Special Agents Gibbs and his "NCIS" crew weren't the first federal agents on TV to kick butts and take down criminals in the name of the law. From 1959 to 1963, Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and "The Untouchables" portrayed the Prohibition Bureau's 1930s pursuit of criminals like Al Capone, Legs Diamond and Bugs Malone. As part of the revival of vintage TV programming, Ness and his team are reacquainting Boomers with these characters from their past. They're also showing a new generation of viewers how crime dramas like "NCIS" got their start.
Like Gibbs and his unit, "The Untouchables" were based on U. S. government agents; but that's where the similarities end. Gibbs and his team take down technologically savvy terrorists, cyber criminals and international crime lords. Ness' crime unit enforced Prohibition laws that spawned a vast, violent network of criminal bootleggers, distributors and speakeasy joints. Here are a few other differences between Ness and Gibbs and their teams.
"The Untouchables" wore really cool hats
You've never seen Gibbs, DiNozzo or McGee don a Fedora with a break down brim, but Eliot Ness and his boys did every episode. Those 30s hats were so cool, no wonder well-dressed men still wear them today. Gibbs and the gang should try a cool hatted look, at least once.
Ness and his boys dressed to kill
The "NCIS" team (except Tony) wear Professional Casual nearly every day, but For Eliot Ness, casual was a no-no. Whether raiding a speakeasy or shooting down criminals in the streets, they wore three-piece suits, ties and shiny shoes. That extra cool fashion sense made up for their lack of technicolor.
"The Untouchables" were low tech
When the "NCIS" special agents track criminals, they have computers, street cameras, fingerprint analysis software and facial recognition programs. Ness and his guys had paper files. If they were in Chicago and needed a mugshot from Washington ASAP, snail mail was as speedy as it got. If the photo got lost, they couldn't simply email another one. And Ness didn't have a cell for emergencies either. He couldn't even dial the call himself. He had to click the phone and get an operator to connect him.
"The Untouchables" smoked but they didn't drink
The "NCIS" team drinks, but they don't smoke. It was Ness' job to take down illegal booze operations. He and his boys didn't dare sip the stuff themselves; but they could puff a cigarette or two. Prohibition was repealed decades ago; so even team leader, Gibbs, can sip an occasional brew on TV. But since TV cigarette ads were banned in the early 70s, actors eased up on their televised smoking, so you'll never see Tony or Ziva light up.
Ness had a narrator
Wouldn't it be cool if Gibbs' team had a voice-over describing their every move? Eliot Ness did. Famous news personality, Walter Winchell, told news reporter style back stories as each episode began. While Ness and his men went about their duties, Winchell described each move before they made it. Perhaps some mellow-voiced TV anchor could do that for the "NCIS" team.
"NCIS" on CBS
The Untouchables on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052522/
"History of Tobacco Legislation": http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/nc/nc2b_10.htm