No copyright infringement intended or implied. Blues Traveler cover of SECRET AGENT MAN by JOHNNY RIVERS Adams' work on television began in 1954, when he won on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts with a stand-up comedy act written by boyhood friend Bill Dana. In addition to appearing on numerous comedy, variety, and dramatic series, Adams had a role on the NBC sitcom The Bill Dana Show (1963–65), as a bumbling hotel detective named Byron Glick – a character Adams created that was the precursor to the role he would play as "Maxwell Smart" on Get Smart. (The hotel manager was played by Jonathan Harris who later did a guest role on Get Smart in 1970.)
Creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, prompted by producers Dan Melnick and David Susskind, wrote Get Smart as the comedic answer to the successful 1960s spy television dramas such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, I Spy and others. They were asked to write a spoof that combined elements from two of the most popular film series at the time: the James Bond and Pink Panther (Inspector Clouseau) movies.
Get Smart had been written for Tom Poston, to be piloted on ABC; when ABC turned it down, the show was picked up by NBC, which cast Adams in the role because he was already under contract. When Get Smart debuted in 1965, it was an immediate hit. Barbara Feldon co-starred as Max's young and attractive partner (later wife), Agent 99, where she had a great chemistry with Adams throughout the show's run, despite a 10-year age difference, and they became best friends during and after. Although the two were married "on screen", they were never married to each other.
Adams gave the character a clipped, unique speaking style. Feldon said, "Part of the pop fervor for Agent 86 was because Don did such an extreme portrayal of the character that it made it easy to imitate." Adams created many popular catch-phrases (some of which were in his act prior to the show), including "Sorry about that, Chief", "Would you believe ...?", "Ahh ... the old [noun] in the [noun] trick. That's the [number]th time this [month/week]." (sometimes the description of the trick was simply, "Ahh... the old [noun] trick."), and "Missed it by 'that much'." These helped make the series a hit in over 100 countries.
In addition to acting, Adams also produced and directed several episodes of the show. He was nominated for Emmys four seasons in a row, between 1966 and 1969, for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. He won the award three times. The show moved to CBS for its final season, with ratings declining, as spy series went out of fashion. Get Smart was canceled in 1970, after 138 episodes.
Adams was happy about the show's cancellation, since he wanted to move on to other projects. His efforts after Get Smart were less successful, including the comedy series The Partners (1971–72), a game show called Don Adams' Screen Test (1975–76) and three attempts to revive the Get Smart series in the 1980s. His movie, The Nude Bomb, was unsuccessful at the box-office. Adams had been typecast as Maxwell Smart and was unable to escape the image, though he did have success as the voice of Inspector Gadget.
He earned most of his income from his work on stage and in nightclubs. As Adams had chosen a low salary combined with a one-third ownership stake in Get Smart during the show's production, he received a regular income for many years due to the show's popularity in reruns.
Don Adams' Screen Test was a syndicated game show which lasted 26 episodes during the 1975–76 season. The show was done in two 15-minute segments, in each of which a randomly selected audience member would 'act' to re-create a scene from a Hollywood movie as accurately as possible. Such moments as the bar scene from The Lost Weekend, the duel scene from The Prisoner of Zenda or the beach scene from From Here to Eternity were used, with Adams directing and a celebrity guest playing the other lead in the scene. Hokey effects, bad timing, forgotten lines, prop failures and the celebrity's "ad libs" were maximized for comic effect as the audience watched "bloopers" and "outtakes" as they happened. At the end of the program, the final, serious, fully edited version of the "screen test" of each of the two contestants would be played, with audience reaction determining the winner, who would receive a trip to Hollywood and a real screen test for a motion picture.