Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This message won't self-destruct (sorry)

The American Life cable TV channel, whose slogan might as well be "All the TV Shows You Can't Believe You Watched When You Were a Kid," has been showing episodes from the first season of "Mission: Impossible."

If you ask people to name the star of "Mission: Impossible," they'll probably say it was Peter Graves, who took the helm as Jim Phelps in the second season and kept the job throughout the rest of the series.

But Graves' predecessor was Steven Hill, who portrayed Dan Briggs. Yep, that's the same Steven Hill who played District Attorney Adam Schiff on "Law & Order." On the "Mission: Impossible" episodes he's a lot younger, of course, and handsome and tough-looking, though you still sometimes see traces of the other Steven Hill -- particularly that minuscule smile that comes and goes in an instant, like a painful tic that he never did get around to having a doctor look at.

After Phelps took over, Briggs' departure was never explained. Was he killed? Was he fired? Did he give some of our secrets to The Other Side? So far, in keeping with the series' stated policy, the Secretary has so far disavowed any knowledge. (A personnel matter, y'know.)

But when you think about it (and I did, for a nanosecond or two) the solution is simple:

Dan Briggs and Adam Schiff are the same person.

Put yourself in the guy's shoes:

It's the mid-'60s, the James Bond era, and the government has tapped you to head the Impossible Missions Force. You're going to be so powerful that you can arrange to have the crap beaten out of anyone who dares to ask why there is no hyphen between "Impossible" and "Missions." And you'll be engaging in feats of derring-do that will make you a magnet for all those babes who are turned on by the thrill of danger, the virility of a hero who knows no fear, and the smell of rapidly disintegrating audiotape.

There's only one problem. Your name.

Adam Schiff.

Hardly a Manly Man kind of name. Adam Schiff sounds more like an accountant, the type of guy who would pick up a copy of Playboy only if Miss December also happened to be the world's foremost expert on debentures.

So you cast about for another name, and, after many trials and errors, finally come up with one that's perfect: Dan Briggs.

Short vowels, hard consonants. You run with it.

As Dan, you run the IMF for a year, but fatigue and burnout soon set in. You wonder why, every week, you have to be shown looking through the portfolio of available IMF agents when there don't seem to be all that many of them and your memory isn't quite that bad. But more to the point, there's the issue of justice. Week in and week out you do the same type of thing -- like tricking a dictator, usually played by Lloyd Bridges, to set foot in a country from which the U.S. can extradite him -- only to see the bad guy beat the rap on some technicality.

The system's flawed, you think, and there's nothing I can do to fix it as the head of the IMF.

So you quit and go to law school. And after years of careful apprenticeship you find yourself in a position where, with the proper amount of pluck and luck, you might someday have a shot at the New York DA's office and be able to really make a difference.

There's only one problem. Your name.

All any reporter has to do is to run a check on "Dan Briggs" and you're toast. It'll all come out somehow: your involvement in clandestine missions, your employment by a secret organization of the government, your seeming inability to remember the names and faces of the handful of people who work for you.

You come up with the perfect solution: Go back to your real name, Adam Schiff.

As Schiff, you are elected DA with no trouble. No one suspects a thing.

But there's a problem. For years you've been working within the legal system, helping to patch the holes that let some of the world's worst offenders walk free. But you find that there's more to it than that.

You find that some vicious killers beat the rap because they have Influence, and it's amazing how many of them have fathers who look a lot like Robert Vaughn.

Also, after all these years, your old friends Cinnamon, Rollin, Barney and the rest are still spending nearly every week tricking Lloyd Bridges into stumbling into the wrong country -- but when he comes to trial he still beats the rap because, well, Lloyd is such a charismatic guy, and when his two handsome sons, Beau and Jeff, walk into the courtroom with their pianos in tow and play a few riffs from "The Fabulous Baker Boys," well, the show's over. The jurors vote unanimously to acquit Lloyd and send Willy the Strong Man to Attica instead.

And you spend the rest of your career engaging in grumpy badinage with the likes of Jack McCoy:

"Adam! We've got to prosecute! The guy's a serial killer! He murdered 30 people, several of them in St. Peter's Square! The pope saw him do it! And he's willing to testify!"

"Nah! Two popes as witnesses, maybe, but just one? Won't fly. Take a plea -- driving with a faulty muffler!"


Old Word Wolf said...

Good luck with your new blog! It's a target-rich environment out there!

el duque said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
el duque said...


Just be thankful he didn't change the name to "B. Ken Schiff."

The apple orchards would never be the same.