Trevor McCrisken – The CIA and American Television

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Event Date: 29 April – 1 May 2011
East Midlands Conference Centre
University of Nottingham  
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RJ



Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory


Dr Trevor McCrisken (University of Warwick) – The CIA and American Television

The CIA has been a topic for popular culture almost since its inception, both reflecting and creating the public image of the Agency’s identity and meaning. Both film and television helped create a glamorous, all-American, iconic “man of mystery” image for the Agency’s spies during the heady James Bond-inspired action adventure of the 1950s and 1960s. The fantastical glamour faded from the silver screen as ‘real world’ revelations about the CIA’s activities led to a more critical, often conspiracy laden new cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. The small screen’s love affair with America’s secret agents, however, failed to venture into the critiques beginning to fill cinema screens. Rather, the CIA effectively disappeared from American television screens for almost three decades, other than the mid-1980s housewife-turned-spy drama The Scarecrow and Mrs King. This paper will address, however, how the transatlantic dimension kept portrayals of the CIA in television dramas alive. Attention will be given to TV shows such as the BBC produced drama Sleepers (1991), broadcast by PBS in the US, that engaged with the image of the CIA as the Cold War drew to a close and the spy television genre underwent transformations that would continue to affect how it would be portrayed in post-‘9/11’ series such as Alias, 24, and Spooks (aka MI5).

Trevor McCrisken is an Associate Professor in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. He is also Chair of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), an independent transatlantic organisation focused on encouraging sustainable transatlantic security policies, and in particular seeking progress toward nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. He is the author of American Exceptionalism and the Legacy of Vietnam (Palgrave, 2003) and co-author with Andrew Pepper of American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film (Edinburgh University Press/Rutgers University Press, 2005).

Contact details: Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

Email:   trevor.mccrisken@warwick.ac.uk

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