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Hogans Heroes

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It began life as The Heroes, a seriocomic series set in an American penitentiary. But by the time CBS premiered it on September 17, 1965, the project had been retitled Hogan's Heroes and had been retooled as a situation comedy set in a German POW camp during WW2. Popular L.A. disc jockey Bob Cranestarred as Colonel Robert Hogan, senior American officer at Stalag 13, a supposedly inescapable prison compound.

The advertising for the series was a bit misleading, suggesting that Hogan and his men had converted the camp into a luxurious country club, and that other POWs were eager to break in rather than break out. While it was true that the prisoners led a more comfortable life than was customary during the war years, Hogan's Heroes was not a tasteless spoof of the Nazi era but instead a secret-agent series with a laughtrack. As the head of an underground resistance operation, Hogan used his jail barracks as headquarters for a vast and highly efficient espionage operation, performing acts of sabotage and subterfuge and helping captured Allies escape the Germans right under the noses of the enemy. The "Heroes" maintained constant radio contact with London, and with the help of a large underground tunnel (and the indirect assistance of the camp's guard dogs, who had been charmed into docility by the prisoners), they were able to help win the war while remaining securely behind enemy lines throughout the duration.

Also in the cast was Werner Klemperer as Col. Wilhelm Klink, the strutting pompous and utterly inept commandant of Stalag 13. Playing on Klink's monumental ego, as well as his mortal terror of the Gestapo and other such higher-ups, Hogan was able to dance rings around the commandant, and, in fact, was the real head of the Stalag. Similarly, Klink's second in command, Sgt. Schultz (John Banner), was a fat, amiable oaf who, terrified that if he ever spoke out about the suspicious activities of Hogan's men lest he be sent to the Russian Front for incompetence, was forever distancing himself from the action by exclaiming "I see NOTHINK! I know NOTHINK!" As for the "Heroes" themselves, they included the American Sgt. Andrew Carter (Larry Hovis), an explosive expert; British Cpl. Peter Newkirk (Richard Dawson), a topnotch guerilla fighter; French Cpl. Louis LeBeau, a superb gourmet chef who kept the roly-poly Schultz at bay with his succulent dishes; and African-American Sgt. James Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon), an electronics whiz (Dixon, the only black member of the cast, left the series at the end of season five and was more or less replaced by Kenneth Washington as Sgt. Richard Baker).

Also in the cast on a recurring basis were Leon Askin as Klink's bombastic superior officer General Burkhalter, Howard Caine as short-tempered Gestapo operative Major Hochstetter, and Cynthia Lynn and Sigrid Valdis as Helga and Hilda, Klink's curvaceous blond secretaries with whom Hogan flirted shamelessly. Lasting six seasons -- or roughly two seasons longer than WW2 itself -- Hogan's Heroes ended its network run on July 4, 1971, thence moved on to syndicated-rerun heaven.

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