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Masquerade (1983-84)

Rod Taylor played a legendary spymaster named Lavender in this all-star romp on ABC.

Lavender was the head of the National Intelligence Agency, which found itself in dire need of agents, thanks to KGB assassins. So the NIA turned to ordinary folks with specialized skills to carry out particular missions -- in exchange for a year's salary.

For example, if the job involved planting a bug in a person's house, Lavender might call upon a plumber who would be able to figure out how to get the bug in via water pipes. Similarly, when Lavender needed a diamond expert, a safe-cracker, an electronics wizard or even a baseball player, he persuaded such civilians to serve as spies-for-a-week.

Each week's episode featured a different top-secret mission, and the episodes usually started with a briefing of the new spies, which helped the viewer figure out who could do what.

Rookie agents Casey Collins (Kirstie Alley) and Danny Doyle (Greg Evigan) were Lavender's loyal assistants, who helped guide everyone through their adventures in international intrigue, chasing foreign agents around the globe. This was Kirstie Alley's first TV series after her debut in the movie "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" the previous year.

Glen Larson -- the creator of "Magnum P.I.," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Alias Smith and Jones," among other TV series -- was the creator and executive producer of "Masquerade." The show had a promising premise and a lot of star power, but it was characterized as a clumsy mix of "Mission: Impossible" and "Love Boat" and sank with one episode left unaired.

Speculating on the show's sudden demise, Taylor said:

Something strange happened between Glen Larson and ABC. I don't know what it was, but it was definitely unfriendly. It was too bad, because "Masquerade" had a lot of unrealized potential. They just didn't know how to develop the concept.

-- Starlog magazine, May 1987

Here's an episode guide of the ABC series, which wrapped around the Winter Olympics in February 1984:

1.1 -- Dec. 15, 1983 -- Premiere
In the 90-minute special premiere episode, Oliver Reed stars as a KGB assassin, "Wolfen," who keeps killing the NIA's top agents. The KGB seems to know everything about the NIA's agents, so Lavender recruits a team of non-spies to discredit Wolfen. The episode, set in Paris, also features Cybill Shepherd, Richard Roundtree and Ernest Borgnine (as a plumber who rigs a shower so that Wolfen gets soaked in gin).

1.2 -- Dec. 22, 1983 -- Diamonds
Set in Amsterdam, this episode has the bad guys selling code frequencies for $1 million in diamonds. Fearing that the East Germans will get the frequencies and jam NATO defenses, Operation Masquerade sets out to thwart the diamond deal. The episode features Eve Arden as a dog trainer who subdues some mean Dobermans while the NIA "agents" pull off their caper. Other guest stars include David Hemmings and Dick Gautier.

1.3 -- Dec. 29, 1983 -- Girls for Sale
Ninja death squads are the adversary in this episode, set in Hawaii. A senator's daughter is kidnapped, but it's a smokescreen. The bad guys really want information from the senator's (Paul Mantee) intelligence committee. One of the "spies" recruited for this mission is baseball player Steve Garvey, cast as himself, who throws a "strike" when it's needed.

1.4 -- Jan. 5, 1984 -- The Defector
Robert Clary plays a top Soviet physicist who is defecting, one step ahead of "Section 9," a KGB death squad that is tracking down and killing traitors. Susan George plays the defector's "body guard."

1.5 -- Jan. 12, 1984 -- Caribbean Holiday
Operation Masquerade takes to the high seas, with William Smith as the "biggest traitor in NIA history." In a series that tested the limits of suspension of disbelief, this episode was perhaps the most far-fetched. While aboard a cruise ship, Smith leads a group of hardened mercenaries bound for the (fictitious) island of St. Julien. They have weapons stashed below decks to arm the rebels once they arrive. Meanwhile, Lavender and his old adversary engage in a fist-fight (not quite as bad as the one they have in "Darker than Amber") and skeet shooting and vie for the affections of a lovely real estate developer.

1.6 -- Jan. 19, 1984 -- Five Days
In this episode, Cold War politics erupt in Portugal, of all places. The U.S. is attempting to keep a nuclear submarine secret, the Soviet bloc is trying to get at the secrets, and a corrupt official (played by Joe Santos) is trying to seize power. The clock is ticking because the submarine is submerged and an imprisoned Bulgarian woman seeking asylum holds the key -- or, rather, the microchip containing key information. The America crew aboard the sub will die unless the NIA can free the woman and the information.

1.7 -- Jan. 26, 1984 -- Oil
Rome is the backdrop for this operation, which uses an archaeologist, a con man, a miner and a pair of special-effects wizards to thwart terrorists holding hostages at an oil field in the Middle East.

1.8 -- March 30, 1984 -- French Correction
Lavender and the team try to track down a shipment of serum that was hijacked from a French airliner en route to Africa.

1.9 -- April 6, 1984 -- Winnings
Lavender enlists professional gamblers to stop a casino owner from selling a military tracking device to the KGB.

1.10 -- April 13, 1984 -- Sleeper
Lavender and his team go after an American general who is a double agent planning to sell recordings of a Middle Eastern conference to the Soviets.

1.11 -- April 20, 1984 -- Spanish Gambit
Lavender and his team are up against another U.S. agent and the Soviets in recovering stolen satellite defense hardware.

1.12 -- April 27, 1984 -- Spying Down to Rio
An embassy secretary (and NIA agent) is killed after she discovers a spy at the embassy in Rio de Janiero. Lavender and his Operation Masquerade team first chase down guest star Tab Hunter before they trap the ultimate villain, Jeremy Kemp. The climactic scene takes place during a masquerade ball, appropriately enough, with Rod costumed as Uncle Sam.

1.13 -- Unaired -- Flashpoint



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The series, which aired on ABC, was produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Glen A. Larson Productions. It has never been released for home video.

YouTube: Opening credits

YouTube: Girls for Sale episode

YouTube: Steve Garvey scene