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.
It’s always weird when Nintendo tries to be cool. Cool just isn’t their thing. This 1995 infomercial for the Super Nintendo is a perfect example of my point; it sets out to showcase the system’s lineup in an edgy, gritty way and it comes off looking like when the chaperones try to dance with the students..
Bush video, or Korn video?
A man in a video screen sends his dark agents to gather intel on the latest Nintendo games. There’s an air of malice to the effort, but each outing quickly turns comical; there’s little edginess to be found in Yoshi’s Island, and even less in Donkey Kong Country. The agents seem committed to torture in order to get the info they need, but the ‘torture’ ends up to be mild aggression and, in one case, just plain money.
There would have been good value in watching this as a kid in the mid-90s. There weren’t many chances to get a look at footage of games that weren’t out yet, and Killer Instinct is a pretty extreme title for Nintendo. Even though Super Mario RPG wouldn’t come out until the N64, it’s pretty exciting to see it here.
And speaking of N64, the video ends with the ultimate intel: a first glimpse at the new console from a Japanese convention. There’s not a lot to it, but what’s there is cool.
So yeah, a mixed bag. The tone isn’t really congruent with the Nintendo we knew then or know now, but it was the ’90s and everyone was trying this sort of thing on. Here’s the video:
1940s Catholic Truth Society Covers
Vintage Irish Book Cover enthusiast Hitone’s got some book covers from the Catholic Truth Society that are nothing short of breathtaking. Here are a few of my favorites – hit their site for the rest.
This “Giant Moon Robut” is flat-out terrifying. Just $9.99 in 1960s money!
I’d like to live in this 1910 poster for a French Race sponsor.
Finally, this 1970 commercial for an adhesive glue that almost certainly gave anyone who touched it some sort of disease.
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.
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.
Leonard Nimoy lends his credibility to this alarmist video produced to aid those concerned with the potential societal collapse caused by the world’s computers’ refusal to acknowledge the year 2000.
This video is one of several attempts to cash in on the hysteria around the Y2K phenomenon. 1999 was the perfect breeding ground for such a scam – nobody could say for sure that the Y2K alarmists were wrong, and nobody wanted to look like a fool. The President even appointed a Y2K Czar! And the Y2K Czar appeared in this video! What an honor!
While the content of the video is assuredly alarmist, and we’re reminded throughout that many people are probably going to die, the tone never rises above a typical infomercial level. It’s not a frantic or panicked video, which makes it play pretty creepily.
It’s sort of an impressive effort that this video is an hour long – it’s really about 4 minutes of information repeated over and over again in different ways. When the video feels like it needs a break from that, there are instances of what seems to be free-form musing on specific catastrophes that could occur.
There’s a lot of specific advice, too. Helpful nuggets, like “Don’t buy a machine gun and run to the woods.” We’re also encouraged to “enjoy the family time” when our systems fail us. I can only imagine the satisfaction that those who paid actual money for this VHS tape must feel. The video takes on a very nuclear-scare-era tone when advising preparedness: store fresh water all over your house, in any dark place, toilet safety in a world without plumbing, stock up on baby wipes to bathe with. From here, it’s essentially a survivalist video – which makes for a good thirty minutes more content. While the video stresses the importance of community, there’s an underlying addition of “but make sure you get yours first”, which is pretty ugly once you notice it.
Here it is. Alarmist and cheesy, and a little bit alarming that so much time was spent on this. And that it probably made money.
French Mega Man 2 Commercial
There’s so much to love about this commercial for Mega Man 2 – from the newscaster Mario to the overacting live-action Mega Man to the shrouded, overacting Dr. Wily. Perfection.
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.
AT&T’s got a record of anticipating future trends and technologies that extends almost as far back as they do. They kind of have to; that’s their business. This 1993 video, Connections, takes the emerging technologies of the internet and mobile phones and imagines a future that combines the two. And, despite a few silly overreaches, pretty much nails it.
Connections starts off with a trans-continental phone call between a woman, her fiancee, and the owner of the rug store in which the couple met. This call auto-translates the three languages to suit each participant – a translation in the actual voice of the speaker.
The next scene features (what we will find out later is) the girl’s Dad, a land developer using a tablet PC to imagine changes to a building project and then receiving a voice call. Look familiar?
Cut to the family’s Son, playing a VR game online with his buddies, during which he receives a video message from mom reminding him not to turn off the VR system but instead to switch over to the homework module.
Mom and Dad pick Daughter up at the airport, who rushes to a public phone booth to call her finance. Of course it’s a video call, with a voice-activated sign-in that can instantly access the caller’s contacts.
Mom, a doctor, then engages in a remote consultation for a patient.
She then shops for wedding dresses with Daughter, over the internet. The online store uses models of Daughter to explore different customization options.
There are two plotlines threaded through this showcase: the Daughter’s wedding plans and the Dad’s development plans. The development plans are controversial as they would mean the loss of a community center. A concerned citizen appeals to Dad, showing him the appeals of the electronic classroom – a classroom filled with terminals that “connect to the Education Center in Washington” and provide virtual lessons customized to each student.
Speaking of, there’s a Siri/Alexa component that is apparently customizable. There’s a bit where Dad questions Mom’s use of a handsome digital personal assistant. Gulp!
Anyway, the education classroom visit forces Dad to grow a conscience and he confronts his boss in a futuristic office that belongs in an episode of 1995’s The Outer Limits reboot, in an episode that takes place on Coruscant. No future tech in this scene, just some old guys arguing.
The storylines wrap up predictably in a way that makes everybody happy. The boss finds a way to make the development they want to make and incorporate a Community Center as well. Daughter gets married and has a baby. The rug salesman is conferenced in to meet the baby. The end.
It really is remarkable how right this video gets the application of the technology. It’s one thing to say that mobile communication and the internet will merge and define our lifestyles, but there are still dozens of ways that could happen. Just about everything in this video exists now, 20-plus years later. Except, I hope, that we’re a little less cheesy than these guys. I don’t know. Maybe we should be. There’s a lot of hope in this video.
The Odyssey 2’s answer to Pac-Man was, well, Pac-Man.
This ripoff of Pac-Man was actually available a year for home entertainment a year before any Pac-Man ports were, so in a sense it was actually the first to that specific market. It was Pac-Man, though, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone arguing otherwise with a straight face. That said, there were some interesting additions to the Pac-Man formula. On some levels the map would become invisible, forcing you to remember the layout. On others the box where the ghosts respawn would change location. Little things that, while not admissible in court as grounds for a unique product, do impact the gameplay experience significantly. Still, total ripoff.
The marketing was pretty good, though, and the box art is as on point as most video game box art was at the time.
Sure, Mac, Sure
This bizarre 1970s PSA dispels the myth that eating food makes it okay to drive drunk. I think it also serves a secondary function as a cautionary tale about drinking seventeen different types of alcohol and then getting in a car.
John Berkey 1975 Otis Ad
This ad for the Otis Elevator Company, illustrated by famed Sci-Fi and Space artist John Berkey, depicts an indoor vertical storage solution. Maybe that sounds a little dry, but this is the future for me.
Those polls at the bottom of each Five Things post? This is why they’re there. Here are the top Five things of 2016, selected by a very unscientific combination of votes, comments, email feedback and good old personal bias. Looks like old TV shows were mostly what resonated with you guys this year. Me, too!
“ALF Loves a Mystery”, and I love an original fabric woven with characters and elements from a half-dozen different Saturday Morning shows. These things are the dream of the eighties, and this is probably one of the best of the bunch.
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when the TV itself didn’t offer a lot of information as to what was coming on so you had to consult print media to see what the viewing layout was for the evening. Alongside those programming guides were ads for prime time shows, just above and below the horoscope and Jumble puzzles. The Twin Peaks ads were uniformly fantastic, in both layout and tone.
Another failed show, but this one didn’t even make it past the pilot. In 1968 Irwin Allen sent future alien Tomo on a mission to then-present-day Earth, and then sold him out and attacked Earth, forcing Tomo to defend what was apparently his new homeland. Fantastic premise that never bore fruit. Yes, I blame Irwin Allen directly for Tomo’s misfortune.
and my personal favorite of 2016….
This series has taken up residence in my brain more than any other Thing I covered this year, and for good reason.
A farmboy who questions his reality just enough to trigger events that cause him to discover that he’s an astronaut on a generation ship that’s malfunctioned and is headed straight into a star, and that there are countless other pods of isolated societies on that generation ship, unaware of the existence of both the ship and of any other society? Sign me right up.
I seriously chew on this premise at least a few times a week. Unfortunately the reality of the show itself doesn’t shine as brightly as the idea going into it, but there’s a lot there to love.
And that’s 2016. For those of you who have read, commented, tweeted, sent me feedback, I can only say thank you. I’m delighted that someone out there gets as much of a kick out of these as I do. Happy New Year. More to come.
This strange Christmas special first hit broadcast in 1953, presented by “Your Telephone Company”.
It was really Bell Telephone, but for some reason that’s never mentioned in the special. That’s just the first of many things that feel….off….about this video. The unnamed host addresses us in a poor overdub, explaining how he and the rest of the telephone company employees are busy creating books in braille for blind children. Okay. He then throws to an overlong scene in which he, as Clement Moore, gets the inspiration to write The Night Before Christmas.
Then we get to see marionettes perform The Night Before Christmas. Guys, I understand that marionettes are difficult. It’s an impressive skill. I couldn’t do it myself, and I take my hat off to those who can. The only question I have is, is there some unspoken rule that marionette puppets need to be creepy? This is some serious nightmare fuel. Cases in point:
The Night Before Christmas lasts for half of the special, and we switch gears to a straightforward telling of the birth of Jesus. Again, using marionette puppets. To be fair, this is significantly less creepy than the previous segment, but still. Is it just their faces that makes it creepy?
Once Jesus is born and the three Wisemen show up we’re given another round of ‘hey isn’t Your Telephone Company great’ and we’re done. A very odd Christmas special. Even more odd (and special) is that it was produced in color even though color TVs weren’t really a thing yet. I’m glad it was; for all my gripes about its creepiness, the special does look great and really captures the era. Here it is.
New Leaf Entertainment Promo Video
Here’s a fascinating video from 1992, where Dennis Miller acts as a pitch-man for an eerily prescient Video-On-Demand idea for Blockbuster Video years ahead of its time. They get so much right, just a decade too soon.
Somewhere on the spectrum between Chatbot and Alphie, there’s Casey Cassette. That growling Santa Claus song he sings is pretty impressive!
Coke And Food Go Together
Alternately titled “Coke and Layout Design Go Together”. This 1957 Australian magazine ad for Coke is fantastic.
Atari Holiday Checklist
The thing that gets me most about this ad is the call-to-action with the dotted line, suggesting that any parent receiving this checklist would give it the time of day.
What holiday season would be complete without the ritual viewing of that one Christmas episode of that one show about the horse that can secretly talk and makes life miserable for the awkward suburban man who owns a horse that can secretly talk?
Mr. Ed’s Christmas Story opens with Ed and Wilbur hanging decorations in the barn. Ed asks Wilbur to buy some gifts for the other horses “at the stable”. (What stable? Where is Ed making these connections?) Wilbur balks at the idea and leaves.
On the way out, Wilbur bumps into Gordon, his neighbor. The two of them make a very modern agreement not to spend more than fifteen dollars on Christmas presents for themselves or their wives. The pair purchase terrible cheap gifts to give to their wives and receive their expected wrath.
As Wilbur argues the value of thrift, there’s a knock on the door. It’s a delivery man, asking for a signature for all of the presents that Ed called the department store to buy for all his pals at the stable. Gulp!
The episode takes an awkward pivot at this point to Ed’s telling of how a horse saved Christmas by helping Santa Claus. We cut to a really impressively decorated Santa’s Workshop, complete with two rotating clowns, where Santa (Wilbur) himself is stressing out over his ability to make enough toys.
The horse suggests he go to the bank to borrow money to make more toys (?), but the bank (run by Gordon) is pretty stingy about lending it. Santa makes a deal with the bank that if he will make all of the toy deliveries in one night, or else he’ll shut down his workshop for good. This is a good four-to-five minute chunk of logic that makes absolutely no sense. Santa returns to the workshop with the money in hand to learn that the horse has taught the reindeer how to fly. I give up.
Santa immediately gets in the sleigh and (presumably) makes his delivery, leaving unanswered the question of what exactly he needed the money for in the first place. The two couples get together for gift swapping, and the husbands deliver with the desired expensive gifts and… it doesn’t really matter at this point. The viewer’s brain is mush. Then this happens.
The eternal frustration of Mr. Ed, to me, is not that a horse can talk or that a man can find value in harboring a horse that can talk, it’s the continued instances of evidence of high levels of dexterity that a horse just isn’t capable of achieving – talking or not. Ed removed Christmas decorations, dialed a telephone, and dressed himself up in a Santa costume on his own, amazing and impressive feats for a horse that completely outclass the ability to vocalize. That’s the crux of the story of Mr. Ed, and of Santa himself: we have to believe completely in this impossible magic, knowing that we’ll never see it for ourselves, and the entire thing falls apart if we don’t.
Here’s the episode.
He’s no Chatbot, but Alphie – Playskool’s learning robot – was pretty cool in his own right.
Tunnels and Trolls Coleco Ad
A Coleco version of the popular RPG game Tunnels & Trolls was planned, and evidently made it far enough to Coleco to put together press materials for, but ultimately got scrapped. Here’s the beautiful one-sheet for Tunnels & Trolls.
And the title screen. Not much else made it.
Sea Monkey How-To Video
This ultra-90s official video shows kids how to set up their new Sea Monkey tank. This video would be watched mere hours before the disappointment sets in!
Kodak’s handle-held instant camera is the perfect gift to immediately unwrap and then take pictures of all of your other gifts that are not The Handle!