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Mission: Impossible

By Wikipedia

Mission: Impossible is the name of an American television series which aired on the CBS network from September 1966 to September 1973. It was then returned to television for three seasons from 1988 to 1990.

Series overview

Written, created, and produced by Bruce Geller, the concept of the series was heavily influenced by spy fiction (in a flashy, fictional manner somewhat similar to the James Bond series). Its initial premise was centered around the existence of the "Impossible Missions Force" (IMF), a team of secret agents employed by the United States government, and sent on covert missions to fight dictators, evil organizations, and crime lords.

Although a Cold War element was present throughout the series (the idea of the United States working from behind the scenes to further its agenda across the nations of the world is common among many conspiracy theorists), the actual "Cold War" between the United States and the Soviet Union was not directly mentioned or referenced over the course of the series. However, in the early years many of the targets appeared to be the leaders of Slavic or Baltic countries; major named enemy countries included the "European People's Republic" and the "Eastern European Republic"; apparently attempts to imply a connection between the IMF's opponents and communism without explicitly saying so. Additionally, fictitious, Slavic-seeming languages were used; police vehicles were often labeled as such with words such as "poliišia"; and "poIiia." Uniforms of the target regime frequently included peaked caps, jackboots, and Sam Browne gear, hinting at prior connections with Nazi Germany or the Warsaw Pact.

The I.M. Force was also assigned to bring down corrupt politicians and dictators of Third World countries unrelated to the Cold War. A new direction was demonstrated when the IMF became involved in a plan to bring down a particularly brutal practitioner of apartheid; by the time the series reached its final season, the stories largely involved activities against organized crime and spies within the United States, the format having changed, at least in part, due to protests against the Vietnam War.

Each episode of the series began with the team leader (Daniel Briggs for the first season, then Jim Phelps from 1967 until the finalÚ) receiving a secret, pre-recorded message containing his mission. This sequence became famous (and often imitated and parodied) as every message would then "self-destruct," leaving no evidence (supposedly) of the actual existence of the mission. This sequence was often filmed on the Paramount back lot. Jim Phelps would then choose his teammates for the mission from a group of candidates' photographs and bios (except for occasional guest stars and cast changes, he always chose the same team), and they would prepare an elaborate plan to conduct their mission and defeat the bad guy of the week.

This ritual remained virtually unchanged through the show's run, although the self-destructing tape recorder would not become the usual vessel for receiving orders until later in the series. In early episodes, Briggs/Phelps would receive orders on everything from phonograph records to slide-tape projectors. The 1980s series used miniature compact discs almost exclusively. Later seasons dropped the team selection process as redundant. Peter Graves, (who played the role of Jim Phelps) once said the entire seasons' worth of "tape scenes" were usually filmed all at once prior to production of the rest of the episodes, and that he never knew which tape scene would appear with which episode until broadcast.

Each episode would usually involve the agents concocting an elaborate scheme to fool criminals or traitors into the hands of the law. The intricate, detailed planning of each episode's mission was the hook that drew Mission: Impossible viewers back for each episode. The series differed from most other adventure series in that the good guys' actions were planned down to the last detail, and they would almost always execute their plan flawlessly. The suspense of each episode came as audience members would wonder how the I.M. Force would outsmart their enemies and remain undercover.

Almost all team members were masters of disguise and somehow almost always someone on the team had the proper facial structure to replace a member of the target's staff, sometimes even the target himself, by donning an elaborate rubber mask and the proper makeup. The subsequent unmasking scene was usually a show highlight.

The series is known for its opening theme tune by Lalo Schifrin which accompanied the opening title sequence in which an animated burning fuse moved across the screen. The sound track for each show subtly incorporated elements of the theme music throughout -- except during dialogue sequences -- and most of the show's enthusiastic fans could recognise the show instantly upon hearing any portion of the music from any episode.

The series' popularity began to wane by the early 1970s and the series was cancelled in 1973. It remains the longest-running espionage-based TV series ever produced for U.S. television, and reruns of the episodes are still shown daily some TV stations. A North American DVD release of the series has yet to occur, however there are occasional reports that Paramount Pictures is considering doing so, possibly in conjunction with the upcoming release of the third feature film in the M:I franchise.


In 1980, media reports indicated that a reunion of the original cast was in the planning stages, for a project to be called Mission: Impossible '81. Ultimately this project was delayed into 1982 and 1983 before being cancelled.

In 1988, the American fall television season was negatively affected by a writers' strike that prevented the commissioning of new scripts. Producers, anxious to provide new product for viewers but with the prospect of a lengthy strike, went into the vaults for previously written material. Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, used scripts written for an aborted Trek series proposed for the 1970s. The ABC network decided to launch a new Mission: Impossible series, with a mostly new cast (except for Peter Graves who would return as Phelps), but using scripts from the original series, suitably updated. To save even more on production costs, the series was filmed in Australia; the first series in Queensland, and the second series of episodes in Melbourne. Costs were, at that time, some 20 per cent lower in Australia compared with Hollywood. The new Mission: Impossible was one of the first American commercial network programs to be filmed in Australia.

Despite the recycling of scripts, the new series was a hit and ultimately lasted for two years; the writers' strike was resolved quickly enough that only a few episodes were actual remakes.

In one episode of the original series, one mistake caused "Cinnamon" Carter (Barbara Bain) to be exposed and captured by the villains, and Jim Phelps prepared a plan to rescue her. But in most episodes, his schemes worked to perfection. This formula was largely repeated in the second Mission: Impossible series of the 1980s, though the writers took some liberties and tried to stretch the rules somewhat. One episode of the later series featured the only occasion in which a regular IMF agent was killed on a mission and subsequently disavowed. The 1980s series also had IMF agents using technology that nearly pushed the series into the realm of science fiction, such as one gadget that could record dreams.

Series Cast

In alphabetical order:

  • Barbara Anderson as Mimi Davis (Season 7)
  • Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter (Seasons 1-3)
  • Sam Elliott as Dr. Doug Robert aka Lang (Season 5)
  • Lynda Day George as Casey (Seasons 6-7)
  • Peter Graves as Jim Phelps (Seasons 2-7)
  • Steven Hill as Dan Briggs (Season 1)
  • Bob Johnson as the Voice on Tape (uncredited)
  • Martin Landau as Rollin Hand (Seasons 1-3)
  • Peter Lupus as Willy Armitage
  • Greg Morris as Barney Collier
  • Leonard Nimoy as the Amazing Paris (Seasons 4-5)
  • Lesley Ann Warren as Dana Lambert (Season 5)

Note: The cast changed considerably throughout the program's seven-year run, so not all of the characters listed above appeared at the same time, and even regular cast members did not always appear in every episode, depending upon the mission. The most enduring cast members were Morris and Lupus who appeared in all seasons, while Graves who appeared in all but the first season.


The mission briefing heard at the start of every episode would usually begin with "Good morning/afternoon, Mister Phelps" (or "Mr. Briggs" in the first season), followed by a brief description of the situation. The message usually ended with, "Your mission, should you decide to accept it..." followed by the mission goal(s) described as briefly as possible. The recording then ends with: "As always, should you or any of your I. M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions." Depending upon the method of message delivery (phonograph record, compact disc, filmstrip projector, trick telescope, etc.), the voice would advise that the recording was about to self destruct, usually within five seconds.

These briefings were read by voice actor Bob Johnson in the original series and the 1988 revival, but the identity of the character was never revealed, nor was his face ever shown. The film Mission: Impossible revealed for the first time the name of the person behind the messages, Eugene Kittridge, although in the film version this role was filled by Henry Czerny. In the second film, the voice behind the messages was given the name Swanbeck and was played by Anthony Hopkins (who did not appear in the credits).

Related items

Several original novels, including two aimed at young readers and published by Whitman Books, were written in the late 1960s, and Dell Comics published a comic book on a sporadic schedule that lasted from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s although less than a dozen issues were actually published.

In 1991, video game designer Konami created a Nintendo Entertainment System game called Mission Impossible, based on the revived series. The game is considered quite well-crafted and challenging. After the 1996 movie several other games bearing the series name have also appeared, but the general consensus is that their quality is somewhat low, as if the games were made to quickly capitalize on the renewed franchise without delving into scenario possibilities presented by the series.

The movies

So far, the television series has also spawned three films, starring and produced by that wacky scientologist Tom Cruise:


Share Your Memories In Our Forums!

Check out our Mission: Impossible 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 Mission: Impossible viewers have said or to post your own comments about the show!

Your Memories Shared!

Lalo Schifrin's infectious 5/4-time theme opens every episode, a case that's been turned down by other US espionage agencies who've given up on the idea in question as "impossible". The Impossible Missions Force comes together to use member talents to concoct a solution from scratch. Approaches involved technical hardware, disguises, diversions and trojan-horse-style infiltrations, usually executed in nonviolent manner so as not to attract attention. If only all spy shows were as well-considered...

--Pete Jamison

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



Aired: September 17, 1966 - September 6, 1973

Cast: Peter Graves, Sam Elliott, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Bob Johnson, Sam Elliot, Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Ann Warren, Lynda Day George, Barbara Anderson

Network: CBS

Genre: Drama

Theme song

Image courtesy of CBS

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It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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