First off, let me give a big thanks to my favorite Meepster over at Cinema Du Meep for inviting me in on the 80s mayhem! Please pop over there as often as possible as he's kind of movie nut and always fun to read, and check out our co-blog on our favorite films of the 80s! Here, both Meep and I tackled the wonderful world of television and we certainly hope you enjoy our lists!
I was 9 years old in 1980. I might not have hit the double digits yet, but I was beginning that phase in my life where I loved watching television & movies. You may have guessed that I never quite got over that part of my life, and I tend to want to either re-visit or re-discover the gems from my all-too-short childhood. As the decade was just beginning we were laying to rest the post-hippie disillusionment but had yet to totally dip ourselves into a neon daze. It was an interesting time in television especially, with a disparate list of drama/comedies/variety specials. It might also have been the year of the romantic television movie. I mean, Valentine Magic on Love Island?!? Need I say more?
Cosmos: There are billions and billions of stars. And there was only one Carl Sagan. The thing about Mr. Sagan was that although he never talked down to his audience, he made science fun. He made it more than fun, he made it something full of vast wonder and he made you want to learn about it. His series Cosmos was 13 episodes, that’s only half a season, but the effect of it has lasted through my entire life. I never did quite get the knack for science, but I also never lost the want to learn it. Thank you Mr. Sagan.
Enos: This misfire of a show falls under the “What Were They Thinking” category. A spin-off from The Dukes of Hazzard, Enos (played by Sonny Shroyer) was the lovable deputy who moved out of the sticks of Hazzard into the big city streets of Los Angeles. A bad fish-out-of-water storyline that wore thin quickly, Enos was worth watching only for Shroyer’s great performance. Even among crap, he was undeniably charming.
Fight Back! With David Horowitz: What a flashback! When I was a nine year old renegade, I thought I could change the world. I felt that way because of shows like Fight Back which empowered us with the knowledge of what products actually told the truth in their advertisements and who was lying through their dirty, rotten teeth. Every week my friends and I couldn’t wait to see if you could actually spread cake icing with a paper knife or if the gorilla would demolish the suitcase. What a blast! And I thought I was being all consumer savvy and stuff. What can I say, I consume with the best of them! For the record, Mr Horowitz is still fighting the good fight, visit him at his website,aptly titled Fight Back! Power to the people!
I’m a Big Girl Now: Although I didn’t like this show as much as Diana Canova’s later series Throb (or SOAP for that matter), this show had one big selling point for me – Sheree North. I can’t remember when I fell in love with this brassy, voluptuous actress, but I have been enchanted by her for most of my life. She’s fantastic here as Edie, the brash boss and she looks amazing. I’m a Big Girl Now also had a then unknown Martin Short and of course, Danny Thomas, who must have been the selling point, but as far as I’m concerned, this was Diana & Sheree’s show all the way.
It’s a Living: Hey, life’s not the French Riviera, but it was downright funny on It’s a Living, which was a pretty great little show about a group of waitresses and some other employees of a swank restaurant. Mostly, this show ruled because it gave the world Ann Jillian who we all just knew was Mae West reincarnated! She was afforded some of the best lines and kind of made the show. The series, which ran on ABC for only a short period of time (two seasons), experienced quite the comeback in syndication in 1985 where it ran for four more seasons (Jillian only did a one year stint because she was battling breast cancer, which she won!). Wow, talk about legs… and I don’t mean on the waitresses!
Magnum P.I.: OK, I’m gonna glow a little. I always do when I think about this show, which is hands down my all time favorite television series of all time in the history of the world and maybe even the universe. Ever. Tom Selleck was perfectly cast as the gorgeous, but not always perfect Magnum, a slacker P.I. who often had to enlist the help of his best buds to get the mystery solved. There were several elements to the show that were seamless, including the obvious, such as the chemistry between the cast mates and the sumptuous locales. But Magnum P.I. was also extremely consistent and faithful to its characters, featuring storylines that could unravel over several seasons (OK, not completely consistent but this was the 80s!). And as the show matured, so did Magnum, who found himself in many situations that lead to the esoteric and filled him with self-awareness. I love how poignant some episodes were and I loved growing along with Magnum. Even now, almost 30 years later (oh my god, has it really been that long?!?), this show still remains one of the most moving television watching experiences I have ever had. I love Thomas, Rick, TC & Higgins like they were my friends and that’s how I greet them at the beginning of every episode. I don’t think I will ever love a television show more.
Secrets of Midland Heights: After Dallas but before Dynasty lies a little forgotten nighttime soap called The Secrets of Midland Heights. Starring future stars such as Lorenzo Lamas and Linda Hamilton as well as stalwart names like Bibi Besch and Martha Scott who played Sue Ellen's overbearing mom on Dallas in various salacious situations. The show was short lived and re-tooled as King’s Crossing for the next season, but still failed to capture many viewers. Tis a shame too, since the lesser known nighttime soaps seem to be my shows of choice…
Solid Gold: Yeah, yeah, yeah interpretive dance wasn’t exactly the big thing in my pre-pre-teen existence, but Solid Gold got me on a pretty good start! This was a fantastic show for people like me who were really into 80s pop. Everyone who was anyone showed up, lip-synching their big hits. I used to love how the music would fade and then the band would just stop playing! Solid Gold started off as a one off variety special that did well enough to spin into a series. The first episode featured Irene Cara and Chuck Berry! Wow. An incredible, but kind of horrible show, those dancers and the various hosts (starting with Dionne Warwick) were filling up my life with music!
Tenspeed & Brownshoe: Although my parents were very into books and enjoyed music, they also loved to watch a lot of network television during my youth. Some of my favorite memories come from having dinner with the parental unit as we watched whatever the show of the evening was. One of my fondest memories of those times is watching Tenspeed & Brownshoe, even though I hardly remember the short lived series at all. What I do remember is laughing hysterically with my parents – it’s a memory I’ll treasure forever. The show itself was about a hustler named E.L. “Tenspeed” Turner (Ben Vereen) turned detective to meet parole requirements (!) and an accountant named Lionel “Brownshoe” Whitney, who was more fanatical about the work at hand. Together they encountered hijinks and guffaws galore and became an important precursor to more the more lighthearted detective fare that showed up later in the decade (Ex. Riptide, Simon & Simon – granted those were beefcake hijinks!). Created by the great Stephen J. Cannell, Tenspeed & Brownshoe did quite well at the beginning of their 14 episode run, but viewers quickly lost interest and the show was cancelled.
Those Amazing Animals: Before Animal Planet there was Those Amazing Animals. It was lighthearted, it was sweet and it was totally awesome. As a big animal lover, I loved this show through and through. I adored Jim Stafford something fierce too (he totally kicked John Davidson’s butt!), but it’s Burgess Meredith I remember most. That beguiling voice leading the audience through tales of the animal kingdom was magical. This short lived series (one season) was the best of family television and deserves a decent DVD release.
Of course, TV movies and specials were big on my boob tube radar as well. Since I was only nine you may have guessed that I was home at night. A lot. Minus a few slumber parties, there I was twisting the knob, looking for decent programming. I haven't seen all of the movies and specials on this list, but damn, 1980 had some good programming!
The Babysitter: Mmmm, I love this movie. I didn’t catch its original airing but enjoyed watching it several times on my local channel during the early 80s. Stephanie Zimbalist is cold, cruel and calculating… and a ton of fun to watch! Click on title for full review.
Battle of the Network Stars: Starting in 1976, ABC brought nineteen wonderful episodes of this outlandish curiosity. Sometimes the specials would air twice a year and in 1980 we were treated to one in May and one in December. You can check out a list of participants over at Retro Junk. I loved the little bios they would give the teammates. In a particularly hilarious ass kissing interview, Howard Cosell kept raving about how awesome Ed Asner was, to the point that you could see Ed was either totally eating it up or figuring out how to get that restraining order started. Also, seeing Mr. Asner in those teeny-weeny bikinis was something to behold. Oh man, how I miss this show. They tried to revamp it in 2005 with Battle of the Network Reality Stars, but can we say lame? Yeah, totally!
Cheryl Ladd Special: Souvenirs: I love Cheryl Ladd and I truly, from the bottom of my heart, wanted to like this variety special, but it’s just so bland. Cheryl looks divine, Joyce DeWitt is adorable, Jeff Conaway is… uh, Jeff Conaway, but it just doesn’t gel.
Condominium: A wonderful disaster of the week mini-series featuring Barbara Eden along with many, many wonderful television friendly faces as they prepare for the biggest storms of their lives – one by nature, the other by lust, darling, pure lust! Click on title for a full review.
Flamingo Road: It was not until I started writing this article that I realized this short lived nighttime soap did not take place in Las Vegas. The tackiest city in the world was my childhood stomping grounds and we had a street named Flamingo Road which leads to the Flamingo Hotel (we were pretty clever as you can see). My (still) small brain could not fathom that another town might have a Flamingo Road. Turns out there is at least one (fictionalized or otherwise) in Florida and I’m guessing the road on the show is meant to symbolize the haves and have-nots and it features the hunkadelic John Beck and Mark Harmon! In short: This is a must see!
The Jayne Mansfield Story: Why, oh why have I not seen this movie? Loni Anderson as Jayne and Ah-nold Schwarzenegger as Mickey Hargity. Wow. Just wow.
Mom, the Wolfman and Me: I just got a chance to rewatch this sweet little made for tv romance. David Birney is officially hawt. Click on title for review.
Murder Can Hurt You: Oh man, this movie is hee-larious. A bunch of funny famous people parody the hot cop shows – Victor Buono is Chief Ironbottom, Tony Danza is Pony Lambretta, Connie Stevens is Sgt. Salty Sanderson and so on… Someone is killing all the great cops and so they must band together to find the culprit! This is slapstick silliness at its finest and I remember loving it even as an adult when FXM used to air it endlessly in the mid-90s.
Pleasure Palace: This movie was recently streaming on Netflix and I’m so mad they took it off. It’s ultra-lush goodness, featuring the handsome Omar Sharif as one slick gambler. He’s also got a romantic triangle to tangle with – will he choose the beautiful and dignified Hope Lange or will he pick the gorgeous and confident Victoria Principal? If you can find this movie, you need to watch and find out! Click on title for a look at this movie.
Revenge of the Stepford Wives: Of course little could come close to the classic horror film The Stepford Wives, and Revenge does well by not trying to. Instead, this is a fun, uncomplicated follow up to the big screen original. Sharon Gless is great, but the real treat is watching Julie Kavner, pre-Marge Simpson as Don Johnson’s wife! It’s total a total shut your brain off and have fun kind of flick!
My good friend Meep at Cinema du Meep also has a mad penchant for the small screen. Here are some of his faves:
3-2-1 Contact: Remember when kid's shows were fun and informative? 3-2-1 was always fun to watch and bring out the inner nerd within.
Bosom Buddies: What's not to love about 2 guys pretending to be like women just so they could live on the cheap and have pajama parties with the women of their dreams? Plus, Tom Hanks when he was funny!
(Amanda By Night note: Check out this awesome article about some of the exterior locations from Bosom Buddies' opening title sequence)
Breaking Away: I was a fan of the show from the great movie, but it only lasts 7 episodes :(
Fridays: Friday's gave Saturday Night Live a good run for it's money. Shame it never really caught on as it was a whole lot of funny. Plus, early Larry David!
Heathcliff: I didn't watch a whole lot of cartoons growing up, but for some reason I became obsessed with Heathcliff. More so the '84 version than '80, but I did watch. I remember my friends and I naming ourselves after some of the characters. I was Riff Raff.
It's A Living: The zany trials of a small group of women serving the most unappetizing looking food at a posh Hotel in Los Angeles. A great ensemble cast keeps you hooked.
Solid Gold: Forget American Bandstand and Dance Fever. Solid Gold was the shit.
That's Incredible!: Reality shows in the 80's were a totally different beast. This one was part cheesy, part creepy and absolutely addictive! Cathy Lee Crosby was a fox.
Too Close For Comfort: Once I caught this show I was hooked. I said it before, and I'll say it again... Ted Knight was god!
These were still on in '80, and I was hooked until they eventually were retired...
The Love Boat
Three's Company - Never missed an episode!
Mork & Mindy
Hart To Hart
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century - Beep-de-de-beep!
The Facts Of Life
WKRP In Cincinnati
Little House On The Prairie
One Day At A Time - Oh, Schneider!
Laverne & Shirley
I wasn't watching as many TV-Movies back in 1980, but these I do remember clearly...
The Babysitter: Gosh you're creepy Stephanie Zimbalist!
The Boy Who Drank Too Much: Put down that beer Baio!
Guyana Tragedy: The Story Of Jim Jones: All hail to the power of Powers Boothe!
(Amanda By Night note: A friend of mine is in Guyana. He plays the aggravated ticket taker at the movie theater!)
The Jayne Mansfield Story: Starring Loni Anderson's boobs
Marilyn The Untold Story: More boobs, but this time starring the miscast perky Catherine Hicks