October 13, 2012

This week in TV Guide: October 10, 1981

I never really warmed to TV Guide of the 1980s, just as I never warmed to the shows of that era.  Take, for example, the top ten shows of the 1981-82 season:  Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three's Company, Alice, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close for Comfort, ABC Monday Night Movie, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time.  I rest my case.  (No offense to anyone out there who thinks that the 80s were the Golden Age of Television.  You're wrong, but don't take it personally.)

But beggars can't be choosers, and sometimes you have to play with the cards you're dealt.  And so it's back to the 80s.

***

Actually, there's quite a lot to like in this issue.  Take, for example, this ad for the latest in cutting-edge technology: the Sears Video Disc Player.


At the competitive price of $449.95 (not including tax), it's hard to imagine anyone passing this one up.  Still, in 1981 it was anyone's guess as to whether the video disc or the VCR (which Sears also thoughtfully sells) would emerge on top.  (Of course, they're both in the tech graveyard now, and the DVD, successor to them both, seems increasingly aged.)

The really interesting thing about this ad?  The movie being advertised on the 50-inch projection TV, 2001, only 20 years in the future.  You remember the scene in the movie where Dr. Floyd flies to the orbiting space station on a Pan Am space plane?  Pan Am folded in 1991, exactly halfway between this ad and the year of the movie; it must have been unthinkable to Stanley Kubrick that Pan Am wouldn't make it to 2001.  And it seems entirely appropriate that Sears chose a movie featuring a soon-to-be-obsolete airline to advertise a soon-to-be-obsolete technology.

***

But dig this Apple computer, available at Twin Cities Audio King stores!  You can do bookkeeping, inventory, and even play games!  But can you surf the Internet?  Oh, that's right, Al Gore hasn't invented it yet.  Still, look at that Apple - a far cry from the iPad and iPhone, isn't it?  About the only thing that's the same is the logo.*

*I'll tell you though, there are mornings when I feel like that guy's head looks.

Audio King itself had an interesting history.  The Minneapolis-based company always had to battle larger companies, such as Best Buy and Circuit City, but created a niche for itself with higher-end consumer electronics, and actually did quite well when CDs and DVDs came along.  It eventually merged with Ultimate Electronics, and went out of business a few years ago.  I'll bet you probably could have purchased a video disc player there in 1981. 

Later in the issue there's a great ad for the Mitsubshi VCR, which has a really cool feature: a wireless remote control!  You can run it from bed, and even freeze-frame the interesting scenes.  That's not suggestive, is it?  No.  Not at all.

***

Back in the day, TV Guide had a feature called "The Doan Report" that covered the latest news in the industry.  By 1981 it's long gone, replaced by "TV Update," but the headlines are still relevant: 
  • Tom Brokaw's leaving Today at the end of the year to co-anchor NBC Nightly News with Roger Mudd.  (We know how well that worked, don't we?)  His replacements: Bryant Gumbel and Chris Wallace.  As we know, Wallace didn't last long in the three-headed monster (along with Jane Pauley), but he seems to be doing pretty well at Fox News.  Gumbel, making the transition from sports to news, becomes a fixture at Today - but unable to duplicate his magic when he tries to rescue the CBS Morning Show.
  • ABC's going to try yet another assault on 60 Minutes, with a 90-minute news magazine show scheduled to debut in 1982 or 83.  As a sign of their determination to take on the news giant, ABC plans to begin the show on Sunday nights 30 minutes before the start of 60 Minutes.  As far as I know, the plan never comes to pass.
  • One plan that does, however, is Ted Turner's CNN 2, designed to "offer a digest of reports from the original Cable News Network.  CBS and NBC are said to be trying to buy in to the service, but when the station does debut on January 1, 1982, it will be Turner's alone, and one year will be renamed "Headline News."  It now styles itself HLN, and the real purpose of this story is an excuse to show a picture of Robin Meade.
  • The FCC abolishes the "Fairness Doctrine," which required stations to provide equal time to opposing viewpoints.  I expect this to be back in the news in the event of a second Obama term.
***

The yellow TV Teletype tells us that Mickey Rooney will be starring in an upcoming movie - one of his biggest hits, Bill.  Jo Anne Pflug (you know her from Laugh-In having been married to Chuck Woolery) has been signed to appear with Lee Majors in his upcoming series, The Fall Guy. The hit movie Nine to Five is coming to TV (as 9 to 5), with Dolly Parton's sister Rachel Dennison and Rita Moreno.  Kenneth Turan has a very interesting article about the making of the TV-movie Skokie, which will air in November on CBS. The movie told the story of group of Nazis and their plan to march through the predominantly Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. It was the TV-movie debut for Danny Kaye, who portrayed the leader of the Holocaust survivors group opposed to the march, and for those used to seeing him in light comedies and musicals, it is quite a revelation. Turan's article gives us the background on the controversy, which pitted many of the town's residents against the ACLU, which supported the free speech rights of the Nazis to march.  The movie's producers, Golden Age giant Herb Brodkin and his partner Robert Berger, fresh off the triumph of Holocaust, strove to be fair to both sides, but as someone notes, it's clear that the heart of the story comes from the point of view of the Jewish survivors.  As evidence of the high emotions the story generates, actor John Rubinstein, playing the Jewish ACLU lawyer defending the free-speech rights of the Nazis (who represented them despite great personal anguish), recounts how he received appeals from members of the Jewish community to not play "that monster."

***

Well, I guess I really can't put off talking about the programs any longer, can I?  Very well.

The lovely Jaclyn Smith plays Jackie Kennedy in what was likely a fawning three-hour movie about her life, airing on Wednesday night on ABC.  I don't know; personally, I've never found Jacqueline Kennedy to be a particularly interesting character.  It's not that I dislike her, but my fascination with her husband's career and assassination doesn't extend to her.  It probably would have been worth turning in just to see Jaclyn Smith, though, whom I think is much more attractive than Mrs. Kennedy.  It's a moot point, though.  I'm pretty sure I was watching the North Stars play the Maple Leafs on Channel 9.*

*Another sign of how things have changed; the NHL actually played hockey back in those days.

The baseball playoffs were in full swing; a strike midway through the season had cancelled almost 40 percent of the games*, and the season was split into two parts, with the division winners from each half making the playoffs.  The Cincinnati Reds, who didn't finish in first place in either half of the season but had the best overall record for the year, stayed at home while the Yankees and Dodgers made their way to yet another World Series.  I probably watched these games but, like the regular season itself, they were unmemorable.

*Ah. I knew I'd find a sports work stoppage if I looked hard enough.

Oklahoma and Texas were the feature attraction on ABC's college football game of the week, facing off at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas as they do every year on the second Saturday in October, during the Texas State Fair. Texas won that year, 34-14.  As to who wins this year?  Well, as you're reading this you probably know, but as I write this, I can only guess.  I'm sure I was watching it, as I would have watched the Vikings at the Chargers and the Rams at the Falcons on Sunday afternoon.  I might even have watched the Dolphins play the Bills on Monday Night Football, or at least the first half; the second half would have been past my bedtime.  Or maybe not, as I think of it - depends on what my class schedule was on Tuesday.

OK, so aside from studying for my poli-sci classes, I probably didn't watch anything else on TV that week.  Which means I missed the marriage of social director Julie on The Love Boat on Saturday night, and Thursday night's main event, the marriage of Mork and Mindy.  Can you say "Jump the Shark"?  Other than bringing Jonathan Winters into the series, were there any redeeming qualities to this plot twist? 

At least Mork didn't conflict with the made-for-TV Mike Hammer movie, Margin for Murder, starring Kevin Dobson.  You probably don't remember Kevin Dobson playing Mike Hammer.  You remember Kevin Dobson from Knots LandingBut he doesn't join the cast of that show for another year, so you don't remember him for that, not yet.  So perhaps you remember Kevin Dobson from Kojak.  He was on that show for five seasons.  No, when you think of Mike Hammer on TV, you think of Stacy Keach or Darren McGavin.  You don't think of Kevin Dobson.  And if you're lucky, you don't think of Mork & Mindy at all.

WCCO, the Twin Cities' CBS affiliate, shows part one of Roots on Saturday afternoon, right after Harum Scarum with Elvis - remember when there was more than sports on Saturday afternoons?    And when local stations actually used to show things like, you know, movies?  Speaking of which, what's up with 'CCO showing Going My Way on Friday night?  In October?  This is one of the few times I've seen that movie show up outside of the Christmas season - but then, the first time I ever saw It's a Wonderful Life on TV, it was in the middle of summer.

Finally, there's the second-season premiere of SCTV on NBC Friday night.  Best bit: Dave Thomas as Benny Hill in Benny Hill Street Blues.  It's like the rest of the shows in this week's issue: you have to see it to believe it.  But, at least this is something you might want to see.

1 comment:

  1. The 1981 strike (I was too young then) was handled, as I learned, similar to how many minor leagues are still handled in splitting the season.

    Two of the three AA leagues -- Texas and Southern, along with all five A leagues - Carolina, California, Florida State, Midwest, South Atlantic, and one rookie league -- Pioneer, do the split season to not punish teams affected by mid-season callups as players often advance a level at the midway point of the season.

    The irony is today DVD's are used for archival storage purposes more than videos as people would rather watch everything on a Web stream, even if it means sacrificing business and other details for pleasure. When everything's clogged in a 240p world on the Web, then nobody would watch a 1080 show, how have we regressed?

    Everything's being made in HD yet people are reverting to SD and worse. Witness Seven's decision in Australia to make local touring car racing's biggest event, the V8 Supercar Bathurst 1000, an SD event last week; because of pressure from US Fox Sports to carry it live last year, Seven relented and gave it HD coverage under pressure from Fox and the Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip trackside booth. When V8 Supercar decided not to allow overseas broadcasters provide live coverage, Seven decided not to carry it in HD but in 576p (widescreen SD).

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