Who could be a better pitchman for the CD-i than perhaps the best SNL cast member of all time, Phil Hartman? Whoever wrote these ads really put Phil through the ringer, but he does more in thirty seconds than Sid and Ed did in thirty minutes.
It’s also worth noting that the CD-i had dropped from its initial price of $700 and its price cut around Sid and Ed time to $500 down to $300. This must have been near the end.
What if you had a silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you had an idea for a second, unrelated-yet-just-as-silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you just re-used props and sets from the first silly TV show for the second silly TV show and crossed your fingers that nobody would notice? That’s pretty much Sherwood Schwartz’s approach to It’s About Time, the second silly TV show to Gilligan’s Island‘s first silly TV show.
He actually probably didn’t cross his fingers that nobody would notice. He probably just didn’t care.
It’s About Time follows the adventures of two astronauts, Mac McKenzie and Hector Canfield, who get sent back in time to caveman days and end up living with caveman family Gronk and Shad, . Gronk is played by Joe E. Ross. essentially a caveman version of his Gunther Toody character from Car 54 Where Are You? Shad is played by the lovely Imogene Coca.
The cavemen speak in broken-but-very-very-passable modern English. The rest of the tribe are suspicious of the astronauts, but are eloquently suspicious. The plot lines revolve around either the astronauts bringing modern civilization to the cavemen, or trying to adjust to/reconcile their worldview with the cavemen’s.
Now here’s the interesting part – the show was retooled 2/3 of the way through the season to address the sagging ratings. They basically flip the premise, where the astronauts find a way to return to the present and bring the cavemen with them. The episodes then revolve around the cavemen’s acclimation to 20th Century life. That’s a courtesy the Gilligan gang didn’t get until their TV movie finale!
It didn’t help. It’s About Time was cancelled after the first season. While it’s definitely not up to par with Schwartz’s stronger efforts like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch, there’s still something special here. There’s just a lot of other stuff weighing it down. Here’s a few episodes.
1980 Coleco Catalog
There is so much to love about this 1980 Coleco Games and Toys catalog. So much to love! This Holly Hobbie oven looks like something out of a haunted house. And how about that plaid stroller?
1987 Train Ride to Coney Island
This is a pretty great snapshot of New York City in the late 1980s. Those kids need to jump into a pool of Purell after laying around on the seats of that train, though .
Goonies Famicom Commercials
The Goonies, as a movie, couldn’t be more American in how the kids act, what motivates them, and the nature of their reward. The beautiful insanity of the Goonies videogames, however, we’re just not capable of that. Kudos to Konami for taking a solid foundation and launching it into the stars. These ads for both Goonies games really hammer that insanity home. I’ll also take this opportunity to repeat the fact that Goonies II is one of the greatest video games of all time.
U2’s First TV Appearance
This 1980 TV appearance is a completely different band.
Nintendo Fun Club – April 1988 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
I played the new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, for about an hour this morning. I didn’t have a ton of time to play, so I didn’t want to get into anything too big. Instead I just collected some food and cooked it, went to a few camps to farm arrows from some scrub mobs, scouted and unlocked a lookout tower while dodging laser beams from ancient robots, and stumbled across a giant one-eyed monster called Hinox and figured out how to defeat him. Then I looked back at the past hour and marvelled at how far the series (and really, gaming in general) has come since 1986 and 1988’s Zelda and Zelda II games. Then I remembered the Nintendo Fun Club issue that came out in April of 1988 covering Zelda II, and I found it again on Archive.org.
Amazing ’80s font work aside, the cover art pales a bit in comparison to the cover for the original Zelda, but by itself that’s forgivable. The original cover is pretty amazing. What’s less forgivable is that this design sort of leans into the character design of the CD-i Zelda games, which are legendary for their awfulness. It’s gotta be a coincidence, though – this cover is cartoony but still not that bad.
It’s no ‘cooking food’, but the addition of the winged boots, thunder spell, fairy transformation and, you know, towns, were pretty significant upgrades.
Apart from Zelda, there’s some other really fun stuff here. The pros offer some Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! tips – it’s the least they could do, since the game itself advertises the Fun Club pretty blatantly:
Some user-submitted reviews and Metroid artwork are pretty adorable:
And, of course, some epic-looking game ads. Nintendo’s own ads are always a significant cut above the rest:
It’s times like this that I’m thankful for sites like archive.org, that can collect and keep these pieces of history. Stuff like this could have easily been lost, otherwise, and it’s such an important part of pop culture history. Consider throwing them a few dollars if you haven’t already. It’s good work!
How to Send an E-Mail (1984)
I had to continually convince myself that this 1984 “Database” feature on modems, bulletin boards, and email was not a parody or a segment of Look Around You. The enthusiasm these folks display about this technology is really pure, encouraging, and charming.
That’s definitely not Jermaine Clement travelled back to the past to be on a BBC Program, right? Definitely not. Right?
Day In The Life of a 1950s Small Town
Richard’s town’s got a lot going on! Movies AND bowling? This is actually a really good slice of life of the ’50s.
1989 Canon Superman Commercial
Not sure how much more on the nose you can be with your subject matter without actually being on the nose.
1978 Taco Bell Commercial
The Enchirito cameo makes this 1978 Taco Bell commercial an easy share. Miss that guy. The man about to eat them looks a bit ogre-ish for such a refined dish.
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.
This 18-minute promotional video for the TurboGrafx 16 game system pulls a page or two from the Saved By The Bell book of video effects.
Most videos like this have a terrible-yet-fun narrative angle threading the game showcases together, but outside of an awkward little kid occasionally playing unseen games we get a rapid-fire tour through just about the entire TurboGrafx library. From Bonk to Darkwing Duck to Super Adventure Island to…Riot City…well, there’s a lot to see here.
The tour through the extensive game library is broken up by accessory after accessory. The portable Turbo Express, the CD Player, and the 5-controller connectable Turbo Tap all make an appearance, promising to turn your slick TurboGrafx system into an expanded clunky mess.
The infomercial concludes with a hard sell on the Turbo , the PS4 Pro of its day boasting increased speed, better graphics, and a higher price point. And a subscription to their Nintendo Power, called Turbo Force.
For what amounts to a relatively unremarkable informercial, it’s actually pretty great – the graphic treatment is insultingly ’90s, the voice-over treatment given to each game is genre-appropriate to the point of being offensive, and the ability to look at the excitement around the gaming technology in 20-year-retrospect gives one a pretty satisfying smug feeling. Definitely worth a look:
Moon Zero Two Pressbook
Speaking of worth a look, I’ve been a fan of Moon Zero Two since I saw it featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s. The set design, the costumes, the soundtrack, the goofy animated intro, the goofy live-action dance numbers, it’s all fantastic. Zombo’s Closet of Horror features a 12-page pressbook for the movie that’s just amazing in its depth of offerings to all members of a community. Hit the link for all of the scans, but here are some of my favorites:
MTV Spring Break 1993 Special
Is there anything more perfectly 1993 than this special concert during MTV’s legendary annual Spring Break stunt featuring Lenny Kravitz, Living Colour, the Black Crowes, and Stone Temple Pilots? If there is, it’s on you to show it to me.
Of particular note are those black and white MTV bumpers… I may break those out into their own thing at some point. Amazing stuff.
1980s Showtime Free Preview Weekend
I wore my VHS player out during the HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime free preview weekends. My family would take shifts recording as many movies as we could. Thanks to these weekends I can still recite Caddyshack 2 verbatim. This Showtime segment featuring Bill Harris hits that sweet spot.
For a bonus, check out the graphic design of this 1987 Showtime bumper. I want to live in it.
That bass line!
Safeway Supermarket Ad w/ Bob Weir
And to round things out, a stiff, muted Bob Weir championing a good cause in a 1980s Safeway ad. Just weird all around.
This 1986 VHS game envisioned a murder mystery set in the universe of Isaac Asimov’s Robot books. Loosely based on the book Caves of Steel, it’s an ambitious effort and carries a high production value – particularly for the mid-1980s, when so many were getting away with so much less.
Robots follows Detective Elijah Bailey, an Earthling, as he is assigned to the murder of a member of a rival faction, the Spacers. Was an Earthling behind the killing? A Spacer? A (gasp) robot? The Earthlings have their own robots, but they’re pretty crude. Sorry, really crude.
Bailey’s got 24 hours to solve the case before the Spacers destroy the Earth. Ok. He’s sent to “Old New Jersey”, a city that’s been modernized as a Spacer embassy on Earth, and is paired up with one of the Spacer robots, a much higher grade of production.
The sets of “Old New Jersey” are pretty impressive, for a mid-80’s production. They look positively ’90s!
Unlike some VHS games, there’s no fast-forwarding or rewinding around to different points of the tape to play the game. The story plays out pretty linearly, with prompts to pull clue cards at significant plot points throughout.
Depending on the clues selected, and your keen eye at noticing details during the episode, you either convict a legit criminal or an innocent person. There’s no video payoff, though – it’s all up to the cards at that point. The game box boasts 256 possible storylines, but that’s a stretch. There are really only a few outcomes, and the general consensus seems to be that there’s no replay value to this game. A shame, given the clear effort to make this a big production. Here’s the VHS:
And here’s an ad for the game:
Call me when there’s a Foundation VHS game.
(Seriously. Call me.)
The Prom: It’s A Pleasure (1961)
Coca-Cola sponsors this short film filled with instruction on how to properly prepare for and attend the high school prom. Who knew etiquette was so by-the-numbers? I have the feeling that any attempt to turn a high school prom into a formal cotillion generally ends in disappointment. Still, the film gives good general advice, like don’t give a flower corsage to a girl who’s got a dress with daisies on it. Tips that anybody can use.
Do NOT forget to say goodnight to the chaperones!
Polaris Nuclear Submarine
I’m fairly certain that this “Nuclear Sub” was little more than a pointed cardboard box, but I’d probably have fallen for this ad. “Controls That Work” is a particularly bold feature.
Evel Knievel Commercial
From the motorcycle to the drag racer to the skycycle, this is a pretty impressive array of Evel Knievel toys.
Batman & Superman Sesame Street Ad
On the surface, it’s interesting that Batman and Superman are promoting the premiere of Sesame Street. It’s charming – they hold up the CTW letters, they refer to themselves as stars. But, really, what are they watching? Themselves, promoting Sesame Street?
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.
I’ve watched Hammerman. I’ve written about Hammerman. This is no Hammerman.
Kid ‘n Play premiered in 1990 on NBC. It followed the by-then-standard formula of a cartoon celebrity show where the featured celebrities appear in live-action wrappers at the beginning and end of each story, and a mediocre effort is sandwiched in-between.
Kid ‘n Playseems to loosely follow the House Party premise, where Kid is responsible and Play is a troublemaker. Also, they’re totally normal high school kids who also happen to rap and have connections in the music industry. Also there’s a rival gang out to get them. The episodes feature pretty typical “Saturday Morning” lesson-teaching efforts; probably a little bit less than their counterparts.
Not a lot happens during these episodes, for the most part. There are no superpowers like Hammerman, no combat like Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandos, no relatable characters like the gang in Mr. T. Just Kid and Play, making music and reacting to music. Still, there’s something eye-catching about it. The animation is definitely crude, but the lazy “pyschedelic” backgrounds that appear during music sequences actually give the show a unique flavor. Martin Lawrence and Tommy Davidson also provide voice work for some of the characters – that’s a level of involvement that neither Kid nor Play gave.
Check it out for yourself. There’s something charming about it, right? What is it?
Attack of the Timelord
No, not a Doctor Who game, unfortunately. This 1982 title for the Magnavox Odyssey is a pretty solid offering. A side-scrolling space shooter, a la Galaga, with voice, a ridiculously beautiful color palatte, and 256 punishing levels? Yes, please.
The box art is no slouch, either.
Six Million Dollar Man Toy
I’m legit floored by this two-minute ad for a Six Million Dollar Man toy. It’s so good! Where would an ad like this have even run? The hubris of it is amazing. They are suggesting that this toy release is a ‘once or twice in history’ level event!
For some reason, we Americans seem to be at our best when we’re selling cars. This gorgeous vintage Jeep ad supports that claim.
Maxwell House Commercial
This bland Maxwell House spot is actually refreshingly straightforward, and makes me want a cup of coffee. Just not Maxwell House coffee, please.