Anyone else remember PROBE, a pilot for a US TV spy-fi series, shown on ITV in the early 1970s, that led to a short-lived TV series, retitled SEARCH, because the title “Probe” was also the name of a PBS show?
If not, perhaps you’ll remember the series as Search Control, as it was retitled by the BBC, who aired the series here in the UK, launched 12th September 1973, with a screening of “The Murrow Disappearance”, and into 1974? The series was again retitled, so as not to confuse viewers might also be watching Newsround creator John Craven’s children’s magazine series, Search.
Design guru Michael Okuda certainly remembers the gadget-laden series, and recently initiated two wonderful Facebook discussion threads in celebration of its first US broadcast, the first a general discussion of the series; the second, discussion of the main title animation for SEARCH, title designed by John Strong and Attila De Lado, John Strong himself contributing to the thread with information on how it was created and its cost.
SEARCH first aired in the US on Wednesday nights on NBC at 10.00pm ET, from September 1972 to August 1973, a drama perhaps best described as a kind of latter-day Man from U.N.CL.E., with a bit of Mission: Impossible thrown in.
Created by Leslie Stevens (of The Outer Limits fame), SEARCH concerned the exploits of three World Securities Corp. “Probe” agents, played by Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure, and Tony Franciosa respectively, who took it in turns to star in each episode.
The agents set out to recover missing items and people each week, empowered by miniature cameras, usually in a signet ring or neck chain, relaying pictures back to Probe Control, where a team of technicians, headed by VCR Cameron (Burgess Meredith) analysed information and provide assistance. An implant behind the ear enabled the agents to talk directly to Cameron.
Three very different agents, O’Brian played Lockwood, Probe One, ex-astronaut and lead agent, McClure plays CR Grover, Standby Probe, brilliant beachcomber goofball and Franciosa plays Nick Bianco, Omega Probe, street savvy ex-NYC cop tasked with organised crime capers. Over the series, the Probes hunted for stolen moonrocks, missing agents, a deadly Probe division defector and more, alongside special guest luminaries such as Stefanie Powers, Bill Bixby, Mary Ann Mobley, Sebastian Cabot, Barbara Feldon, Mel Ferrer and Joanna Cameron.
The high concept series was produced by Leslie Stevens, along with Robert Justman, John Strong and Tony Spinner, and pitched as “science fiction in today’s world”. However, perhaps because it was ahead of its time, or came too late to capitalise on the “spy-fi” boom, or the alternating leads proved unpopular, the show failed to find an audience and ran for just 23 episodes, not including the two-hour pilot.
The theme tune was the work of award-winning composer Dominic Frontiere, whose many credits also include The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, The Invaders and more.
Its short life meant there was little tie-in merchandise apart from a Viewmaster tie-in, and a cigarette card series released in Spain. You have to wonder, though, if ITV had screened it, rather than the BBC, it might not have resulted in a comic strip, in Look-In, or TV Action.
However, two spin-off novelisations did accompany the series, Search and Moonrock, both written by Robert Weverka, who wrote several film and television tie-in books (such as The Sting and Murder By Decree).
Was the show ahead of its time? Perhaps back in 1972, no-one believed cameras could be that small. Today, it might be that a reboot of SEARCH would be well-timed…
• SEARCH – The Complete Series is available as a NTSC DVD (AmazonUK Affiliate Link – NB format will require specialist DVD player)
Producer John Strong contributes to discussion on this page