Televisionary: The reason was said to be due to Hill's strict observance of Orthodox Judaism. The devout Hill had it written into his contract that he be released from the set in time to make it home by sundown on Fridays (when the Jewish sabbath begins) and that he wouldn't have to work on the Jewish High Holy Days. Whether that was truly the only reason isn't certain — and you'd sure as heck never get anyone to admit if it were a factor on a contemporary show — but there were signs that it was a problem five months after the show's September 1966 launch.
Hill's schedule was "occasionally inconvenient," M:I creator and executive producer Bruce Gellar admitted to TV Guide in 1967. "Occasionally I'm sorry, but it was a ground rule."
By the time that quote ran, the degree to which Gellar was "sorry" was becoming more evident. Though Hill's character, Daniel Briggs, was the leader of the Impossible Missions Force, three episodes giving co-star Martin Landau's Rollin Hand much more screen time than Hill, who barely appeared in them, were shot over the High Holy Days. In addition, Landau, who was initially supposed to be only an occasional guest-star but quickly became a regular, was featured in the network's weekend publicity junkets. So it shouldn't have been a huge surprise to anyone when Hill exited later that year and Peter Graves's Jim Phelps took over.
What did come as a surprise, certainly, was the unceremonious sacking of Landau and wife Barbara Bain, who played the seductive Cinnamon Carter on the show, two years later. The reason behind that one wasn't quite so, well... unorthodox. It all came down to money.
M:I was a popular show by its second season — it struggled in its first but improved after some creative changes and a time-slot shift — but it was a money loser for producer Paramount Television from the start. Now, burning cash early on is par for the course today, when studios don't expect to make big money until selling a hit show into syndication, and it was then, too. But at that time a show was only expected to be in the red in its first year of production, with profits kicking in by years three and four, big money flowing into company coffers by year five and millions in rerun-licensing fees coming in afterwards.
But by the spring of '69, Paramount was still spending more than $225,000 per episode, with CBS contributing only $170,000 plus a pittance for foreign sales. Gellar was shooting more than 50,000 feet of film per hour, more than two times the average, and was spending 30 percent more time doing it. The show's writing budget was higher than that of any other on TV and the special gadgets required each week helped contribute to weekly costs that were 20 to 30 percent higher than those for any other series. Believe me: In Hollywood, that doesn't go on for long, and it didn't.
If you're Mike Nichols and you're making a 12-million-dollar film, you can do that," Paramount TV production exec Douglas Cramer said at the time. "In the film business, you always hold out hope that you might wind up with The Sound of Music or The Graduate. But there is no [room for a] Sound of Music in television."
Landau's tenure on the show was unusual from day one. He'd started as a guest performer, as I stated, but even after he moved up to lead-character status, he refused to sign the standard five-year contract that would've allowed the studio to lay claim to his time. So when M:I hit the Nielsen top 15 in season two, he was free to negotiate for what he thought he was worth, as was Bain. They aimed high, Paramount aimed low, and even with Gellar and CBS's execs, who loved the higher ad rates the show commanded, behind them, the actors lost. Lawsuits flew. And so it was that when Bain stepped up to the podium in 1969 to accept her third consecutive Emmy for her work on the show, she glared at the cameras and said: "There are many I would like to thank. There are a couple of people I'd not like to thank — but since they each know their names, I won't call them." "I wondered who she was talking about," Cramer later deadpanned.
Thus continued the spin of the revolving cast door, which saw the quick entrances and exits of Sam Elliott, Lesley Ann Warren and a post-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy. Graves, for his part, stuck it out until the show left the air in 1973 (he also returned for the series' brief 1988-90 revival on ABC), while Greg Morris and Peter Lupus stayed on board for the entire run.
When asked for his feelings on the cancellation in 1973, the low-key Graves avoided the dramatic and was appropriately philosophical. "I think it may have been the right time," he said. "Nothing lasts forever, except possibly Gunsmoke." (The stickler in me insists on pointing out that he was off by a little bit there, by the way. Though it had a stunning 20-year run, Gunsmoke, which starred Graves's big brother, James Arness, wrapped up its run two years later.)