which greatly disturbs him. So he destroys the machine so that it can't be used for war. Around this time he becomes invisible for good. Oops! Fortunately, he has a plastic surgeon friend who had just developed a substance that can be painted on his now invisible face, hands, and wrists to make a mask that is an exact copy of his face (and hands and wrists). Well, that was lucky! With the addition of contacts that actually look like glass eyes and wig to match his hair, voila!, he's back, until he wants to be invisible again. Strangely enough, even though Dr. Westin was initially so disturbed by the idea of the government using his invisibility process that he destroyed the machine, the whole series is based upon him being a secret agent for the Klae Corp. who will provide the funds so that he and his wife can rebuild the machine and possibly cure his invisibility. More often than not his assignments are from a government request.
In a few episodes, there are even double entendres, guaranteed to fly over the kids' heads, but make the adults smile. Watching an old TV show from 1975 is a bit like being in a time machine: the land yacht cars floating down the highway on soft suspension, the super wide ties, the plaid sports jackets, the preponderance of avocado green and harvest gold, and the leading lady's hair looking a bit like wings (but she did look awfully good in a Diane Von Furstenburg wrap tie dress - those are back, you know.) Some subjects seem very modern: at least three plots revolve around "Arab oil cartels" or energy independence. Others are very dated; two involve the Soviet Union.
I personally felt that David's hair was styled unattractively in most of the series. Early on, it was OK (see picture above). Later in the series, it was starting to look like the boy on the Dutch Boy paint cans:
This was also a hair style very popular for little boys about 3-5 years old at the time. Not a sexy look. Then by the end of the series, David must have been forbidden to get his hair cut:
Hair this long was more a counter culture thing. It worked fine and looked very sexy on him, albeit more disheveled, in the movie Dogs from around the same time when he was playing a rebellious college professor. (Maybe he was growing his hair out at that time in preparation for filming Dogs?) But it just doesn't look right with a suit and tie, IMO. Even on this show the hair worked better when he was wearing turtlenecks. Guess David has a face made for turtlenecks.
Here is a list of all 13 episodes with very brief comments:
- The Invisible Man, May 6, 1975. Pilot TV movie written by Steven Bochco.
- The Klae Resource, Sept. 8, 1975. Finding a Howard Hughes type man. Written by Steven Bochco.
- The Fine Art of Diplomacy, Sept. 15, 1975. Art smuggled out of the U.S. Capitol, "especially bad during the Bicentennial Year!"
- Man of Influence, Sept. 22, 1975. Fake medium.
- Eyes Only, Sept. 29, 1975. Woman has photographic memory.
- Barnard Wants Out, October 6, 1975. Scientist and (eventually) daughter want to defect from USSR. Shades of Gurnius Affair: watch David dressed in a Soviet army uniform.
- Go Directly to Jail, Nov. 3, 1975. Undercover federal drug agent prepares for a heroin bust.
- Stop When the Red Lights Flash, Nov. 24, 1975. Crooked small town judge.
- Pin Money, Dec. 1, 1975. Walter Carlson's kindly, gambling aunt embezzles money from the bank where she works.
- The Klae Dynasty, Dec. 8, 1975. Owners of the think tank inter-family feud.
- Sight Unseen, Dec. 15, 1975. Blind girl is kidnapped.
- Power Play, Jan. 19, 1976. Nut job tries to take over. Whole episode is in lab.
- An Attempt to Save Face, Jan. 26, 1975. Old Soviet leader wants Dr. Westin's plastic surgeon to give him a face lift.
I'm not sure how prevalent the use of blue screens or, now, green screens were at that time to make things disappear on screen, but, if not for that technology, this series couldn't have been done. David had to don a skin tight full body suit and/or mask to film the shots where he is invisible.
This had to be at least fairly uncomfortable, but David always seemed willing to do uncomfortable, unusual things if the part called for it. The series certainly made use of the premise. He was often cold because he had become invisible in order to do the spying required for the case at hand. The implication of this, of course, is that he's running around naked. Commando when dressed too, since his body disappears as soon as he pulls his pants down; no briefs to slow him down. ;-) I bet David never imagined he would be unzipping and pulling his pants off in front of a beautiful actress so often without being in a porn movie. And in the earliest hour of prime time at that! Needless to say, his undressing and dressing led to many bits of dialog built around his unique situation.
Why didn't the series make it? It's hard to say how well the premise of this show was thought out. The fantasy, sci-fi elements were probably meant to appeal to kids, especially little boys. I believe the problem was with the scripts. They were variable, to say the least. Years before Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and NYPD Blue, Steven Bochco was co-creator of The Invisible Man. The scripts written by him were the best, IMO. These were the pilot movie and the first episode, The Klae Resource. After these two episodes it looks like Bochco must have left the series to sink or swim and it sunk. If Bochco episodes were the best, I think Pin Money and Stop When Red Lights Flash were the worst. Those two, especially Pin Money, are so silly, it's almost painful to watch. The better episodes, like Go Directly to Jail, have fairly believable plots and some interesting dialog.
NBC gave it a terrible time slot, Monday night at 8PM. It was on opposite Rhoda at 8PM and another new Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff, Phyllis at 8:30PM on CBS. These were two powerhouse shows, both in the top ten for the season. (Yes, I confess, I watched them.) And, on top of that, these two shows were the lead in for All in the Family at 9PM which was the number 1 show for the entire TV season . Another negative factor, of the three TV networks at the time, NBC was the weakest at that point. Both CBS and ABC were flying high. Taken all together, this spelled disaster for The Invisible Man. And yet, even in very recent years, it has shown up on cable in the US, labeled "brilliant, but canceled" and, from what I've read, was shown in the UK up to 1990. I think with a different time slot, marketing support from the network, and better scripts, it could have made it. But, unfortunately, that didn't happen.
As for me, I have only the barest recollection of this series. The pilot TV movie aired three weeks after my second child was born. Things were hectic, I was busy, and I don't think NBC must have marketed this series much. Or if they did, they weren't trying for the right demographic. If they had shown more publicity photos of David and played up the adventure angle and the romance angle between him and his beautiful fellow physicist wife, I would have been interested. At this point, I'm just happy I finally got to see the series.