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The FBI TV Show

PART THREE: The F.B. I. TV Show - part one here

Zimbalist said the writers chafed under the restrictions put in place by the FBI. "The problem was the jurisdiction of the bureau itself. They don't have jurisdiction over many crimes that writers would like to write about in crime detection series, the FBI just doesn't have that. It has jurisdiction only, with the exception of bank robbery, only with interstate theft but no other kind of theft. So jewel robberies and all those kind of things don't come under the purveyance of the FBI. What they did was they put their files at our disposal and they said, 'Just pick anything you want. All our cases are there. Just use whatever you want to use.'''

That wasn't always the case, however. Television writer David W. Rintels once told of how he was offered a job writing for The FBI. Asked which case he should adapt for the show, Rintels was told to make something up.

Back for a second episode, Rintels suggested an episode based on four black children killed in the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, church. Rintels wrote in The New York Times: "The producer checked with the sponsor, the Ford Motor Company, and with the FBI - every proposed show is cleared sequentially through the producing company, QM; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the network, ABC; and the sponsor, Ford, and any of the four can veto any show for any reason, which it need not disclose - and reported back that they would be delighted to have me write about a church bombing subject only to these stipulations: The church must be in the North, there could be Negroes involved, and the bombing could have nothing at all to do with civil rights."

Martin steered clear of one topical tale. "I avoided the hot story like the three civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi in 1964 because I didn't feel in a weekly series I could do it correctly."

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The FBI ignored other hot-button topics as well. The Italian-American Civil Rights League pressured Ford to keep references to the Mafia off the show, although some still crept in. And a threatened boycott of Ford cars by Japanese-Americans kept an episode about a Japanese war criminal from airing.

The FBI lasted was finally canceled by ABC to make room for a short-lived variety show that starred a Cher-less Sonny Bono. But during its nine years on the air, The FBI accomplished what Hoover had hoped it would do.

"It popularized the bureau in the public's mind," Zimbalist said. "The popularity of the show was the popularity of the bureau.'

"My associates and I are very proud of the large following which The FBI has earned among Sunday night television viewers," Hoover wrote in his TV Guide article.

Zimbalist traveled to Washington every May, to meet with Hoover and to film opening segments around the city for the coming season - in the latest Ford, of course. Ford was a major sponsor of The FBI.

"This all centered around the Ford Motor Co.," Zimbalist said. "Ford cars, like all other cars, came out in October. But they would throw together a prototype for me to drive around Washington, for the credits, the end credits and so forth, the views of the various monuments in Washington, my little car making its way around. This was an annual thing that we did in May. They would slap this car together with Scotch tape and spirit gum. It was just the pastiest job you've ever seen in your life.

"They would van it down to Washington and keep it there under wraps. The car companies were terribly secretive about their new models, so no one saw it until I got into it.

"They would hastily get it off the van. I'd jump in and do these shots and then back in the van it went. The car itself was so flimsy that if you slammed the door hard it would fall off. There was no interior to the car at all. There was no dashboard. There were no beautiful seats. It was just a shell. You drove it gingerly because if you didn't, the thing would collapse on the road."

The FBI no doubt helped the general public learn more about the bureau, but not everyone go the message. A poll conducted in 1972 by a group called Friends of the F.B.I., which eventually welcomed Zimbalist as its honorary chairman, found that 30 percent of the 14- to 25-year-olds surveyed didn't know the function of the FBI. And only 21.5 percent said they'd want to be an FBI agent.

But Zimbalist said he regularly hears from people who say watching 'The FBI' made them want to join the bureau.

"That, to me, is the most tremendous reward that I could ever have for having done it," he said. "It means the world to me that we had a positive influence on some young person's life."





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