R.I.P. Patrick McGoohanS

Patrick McGoohan, one of genre television's most innovative voices, just died at age 80. A rebel who refused to stick to tried-and-true formulas, his show The Prisoner gave rise to dramas like Lost and BSG.

Here's a pretty great interview with McGoohan from 1977. Asked why he decided to help create The Prisoner, he explains it was all due to "boredom" with television and with society. He pitched the show to financier Lew Grade on a Saturday morning, and had the budget to start making the show the following Monday. McGoohan thought his concept would only sustain seven scripts, but Grade insisted on a full season of 26. In the end, they managed to eke out 17.


The Prisoner, the story of a spy who decides to resign, and then finds himself kidnapped and trapped in an idyllic village where everyone is a number and the village leaders are trying to break him. McGoohan explained:

It was a place that is trying to destroy the individual by every means possible; trying to break his spirit, so that he accepts that he is No. 6 and will live there happily as No. 6 for ever after. And this is the one rebel that they can't break.

Over the show's run, it becomes more and more surreal and disturbing, culminating in a final episode whose significance people are still debating. (You can watch all of the show's episodes on the AMC website, courtesy of the people who are remaking the show.)


And here's McGoohan on the danger of aiming your entertainment at a particular audience or genre:

You see, one of the t'ings that is frustrating about making a piece of entertainment is trying to make it appeal to everybody. I think this is fatal. I don't think you can do that. It's done a great deal, you know. We have our horror movies and we have our science-fiction things. The best works are those that say...somebody says, "We want to do something this way," and do it, not because they're aiming at a particular audience. They're doing it because it's a story they think is important, and is a statement that they want to make. And they do it and then whoever want to watch it, that's their privilege. I mean, the painting in an art gallery, you know, you have a choice whether you go and look at this one or that one or the other one. You have a choice not even to go in.

McGoohan famously turned down the roles of James Bond and Simon Templair (in The Saint.) Instead of being content to embody the "secret agent" archetype, he chose to reinvent it. We're all a lot richer as a result.