June 24, 2023

This week in TV Guide: June 21, 1980

Some things never change, it seems. If you've watched a DVD any time in the last—well, however long it's been that DVDs have been around—you've seen that warning from the Federal Bureal of Investigation that piracy is a crime. I'm not sure that it's much of a deterrent, but it's there. Before there were DVDs, there were video tapes, and while there are many differences between the two, there's one thing they've always had in common: piracy. And if you don't believe me, believe Neil Hickey, who opens his article with a story of 400 FBI agents descending "like Visigoths" on 30 businesses in ten states last February 14. (And Happy Valentine's Day to you, too!) It was the result of two and a half years of undercover work penetrating organized crime's entrance into the piracy business. (I wonder if they ever pirated copies of The Untouchables?)

The fact that the Mob is now formally involved in the video business shows how lucrative video piracy has become, and how much of a threat it is to the movie business. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that "hundreds of millions of dollars a year" are siphoned off from movie companies by video pirates, whether crime kingpins or small-time freelancers. At one New York City location, "lawmen found 22 video-tape machines grinding out copies of Kramer vs. Kramer around the clock." Well, no accounting for taste. But other bootlegging hits include Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Star Wars, Superman, Pincchio, and Bambi. Anyone with a VCR can copy and duplicate movies that run uncut on networks such as HBO. Investigations into video piracy have now involved more than 80 countries, with the FBI, Interpol, and Scotland Yard all playing their roles. Perhaps most galling of all, no less than Fidel Castro boasts that he sees pirated tapes "at the same time they open in U.S. theaters." Saudi Arabia, where movie theaters are banned by law, is a particularly fertile ground for pirate-video sales.

So then, as now, video piracy is a problem. It often involves several crimes, in fact, from copyright law to mail fraud, falsifying export documents, income-tax evasion, and interstate transportation of stolen property. But people are willing to engage in it because they have the means to do it, and the demand from consumers provides them with the motive.It costs plenty to prosecute, but the industry is willing to do it because of its "tremendous concern" about piracy cutting into its profits. The solution, if it truly exists, is a drastic one: releasing all future movies to the home-video market at the same time they're released to theaters. "It would mean that new movies would be available for home use, legally and at reasonable prices, the same day they hit the movie houses." It might well succeed in driving the Mob out of the piracy business, but it would also overturn "the whole economic base on which the movie business was founded more than 75 years ago—namely, that movies are for exhibition to audiences, not for sale to individuals."  20th Century-Fox says that in the next couple of years, it plans to do exactly that. 

Well, as far as I know, that didn't happen (except for the virus period when Warner Bros. released their movies simultaneously on HBO Max).  But now that the time between movie release and home appearance (whether on physical media or streaming) is so short, one wonders about the motives of today's pirates. Part of it is availability: movies and television series that haven't been commercially released or are out of print force those who seek them to the underground gray market, where copyright is freely violated. For some, it's probably fun, a game of "beat the man." And there's a complex relationship between piracy and the industry; the Harvard Business Review reports that piracy "can actually boost sales of some digital products by increasing word-of-mouth and overall market awareness." The biggest reason, though, is probably cost; priates may sell their product at reduced prices, or, in some cases, release it for free. And at that, we shouldn't be surprised. We're so reluctant to sacrifice for anything, to pay the price—why should this be any different?

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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: Performers include Jimmy Messina, the Spinners, Michael Nesmith and comedy act the Rick & Ruby Show. Musical selections include “You Need a Man," “Do You Want to Dance?” "Nobody but You.”

Special: Ambrosia (hosts), Peter Townshend, Rocky Burnette, and film clips of Paul McCartney, the Pretenders and Gerry Rafferty. Also featured: the top-10 countdown. Highlights include "Biggest Part of Me" (Ambrosia), "Rough Boys" (Peter), "Tired of Toein' the Line" (Rocky), "Coming Up" (Paul).

Well, this week is interesting. Rather than who's better, who's best, maybe we should be looking at who's left: Pete Townshend without The Who, Jim Messina without Kenny Loggins, Mike Nesmith without The Monkees, and Paul McCartney without Wings. But even without The Who, I think any program featuring Townshend is going to automatically start with an advantage, and even though McCartney, the Pretenders, and Rafferty are on film, I think they're more than enough to edge out Kirshner. This week, Special takes the price.

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In last Saturday's issue (June 18, 1966), I highlighted a couple of specials that were, in my opinion, really specials—one-woman shows by Peggy Lee and Lena Horne. There was nothing fancy about them, just an hour of hits each, by two great singers showcasing their talents. This Monday, we have a special that demonstrates everything that's wrong about the genre in the 1970s and 1980s, and why the descriptions sound as if they were parodies from SCTV. It's Debby Boone in, of course, her "very first knock-'em-out variety special," The Same Old Brand New Me (9:00 p.m., NBC), with special guest stars Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Greg Evigan, and Jose Ferrer. The first problem is that it is a "variety" show, which means you're going to have those painful comedy sketches that really aren't very funny. Also, there's no synergy in the guest lineup; it's all paint-by-numbers casting—Greg Evigan as the obligatory NBC star appearing on an NBC show, Jose Ferrer because Debby's his daughter-in-law; and Bob Hope because, well, he'll appear on anything these days. (I haven't quite figured out where Gene Kelly fits in.) But do the pieces really mesh

Understand that this isn't meant to be a slam on Debby Boone, who might be the nicest person in God's creation. But at this point she's had one hit, 1977's "You Light Up My Life," and by this time she's moved to the country music genre. It's quite conceivable that she just doesn't have a body of work strong enough to support a one-hour special. And if that's the case, then this isn't really all that special, is it? It's more like an opportunity for a few celebrities to pick up some extra cash and get a little screen time. And when your show sounds like an SCTV bit but isn't, then you're in trouble. (By the way, I've got Andrea Martin as Debby, Dave Thomas as Hope, John Candy as Ferrer, Rick Moranis as Evigan, and Joe Flaherty as Kelly. But there has to be a cameo somewhere by Bobby Bittman.)

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Ah, it's always good to air out the spleen a little, isn't it? But here's something else that's on NBC this Monday, one that's likely to be remembered a little longer than Debby Boone's first special. It's the debut of everyone's favorite gap-toothed comedian, David Letterman, and his late, lamented morning show. (Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m., NBC) Being that it premiered during the summer, I was able to watch the first few months while I was off from college; it was a very funny, very creative program, not at all comparable to today's daytime chatfests. (I especially enjoyed Edwin Newman's news updates!) It was, more than anything, a throwback to Dick Cavett's late-1960s morning program on ABC, with some of Ernie Kovacs's morning show in television's earlier days. 

And like those outings, it was probably too different, too innovative, for a daytime audience; it only lasted four months before leaving the schedule. At that point, I thought NBC's best move would be to move SCTV to a regular Friday night slot (in place of The Midnight Special), and turn Saturday late night into Saturday Night Live with David Letterman; it would have been a massive upgrade over the disaster SNL had become. I still think it would have been a good idea; Letterman could have remade that show, which I haven't watched in decades, into something special. The stars that SNL has produced over those years would easily have fit in as part of Letterman's regular cast. But then, as has often been proven the case, what do I know? 

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Your reminder that this is an election year comes on Saturday, with "It's a Great Night, America" (10:30 p.m., CBS), sponsored by the Republican National Committee, with Pat Boone (father of the aforementioned Debby) and Tanya Tucker, and featuring appearances by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Howard Baker. At this point, with the GOP convention next month, Reagan has long had the nomination wrapped up, so in essence this is a vice-presidential audition for two of the leading contenders, Bush and Baker. And since we were talking about Saturday Night Live just a moment ago, this week's episode is a rerun from January, with Teri Garr as an Iowa housewife being wooed by presidential candidates. The B-52's are the musical guest.

Sunday, it's the network television debut of 1968's Romeo and Juliet (9:00 p.m., ABC), with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey starring, and Franco Zeffirelli directing. The movie, which was nominated for Best Picture, was in the headlines earlier this year for the wrong reasons, is a reminder that movies didn't always debut a couple of weeks after they left the theaters; in this case, it was twelve years from big screen to small.

If I've discouraged you from watching the Debby Boone special on Monday, just hang on for an hour, because it's followed by Tom Snyder's Celebrity Spotlight (10:00 p.m., NBC), and while I don't usually pay much attention to these celebrity interviews, this one could be more interesting: in addition to standard stars like Carroll O'Connor, Erik Estrada, and Priscilla Presley, Tom sits down to talk with James Cagney and his upcoming role in Ragtime—his first movie in 19 years.

One of my favorite shows is Police Squad!, so it should come as no surprise to you that one of my favorite movies is Airplane, the disaster spoof made by the same crew—Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker. On Tuesday, Merv Griffin devotes his show to actors from the movie, including Robert Hays, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (9:00 p.m., WXIX, Cincinnati) I hope Leslie Nielsen was with them!

Wednesday, it's the drama Wilson's Reward, adapted from the short story by W. Somerset Maugham, starring Sandy Dennis, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, and Fred Morsell, and directed by Patrick O'Neal. (10:00 p.m., syndicated) Ted Morgan, author of the recently published biography Maugham, authors this week's "Background" story, providing a brief but frank look at the remarkable career of the man who became "the most popular English writer since Dickens." I really enjoyed those Background articles; they gave a program like this the context that made it that much more enjoyable, and encouraged you to read more about it, to coin a phrase.

On Thursday, the best choice remains Barney Miller (9:00 p.m., ABC), which features the case of a woman who claims that her husband has been replaced by a clone. What do you want to bet that Steve Landesberg's Dietrich gets assigned to that one? That's followed by Nobody's Perfect (8:30 p.m., ABC), in which Ron Moody plays a Scotland Yard inspector attached to the San Francisco Police Department. Ron Moody is a fine actor; he received a Best Actor nomination for Oliver! in 1968 (the same year as Romeo and Juliet!), but don't you think this "fish-out-of-water" police schtick was already old by 1980? 

Friday's recommendation is the late night movie In Cold Blood (3:15 a.m., WAVE, Louisville), based on the gripping true story (well, sort-of true) by Truman Capote. The movie features stark black-and-white cinematography, much of which was shot on location in Holcomb, Kansas (including the murder home); intense performances by the young Robert Blake and Scott Wilson; and an outstanding job by Richard Brooks, who was justifiably nominated both for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I will admit, however, that this may not be the best movie to watch if you're susceptible to hearing sounds in your house, and I mean that as a compliment. 

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MST3K alert: Revenge of the Creature
(1955) "In this first sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the amphibious 'gill man' wreaks havoc in Florida. Clete: John Agar. Helen: Lori Nelson. Joe: John Bromfield." (Saturday, 8:00 p.m., WDRB, Louisville). One of MST3K's favorite whipping boys, John Agar (aka Mr. Shirley Temple) is out-acted by the great Ricou Browning, and Lori Nelson takes the place of Julie Adams. There's a reason why this movie, and not the original, is on MST3K. On the other hand, we're introduced to Professor Bobo and The Nanites, so how bad can it be? Or is that just a rhetorical question?

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Finally, this week's variation on the old "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it" question: if you're a member of an Olympics team and you don't go to the Olympics, does it really count?

As everyone knew by now, the United States had determined to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. (Ironic, isn't it, how history keeps coming around to bite you in the behind? Ironic also that we've never bothered to boycott the Olympics in China.) So, even though our athletic heroes won't be getting the chance to compete for the gold, they're being given the full exposure this weekend with live primetime coverage of the U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials from Atlanta (Saturday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), and the track and field, yachting, road cycling, canoeing and kayaking, and pentathlon trials on Sunday afternoon (3:00 p.m,. NBC). Then, on Monday, the U.S. Olympic basketball team takes on a group of NBA stars from Indianapolis (9:00 p.m., syndicated). The U.S. hoopsters include Mark Aguirre, Sam Bowie and Isiah Thomas, while the NBA team is led by Artis Gilmore, Magic Johnson, and Bob Lanier. (The U.S. team won, by the way, 82-76.)

The ad above is almost a parody of itself. "They Trained Four Years! Now This Is Their Moment!" Their moment for, what exactly? What is the glory of being selected for an Olympic Team that isn't going to compete in the Olympics? How do you represent your country in what essentially becomes an intramural competition? I've come to have mixed feelings about this, as I have so many things in the past few years; just as I supported American involvement in Vietnam for years after the fact, I supported the Olympic boycott at the time. But did the Olympic boycott serve any real purpose; did it hurt anyone other than the athletes themselves? And talk about irony; just as we took the place of the French in Indochina, we wound up taking the place of the Soviets in Afghanistan. 

Now I find myself, in both cases, wondering what the hell good any of it did. And I'm afraid that's a question a mere television historian can't answer. TV  


  1. I think another big aspect of the whole "piracy" issue is the fact that it's not even considered theft by most people under 30. They're the group that grew up with the internet...where there is no such thing as copyright, and where theft of content is considered a virtual right of the consumer. It all started with music downloads, and progressed to movies and streaming channels downloaded illegally (who doesn't password share their various channels?). They don't consider this stealing from the creators or the companies that put out the material.

    1. I think that's a very good point, one that I hadn't considered. Of course, if it's theft, it's theft; the truth isn't relative. But that's a very hard concept to explain to someone who has a different definition of what "theft" constitutes.

  2. As you suggested (and you probably knew this), NBC DID replace THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL in 1981 with a 90-minute Friday night version of SCTV, which was great, usually better than SNL. There would be a unifying plot at the station connecting older clips. I loved the episode where Conrad Bain's "brother" Hank, who was playing "Mr. Drummond" on a ripoff of DIFF'RENT STROKES, turned out to be an enemy spy from another planet that looked like a cabbage. I was surprised to find that Hank was played by Conrad Bain's identical twin brother, Bonar, who was a Canadian businessman. I remember I spent that Saturday night visiting a childhood friend of mine (my family had moved to another state), and we stayed up to watch SNL and then saw the syndicated version of SCTV right afterwards at 1 AM local time. Unfortunately, a couple years later a lot of the SCTV people moved on to other things, and NBC replaced SCTV with FRIDAY NIGHT VIDEOS, which was renamed FRIDAY NIGHT decades later. Since I rarely watch network tv now, I'm not sure what NBC is airing there now (nor do I care much).

    1. It's been so many years since I watched network TV, I'd have to look up what they run now. And I'm not even sure where I'd look it up! And there's another thought--what if SCTV had replaced SNL?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!