Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The longest-running series to be produced by the prolific Quinn Martin, The F.B.I was also among the first weekly hour-long dramatic programs to be telecast in color by ABC. Ostensibly basing its episodes on the actual files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the series starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as level-headed, businesslike, supremely unemotional Inspector Lew Erskine, senior member of a team of crack FBI operatives and undercover agents. Erskine's most frequent sidekick was Agent Arthur Ward, played by Philip Abbott; other coworkers included Agents Jim Rhodes (Stephen Brooks), Tom Colby (William Reynolds and Chris Daniels (Shelly Novack). Although in the first season an effort was made to "humanize" the agents by giving Erskine a daughter named Barbara (Lynn Loring), who was also the girlfriend of Jim Rhodes, audiences evidently preferred to see the main characters on the job rather than in a mundane domestic situation. In keeping with its title, the series focused primarily on the pursuit and prosecution of Federal criminals: bank robbers, kidnappers, counterfeiters, extortionists, terrorists, Foreign spies and other bad guys who made the mistake of committing their perfidy on government property or illegally crossing state lines in the process. There was also a concerted effort to weed out the minions of Organized Crime--ironic, in that real-life F.B.I director J. Edgar Hoover insisted throughout his life that such criminal organizations as the Mafia didn't exist. Since the series relied heavily upon the cooperation of Hoover and his associates, the well-known flaws and shortcomings of the F.B.I. were never touched upon, nor was there any ambiguity or "gray areas" in the episodes: The Feds were always right, the perpetrators were always wrong, and no criminal went unpunished. Like many another Quinn Martin production, The F.B.I adhered to a cast-in-stone format. Each episode began with a pre-credits teaser featuring a crime in process, which then superimposed the names of the main villains and their Federal offenses over a freeze-frame. The remainder of the episode was divided into "acts" (Act One, Act Two, etc.), and was capped by an "Epilogue" which tied up loose plot ends and revealed the ultimate fates of the criminals. During the original network run, several telecasts closed with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.issuing an A.P.B. soliciting audience information on the FBI's ten most wanted fugitives. The series' technical advisor was F.B.I. associate director W. Mark Felt, who in 2005 was revealed to be notorious Watergate informant "Deep Throat" of All the President's Men fame. Sponsored throughout most of its run by the Ford Motor Company (which explains why all the vehicles seen on the program were the same make!), the 239-episode The F.B.I originally aired from September 19, 1965 through September 8, 1974.