ABOUT THE SERIES
The Untouchables, created as the first of the made‑for‑TV movies for The Desilu Playhouse, went on to become the most expensive and ambitious weekly series of its day. With its gritty realism, it wrote the closing chapter of the medium’s golden age and ushered in television’s sensational tabloid era.
From 1959-1963, the series brought to life the nightly wars between good and evil in the streets of Prohibition Chicago. With legendary lawman Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and his band of incorruptible agents leading the way for justice, famed reporter Walter Winchell providing staccato narration and guest stars breathing life into colorful underworld characters, the true story of The Untouchables became legend in a film noir mix of true history and Emmy award-winning fiction.
The first of the docudramas, The Untouchables won four of six Emmy nominations in 1960 and the series put the American Broadcasting Company on equal footing with CBS and NBC and enjoyed a large and enthusiastic following of captivated and sometimes horrified viewers. Countering its appeal was a large contingent of incensed public officials, many Americans of Italian ancestry, and Mafia figures who plotted an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the life of Desi Arnaz.
Originating the weekly guest star format, The Untouchables became the first successful marriage between motion pictures and television, legitimizing the medium for big-screen talent and embracing production values that had been beyond the scope of the little wooden box before 1960.
For a series with such a sizable and immediate impact on the public consciousness, the original production remains largely unremembered. This project has been conceived to document the program’s unique and colorful position in television history and its considerable but often-overlooked influence on the medium.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The Untouchables Retrospective is an extended, in-depth look at one of television’s most highly acclaimed – and despised – classics. In 2019, it will begin a mixed-media celebration of the program’s 60th Anniversary and revisit this iconic and memorable production in the digital age, combining years of research, materials, insight, and exclusive content into an exhaustive online retrospective comprised of a comprehensive website and a specially produced podcast, creating the first and only online resource dedicated exclusively to the show.
Through articles, interviews, and reflections, it is a nostalgic and detailed account of a masterpiece of American television, with production details and the reflections of the artists who made it. It is a journey into the waning days of the Golden Age of Television with the most expensive and violent series up to that time.
The Untouchables Retrospective is the story of the series that generated nearly as many headlines of its own as those of a Prohibition-era Chicago it attempted, often successfully, to dramatize. Featuring a never‑before‑published profile of its episodes with plot synopses and Winchell narrations, these enjoyable hours of television will be examined in detail with commentary by writers, directors, producers, and many guest stars such, whose early appearances on The Untouchables launched or enhanced their careers.
The Untouchables Retrospective will explore the conception, production, and cultural reception of Desilu’s Untouchables, as well as the elevation of the real Eliot Ness to mythic icon; the Congressional response and American indifference to violent motion pictures; the modern remakes and retelling of the classic Scarface Mob storyline; and the fingerprint of The Untouchables on The Godfather, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and even The Simpsons.
This is a story of artistic chemistry, of stunning success and crashing failure ultimately brought about by relentless criticism and attempts to improve it.