After Linda Purl started playing a spy in a new ABC series she discovered that several family friends from her childhood in Japan were spies that had come in from the cold.
Purl and Anthony John Denison play husband-and-wife intelligence agents in "Under Cover," which debuts with a two-hour movie on Monday. It begins its regular run next Saturday in place of "China Beach."
Purl's father was first a military officer and then a businessman in Japan, where Purl was host of an education television program for seven years.
"Last summer I was doing a play on the East Coast and some family friends came," she says. "There were six couples my parent's age. I told them I was doing a series about the CIA. Four of the couples said they had been CIA. I'm finding out many of my friends had been with the CIA."
ABC, however, seems to be distancing itself from a direct association with the Central Intelligence Agency. The title until a few weeks ago had been "The Company," which is how insiders refer to the CIA. The agency in the show is now called the NIA, for National Intelligence Agency.
The show, created by William Broyles Jr. and John Sacret Young, who also created "China Beach," attempts to be on top of the news. One show is about people Kuwait when the Iraqis invade. The show's adviser is Frank Snepp, a former CIA agent who wrote a book about the agency.
Purl is on the NIA headquarters set at the Warner Bros. Studio. It's a series of glass cages, and she, Denison and other operatives are in an area labeled in red letters as "Top Secret Level 4."
They're looking at pictures of terrorists as they flash on a bank of television screens. It looks like a high-tech version of the opening of "Mission: Impossible.' And there's an array of computers that would be at home on the Starship Enterprise.
In the show, Purl and Denison, who play Dylan and Kate Del'Amico, must accommodate their demanding careers to their three children. Purl is being sent off to Dublin, but first she must find a baby sitter.
"She's a mom and a spy," Purl says. "I think one of the things about the show is that it shows both sides. It shows that spies have to fix school lunches and car pool.
Purl was born in Greenwich, Conn., but grew up mostly in Japan.
She began working on the stage in Japan and continued her theater work in this country. She's starred in more than 27 television movies, a number of theatrical movies, and four television series, "Happy Days," "Beacon Hill," "Young Pioneers" and "Matlock." She did nine pilots that didn't sell.
"My last series was 'Matlock,' and I left because it wasn't going anywhere for me," she says. "It was not what the producers or I originally thought it would be. To me doing a series is like changing parts in the middle of a race. You get a team of writers together, each with his own background, and they have to come up with a cohesive style and uniform voice for each character. And you're doing all of this while you're filming the episodes.
"I bring that up in reference to 'Matlock.' You have good intentions, but then you get to the reality. You have a story to tell, a mystery to solve and only a limited time to do it.
"A series always takes on a dynamics of its own. With 'Under Cover' we found relationships between characters that worked, and the writers take advantage of the things you stumble across as you work."
"Under Cover" premieres with a two-hour movie Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC. The series will air Saturdays at 9 p.m.