February 18, 2023

This week in TV Guide: February 16, 1980

We'll cut right to the chase: the United States plays the Soviet Union Friday night in the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC, with the U.S. completing the first half of the Miracle on Ice by shocking the Soviets . To show you how things have changed in the last 43 years, that 8:30 broadcast was tape-delayed; the puck actually dropped at 5:00 p.m. ET. Not that ABC didn't try; they'd asked the International Ice Hockey Federation to change the game time to 8:00 p.m. so that it could be broadcast live in primetime, but the Soviets objected; that meant the game would air at 4:00 a.m. Moscow time instead of 1:00 a.m. So, the Russkies won out, and the game was played as planned.

When I say this shows how things have changed, I have two examples in mind. First, it's difficult to believe that the Federation would turn down an American network today, considering how much money that network would have paid for the rights to the Olympics, not to mention the importance of the U.S. television market. Second, considering the excitement leading up to the contest, it's likely the American network would preempt regular programming and carry it live. Yes, I know affiliates had more sway back then, and their local newscasts were always a big deal; but if you're a station manager, would you want to take the chance of being called un-American by viewers for not carrying the game? And it's not like there haven't been precedents involving sports; golf tournaments, World Series games, and NCAA tournament games had been butting into local airtime for years.

Anyway, with the advent of the internet and social media, it's all a moot point; it was hard enough in 1980 keeping the outcome of the game a secret, because people could tune in to the radio for updates. (In Minnesota, which supplied many of the players for the U.S. team, radio stations were carrying live simulcasts of the CBC radio broadcast. Other markets probably did as well. Before the game aired, ABC's Jim McKay was upfront in telling viewers that they game had already been played, but he promised not to reveal the final score. (ABC's announce team of Al Michaels and Ken Dryden had called the game live as it happened, so there was no chance of them spilling the beans either.) All the people in the background behind McKay celebrating and chanting, "USA! USA!" might have been a clue, though.

Today, the game would be shown live whether it started at 5:00 or 8:00, whether it was on NBC or Peacock. I do think that most people who watched it that night tried to avoid finding out who won, though. It's not unlike watching a game you'd recorded a couple of hours earlier; if you really want to be kept in suspense, you'll find a way. (At least until you get home from work, to be greeted by your 6-year-old daughter yelling, "We won, daddy, we won!") Maybe the Soviets would have been better off showing the game at 4:00 a.m. at that.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Music by Rufus and Chaka Chan, Squeeze, Tanya Tucker and Rupert Holmes: comedy by Jimmie Walker and Dick Lord. Songs include "Do You Love What You Feel?" "Lay Back in the Arms of Someone." "Blind Love." "Escape." 

Special: Bonnie Pointer (hostess). Electric Light Orchestra. Nicolette Larson and the Spinners. Also: a comedy segment with Bruce Vilanch and Rufus Shaw Jr. Songs include "I Can’t Help Myself," “Heaven Must Have Sent You" (Bonnie); Last Train to London" (E.L.O.); "Let Me Go, Love" (Nicolette).

I'd be interested in seeing what my friend JB would think of this matchup. I always watched The Midnight Special, going back to my days in the World's Worst Town™ when I had no other choice. So perhaps there's a bit of sentiment going. Rupert Holmes is very talented (thought I'm not a big fan of all his music), and I don't know either of the comedians on Special, and a lot of the time that would be enough to tip the scale. But I've always really liked ELO, and that's what's enough for me to take Special this week.

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Have you ever heard of a Norman Lear show called The Baxters? (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., WKRC in Cincinnati) It started out in 1977 as a local show on WCVB in Boston, and was then nationally syndicated from 1979, when Lear took over the show, to 1981. The gimmick to The Baxters is that half of the show consists of a situation faced by the Baxter family (husband, wife, three kids); the other half featured a live studio audience who, having seen the first 15 minutes, would discuss the issues raised in it and offer their opinions. As the ads say, "You supply the ending!" The way the show was marketed was that there was a national version of the studio discussion which the stations could use, or they could produce their own studio discussion and insert it in the show. In this week's episode, "Nancy will have nothing to do with the new handgun that Fred has purchased to protect the family." The always-reliable Wikipedia calls it a sitcom, but with a writeup like that I suspect it might have been more like a dramedy. 

I confess that I've never heard of either this program or its premise. I was about to say that it was probably because it hadn’t been shown in the Twin Cities, but when I went to YouTube seeking some clips, one of the first to come up was a commercial with Lear plugging the show, made for—KSTP, St. Paul-Minneapolis. (Not surprisingly, KSTP chose the local segment route; that's what their archrival, WCCO, would have done. Both were heavily invested in local content at the time.) So there goes that excuse. No, this is simply a show I never watched, never was interested in, never remembered. And it's not likely that we'll see anything like it again anytime soon, since nobody watches TV shows at the same time, except for football. C'est la vie. And look at who the host of is on the Cincinnati edition—Nick Clooney!

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Here's something else I don't remember: "The Greatest Man in the World," an adaptation of a whimsical James Thurber story, on the series American Short Story (Monday, 9:00 p.m., PBS). Brad Davis stars as Jack Smurch, the world's newest aviation hero, who managed to pilot his plane on the first solo flight nonstop around the world. Smurch is the subject of Lindbergh-like adoration, but there's one problem: the man's a total jerk. Even his mother "wouldn't have been sorry to see her son make an unscheduled landing in the Atlantic." This won't do for the latest national hero, though, so a newspaper editor, reporter, and the Secretary of State get together to practice John Ford's advice about printing the legend. In addition to Davis, the cast includes Carol Kane as Smurch's girlfriend and Howard da Silva as the editor, and Henry Fonda is the host of the series.

Thurber's rendition of
Jack Smurch
Thurber's story is obviously a satire on our penchant for hero worship, although not an accusation against Lindbergh (for all we now know about his private life, he was—unlike Smurch—a modest and gracious hero). Thurber wondered what it would be like if America’s next hero turned out to be "an illiterate, ill-mannered, drunken boor." It makes me wonder what Thurber would have said about the Kardashians or other reality-TV stars. No, as I think about it, he wouldn't have said or written anything; there are some things that are just impossible to satirize. Their very existence mocks real life.

At least I can understand not remembering this one, because I would have been watching the Olympics (I watched every kind of sports back then, on the grounds that "Something might happen.") But I'm beginning to wonder about these various programs I have no memory of. Is it possible that I don't remember classic television as well as I thought I did? Is it possible that there were more forgettable shows out there than I was aware of? Or am I just getting old? No, it's not that. Is it?

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The Olympics are, as you might expect, the dominant force on your TV screens this week, although ABC performs a little trickery, slipping in an all-star Family Feud with ABC sitcom stars on Monday and an episode of Charlie's Angels on Wednesday. Each one pushes the Olympics back an hour. (Fox has been notorious in modern times about doing this to events like the World Series.) CBS and NBC aren't going to go black, though, so let's take a look at counterprogramming on a typical night of the week—Tuesday, let's say, because both of them seem to be pulling out the stops. The main Olympic events are ice dancing, speed skating, and skiing; the latter two events would have been tape-delayed.)

Last week we saw a tour de force hour by Anne Bancroft; this week, we see a similar hour of creativity helmed by Goldie Hawn and Liza Minelli. Goldie and Liza Together (9:00 p.m., CBS) team up in a showcase for the two to "sing and swing and even act," an ironic description in that they each have won Academy Awards for their acting. (Maybe someone was trying to demonstrate their dry wit with that copy, in which case he failed.) I do wonder who came up with the idea of pairing the two, though? It says "First Time Together"; did they have any previous history of being friends, of having performed together other than on TV? Did Liza wake up one morning and call her agent and say, "You know, I've always had this dream to act with Goldie Hawn, and my life won't be complete without it'? Did the public demand it? It just doesn't seem to me to be a logical pairing, but perhaps someone can enlighten me. 

Anyway, they display their musical talents in three production numbers, including one in which "Goldie camps it up to 'Y.M.C.A.' with body builders and gymnasts," which I admit leaves me feeling a bit queasy. they then turn serious for a rendition of "The Other Woman," and play New York City roommates in a dramatic vignette; and bring down the curtain with an all-singing, all-dancing finale. Here's the whole show; see what you think. Personally, I'm partial to Anne, but it's nice to see that even in 1980, there was some variety on the airwaves.

That's followed by a Bob Newhart special (10:00 p.m., CBS), a comedy hour that's billed as his "first comedy special," although it might be a lot like Newhart's variety show that he hosted back in 1961. I like Newhart a lot, and I suspect this is a pretty funny show, although the addition of guest stars like Lawanda Page and Joan Van Ark do give me a moment's pause; what Newhart really needs to succeed is a good straight man, and I don't know if either of them would fit the bill. 

NBC's main counterprogramming is The End (9:00 p.m.), Burt Reynolds's very black comedy about a man coming to terms with his impending death; it runs the gamut from "the satiric to the sensitive to the slapstick," with Dom DeLuise best of all as "a moon-faced murderer." 

So here's what you have to pick from on Tuesday. What would you have chosen? And how effective is the counterprogramming scheduled by CBS and NBC?

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Well, that's a good question. What are some of the highlights of the rest of the week? NBC brings out a big gun with the television premiere of The Towering Inferno, shown in two parts. (Sunday and Monday, 9:00 p.m. each night) Judith Crist calls it "a cardboard spectacular," with its moral being that "firemen, the salt of the earth, ought to design buildings because architects are megalomaniacs, contractors cooks, and building codes antique." On the other hand, it's hard to beat an all-star cast with Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, and others. 

Simpson also shows up in Detour to Terror (Friday, 9:00 p.m., NBC), and no, that's not the story of the white Bronco chase; he plays the driver of a tour bus hijacked by "three weirdos." Crist says it's "slick but satisfying," but I wonder how many people watched it instead of the Miracle on Ice? 

Not that all we have to choose from are specials and movies; CBS has its solid Sunday night (60 Minutes, Archie Bunker's Place, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Jeffersons, and Trapper John, M.D.) and Monday night (M*A*S*H, House Calls, and Lou Grant) and NBC does the same on Wednesday (Real People, Diff'rent Strokes, Hello, Larry, and The Best of Saturday Night Live; Thursday night they offer Buck Rogers, Quincy, and the short-lived drama Skag, with Karl Malden. Friday at 8:00, NBC has a one-hour takeoff on This Is Your Life with Donald Duck as the honoree and Jiminy Cricket as the host. It's a repeat; otherwise, I think it would have been better-served on Sunday night.

There's not much else that jumps off the page, unless you're in the mood for a Republican presidential primary debate from New Hampshire. I don't know if it takes place as scheduled (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.), but there's another one that occurs the following week, at which Ronald Reagan reminds everyone that he paid for the microphone.

I wonder, though; I haven't paid enough attention the last few years to see how the networks counterprogram the Olympics. Do they, or do they cede the weeks to NBC? And since we're told that the Olympics now attract a mostly female audience (with its soap-opera infused storylines emphasizing American athletes), would they program the same kinds of movies and specials that they did here?

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About television technology: try this on for size.

"New technology will enable viewers to call up stock prices, medical advice—a wealth of data—on their screens."

That's the subheading of Neil Hickey's article on what we can expect to see with the television of the future; the only thing that he didn't anticipate is that the screen would not be on our televisions, but on our phones. And that, because so many people would be watching video content on their phones, that this was the new television.

The technology that Hickey describes—called teletext, which has been available in Great Britain for several years—allows viewers to choose from "about 800 'pages' of printed material that are continually being broadcast (invisibly until requested) right along with regular programs." It's transmitted encoded on unused space on the TV signal. The encoded signal can be accessed through a television equipped with a special decoder. The information we'll be able to access is, theoretically, unlimited: news, sports results, stock market prices, weather, traffic, radio and TV logs, job-hunting information, home-study courses—the lot. The TV could also be used as an encyclopedia and dictionary, "as well as the 'note paper' for an electronic mail and message service and a convenient way to communicate with the deaf." Email, in other words. The whole thing would probably look and feel like the pre-Windows version of a PC. Fascinating.

Another option is a system called viewdata, which is transmitted over phone lines; "a viewer simply places a phone call to a viewdata computer in which is stored, for easy retrieval, all manner of useful information and services." The specially equipped set is connected to the phone by an adapter—a modem! The accessible pages come from "information providers" such as the British Library, the British Medical Assocation, Reuters, Barclays Bank, and the New York Times, that pay to have their information included. At the moment, it'll run you about $2,000 (in Great Britain) for a set like that, but when they begin to be mass produced, experts think they may cost as little as $25 to $50 more than the average set. A cable-compatible TV! 

Granted, Hickey points out, a number of observers, including some network executives, are skeptical of this "Buck Rogers stuff" and aren't even sure the public will want this kind of service. But Paul Zurkowski, president of the International Information Association, scoffs at the doubters. "That's what all those monks who were copying manuscripts back in the 15th century said when they first heard about printing. The future shock will be momentous." One French television executive says that TV-computer services "to the home via telephone or satellite communications provide an exciting potential in our view." Everyone agrees that should it come to fruition, the networks will be involved, seeing it as a source of new advertising revenue—which could result in a battle with their own affiliates to control the market. As Hickey concludes, "the fuse has definitely been lit and pretty soon we'll know just how big a bang this information explosion will be."

What's remarkable about this article is not that everything, for the most part, came to pass. The explosion Hickey envisioned was in reality just clearing the way for the information superhighway. If anything, the experts underestimated what would be possible; the future delivered more than they predicted. That it intimately came to fruition not on our televisions, but on our telephones, makes it even more remarkable. That's kind of cool, considering we still don't have the flying cars from The Jetsons

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MST3K alert: First Spaceship on Venus. (German: 1962) An expedition (Yoko Tani. Oldrich Lukes. Ignacy Machowski) intends to explore the planet’s mysteries. (Friday, Midnight, WXIX) Warsaw Pact science fiction! Also known as The Silent Star, it was actually an East German/Polish collaboration; for its dubbed release in the West, a Soviet cosmonaut was changed to an American astronaut. Hey, with dubbing anything is possible! According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the author of the original novel, Stanislaw Lem, was less than impressed "and even wanted his name removed from the credits in protest against the extra politicization of the storyline when compared to his original." One of his comments: "It practically delivered speeches about the struggle for peace. Trashy screenplay was painted; tar was bubbling, which would not scare even a child." In other words, perfect for Mystery Science Theater 3000. TV  


  1. I remember THE BAXTERS first when I was visiting grandparents and it was carried on a local station, probably WCVB-TV, channel 5. TV GUIDE also carried a story about the show sometime around this time. (I wish my TV GUIDE INDEX, which lists every national story from 1953 through 1977 could be extended another 25 years, so I could find the article.) I remember I could watch THE BAXTERS on my local ABC affiliate at the time, WNGE-TV, channel 2 in Nashville. This lasted at least a year or 2, because I remember WNGE preempting the national feed once to show clips from the ABC miniseries MASADA, which was on tv around April 1981. The local studio discussion was about the morality of suicide, especially the mass suicide that the miniseries depicted. I didn't watch much of MASADA, if any, but I know it was a huge hit from the discussions that I heard going to school & at school.

  2. I was 11 at the time and I remember watching NBC that Tuesday, since the family had not seen "The End" in the theater (we usually did go see Burt's movies then). And yes, 11 year old me watched SHERIFF LOBO before Burt on NBC, because of course I did.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!