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Invisible Man

By Patrick Mondout

Looking to repeat the success ABC was having with the adventure/superhero series The Six Million Dollar Man, NBC brought us this rehash of a failed late 1950s show, which itself was a rehash of an 1897 novel. The Invisible Man debuted in the fall of 1975 and featured Dr. Daniel Westin (David McCallum) and his wife Dr. Kate Westin (Melinda Fee) as scientific researchers for a mysterious defense contractor. 

The Westins work for KLAE Corporation, a high-tech research company which also does work with the U.S. Defense Department. Dr. Daniel Westin has stumbled upon a way to use lasers to make objects invisible (remember when we thought they could do literally anything?) while working on another project. He immediately shares his concern with his wife that the technology not fall into the wrong hands - in his mind, the U.S. government. 

Meanwhile his boss, Walter Carlson (played by Jackie Coogan in the pilot and Craig Stevens subsequently), wants to know what his six months and $1.5M worth or research has thusfar produced. After a demonstration, Carlson gives Dr.Westin assurances that his invention will not be turned over to the military. But Carlson knows the military will both want it and be willing to pay top dollar for it, and soon brings in the military brass to meet with Dr. Westin.

When Westin learns that his boss has deceived him, he goes back to his lab at KLAE and makes himself invisible. He also destroys the equipment that he custom built and is presumably the only one who knows the secrets of how they work. 

Modern, post-9/11 viewers might be surprised to see our invisible hero fighting in the pilot episode to make sure our government doesn't get control of this important new potential weapon (invisible soldiers, for example). It must be remembered that this series was broadcast months after the first presidential resignation and during the same year the U.S. admitted defeat in an expensive, deadly, and divisive war. The mood in Hollywood and in the country was not one of trusting either the military or the U.S. government.

But its also true that the counter-culture phenomenon had runs its course by then too, and our invisible hero decides - albeit reluctantly - that he will be a spy after all. What changed his mind? He finds that he cannot make himself re-appear and that he needs to continue his work at KLAE Corporation if he is ever to make himself visible again.

A plastic-surgeon friend of his makes a pair of skin-like gloves for his hands and special mask that (conveniently for the shows special effects crew) looks exactly like his face and hair. When he puts on the gloves, mask, and clothes, he looks just like Dr. Westin. This of course means that when he removes them, he is not only invisible, but naked - something the shows writers used to comic effect, though not nearly as much as they might today. (I suppose that technically means that David McCallum was the first TV star to appear completely nude each week!)

His boss, who has sank a few million into potentially lucrative research but has nothing to show for it, agrees to continue funding his work so long as KLAE Corporation can rent him out to the government as an invisible spy from week to week.

Like Deja Vu all over again!

If this all sounds familiar, it should. H.G. Wells wrote The Invisible Man in 1897, though this TV series has much more in common with a an earlier British TV project that CBS broadcast between 1958 and 1960. In the earlier series, an unknown actor played our invisible hero - who also went on spy missions - and the producers made a point of not revealing the actor's identity (unlike the later series, the actors face was never seen). I'll save you a trip to IMDB - his name was Johnny Scripps and so far as we can tell, he never worked in TV or the movies again.

The Invisible Man Disappears!

NBC finally made The Invisible Man disappear for good in late January of 1976, citing weak ratings. ABC was running the forgettable western Barbary Coast (starring William Shatner) in the same time slot, but was able to follow it with Monday Night Football, while CBS had the popular Rhoda and Phyllis opposite The Invisible Man as lead-ins to All in the Family.

Perhaps this show was simply the victim of the "Max Headroom Syndrome." That is, the adults thought of it as some action show for younger audiences, and the kids who tuned in (including yours truly), may have thought the special effects were cool, but were lost in the adult espionage themes. As I watched these episodes again for the first time in 29 years last week, I was struck by how good the special effects were - they still hold up - and how the stories, while not necessarily worthy of Emmy awards, were at least as good as what I've seen in reruns of The Six Million Dollar Man or other contemporary programs. I was also struck by the beauty and charm of actress Melinda Fee.

While NBC gave up on this show, it did not give up on the idea. Gemini Man was introduced the following season and featured a secret agent who could make himself invisible for 15 minutes each day. NBC made Gemini Man invisible after just five episodes. Still wanting a prime time superhero, they tried and failed again in 1977 with The Man from Atlantis.

 

Share Your Memories In Our Forums!

Check out our Invisible Man forum! Do you have a favorite episode of the show? What do you remember about the series? Do you have any questions about it or its stars? Now you can post comments and questions directly to our TV forums! Click here to see what other Invisible Man viewers have said or to post your own comments about the show!

Your Memories Shared!

The Invisible Man was a pretty awesome show. I was about a scientist who through a freak accident became invisible and the goverment wanted to recruit him to spy for their own benefit.

Of course the scientist played by McCallum declines and only wants to return to his old self. The special effects were the star of the show as with the use of a latex skin covering like a mask he could look like his old self again. And when ever trouble arised he could she his outer layer and be invisible.

The show's episodes where similar to The Hulk's with in thie cast the goverment was on the tail of Mccallum who needed the goverment facilities to try and return to normal.

I'm suprised this show didn't end up on the Sci-fi network as it was very innovative for its time. If you liked seeing a man shed his skin and being a fugitive of justice this show was for you.

--Omacolt

Note: This is just a random sample of the Invisible Man messages in our TV forums! Click here to see what others have said or to post your own comments!

 

TV TIDBITS

Aired: September 8, 1975 - January 19, 1976

Cast: David McCallum, Melinda Fee, Craig Stevens

Network: NBC

Genre: Adventure

Theme song

Image courtesy of NBC


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Use of this site is subject to our Terms of Service.
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