February 2, 2019

This week in TV Guide: February 4, 1984

Look familiar? It should; as I mentioned last week, we're in a brief hiatus from new TV Guide reviews, which means a blast from the past. This week, we go back six years to a rare look at an issue from the 1980s.

We've skipped ahead twenty years from last week's issue, to another Olympics preview—the XIV Winter Olympiad, in perhaps the most tragic city ever to host the games.

The '84 Games were the first Winter Olympics to be held in a Communist country, Yugoslavia. At the time Sarajevo was known primarily as the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the event that triggered World War I. Fresh off of its triumphant coverage of the Lake Placid games, ABC presented what was then a record 63½ hours of coverage for the 14 days*. As was the case in 1980, we see the coverage dominating ABC's prime-time schedule, covering anywhere from 2 to 4½ hours each night, with a 30 minute review after the late local news. It's interesting that ABC feels the need to point out that most of the coverage will be on a tape-delay basis, viewers having been spoiled by all the live coverage from Lake Placid (not including the US-USSR hockey game, of course).

*This was the last Winter Olympics to start in mid-week; in 1988 the Calgary games would begin on Saturday, and since then the start has been moved to Friday in order to accommodate a prime-time opening. ABC's coverage actually started the night before, on Tuesday, with the first round of the hockey tournament.

The Opening Ceremonies, Kosevo Stadium
Questions abounded: would the hockey team be able to repeat its memorable gold medal-winning 1980 run?  (Not hardly; they managed to defeat Poland 7-4 in the seventh-place game.) Would the speed skaters duplicate the amazing Eric Heiden's five gold medals? (Not quite—no medals at all, actually.) Would the Mahre brothers come through in the alpine events? (Yes; Phil won gold and Steve silver in the slalom.) And would there be another American star born in Sarajevo? (I'd nominate Bill Johnson, the downhill gold medalist.)

It was a great show; everyone agreed that Wednesday afternoon's Opening Ceremonies were charming, capturing the spirit and culture of Sarajevo. As the flag was passed to Calgary for 1988, everyone agreed that the Canadians would have a hard act to follow.

The bobsled run became a mortar launching pad
Fast forward ten years to 1994. Kosevo Stadium, the site of the Opening Ceremonies, is riddled with holes from howitzer shells and snipers' bullets, and a graveyard lies not far away. The bobsled run has been turned into an artillery position from which rebel forces can shell the city. The men’s downhill ski area is now a UN buffer, and the steps on the medal presentation stand are being used for executions. Zetra Stadium, home of the figure skating, was blown up a few years ago, and now serves as a base for French UN troops. Maps that used to direct tourists to various Olympic venues are now used by journalists as military battle maps.

The civil war that gutted Yugoslavia in the '90s killed nearly 150,000 people, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees and the breakup of the country itself.* The siege of Sarajevo, which lasted nearly four years, killed over 11,000 people, including 1,500 children. Reminders of the 1984 games are few and far between, even as the city (now the capital of Boznia and Herzegovina) is well on the way to rebuilding. Some civic leaders even speak of the hope that they might once again host the Olympics. That, indeed, would be a miracle.

The stand for medal ceremonies: an execution site
*Making this the only Olympic Games to be held in a country that no longer exists, if one discounts the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany. I don't think the reunification of a country is quite the same as the dissolution of one, myself.

One of the most memorable quotes about Sarajevo came in a Sports Illustrated article written during the height of the war. Skier Jure Franko, who carried Yugoslavia's flag in the Opening Ceremonies and went on to win silver in the giant slalom, speaks bitterly about Sarajevo ten years later:

"As many positive feelings as I had then, that's how many negative feelings I have now. For me to know that the people who surrounded me with such love, the same people who surrounded all the athletes with such love, who wrapped the entire Olympic Village in all possible warm feelings...to know that they are now trying to kill each other is basically unthinkable. Eighty, maybe 90 percent of the people dying now in Sarajevo have absolutely nothing to do with the war. They die when they go to get bread or a bucket of water. They are innocent."

It puts the "warfare" of modern athletic competition in perspective a bit, don't you think?

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I don't know about you, but these 1980s TV Guides really don't do much for me. But that just means I have to work a little harder to find something of interest, and hard work is good for you. Isn't it?

How about Barbara Walters? Her Monday night interview special features Mr. T. ("Is he as mean as he looks?  Is anybody?"), Ester Williams ("The movie queen of the 50s dove out of stardom, into marriage.  Any regrets?") and Howard Cosell ("Why does he think people love to hate him?").  No word on whether or not she asked any of them what kind of tree they would be.

It's also a pretty good movie week, with a number of top theatrical flicks making their network debuts. Three alone come from 1981: Chariots of Fire, the Oscar winner for Best Picture, premieres on Sunday night on CBS. Its Oscar rival, On Golden Pond, makes its own bow 30 minutes later on NBC And a third, Dudley Moore's Arthur, hits the airwaves on Monday, courtesy of ABC. But if you want to watch that one, you're going to have to skip Little House: The Last Farewell on NBC. Tough call, isn't it?

There's plenty of sports to choose from, mostly for college basketball fans. I count ten games on Saturday alone, and—this is the important part—only two of them are exclusively on cable. ESPN has those, while the rest of them are either network, syndication, or a syndication/ESPN pairing. If you don't like roundball, there's other stuff: bowling and boxing on ABC, the 24 Hours of Daytona on TBS, the Bing Crosby Pro-Am on CBS, the NHL on USA.

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You might notice that some cable stations have started to creep into our discussion. It's not much, but we are seeing some of the mainstream networks being featured in the programming grids—A&E, ESPN, HBO, Nick, Showtime, TBS, TMC, USA and WGN.  Of these, I'd say that A&E has undergone the most dramatic change over time. In 1984 it's still only a part-time station, starting its broadcasting day at 8:00 p.m. ET, known as "Arts & Entertainment" and listed in the programming grid as "ART", and that's where the focus is. A selection of typical shows: Dudley Moore in concert with the San Francisco Symphony, the hilarious British sitcom Yes, Minister, a profile of the painter Andrew Wyeth, and a program by the Allen Ailey American Dance Theater. Is all of this to my interest? No, of course not. But for anyone interested in the arts, there's going to be something there—and it's not likely you're going to find this kind of programming anywhere else.

Indeed, today you won't even find it on A&E. Hell, the network doesn't even have the words "Arts" and "Entertainment" as part of their name. Today's A&E is dominated by various reality shows. Now, my inclination is that the letters A and E ought to stand for "Artless" and "Embarrassing", but I haven't watched it in many years, so I can't really say for sure. Any of you out there care to chip in?

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CBS must really be banking on the success of two of its mid-season replacement shows. It has full-page ads for Airwolf and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. That's something else I've noticed about this issue: it's very busy. Every page seems to have a half- or quarter-sized ad for something or other, and there are more than a few pages that only have ads. And there's very cluttered ads as well, filled with explosive ads and garish images, fairly shouting off the page. Between that and the newly introduced prime-time programming grid, not to mention the added cable stations, there's less and less room for the programs themselves.

And that's why it's so hard to "read" a TV Guide from this era. When you pick up a coffee-table book of photographs, you don't think of yourself as "reading" it; you leaf through it, browse the pages, scan the contents. (Probably the only picture publication anyone reads is Playboy, where the "reading" is sure to be in quotes.) Same here—there's so much visual overload, you can't really do anything more than flip through it. Maybe there's something worth watching buried somewhere in this mess, maybe there isn't. And that's change; times are different. More networks, more shows, more choice than back in the '60s.

I wonder how I felt about it at the time. Did I notice? Would I have made the same complaints that I'm making now? Perhaps; probably, if I'm truthful about it. After all, I was weaned on what to expect from reading those old TV Guides, with such a different look and feel to them. I remember being disappointed with TV Guide's redesign at the end of 1969—it its attempt to look modern and updated I thought it was too sparse, too insignificant, not special enough. Compared to the clutter of the '80s, though, I might be inclined to give them a break. It's true that I love TV, but as one of our great TV heroes, Captain Kirk, once said, "Too much of anything, even love, isn't necessarily a good thing." TV  


  1. What was redesigned about TV Guide at the end of 1969? I know that the listings changed font starting with the issue of May 31, 1969, and in doing so they no longer included addresses for the tv stations. The logo was changed with the Fall Preview 1968 issue, and it stayed the same for almost 20 years until the issue of July 30, 1988. I think TV Guide started its most drastic changes in the early 1980s when it started its goofy "Insider" section and became more of a tabloid. I stopped subscribing altogether once the magazine ceased carrying local listings in 2005. At least old issues today can remind us of how it used to be.

  2. Amen on the A&E point, Mitchell. Tracking the evolution of cable channels from their starts to today definitely shows the sad shift from quality TV (Oh, Newton Minow, where have you gone?) to mindless entertainment for the masses who want to see reality shows that, in many cases, make their lives seem better than those on the shows. Cheaply produced bread and circuses...

  3. I recall the early-mid '80s being 'cluttered' with movies, miniseries, soap operas, 'action' shows I just wasn't into, and not enough sitcoms. NBC's 'Must See TV' changed that, beginning in the fall of '84, but prior to that, it was a rather drab year.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!