Tube Talk: Return of the men from U.N.C.L.E.—38 years later, still cool

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I might not remember the original 1960s run of The Man From U.N.C.L.E, but I do remember watching repeats of it with my sister back in the late ’80s when it ran at 10 or 11 p.m. on USA. It was a fun, cheesy—and as it turns out—iconic spy show. Most people thought Napoleon Solo was cool, but to my sister and me, Illya Kuryakin was cooler. Probably because he didn’t seem to know just how cool he was.

Flash forward 38 years since the end of the show’s original run. Who would have imagined the men from U.N.C.L.E.—Robert Vaughn and David McCallum—would still be working on TV series in 2006? And they’d still be cool?

McCallum, who played Kuryakin, is currently enjoying his third season on CBS’s popular series NCIS, playing Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard. And in January, Vaughn returned to TV in Hustle, AMC’s stylish new original series about a small group of London con artists.

Both actors, now in their early 70s, have worked steadily through the decades. But having them both back on TV now, at the same time, is kind of incredible—especially when you think of how few 70-something actors have regular TV roles, particularly on hour-long dramas that generally have far more demanding work schedules than sitcoms.

While McCallum plays a quirky medical examiner on NCIS (apparently reveling in the dark humor in some of his gorier scenes), Vaughn’s new role as con man Albert Stroller proves he hasn’t lost any of Napoleon Solo’s considerable style. In some ways, it’s as if Albert is a post-retirement Napoleon Solo looking for new challenges as he lures marks into the hustlers’ cons as smoothly as Solo led THRUSH’s bad guys into custody on U.N.C.L.E. Who says septuagenarians can’t be charming?

McCallum’s Ducky may be nothing like Kuryakin in terms of character, but in one episode of NCIS, someone asked what Ducky was like when he was younger. Mark Harmon’s character, Gibbs, made an off-hand reply that he looked a bit like Illya Kuryakin. No explanations. No further questions. It was just a fun little inside joke for legions of McCallum’s U.N.C.L.E. fans.

With NCIS routinely making the Nielsen’s 20 highest-rated primetime shows, apparently a lot of you are already watching Ducky tell his rambling stories while performing autopsies on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. Central on CBS.

Hustle—which is filmed on location in London—is a little harder to find unless you’re a regular AMC viewer who sees their frequent on-air promos. Hustle airs Saturday nights at 9 p.m. Central on AMC. If you miss it, don’t worry. AMC will rebroadcast each week’s episode sporadically throughout the week. AMC will also host a Hustle marathon Saturday, March 18 beginning at 6 p.m. Central.

Paula Hendrickson of Rockford is a regular contributor to Emmy Magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications including Advertising Age, SatelliteORBIT and TVGuide.

From the March 1-7, 2006, issue

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