G-Men, Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture

By Richard Gid Powers; Daniel M. Finnegan | Go to book overview

13
Today's FBI

On October 25, 1981, eight years after >Efrem Zimbalist's "The F.B.I." left the air, the bureau launched a new officially sanctioned prime-time show, "Today's FBI," with "a new breed of dedicated, young F.B.I. agents ... fighting today's crime with tomorrow's weapons!" 1 In those eight years much had happened—to the country, to the FBI, and to the pop culture G-Man. There had been Watergate, the resignation of a president, and a blue-ribbon inquiry into government abuses of civil liberties. Also occurring during these years were the forced resignation of an acting FBI director; indictments and convictions of top FBI officials for Hoover-era illegalities; a series of self‐ effacing, almost invisible directors; and total rejection by the public of Hoover's carefully nurtured FBI legend. To put it bluntly, the G-Man was defunct. He had been fatally wounded by mid-1975, dead by the end of that year. The G-Man's reputation as the country's gangbuster and spysmasher was buried and all but forgotten. The FBI's pop culture image was now that of the phone tapper, the bedroom bugger, the blackmailer; the scandal monger, the racist, the character assassin; the poisoner of the well of intellectual and political freedom.

J. Edgar Hoover often feuded with popular culture over the bureau's pop image, but he had always been able to count on the public's overwhelmingly favorable attitude towards the bureau as a foundation for his attempts to manipulate public opinion. He never had to operate in the face of a public hostile towards the bureau and its mission. So what kind of G-Man did the bureau send out in 1981 to confront this unprecedentedly unsympathetic audience?

The show, canceled before the start of the 1982 season, betrayed a self-conscious awareness that it was skating on thin ice. Producer David

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