It’s 1982. Pac Man’s a pretty big deal. So big that they didn’t just make a Pac-Man cartoon, NBC centered its 1982 Saturday Morning Preview Special around it.
Pac-Man is the carrot that Dick Clark dangles for forty five minutes through this awful special, held on the set of American Bandstand. Like the free movie tickets that come at the end of a Timeshare presentation, you have to through clip after clip of unoriginal, derivative cartoons based on existing properties. When you’re not doing that, you’re watching Dick Clark have a hamfisted time around some children. Seriously – he doesn’t know what to do with these kids. Not 90 seconds into the special, Clark is admonishing a child for talking when he’s talking. On mic. To the camera.
The special tries to be interesting – ventriloquist Willie Taylor does a solid three minute set.
Scooby and Scrappy-Doo costumed characters show up for a clunky appearance.
Henry Winkler and Frank Welker do a table read of a scene from the Laverne and Shirley cartoon. Kids love seeing voice actors!
After a ten-minute long “clip” of The Lil’ Rascals cartoon we finally get about a forty-five minute preview of Pac-Man! Then we’re sent out of the special with a rockin’ dance party.
Seriously, there’s so little effort here. Give me a sloppy narrative or a musical act or some actual star power! At the very least, I guess it’s heartening to see a studio full of disappointed kids make the best of things. Here’s the special.
Ward’s 1971 Microwave Oven
Love that dinosaur puppet! The flaming arrow into the conestoga, not so much…
FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Watch a cowboy with dementia peddle a cereal based on stale waffles to a couple of overacting kids!
The Long Walk Artwork
“The Long Walk” is one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King. This promotional artwork really catches the story, from the illustration to the red background to the font choice. Beautiful.
Guys, I don’t think this conversation actually happened, but I love the layout of this ad.
Tom Hanks’ first movie role wasn’t a comedy, like you’d think. It was barely a drama. His movie debut took form in the role of Human Robbie/Cleric Pardieu in the 1982 TV Movie Dungeons & Dragons Scare-Film called Mazes and Monsters, a movie based on a hastily written book loosely based on inaccurate facts about the disappearance of a teenager who was interested in D&D.
The movie starts out with a flash-forward to a crime scene – someone’s in trouble and we don’t know who. We’re told that the incident involved a role-playing game called Mazes and Monsters and not much more.
Flashing back to the true start of the movie, we’re introduced to a bunch of priveleged kids who attend school together. There’s JJ, the eccentric party boy who wears a rotating lineup of goofy hats.
Then there’s Kate, the beautiful collegiate who is way-too-fashionable to be a Dungeons and Dragons fan in the 1980s.
Boring Daniel wants to be a videogame designer, but doesn’t have his parents support.
And finally Robbie, played by Tom Hanks. Kicked out of one school as a result of his obsession with Mazes and Monsters, he transfers to the school that JJ, Kate, and Daniel attend with the promise that he won’t play again.
That promise lasts about five minutes, as Robbie falls in with the gang and the foursome become best friends over sessions of Mazes and Monsters. Turns out Robbie’s got a pretty rad character from his obsessive other-college campaign.
Robbie and Kate become an item. Robbie confides to Kate that his little brother ran away when he was younger and he hasn’t seen him since, a strange thing to bring up. JJ gets isolated from the group due to their relationship, and plans his suicide in a nearby cavern. He then quickly changes his mind on this plan, for some reason, and decides to create a Mazes and Monsters campaign in the caverns for his friends to enjoy instead.
The group goes out for their first session in the cavern and have a pretty good time. Robbie, however, has an episode where fiction and reality become blurred, and a switch ‘flips’ inside of him. He sees an actual monster, and fights it.
From that point on Robbie more or less becomes his character, the healer Pardieu. He abruptly breaks off his relationship with Kate, has dreams of his missing younger brother, designs elaborate maps referencing “The Two Towers” and “The Great Hall”, and eventually disappears completely.
While the gang tries to find details of his whereabouts, the police get involved as well. The police learn that Robbie had a history with Mazes and Monsters, and the gang hides their involvement so as not to be implicated. The police somehow learn of the cavern campaign, and a detective poses to Daniel the theory that one of Robbie’s fellow gamers killed him in the cavern.
Daniel says, “That’s pretty far out.”
The detective replies, “Mazes and Monsters is a far out game.”
The gang realizes that Robbie’s mentions of “The Great Hall” are referring not to a place but to his missing brother who was also named Hall. We see Robbie in New York City, still in character, looking for The Great Hall. He’s chased by some local toughs and ends up in an alleyway. Reality and Fiction fall on top of each other and he accidentally kills one of them.
He calls Kate in a panic, who tells him to head to JJ’s family’s house in the City to wait for them. Robbie doesn’t follow this advice and continues to amble around. The friends arrive in New York and quickly realize that “The Two Towers” refers to the World Trade Center, and that Robbie is heading there to jump off and join his brother, “The Great Hall”.
They all run into each other on the roof of the World Trade Center and, in character, talk Robbie down. JJ uses his authority as dungeon master to convince Robbie that this is a game, and Robbie snaps back to reality. And gives the first of what will be many classic Tom Hanks sad faces.
Epilogue: three months later. Kate is basically writing Mazes and Monsters: the book of the TV Movie. The gang visits Robbie at his family’s house, where he is taking time off of school to get his head straight. They meet him in the backyard and prepare for a special reunion….only to learn that Robbie is still trapped in his character. They play the game one last time.
This whole movie seems like it was written by somebody who read the sensationalist headlines of the day regarding the dangers of Dungeons and Dragons and not much more. It’s an interesting interpretation of the form that someone’s concerns about losing a child to D&D might have taken in the 1980s. It’s also interesting because, despite the hokey story, Tom Hanks is actually pretty good in this. He makes it worth watching.
Roll for initiative and see for yourself.
SEGA Game Gear Commercials
How do you sell your superior handheld device if you’re not Nintendo? Throw a bunch of jabs at Nintendo! These ’90s SEGA Game Gear commercials are quick to push their full color and game library, but don’t necessarily bring up their four-minute battery life.
An alien race called the Moonbeams are mining moonstones from our Moon. The Moonbums are trying to steal the recipe for the moonstones. Do you need recipes for things that are mined? This is a really complicated cereal.
Watch Out For The Munchies
I could use this ’80s anti-snacking PSA’s reminders on a half-hourly basis.
This 1989 experiment tried to marry the light and dark sides of Jim Henson’s work into one weekly television event. It didn’t really take.
Henson himself hosted the weekly hourlong anthology series, setting up the episode’s lineup and theme. The first thirty minutes were called “MuppeTelevision”, hosted by Kermit and structured like a modern-day Muppet Show. A muppet named Digit served the Scooter role in coordinating the production, and the tradition of a weekly special guest was still intact.
The second half hour was, for the most part, a more serious offering. This segment was typically one story told over thirty minutes exploring the more poignant, emotional, story-led side of puppetry. The short film Lighthouse Island aired here, as did several episodes of The Storyteller, starring John Hurt.
The series was a ratings flop, and only 9 of the 12 episodes produced ever made it to air before NBC cancelled the show. A shame, as there’s something special here. Here’s the first episode.
Cathy Ads for McDonald’s Salads
It was an odd-yet-very-eighties move for McDonalds to offer a line of salads as a standard menu item. I’ll ignore the fact that they chose to put them into cups so that you could shake them to toss and mix the dressing, which added the frustrating experience of eating a salad from a cup. Ok, I guess I won’t ignore it. Still, an even odder decision was to use comic strip character Cathy to sell the McDonalds Salad idea. Here are a few commercials with her as the pitch-person.
It’s 1981! Candy can be cereal! Anything can be cereal! Everyone’s making cereal!
ALF (SEGA Master System)
It’s no surprise, given the TV show ALF‘s wide success, that a video game would release featuring the Melmac-ian jester. It should also be no surprise that it was awful.
It’s a pretty simple premise: ALF’s scouring the town looking for tools to repair his spaceship, evading men-in-black and other, more pedestrian perils. These men-in-black are pretty awful at disguise, their characters eternally hunched over with comically ‘grabby’ hands.
Still, the music’s charming and although the premise sounds A LOT like E.T., at least this game adaptation isn’t total garbage. Here’s a playthrough.
Baby Ruth Ad
And a beautiful, beautiful early-20th-century ad for Baby Ruth. The original driving stimulant. Except for, you know, drugs.
The decision to make a Disney-MGM (now Disney Hollywood) Studios theme park was an odd one for the company. This 1989 television special celebrating the opening of the park is filled with similarly odd decisions.
Disney-MGM was the third Florida park, coming after EPCOT but before Animal Kingdom. Where the Magic Kingdom focused on Americana, Fantasy, Futurism, and Adventure and EPCOT focused on a more expanded Futurism and International appreciation, Disney-MGM was centered around Hollywood, moviemaking, and their acquired interests like the Muppets and their stake in Star Wars. The park beat its most direct competition, Universal Studios Orlando, to the market by a year, but the actual offering of attractions – you know, the things that people go to theme parks to enjoy – were a bit iffy.
Like Universal, the intent of the MGM studio was to be an actual production lot. Florida was rising as a destination for film and television production in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and Central Florida was leading the cyarge. It didn’t work out so well for Universal, and only worked out slightly better for Disney-MGM; large, loud, open-air parks don’t lend themselves well to delicate filming. The production aspect of both parks was ultimately shuttered, with the exception of a few television studios that held out for another decade or so. This special is dripping with the optimism of the promise of that idea, though.
The special opens with a big production number led by Smokey Robinson, some fancy special effects, and a whole bunch of iconic movie characters in an elaborate dance number.
John Ritter hosts the special, for lack of a better word, as a director who has just learned that the park opens in two hours (gulp!). To get an idea of how he reacts to this news, watch any episode of Three’s Company, ever. Copy and paste this gag about twenty times throughout the special, as he clumsily pulls everything together for the grand opening, just happening to show off all of the park’s features along the way.
He stumbles across a ton of celebrities in the process. There are bits, songs, or pre-recorded well-wishes from Harry Anderson, George Burns, Jane Fonda, Rue Maclanahan, Willie Nelson, John Ritter, Smokey Robinson, Dick van Dyke, the Pointer Sisters, and tons more.
Harry Anderson shows off the magic of blue screen technology and other special effects, complete with a bag full of “bee” puns and dad jokes.
President Reagan’s a natural fit for a well-wish to the new park, given his Hollywood background. Thatcher, though?
Dick van Dyke and the Creel triplets show off some of the actual attractions of the park, like the flagship Great Movie Ride, in an impressive attempt to chew up some runtime.
The highlight of this special is, without a doubt, the music. In addition to the aforementioned Smokey Robinson number, the Pointer Sisters kill it, Buster Poindexter’s got a big number (right?) and Suzanne Somers even pulls of an amazing, yet confusing, version of “Rhythm of the Night”.
Two hours, about twenty celebrity well-wishes, a dozen physical gags, and six musical numbers later the park is officially open. A replica of old-timey and modern Hollywood in Central Florida. Was anyone asking for this? It’s difficult to get an accurate gauge of the actual appeal of this theme of a park. Growing up in Central Florida at the time, I know that the local reception was lukewarm. Star Tours was the main draw, and it was a great one, but one swallow does not make a Summer. I did meet Kid ‘n Play at the park one night as part of the 1992 NBA All Star Weekend, so there’s that.
Here’s the special. Make sure to watch the commercials and promos – that spot for the Bionic Woman/Six-Million-Dollar Man crossover looks flat out bananas.
1969 IHOP Commercial
I can’t imagine the conversation that led to the approval of this voice singing this song in this commercial. And the food just looks awful! Outside of that, though, gorgeous commercial.
Before we had computers that could do multiple tasks and take up a reasonable amount of space, we had unitasker machines like word processors. Not going to lie, I get so easily distracted that I kind of miss those days.. This print ad for MicroPro word processors has a clean look to it that makes me miss word processors even more.
Grins & Smiles & Giggles & Laughs
It’s interesting to see how fierce the cereal war was in the 1970s and 1980s. There are so many flashes in the pan, so many unnecessary variations on successful formulas, and so many tacky TV Show/Movie tie-ins on the playing field during this time. Case in point: 1976’s Grins & Smiles & Giggles & Laughs, a weird smiley-face cereal featuring five mascots – the aforementioned Grins, Smiles, Giggles, Laughs, and a grumpy robot named Cecil that produces the cereal if something makes him laugh.
It didn’t last long.
Lynda Carter’s Rock & Roll Fantasy
Where was Lynda Carter when Michael Eisner was casting for the Disney-MGM opening ceremony? This is such a delightful cringe.
Gamepro Video Game Secret Tips, Tactics & Passwords, Vol. 1
Our old friend J.D. Roth from Gamepro TV takes us on a journey to sap all of the fun out of video games by using cheat codes and exploits!
This video covers the Super Nintendo, Genesis, and TurboGrafx generation of games, and features some pretty B-list games for a “Volume 1”. While most videos of this type gave viewers hints and strategies around tough parts of games, with the occasional game-breaking code or exploit, this video delivers hack after hack, with the objective seeming to be to get you to the end of the game as quickly as possible. I guess that’s what you’d be paying for?
There’s a LOT of “attitude” here, fueled by Roth and his arsenal of slang. I did not age well, but I will say that it sets this video apart from its drier, more straightforward competition. Roth is also awkwardly superimposed on top of game footage for much of the video. Does that make it more fun?
At the end of the day, this video is a pretty interesting snapshot of early ’90s video gaming technology, early ’90s video technology, and…well, just early ’90s technology in general. Back then it would have taken several weeks for someone to mail in a payment for a non-trivial amount for the VHS, wait for it to arrive, watch it, and then apply a learning from the video to a game that they owned. I achieved the same thing this morning in about 30 seconds, for free. FUTURE.
Here you go. Enjoy skipping straight to the end-game ceremony in Bulls vs Lakers And The NBA Playoffs. Seriously, who wants that?
This ultra-charming Saturday morning kids show ran on the BBC from 1982-1987. It featured several different segments, some with kids, others with pop stars, scripted bits and the occasional call-in. Margaret Thatcher was on the show in 1987, and was repeatedly asked by a little girl where Thatcher planned to go if nuclear war broke out. Ultra Charming!
Here’s the 1982 Christmas episode.
The Cap’n continued to experiment in the early 1970s with variations on what was already the perfect cereal. This iteration, called “Vanilly Crunch”, featured Wilma the White Whale as the mascot. Better her than La Foote, I guess.
Palitoy Star Wars Ad
I love everything about this hand-drawn ad for Palitoys’ Star Wars line.
1992 Lincoln Malfunction
In honor of President’s Day, here’s Abraham Lincoln from Disney’s Hall of Presidents shorting out and taking a little robot nap.
In 1993 Pioneer released a sort of megadevice that combined CDs, Laserdiscs, video games, and interactive karaoke CDs. Called “LaserActive”, it retailed for just under $1000 and in a result that shocked nobody, was largely unsuccessful.
This 1993 “issue” of Zoom, the “Video Magazine” (what?) features the ins-and-outs of the LaserActive. It’s a showcase of the technology itself, the software featured, and an awkward technical section that describes how to set the thing up. Not sure that last part is “video magazine”-worthy but hey, I’m not a “video magazine” editor.
This video is about 40% content and 60% stock ’90s introspective flash and graphics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The LaserActive software is impressive; games like Pyramid Patrol, Quiz Econosaurus, and I Will demonstrate the different types of game options available, and the quality of the (then) high technology is evident.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually a pretty impressive machine. In the early-to-mid nineties, in the aftermath of the VHS/Beta war, in the middle of the CD/Laserdisc/VHS landscape, and on the cusp of DVD’s entry into the foray (not to mention minidiscs and mp3s), a device that could do it all was a pretty novel idea. And in that light, $970’s actually a value. Still, that’s a high price point to rationalize.
An interesting experiment, albeit a failed one. What do you think? Here’s the “video magazine”.
In my day, Cap’n Crunch battled the Soggies. These white, wet embodiments of too much milk goofily tried to thwart the Cap’n and his child companions, to no success. In the 1970s, though, the Cap’ns nemesis was a fellow pirate named Jean LaFoote. He had his own cereal, Cinnamon Crunch, years before Wendell and the bakers would come along and stake a claim on cinnamon-flavored cereal with their Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Here’s LaFoote’s finest hour.
EPCOT Horizons Commercial
It’s not often that I come across something about Horizons that’s new to me, so I’m excited to share this sedate 1980s EPCOT commercial focused entirely on Horizons. Everything about it is great, but for some reason the music doesn’t feel like a total match. Still, so good!
Mason Shoe Recruitment
This ad ran in men’s magazines in the 1960s, recruiting would-be door-to-door salesmen across the country.
1940s Band-Aid Commercial
This commercial features a fascinating and unsettling proof-of-concept, testing the band-aid’s adhesiveness on an egg. That glue is way too powerful.
Way too powerful. Man was not meant for this level of adhesion.
1. The Solarnauts – Here’s the UK’s almost-answer to Star Trek, the 1967 pilot for The Solarnauts. While Star Trek‘s a pretty good title, I think I actually prefer Solarnauts.
While both shows are very of-the-era and there are a lot of similarities between the two, the jazzy and brassy soundtrack of Solarnauts really sets it apart and traps it in the sixties. Star Trekdidn’t really suffer the same fate; for all its camp and dance scenes and female alien fashions, it’s a pretty timeless show in comparison. The set design is great. There are a few neat “what-if”s, like this egg-cushioned pilot’s chair:
For the most part, though, it’s a broadly inspired design that comes up a little bland on details. Still, beautiful stuff.
It’s a flat tie with Star Trek on the planet sets, though. Solarnauts wins in the costume department, but comparing their outfits to Star Trek‘s uniforms seems like an unfair fight. These helmets!
It’s easy to see why this show wasn’t picked up – there’s not much to like about the characters, the action’s kind of iffy, and the whole thing just kind of falls stylishly flat. Still, it’s charming, and it would have been interesting to see what the series grew into if it had been picked up. Alas, this is all we have. This brassy intro song is serious business.
2. Jeremy – Here’s an adorable stop-motion children’s show from TV Ontario featuring a bear called Jeremy. This show aired in the 1970s and 1980s, and it’s beautiful and impressively light on dialogue.
3. Baby Boomer – This unlicensed NES game has you manning the Zapper to shoot down threats to a baby that is crawling through heaven and hell to find….something? I guess he’s just exploring. Anyway, awful.
4. Weebles Treehouse – Enjoy this commercial for the Weebles Treehouse playset.
5. Gobblin’ Food! – I know its a few days late but here’s a gorgeous Halloween themed print ad for Sugar Crisp.
1. Victorian Visions of 2000 – Here’s an amazing collection of cards made at the turn of the 20th century that illustrate a Victorian vision of what the turn of the 21st century might look like. Check out the whole set, for sure, but here are a few of my favorites:
Personal flying machines. Safety is apparently not an issue in the year 2000! Put your kids on a tiny platform in the sky! I think I’m most interested in whatever the propulsion method must be for the dragon-looking device on the left.
A weather machine. Mad scientist not included.
Tourists explore the ocean depths in an undersea boat. While the Victorians took liberties with the technology of the future they did not seem to think fashion would change at all.
Train-Boat. Or Boat-Train. I wonder how these tracks were imagined to run in deep seas?
1. Automan – In 1983 the adventures of a Nerd Cop and his computer hologram friend graced the ABC Network prime time schedule for twelve sweet episodes.
Desi Arnaz, Jr (not pictured above) played a computer-hacking police officer who one day brought a computer program to life in the form of Automan. Automan looked like something straight out of TRON, and predictably was the strong, handsome and brave compliment to Nerd Cop’s, well, nerdiness.
Automan drove in the Autocar, which was a Lamborghini, and that was really cool. He could also merge with Nerd Cop to protect him.
Seems like 12 episodes was just about right. Here’s the intro, which is fantastic: