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.
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.
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.
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.