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.
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.
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.
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.
It should come as no surprise that MC Hammer, he of the pop charts and the parachute pants and the very-safe-edginess and the runaway early-90s success, had his own cartoon. Hammerman ran on ABC in 1991, and only lasted one season.
(My computer keeps trying to correct Hammerman to Hamilton. Guessing this is the only time those two shows have been compared.)
Hammerman follows the adventures of Stanley Burrell, a youth center worker who becomes the superhero Hammerman when he wears a pair of magic shoes passed along from aging superhero Soulman.
This is all explained in what is perhaps the laziest theme song ever rapped. That includes the end credits of Leprechaun in the Hood.
Hammer hosts each episode with a live action intro and outro, and the episodes usually focus on some issue relevant to kids or a larger societal issue. A villain pops up and Stanley has to turn into Hammerman to put the villain down. The background music gets to dip into the MC Hammer library, which is probably the only standout feature of this series .
It’s a pretty lazy effort all around – this sort of thing should be right in my sweet spot, but it’s really tough to watch all the way through. It’s remarkable in its laziness, though, and maybe that goes to show both how iconic MC Hammer was in 1991 and also how eager TV Networks and (maybe) kids were for cartoons related to any already-existing-and-popular property.
Here’s an episode. It’s titled “Rap-oleon”. Like Napoleon. Shudder.
Cookie Monster IBM Film
Jim Henson was contracted to do a series of short films for IBM in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They’re all pretty great, but some of them in particular offer glimpses of the Muppets to come. Here’s one such glimpse – an early Cookie Monster with teeth and claws, eating a sentient computer.
A toothed Cookie Monster is a recipe for some real, lasting damage.
Lock’n Chase Ad
I’m in love with the illustrations in this ad for Data East/Taito’s 1981 Arcade Game Lock’n Chase.
A beautiful design for an awful toy. Big Trak was a “programmable” utility vehicle that intelligently performed tasks that you told it to do. I can only imagine how clunky and limited the interface must have been to ‘instruct’ Big Trak to do anything. Also, I’m sorry, but if you program Big Trak to bring me an apple and if Big Trak dumps that apple onto the floor in front of me, I’m not going to eat that apple.
1939 Pepsi Ad
As a Coca-Cola kid and a (now) soda-free grown-up, I can safely say that this 1939 animated ad is the best thing I will ever associate with Pepsi.
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!