The first season's episodes were 30 minutes in length and portrayed Drake as an Irish American secret agent, working for a secret arm of NATO, who often argued with his superiors about the ethics of his missions. Many of Drake's cases involved aiding the cause of democracy in foreign nations, though he was also called upon to solve murders and other crimes that affected the interests of America and/or NATO. The series was a major success in Europe and made the US-born McGoohan a major celebrity there, but it was unsuccessful when broadcast on CBS in the United States, so when American financing for a second season fell through, the show was cancelled. (This American run of the series appears to be little-remembered, as even the recent A&E DVD release of the first season suggests, erroneously, that it never aired in the United States.)
After a hiatus, and in the wake of the popularity of the James Bond movies in the interim -- not to mention the popularity of The Saint, also produced by ITC -- Danger Man's creator, Ralph Smart, rethought the concept and with the second season (1964), the episodes were expanded to a full hour and had a new theme tune, entitled "High Wire". Drake had mysteriously lost his American accent and was no longer in conflict with his bosses (at least, not at first). In the US the revived show was retitled Secret Agent for broadcast as a summer replacement on CBS and given a theme song, "Secret Agent Man," performed by Johnny Rivers, that became a smash hit. The series was also known as Destination Danger or, simply, John Drake in other parts of the world. During the first half of the second season, Drake answered to Hobbs (Peter Madden), a somewhat sinister superior always seen fiddling with a knife; this was the only time in the series that McGoohan had a regular co-star.
Unlike the James Bond films, which became increasingly fanciful as they became more popular, Danger Man strove for realism, attempting to dramatize believable Cold War tensions. In the retooled series, Drake was now an operative for M9, a fictional British intelligence department working under the cover of a travel agency. As with the earlier version of the series, Drake often found himself often in perilous situations which did not always have happy outcomes, and sometimes his duty forced him to make decisions that led to good people suffering unfair consequences. Maintaining a rule established in the first season, Drake never carried a gun, though he found himself in numerous fights, and what gadgets he used were never inordinately far-fetched. In fact, most were off the shelf, and their appearance in the series spurred sales of such commercial items as the folding binoculars featured in the American title sequence and the subminiature MINOX camera. John Drake, unlike James Bond, was never seen hooking up with any of the ladies as McGoohan was determined to create a family-friendly show. (Though it is true McGoohan did denounce promiscuity in the Bond films and even The Saint, both featuring roles he turned down, the actor did play several romantic leading roles, two of which involved kissing, prior to filming Danger Man.) Although villains often met fatal ends in the series, Drake himself rarely killed anyone and in the entire run of the series only shot one person to death (this occurs in one of the last half-hour episodes from 1960). Yet, a number of TV reference works such as The Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Television by Ron Lackmann, claim that Danger Man was one of the most violent series ever produced, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Season four consisted of only two episodes, "Shinda Shima" and "Koroshi", and these were the only two of the whole series to be shot in color. After these episodes were completed McGoohan suddenly announced that he was resigning from the series in order to create, produce and star in a new project called The Prisoner which he co-created with George Markstein, who at the time was serving as Danger Man's script consultant. Such was his power as a TV star at the time (he was the highest paid actor in television for the period) that he was not only allowed to cancel his own series, but many Danger Man crew members went on to the new series. The two colour episodes were aired in the UK as filler during a hiatus of The Prisoner a couple of years later and were cut together and released as a made-for-TV feature film entitled Koroshi; editing the episodes together was faciliated by the fact that they constituted Danger Man's only two-part episode.
The Prisoner is a source of debate for fans of Danger Man, some of whom believe the show's protagonist Number Six is actually John Drake. Number Six is the number given to a secret agent who has mysteriously resigned from his job—just as McGoohan mysteriously resigned from his Danger Man role. McGoohan has denied that Number Six is Drake, although in the surrealist Prisoner episode "The Girl Who Was Death," we see Number Six meeting with a character called Potter, who was one of Drake's contacts in Danger Man. This may have been a spoof to tease the fans. However, the episode in question was adapted from a story originally written for Danger Man, so the appearance of Potter might have been an unintended holdover. The fact that the first season of Danger Man included an episode entitled "The Prisoner" is considered a coincidence. Another unused season 4 script was also reworked as an episode of The Champions.
Danger Man has remained a part of pop culture consciousness. Author Stephen King is said to have alluded to John Drake's "cool" in one novel. The band Tears for Fears referred to the character in their song "Swords and Knives," and goth musicians Dead Can Dance titled one of their songs "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" after a Danger Man episode. There also appears to be a quick reference made to the show in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date". On UK screens, it was parodied by the DangerMouse cartoon series. The American theme song has appeared in countless movies and TV shows, including during the climax of the first Austin Powers movie. Most recently, Danger Man's influence could be felt in the American series Alias which, in January 2005, aired an episode entitled "Welcome to Liberty Village" which used a premise and major plot elements that were identical to the Danger Man episode "Colony Three" (which in turn contained many elements later revisited in The Prisoner).
In 2000, the UPN network aired a short-lived spy series entitled Secret Agent Man. Due to the similarities in titles between this series and the American edition of Danger Man, Secret Agent Man, a series with no relationship to the McGoohan program, is often erroneously referred to as a spin-off or remake of Danger Man.
All four seasons of the series are now available on DVD in North America. The three seasons of hour-long episodes were released by A&E Home Video under the title Secret Agent a.k.a. Danger Man in order to acknowledge the American broadcast and syndication title. However the episodes retain their original Danger Man opening credits, the first time these have been seen in the U.S. (The US "Secret Agent" credits were included as an extra feature.) The first season of half-hour episodes was issued by A&E sometime later as Danger Man.
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