If ever a series glorified the rugged American individualist, it was Sea Hunt, which starred Lloyd Bridges as former Navy frogman and underwater demolition expert Mike Nelson. Nelson almost always breaks the cardinal rule of diving--never dive alone--as he finds one excuse after another to either split up with any fellow divers or have them wait in a support role while he single-handedly tackles one dangerous assignment after another. The series was the creation of Ivan Tors, who would later create the animal-themed series Flipper and Daktari. Some claim that Tors came up with idea for the series while filming underwater sequences for the TV series Science Fiction Theatre in the mid-50s; others say it was while Tors was working on the feature film Underwater Warriors, though the film's 1958 release date and Sea Hunt's debut in January of that same year make that chronology unlikely. However, Tors' work on this film in 1957 was instrumental in his development of the character of Nelson. Tors recruited the Ziv brothers Frederic and Maurice as executive producers as he was developing the series. Other actors were considered for the role of Nelson, but when Bridges showed up at the Ziv offices wearing a tight shirt and slacks that accentuated his muscular physique, he instantly became the favorite and was offered the part, though Bridges took his time in deciding whether he wanted to get stuck in a single TV role. It turned out to be the most lucrative role of his career.
But first Tors produced a pair of sample episodes and shopped them to the networks, who all turned down the idea because they couldn't foresee how there could be enough material about diving for a weekly show. So Tors and the Zivs decided to syndicate the show and through United Artists landed the show on 167 stations across the country. The show was an instant success and outdrew top-rated shows like Wagon Train in some markets. Until Baywatch eclipsed it decades later, Sea Hunt was the most successful syndicated show in television history. CBS saw the error of its ways the next year and contracted Tors to develop another underwater themed show for them, The Aquanauts, but the hour-long show failed to garner the support of Sea Hunt and lasted only a single season. Sea Hunt also inspired the copy-cat syndicated series Assignment:Underwater, but this series also lasted only one season.
However, the networks did have a point about the difficulty in coming up with new plots and twists for the series, In the 39 episodes from Season 3 that ran from January through October 1960, Mike Nelson almost every week winds up in a situation he had no idea would be so dangerous, engages in an underwater knife fight with an adversary and winds up cutting the other man's air hose, and/or has to teach someone he is rescuing or training about how to "buddy-breathe," that is, take turns drawing air from a single mouthpiece by passing it back and forth. Frequently Mike's expert advice is not heeded by those who hired him, as in "Prima Donna" (September 10, 1960) when Mike tells movie producer David McGrath that he is using too much dynamite for a movie set explosion, and when his advice is ignored, things always turn out badly. In this case, the movie's lead actor and a local newspaper columnist are trapped in a damaged ship's cabin while much of the rest of the boat is underwater, necessitating a risky rescue operation by Nelson. Likewise in "Submarine Explosion" (April 23, 1960) Mike warns scientist Dr. Martinson that the explosions he is planning to set off for measuring the seismic effects could produce a tidal wave that could kill thousands of people. Martinson brushes Nelson's concerns aside until the second of four planned explosions causes much stronger effects than Martinson expected, thus forcing Mike and a second diver to risk their lives in going below to disable the last two explosions before their timers go off.
One of the more interesting recurring themes in Season 3 is the number of small Latin American countries that are beset by revolutions, after which Mike is called in to help one side or the other, invariably siding with the pro-democracy forces. While Latin America as a whole was in real-life a particularly volatile political climate at that time, several episodes seem situated in a Cuban-like environment, a particular worry for America after Castro's Communist coup in 1959. In "Asylum" (January 9, 1960), Mike is recruited by State Department agent Lee Bellum to rescue a former newspaperman who became a refugee after the government of the mythical Costa Delta was overthrown by a dictator. Rather fortuitously the country has a series of canals that lead right up the embassy where the refugee is being hidden, allowing Mike to scuba his way in and take the refugee, with his own scuba gear, back out to a waiting U.S. boat in the harbor. In "Revolutionary Spoils" (April 2, 1960), Mike is captured and then employed by a democratic government that has just deposed a dictator but needs Mike's help in recovering the assets of the country's treasury, which the dictator took with him when he fled, then sunk in a ship at the bottom of the ocean. In "Time Fuse" (July 16, 1960), Mike is called in by fellow American Dr. Jim Phelpman to the tiny country of San Felipe where the opposition group has rigged a sunken freighter with explosives that will destroy the harbor and all the nearby government buildings if the explosives aren't disabled within 2 hours. And in "The Invader" (July 30, 1960), Mike is hired by a small Latin American country to train a team of underwater demolition experts, only to get embroiled in rescuing the country's president when he is abducted by one of the army's generals dressed in Castro-like military garb.
Also typical of the era, Mike is called on to foil any number of saboteurs, from a millionaire constructing a secret underwater submarine port in "Rebreather" (June 18, 1960), to a group making a harbor vulnerable to attack by causing interference with Coast Guard radar in "Blind Spot" (June 25, 1960), to shadowy frogmen from an unidentified submarine who set up a lab in an underwater cave to disrupt a Navy missile test in "Missile Watch" (February 27, 1960). A similar plot is used to interfere with a space satellite in "The Sound of Nothing" (September 3, 1960), and the plot to open a harbor to attack by blocking radar and other detection devices is reprised in "Underwater Beacon" (July 9, 1960). Mike also foils a vague sabotage plot whose instructions are conveyed on microfilm by a diving instructor in "Underwater Drop" (February 6, 1960).
He also foils various thieves, phony scientists, murderous insurance scammers, and even a marijuana grower who has found a way to grow cannabis underwater by crossing it with another underwater plant in "Underwater Narcotics" (August 27, 1960). As the abducted president in "The Invader" warns his Castro-wannabe captor, Mike Nelson is "an extraordinary man." It's no wonder the series could not continue indefinitely. What eventually killed it was that Bridges, a world federalist appalled by the destruction of wars and pollution, wanted to start featuring plots about the real criminals destroying the earth--the oil companies. Given that one of the show's sponsors was Standard Oil, that tack was never going to fly, so Tors decided to shut the series down after its fourth season. Bridges, who had his first diving lesson a day before filming the pilot but graduated to doing much of his own nonthreatening underwater work by series' end, continued to enjoy diving after the series ended and became involved in various environmental causes such as the American Oceans Campaign and the Los Angeles-based Heal the Bay. He also inspired countless future divers, though he cautioned them in one of the several bumpers that ran before the credits to "know the sport well and don't take any chances," advice that Mike Nelson himself might give but would never follow.
The theme music for Sea Hunt was composed by David Rose, who was profiled in the post for Men Into Space. No credit is given for the scores for individual episodes.
The complete series has been released on DVD by TGG Direct.
Lloyd Vernet Bridges, Jr. was born in San Leandro, California, the son of a hotel man who also for a time owned a movie theatre. Bridges, Sr. wanted his son to become a lawyer, but Junior got the acting bug while attending UCLA, which is where he met his wife Dorothy Simpson to whom he was married for 60 years until his death. The two even played opposite each other in a romantic play while at UCLA. Bridges began his acting career on the stage, making his Broadway debut in a production of Othello in 1939. He eventually helped found an off-Broadway theatre and produced and directed at the Green Mansions Theatre in the Catskills. After a couple of uncredited film appearances in 1936, he signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1941 and soon began a prolific film career that included roles in The Talk of the Town, Sahara, A Walk in the Sun, and a memorable role as Deputy Marshall Harvey Pell in High Noon. He also garnered starring roles in B-movie fare such as Secret Agent X-9, Rocketship X-M, and the deep sea diving adventure 16 Fathoms Deep. During World War II he served in the Coast Guard and later in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, just like his character Mike Nelson on Sea Hunt. (His sons Beau and Jeff would also serve in the Coast Guard.) His film career was hampered during the McCarthy-era Red Scare when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had been a member of the Actors' Lab, which had a known connection with the Communist Party. However, an FBI investigation cleared him of any wrong-doing, and his film career continued into the mid-50s, at which point he also began appearing on a number of TV shows. Most notably he received a 1956 Emmy nomination for his performance in "Tragedy in a Temporary Town" on the drama anthology series The Alcoa Hour. Two years later he was cast as Nelson on Sea Hunt.
Bridges did not slow down after Sea Hunt's cancellation. He hosted his own show, The Lloyd Bridges Show, which ran during the 1962-63 season. Two years later he played William Colton on Rod Serling's The Loner but quit the show because he felt the plots had become too violent. He also reportedly turned down the role of Capt. James Kirk on the original Star Trek series before it was given to William Shatner. He appeared in number of TV movies over the next decade, along with occasional appearances on TV series and a few feature films, most notably Around the World Under the Sea in 1966. In 1975 he played the title role in Joe Forrester, which ran for only a single season, but then he began getting parts in mini-series, such as Roots, How the West Was Won, East of Eden, The Blue and the Gray, George Washington, and North and South, Book II. His career took a comedic turn in the parody film Airplane! and its sequel, which led to roles in the Top Gun parody Hot Shots! films. He also began getting more starring roles in TV series, playing Grant Harper on Paper Dolls, Jonathan Turner on Capital News, and Jake Tyrell on Harts of the West in the mid-90s. His final roles came in two episodes of Seinfeld and another parody feature Jane Austen's Mafia! Bridges died of natural causes at the age of 85 on March 10, 1998.
Notable Guest Stars
Season 3, Episode 1, "Asylum": John Zaremba (Special Agent Jerry Dressler on I Led 3 Lives, Dr. Harold Jensen on Ben Casey, Admiral Hardesy on McHale's Navy, Dr. Raymond Swain on The Time Tunnel, and Dr. Harlem Danvers on Dallas) plays State Department agent Lee Bellum. Noel Drayton (Mr. Hardcastle on Family Affair) plays military attache Lloyd Shepard.
Season 3, Episode 2, "Water Nymphs": June Blair (shown on the left, played June Nelson, David's wife, on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Julie Greer on Two Faces West) plays swimsuit model Inez.
Season 3, Episode 3, "Mr. Big": Byron Morrow (Capt. Keith Gregory on The New Breed and Pearce Newberry on Executive Suite) plays FBI Agent Miles. Quinn K. Redeker (Perry Levitt on Dan Raven, Alex Marshall #2 on Days of Our Lives, and Rex Sterling on The Young and the Restless) plays mob bomb-maker Joey.
Season 3, Episode 4, "Hot Cargo": Charles Quilivan (Frank Garlund on Mr. Garlund) plays suspicious freighter owner Colonel Korvin. A.G. Vitanza (Ike Ramon on The Flying Nun) plays the freighter captain.
Season 3, Episode 5, "Underwater Drop": Edson Stroll (Virgil Edwards on McHale's Navy) plays diving instructor Julian Laubec. Victor Buono (shown on the right, appeared in Robin and the 7 Hoods, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and The Silencers and played King Tut on Batman and Dr. Schubert on Man From Atlantis) plays sabotage ring-leader Seminard.
Season 3, Episode 6, "Cobalt Bomb": Kathie Browne (shown on the left, played Angie Dow on Hondo and was Darren McGavin's second wife) plays diving scientist Suzie Kenyon. Ken Drake (Bragan on Not for Hire) plays non-diving scientist Bryant Henry.
Season 3, Episode 7, "Counterfeit": Linda Lawson (shown on the right, played Renee on Adventures in Paradise, Pat Perry on Don't Call Me Charlie, and Laura Fremont on Ben Casey) plays Secret Service agent Nancy Stewart. Abraham Sofaer (starred in Christopher Columbus, Quo Vadis, and Elephant Walk) plays Bahamian Commissioner Arturo Mendes.
Season 3, Episode 8, "Missile Watch": Stephen Joyce (Bubba Wadsworth on Texas and Admiral Walter Strichen on Wiseguy) plays Coast Guard engineer Carl Berman.
Season 3, Episode 9, "Jade Cavern": John McCann (Aereth on Flamingo Road) plays jade thief Jeff King. Noel Drayton (see "Asylum" above) plays fisherman Thomas Sherrington.
Season 3, Episode 10, "Expatriate's Return": Bernard Fein (Pvt Gomez on The Phil Silvers Show) plays deported mobster Mr. T. Bernard Kates (Lalley on The Asphalt Jungle) plays a mob ship's captian.
Season 3, Episode 11, "Strong Box": King Moody (shown on the left, played Starker on Get Smart) plays surviving Belgian shipmate Heinrich Maus. Ken Clark (appeared in Love Me Tender, South Pacific, Attack of the Giant Leeches, and 12 to the Moon) plays Coast Guard Commander McStade.
Season 3, Episode 12, "The Fearmakers": Myron Healey (Doc Holliday on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays Coast Guard Commander Jack Carter. Daria Massey (Naja on The Islanders) plays bebop-talking youngster Susie Turner.
Season 3, Episode 13, "Revolutionary Spoils": Rico Alaniz (Mr. Cousin on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays Latin American soldier Carlos Prado. Carlos Rivas (appeared in The Deerslayer, True Grit, Topaz, and Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze and played Nino on Bracken's World) plays a traitorous diver.
Season 3, Episode 14, "Pirate Gold": Jeff Bridges (shown on the right, Lloyd's son, starred in The Last Picture Show, TRON, The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, and True Grit (2010)) plays troubled young skin diver Kelly Bailey. Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley on Dallas) plays boat captain Pete. Frank Warren (Officer Simpson on Highway Patrol) plays a demolition crew member.
Season 3, Episode 15, "The Living Fossil": Robert Gothie (Sam Hanson on The Gallant Men) plays businessman and determined diver Joe Ainsley. Linda Lawson (see "Counterfeit" above) plays his fiance Rita Julien.
Season 3, Episode 17, "Sacred Pool": Julian Burton (appeared in Man or Gun, Bucket of Blood, and The Masque of the Red Death) plays artifact robber Ruble.
Season 3, Episode 18, "Cindy": Morgan Brittany (shown on the left, played Kate Simpson on Glitter and Katherine Wentworth on Dallas) plays trapped girl Cindy. Ken Drake (see "Cobalt Bomb" above) plays her father. John Zaremba (see "Asylum" above) plays Police Chief Coleman. Amzie Strickland (Julia Mobey on Carter Country) plays nursing home Nurse Hawkins.
Season 3, Episode 19, "Cross Current": June Blair (see "Water Nymphs" above) plays oceanographer Sherry Bishop.
Season 3, Episode 20, "Synthetic Hero": John Archer (starred in King of the Zombies, White Heat, Destination Moon, and Blue Hawaii) plays war hero Capt. Jack Clayton. Douglas Dick (Carl Herrick on Waterfront) plays his former first mate Tom Orrie. Clark Howat (Dr. John Petrie on The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu) plays Navy Capt. Sellers.
Season 3, Episode 21, "The Cellini Vase": Al Ruscio (Paul Locatelli on Shannon, Sal Giordano on Life Goes On, and Frank Ruscio on Joe's Life) plays crooked boat captain Ebera. Arthur Gould-Porter (Ravenswood on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays Bahamian Det. Inspector Rigby.
Season 3, Episode 23, "Ghost Light": Anna-Lisa (shown on the right, played Nora Travers on Black Saddle) plays scientific assistant Resia Helving.
Season 3, Episode 24, "Rebreather": Oscar Beregi, Jr. (Joe Kulak on The Untouchables) plays dastardly millionaire Frederick Jorgeson.
Season 3, Episode 25, "Blind Spot": Russ Conway (Fenton Hardy on The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, Gen. Devon on Men Into Space, and Lt. Pete Kile on Richard Diamond, Private Detective) plays Coast Guard Cmdr. Barney Adams. Quinn K. Redeker (see "Mr. Big" above) plays Mike's old friend Lt. Bob Camp.
Season 3, Episode 26, "The Replacement": Meg Wyllie (Mrs. Kissell on The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters and Aunt Lolly Stemple on Mad About You) plays Mrs. Norris, mother of a juvenile delinquent. Nelson Olmstead (Capt. Masters on The Phil Silvers Show) plays the director of Marineland of the Pacific. Ken Christy (Bill Franklin on Meet Corliss Archer) plays Mr. Palmer, the father of a juvenile delinquent.
Season 3, Episode 27, "Underwater Beacon": Mike Road (Marshal Tom Sellers on Buckskin, Lt. Joe Switolski on The Roaring 20's, and provided the voice for Race Bannon on Johnny Quest and Ugh on Space Ghost) plays Mike's friend and inventor Chuck Barron. Russ Conway (see "Blind Spot" above) returns as Cmdr. Barney Adams.
Season 3, Episode 28, "Time Fuse": Leonard Nimoy (shown on the left, played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, Paris on Mission: Impossible, and Dr. William Bell on Fringe) plays revolutionary saboteur Luis Hoya. Ken Drake (see "Cobalt Bomb" above) plays scientist Dr. Jim Phelpman. Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr. (Luis Valdez on Viva Valdez) plays San Felipe police Capt. Vargas.
Season 3, Episode 29, "Storm Drain": Beau Bridges (shown on the right, Lloyd Bridges' son, played Seaman Howard Spicer on Ensign O'Toole, Richard Chapin on United States, Dave Hart on Harts of the West, Judge Bob Gibbs on Maximum Bob, Dan Falco on Beggars and Choosers, Tom Gage on The Agency, Maj. Gen. Hank Landry on Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate SG-1, Carl Hickey on My Name Is Earl, Nick Brody on Brothers & Sisters, Barton Scully on Masters of Sex, and Tom Miller on The Millers) plays failed robber Warren Tucker. Anne Helm (Molly Pierce on Run for Your Life) plays his wife Caroline. William Boyett (Sgt. Ken Williams on Highway Patrol and Sgt. MacDonald on Adam-12) plays a policeman. Tyler McVey (Gen. Maj. Norgath on Men Into Space) plays police Det. Sy Baker.
Season 3, Episode 30, "The Invader": Leonard Nimoy (see "Time Fuse" above) plays diving explosives trainee Indio Ramirez. Al Ruscio (see "The Cellini Vase" above) plays coup leader Gen. Cesario Serrano.
Season 3, Episode 31, "Changing Patterns": John Marley (starred in Cat Ballou, Love Story, and The Godfather) plays aging diver Ben Crane. Julie Sommars (shown on the left, played Jennifer Jo Drinkwater on The Governor and J.J. and A.D.A. Julie March on Matlock) plays his daughter Betty. John Qualen (starred in The Three Musketeers(1935), His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, Angels Over Broadway, Casablanca, Anatomy of a Murder, and A Patch of Blue) plays Ben's old friend and boat captain Ulie Olafsen.
Season 3, Episode 32, "The Catalyst": Ross Elliott (Freddie the director on The Jack Benny Show and Sheriff Abbott on The Virginian) plays Coast Guard Cmdr. Steve Barnes.
Season 3, Episode 33, "The Missing Link": Bob Keene (Capt. Dan Coffin on Harbormaster) plays paleontologist Dr. Norman Prescott. Connie Hines (shown on the right, played Carol Post on Mister Ed) plays his daughter Ann. John Gallaudet (Chamberlain on Mayor of the Town, Judge Penner on Perry Mason, and Bob Anderson on My Three Sons) plays Prescott's rival Dr. Dudley Barrington. Maurice Dallimore (Willie Shorthouse on Fair Exchange) plays Barrington's colleague Dr. Frank Leslie.
Season 3, Episode 34, "Underwater Narcotics": William Schallert (shown on the left, played Justinian Tebbs on The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Mr. Leander Pomfritt on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show, Admiral Hargrade on Get Smart, Teddy Futterman on The Nancy Walker Show, Carson Drew on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Russ Lawrence on The New Gidget, and Wesley Hodges on The Torkelsons) plays space program Dr. Ken Madison. Robert Knapp (Ben Olson on Days of Our Lives and SAC Noel McDonald on The F.B.I.) plays DEA Agent Andy Watson.
Season 3, Episode 35, "The Sound of Nothing": King Moody (see "Strong Box" above) plays space scientist Dr. Herschel. Noel Drayton (see "Asylum" above) plays space scientist Dr. Wells. Harold Innocent (Mr. Bumble on The Further Adventures of Oliver Twist) plays an oceanographic institute captain.
Season 3, Episode 36, "Prima Donna": Mari Blanchard (shown on the right, starred in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Destry, Son of Sinbad, and She Devil and played Kathy O'Hara on Klondike) plays damaged actress Charlotte Hanley. John Lupton (Tom Jeffords on Broken Arrow and Frank on Never Too Young) plays vindictive journalist Miff Geiger. William Bakewell (starred in The Iron Mask, Playing Around, Guilty Hands, and The Fabulous Dorseys) plays movie producer David McGrath.
Season 3, Episode 37, "Beyond Limits": John Lupton (see "Prima Donna" above) plays Coast Guard Commander Bruce Cullen. Don Eitner (Dr. Richard Winfield on Dynasty) plays Mike's diving assistant Carl Williams.
Season 3, Episode 38, "Diplomatic Pouch": Charles Maxwell (Special Agent Joe Carey on I Led 3 Lives and was the voice of the radio announcer on Gilligan's Island) plays State Department agent Paul Alexander. A.G. Vitanza (see "Hot Cargo" above) plays a bartender.
Season 3, Episode 39, "Man Overboard": Ralph Taeger (shown on the left, played Mike Halliday on Klondike, Patrick Malone on Acapulco, and Hondo Lane on Hondo) plays insurance fraudster Lee Batten. John Zaremba (see "Asylum" above) plays insurance claims adjuster George Emerson.