Once upon a time then-CIA chief William Colby met with television producer Larry Thompson and then-ABC head Fred Silverman to lay the groundwork for a dramatic television series based on CIA exploits. But Colby's successor, George Bush, vetoed the idea because he feared the shows might inadvertently reveal CIA methods and operations.
Now the project is back on track with at least the tacit approval of the CIA and active assistance from the Asociation of Former Intelligence Officers. At the helm is Thompson again, as well as Gerald Ford's former jokewriter, Don Penny (left, in photo on left) and Edward Anhalt (right, in same photo), a screenwriter whose credits include "Beckett," "Panic in the Streets," "Man in the Glass Booth," and "QB-7." The three men are working on a two-hour script for CBS and 20th Century Fox with an eye toward a regular television series that could do for the embattled CIA's image what "The FBI" did for J. Edgar Hoover's fiefdom.
"Basically we're doing entertainment," says Penny, who doesn't much like comparing his project with the old Efrem Zimbalist Jr. series. "We're not trying to whitewash. We will dramatize a case officer's life as well as the lives of different people who work there -- photo analysts, cartography experts . . . you're talking about a university. Those people do everything from talk French to collect urine samples."
Penny is careful to note that the CIA is not granting any "official" assistance, but it's clear that the crew at Langley wouldn't mind some favorable ink these days. And former CIA employes have met to reminisce with writer Anhalt, who hopes to complete the pilot script in two months. Proposed names of the show: "CIA," "The Longest War" or "The Puzzle Palace."