THE INVISIBLE MAN
A Starburst feature by Jon Abbott
While audiences of the 1960s knew David McCallum as Russian good guy spy Illya Kuryakin in the hit TV series The Man From UNCLE, TV viewers of the 1970s 'saw' him as The Invisible Man - a short-lived adventure series which bombed in the US ratings, but was phenomenally popular for the BBC in Britain.
Although the series was 'based on the book by H G Wells' it bore little resemblance to his original story, even if it was faithful to the concept. Universal Studios acquired the rights to The Invisible Man in 1933, and Wells lived to see many of the earliest films built around the premise of his novel, including the most famous and faithful, directed by James (Frankenstein) Whale and starring Claude Rains. The role had initially been offered to Horror veteran Boris Karloff, who declined because of the low visibility of the role! Rains, appearing only briefly on screen at the climax of the film, made himself a star through the character's voice, and a series of inevitable sequels followed (without Rains, who chose to move on). These included The Invisible Man Returns, with Vincent Price, The Invisible Woman, The Invisible Agent and The Invisible Man's Revenge, all made some years later during the early 1940s.
The first Invisible Man TV series (HG Wells' Invisible Man) turned up in 1958 although the use of similar tricks had already played a large part in the 1953 TV series Topper.
The 1975 TV series was part of an early 1970s trend towards superhero spies. This had begun with The Six Million Dollar Man, followed by a barrage of others, including The Bionic Woman, The Invisible Man, The Gemini Man, The Man from Atlantis, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Spiderman and pilots for Doctor Strange and Captain America.
Producing The Six Million Dollar Man (and The Bionic Woman) was Harve (Star Trek) Bennett. His work for these bionic superheroes made him the obvious choice to oversee The Invisible Man. In later years he would produce the Fantasy series Salvage One and The Powers of Matthew Star. Most of these 70s series all took themselves far too seriously to be much fun, with the creative talents involved being reluctant
 
Invisible Pilot
Like Bennett's The Six Million Dollar Man before it, The Invisible Man began with a strong and promising pilot which resulted in network interference smoothing off the rough edges for a cosy 'family audience'.
In the pilot, Dr Daniel Westin inadvertently discovers the secret of invisibility, only to discover that his work has been financed, expressly against his wishes, by the military. His nobility and na´vety contrasts well with the mercenary and deceitful behaviour of his boss, nasty and mean-minded Walter Carlson, played by TV veteran actor/director Jackie Cooper (Perry White in the Superman films). The scene in which Dan walks into Carlson's office to find it full of blue uniformed old men smiling benignly and patronisingly at him, is a wonderful moment. We feel Westin's shock and stupidity with him. Westin destroys his work, only to find that he is trapped in his invisible form. Once again, the series homogenises everything. Westin is no longer horrified about his condition, but thinks it's all rather good fun. Never a cross word is ever again exchanged with his wicked boss, who has now metamorphosised into kindly, chummy and benevolent Craig Stevens. No more conflict, no more punch. Everything's rosy.
Production Talent
Despite disposing of every opportunity for drama and conflict with these sanitised snow jobs, The Invisible Man remained a watchable and entertaining series, and boasted an impressive array of talent. Writing the pilot was Steven Bochco, who had already proven his talent as a writer and story editor on Universal's superlative Columbo, and would later go on to create the legendary and influential Hill Street Blues for MTM. Today, with LA Law and Hooperman under his belt, he's one of the most powerful and respected creators in American television. Producing the series for Bennett, (who was executive producer) was another TV wunderkind, Leslie Stevens, the charismatic entrepreneur behind the classic Science Fiction series The Outer Limits.
Story editor on The Invisible Man was Seeleg Lester, another veteran of The Outer Limits, paradoxically assigned to the series after the network had ousted the Stevens regime from The Outer Limits after the first of its two seasons (although Stevens regarded Lester as the second season's only saving grace). Also working on the series were James Parriott and Alan J Levi, who seem to have worked on just about every Fantasy orientated show Universal have ever produced. In the 1980s alone, they have been associated in one way or another with the development of Airwolf, Voyagers, Misfits of Science and Probe. Also contributing briefly was Phil De Guere, another Universal stalwart whose credits include the new Twilight Zone and pilots for Doctor Strange and Otherworld.
 
Cast as Dr Daniel Westin, the invisible man himself, was the seemingly ageless David McCallum, a teenagers pin-up of the 1960s whose public appearances had literally ground whole cities to a standstill. McCallum's other 1970s series work includes such diverse projects as Kidnapped (based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel) for the international market, ITV's wet and obtuse Sapphire and Steel Fantasy series, and the BBC's typically Beeb-ish Colditz. McCallum also appeared in The Outer Limits episodes The Sixth Finger and The Form of Things Unknown.
Craig Stevens, now paternalistic and greying, had been the suave ladies' man in Peter Gunn, Man of the World and Mr Broadway some two dozen years earlier, but is best known to Fantasy buffs as the star of the 1957 creature feature The Deadly Mantis.
Obscene
The Invisible Man ran for only twelve episodes and a pilot (the traditional half season for a failed series), beaten in the ratings by the comedy double-bill of Rhoda and Phyllis from MTM.
The only notoriety achieved by the series was when a contingent of loons from America's Bible-Belt in the mid-West complained that the show was obscene because it featured a naked man on TV! The series was not altogether a satisfying experience for McCallum, who protested that he had "signed on to do The Fugitive and ended up doing Topper!".
Nevertheless, the cameras had not been used so artfully since Irwin Allen's Land of the Giants, and many of the show's best moments involve the point-of-view shots of what Westin can see, and the numerous fight scenes in which various stunt mean and guest stars are seen to be beating themselves up!
Most of the plot ideas for the premise were predictable, but enjoyable - cheating at roulette, befriending the sightless, haunting phony medium, etc. Towards the end of the series the plots did undoubtedly get a little cute (the drunk swearing off the bottle, for example). The last three plots undeniably showed script writer desperation setting in (a Mission: Impossible type of story served the series best), and few people connected with the show probably mourned its passing.
The following year, although the original format for The Invisible Man had barely been given a chance, network 'logic' determined that the premise should have a second shot and Harve Bennett and Stevens revamped the format into The Gemini Man. This time the lead was bland Ben (Alias Smith and Jones) Murphy. Like its predecessor, the series lasted just thirteen weeks.
 
Episode Guide
Regular Cast
David McCallum Dr Daniel Westin
Melinda Lee Kate Westin
Craig Stevens Walter Carlson
 
The Invisible Man (pilot)

Wr.Steven Bochco, Harve Bennett
Dir. Robert Michael Lewis
Jackie Cooper (as Carlson, pilot only)
Alex Henteloff, Henry Darrow, Arch Johnson, Ted Gedring, John McLaren
While working for the Klae Corporation, Dr Daniel Westin accidentally stumbles across the secret of invisibility. Discovering his boss has been financing his experiments with money from the military, Westin destroys his equipment only to discover he is trapped in his invisible state. A plastic surgeon creates a life like body costume for the scientist, and an uneasy truce is struck between Westin and his boss Carlson. Westin will work on certain missions for the government in exchange for the money and resources to search for a cure to his bizarre affliction.

The Klae Dynasty
Wr. Phil De Guere, Dir. Alan Levi,
Nancy Kovak Mehta, Peter Donat, Farley Granger
The daughter of the wealthy Klae family who finance Westin's work becomes a kidnap target. Westin becomes her secret guardian angel.
The Klae Resource
Wr. Steven Bochco, Dir. Michael Robert Lewis
Barry Sullivan, Robert Alda
Kate Westin becomes a wizard at the Vegas gambling tables with some invisible assistance when she and Dan are assigned to check out the loyalties of a wealthy reclusive businessman dealing with the government.
Man of Influence
Wr. Richard Danus, Seeleg Lester, Dir. Alan Levi
John Vernon, Jack Colvin, Gene Raymond, Alan Mandell
The invisible man haunts a phoney spiritualist who is duping influential government officials into changing their votes in Washington.
Sight Unseen
Wr. Brian Rehak, Dir. Sigmund Neufeld
David Opatashu, James Smith Jackson, Richard X Slattery, Al Ruscio
Daniel's unique predicament comes in useful when he and Kate set out to rescue the sightless daughter of a mobster about to testify against former colleagues in crime.
Eyes Only
Wr. Leslie Stevens, Dir. Alan Levi
Barbara Anderson, Bobby Van, Thayer David, John Kerr, William Prince
A suspected traitor becomes the target of an assassin before the Westins have completed their mission to discover if she is betraying her government employers.
Barnard Wants Out
Wr. James Parriott, Dir. Alan Levi
Nehemiah Persoff, Paul Shenan, June Achman, Peter Colt
A defector to a foreign country wants to return to America and the Westins attend a scientific convention to assist him return to the US with his young daughter.
The Fine Art of Diplomacy
Wr. James Parriott, Dir. Sigmund Neufeld
Ross Martin, Michael Pataki, Vincent Beck, Pepe Callahan, Paul Stewart
The Westins mount a Mission: Impossible style attempt to retrieve valuable paintings stolen from Washington by a foreign diplomat, but while Kate masquerades as a photo journalist and feigns romantic interest in the diplomat, Daniel is suffocating in an airtight vault with the evidence.
Power Play
Wr. Leslie Stevens, Dir. Alan Levi
Monte Markham
Carlson is held captive by a deranged convict who demands to know the secret of the Klae Resource... the invisible man.
An Attempt to Save Face
Wr. James Parriott, Leslie Stevens, Dir. Don Henderson
Charles Aidman (replacing Henry Darrow as Dr Maggio), Oscar Homolka, Ina Balin, Terry Kiser, Gene Dynarski, W I Zadin
The plastic surgeon who created Dan Westin's unique body covering is asked to help a key figure in keeping East West relations stable look young. To protect the diplomat, Westin masquerades as the official, while the diplomat is concealed in Westin's remarkable skin suit.
Go Directly to Jail
Wr. Stevel Bochco, Dir. Sigmund Neufeld
Westin inadvertently uncovers the existence of a large drugs smuggling operation within a prison when he helps a cleaning lady for the Klae Corporation clear the name of her son.
Stop When Red Lights Flash
Wr. Seeleg Lester, Dir. Gene Nelson
Roger C Carmel, Scott Brady, Frank Aletter, Eddie Firestone
Held in a hick town by a corrupt sheriff for bogus traffic violations, the invisible man takes his revenge.
Pin Money
Wr. James Parriott, Dir. Alan Levi
Helen Kloch, James Blendick, John Zec, Larry French
Daniel and Kate are aghast to discover that Carlson's visiting aunt has embezzled a huge sum of money to finance her poker system.
Series ends
 
STARBURST Summer Special '90