Christmas 1981 – We’ll Be Back To Pick You Up Later

1981. By the time Santa came, the world had been through the ringer.  Bob Marley died, Reagan was shot, Walter Cronkite left our televisions, the first AIDS cases were officially recognized, Muhammed Ali lost his last ever fight, the Cold War raged on, and the Iran Contra scandal caught its spark.

But! Also in 1981, the US freed 52 hostages from Iranian captivity, the Space Shuttle program started, Luke and Laura got married, Metallica formed, MTV was created, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court justice, Ric Flair won his first wrestling championship, and Simon and Garfunkel performed in Central Park for half a million people.

So, yeah, ups and downs.

Here’s what TV looked like in 1981, starting with an epic two-minute ad from across the pond that’s everything a Christmas commercial should be. It’s sassy and brassy, with unrefined talent but a lot of gusto. Have a cracking Christmas with Woolworth’s.

For an unfair comparison, here’s a bland and straightforward US ad from Payless drugs. That intro graphic is great! The rest, though….

Video games were super hot and super crude in 1981, and Crazy Eddie wanted to sell ALL OF THEM to you.  I’d like those neon lights on the back wall in my office, please.

Atari took a different angle, assuming they were already in your house and thanking you for putting them there.  This is a very confident spot.

Michael Landon’s got that swagger that says he doesn’t really have time for you but at the same time of course he has time for you.  He’s definitely got time to sell you this Kodak camera as a great gift for Grandma.

Toys ‘R’ Us was a Mecca for children in the 1980s, and they knew it.  Here’s a beautitul fully animated spot touting their then-status at the top of the toy pyramid.

For the grownups, Bell telephone makes a practical appeal to buy a phone that will last after the other, better gifts have lost their luster. Bold move, Bell!

Disney does us the favor of collecting a bunch of holiday standards onto one record. It’s weird, but, fine, whatever.  THEN, they intentionally play a song by the (Alvin) Chipmunks on top of footage of Chip n’ Dale, and all of a sudden this ad becomes a flagrant offense to society.

McDonaldland’s all tucked in on Christmas Eve, as Ronald tiptoes into their houses and gives them gift certificates to the only restaurant in existence, further demonstrating that there is some money-based economy to McDonaldland that all of these characters are getting a break from with the gifted certificates.

For the grown-ups, Radio Shack offers stereo system solutions for your fantastically-eighties-living-room…

…and for the kids, an awesome-but-probably-poorly-received science fair kit.

Maybe the weirdest of the batch, Donnie and Marie Osmond hang out with a human-sized Punchy in this Hawaiian Punch commercial.

Mattel rips off the “Georgie Girl” riff in this otherwise unremarkable but very long Barbie commercial.

And the top toy of 1981, He-Man, enters the scene. I wasn’t lucky enough to have Castle Grayskull, but I did have Snake Mountain which featured a voice-changing microphone and was  obviously amazing.

It would be a crime to feature holiday gift ideas for 1981 and not include Mr Microphone, arguably the first real marine on the as-seen-on-TV beach.  This spot builds on the existing ad campaign with a Christmas-y component but rest assured, the dancing beatbox guy and the ‘We’ll be back to pick you up later’ creep are still there.  Why mess with the classics?

What did I miss? What do you remember from Christmas 1981?

-ds

Five Things – 3.27.17 – Dough-licious

The Jim Henson Hour

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.

 

 

Ack, indeed.

 

Powdered Donutz

It’s 1981! Candy can be cereal! Anything can be cereal! Everyone’s making cereal!

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.

-ds

 

Five Things – 10.24.16 – That Robot is Jeremy

Trilogy of Terror

First aired as the ABC Movie of the Week in 1975, Trilogy of Terror is an anthology of short horror stories starring Karen Black of B-Movie horror fame.  All three stories push the envelope of what was considered ‘proper’ 1970s television.

trilogy-of-terror

The first, “Julie” features a student whose infatuation with his teacher goes to questionable extremes. Turns out (p.s. I’m going to spoil these for you, so skip to the video if you want to watch unspoiled) she was controlling him all along….and then murders him.

teacher-student

The second, “Millicent and Therese” features two sisters at polar opposites to each other; Millicent the straight-laced brunette and Therese a blonde-haired wild child.  After some mild antagonism, Millicent decides that Therese needs to be killed.  She succeeds. SPOILER; they are the same woman. Spooky!

millicent

The third story, “Amelia”, is probably the most memorable of the lot. It’s your basic creepy-doll-is-actually-alive story, but it goes a little bit further in the gore department than you’d probably expect for a show in the ’70s.  Just a little bit, though.

creepy-doll

posessed

Here’s the whole batch together – it’s definitely worth a watch. Again it’s pretty tame by modern day standards, but there are probably a few moments that will make you more uncomfortable than you were expecting.

 

1985 Halloween Safety PSA

halloween-safety

This overlong PSA from 1985 helps kids make good choices on Halloween, from pumpkin carving to costume selection to safe behavior in the dark.  Also it’s hosted by a gentle, animated Jack-O-Lantern.  The costumes, color, and “action” sequences are fantastic.

masks

And, of couse, it wouldn’t be an ’80s Halloween PSA without some good old scares about candy that’s been tampered with by injecting medicines and razor blades.  Here’s the PSA.

 

Monster Party

This 1989 Bandai game for the NES features a “batter” named Mark who’s been enlisted by a Gargoyle named Bert to travel to his land and defeat every well-known monster in the universe.  Bert fuses himself to Mark to give him supernatural abilities on top of his amazing “batting” skills.

monster_party_box

Ridiculousness aside, that’s a pretty awesome premise. Bonus points for the cat boss that throws kittens as weapons. Enjoy this playthrough.

 

1988 McDonalds Halloween Certificates

McDonalds had an idea in the 1980s where you’d buy a book of certificates for free ice cream and other treats and give THOSE out instead of candy.  It was a medium decent idea.  Then they added a confusing layer about a voucher for a Roger Rabbit doll when you bought the VHS of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and it got too complicated. That guy in the Roger Rabbit costume looks pretty depressed.

 

Crazy Crabs

Nothing to do with Halloween, but those crabs are crazy!

crazy-crabs

 

-ds

Five Things – 04.04.16 – That Men May Fight

You Dont Know Jack

In the summer of 2001 ABC tried to create a televised version of the crazy successful trivia video game show You Don’t Know Jack.   It was not successful, but it did end up being kind of crazy.

YDKJ Title

The show was pretty loyal to the game’s format. Instead of the game’s regular host Cookie Masterson (who still performed as the show’s announcer), Paul Reubens played Troy Stevens – and did a really great job at it.

Troy

The guests selected were pretty colorful people, some with pretty colorful talents.

Contestant

The “standard” trivia questions were typically worded or executed in a unique way, true to the video game’s style.  There were also mini-games throughout the show, just like in the game, that offered bonus money.

YDKJ Question

The “Dis or Dat” minigame picked one player and gave them two categories. Troy would then run through several items that the player had to place in the correct category.

Dis or Dat

Dis or Dat 2

Narrative arcs sometimes carried through the shows as well, centered around Troy.  The final round is the same as in the video game, the “Jack Attack” lightning round that pits the top two contestants against each other . Reubens really puts on his Pee-Wee hat for this round.

Jack Attack 2 Jack Attack

All in all, a fun show – I guess America wasn’t ready for game shows that didn’t involve asking if you wanted to be a millionaire or what’s in a briefcase.  You Don’t Know Jack ran for six episodes and was cancelled.

Here’s an episode.

 

Wall Street

Wall Street Title

This bizarre 1982 arcade game has two types of rounds. In one, you are rescue workers saving stock brokers who have jumped out of windows in attempts to commit suicide.

Wall Street 1

In the other, you are presumably a banker or stock broker running through the streets of a foreign city destroying tanks that are pursuing you and collecting large sums of money.

Wall Street 2

Here’s some gameplay.  I don’t understand. I mean, I understand the gameplay, but not the container that the gameplay was placed in.

 

YWCA Posters

In 1918, the YWCA provided personnel to assist the Armed Forces in World War I.  Here are some gorgeous posters from designed to raise money for the effort.

Men May Fight Help Our Boys Care for Her Building For Health Back Our Girls

 

Clean It

This mid-’80s McDonald’s training video features a Michael Jackson ripoff encouraging employees to clean the restaurant.  I use the term “training video” loosely, as there’s not much how-to here other than “clean it”!

 

Castlevania Soundtrack

The score for the original Castlevania on the Nintendo Entertainment System is real funky! Who knew, or remembered?

 

 

-ds

Five Things – 10.5.12 – Air Supply’s, Like, Going On

  1.  CBS 1983 Saturday Morning Preview – I love these things.  I know I’m stating the obvious if you’ve read more than a few of the posts here, but it’s true.  There’s something special about them – these shows that were hastily created to talk about other shows, using some of the star power leverage of whatever network is involved.  The setups are usually pretty flimsy and laughable, and because of that they’re pretty charming.  CBS’s 1983 preview special featured arguably their biggest star at the time, Scott Baio, and has probably one of the flimsiest, most laughable setups of them all.  Let’s go to Scott’s Place.

Scotts Place

Scott’s set up a hot nightclub in Hazzard County.  Not just any hot nightclub, a hot nightclub.  In Hazzard County.

Dance Club

This 1980’s New York City nightclub in the middle of Hazzard County is filled with young hip kids who look like city kids dancing in the background the entire time.  Naturally, this catches the attention of Boss Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane.

Boss and Rosco

And Boss Hogg immediately begins working on a way to profit.

Money

While Boss Hogg gladhands Scott Baio to get a cut of his profits, Rosco interviews a young lady about just what’s going on.  The young lady, using her young lady slang, explains that Asia, Air Supply, the B-52s, ELO, and U2 are what’s “going on”, causing Rosco to somehow deduce that the US is under attack. He alerts Boss Hogg to this, which prompts Hogg to place the entire club under arrest.

Shut Down

This misunderstanding exists for, seriously, about ten seconds before it’s cleared up. Boss Hogg and Rosco join Baio for the remainder of the special, looking at the upcoming shows.  It’s revealed at the end that the entire reason for the club’s existence in Hazzard County is because there’s a Dukes of Hazzard cartoon debuting on CBS that week!

Pretty flimsy premise to introduce a bunch of cartoons, but I’ll take it.  In addition to the Dukes, the shows featured in this special are the programs that made up the Supercade – Donkey Kong, Pitfall, Frogger, Donkey Kong Jr., and Q-bert.  There’s also a bit for Charlie Brown and SnoopyBenji, Zax and the Alien Prince, and The Biskitts, which is basically The Smurfs but with puppies.

Biskitts

For some reason there’s a Krofft puppet narrating the entire thing, and also Scott Baio performs a song.

Baio Music

Krofft Puppet

The one note I had at the end of this whole thing was, they couldn’t get the Duke boys to appear on the show centered around their cartoon debut? I’m guessing they thought including the bad guys was enough.  Here’s the special – the Levi’s ad toward the end is actually animated pretty impressively.

 

2.  Atari Jaguar Promotion – Atari tried to regain its foothold in the video game console market in the mid-1990s with the supercharged Jaguar system.  It didn’t go so well – the system was expensive and, by most accounts, underperformed the other consoles of its generation even though it was technologically superior.  It’s commonly looked at as an ugly spot of video game history, and when you take a look at the console’s promotion you can kind of see it coming.

Chewing Up

It seems like the marketing department at Atari was given the direction to fill their promotion with “attitude”, and I guess they succeeded at that.  The tone is abrasive, rude, and very ‘bro-ish’, which I recall turning me off of the system back then and only repulses me further today.

Do the Math

They really played up the 64-bit nature of the system. Really played it up.  Like, it was the main message.

Ironic that the commercial features a class for Video Game Marketing 101, a class these guys could have used. To put the icing on the cake, here’s a 30 minute infomercial that ran on cable TV that just drips with sterotypical bro-ness.  It’s really hard to watch, like a sixth grader trying to act like those people he sees on TV.  It’s deliciously hard to watch.

 

 

3.  Railroad Pamphlet Covers – Here are a couple of railroad timetable covers from the 1930s and 1940s that I found visually inspiring.  You can catch more of at Classic Trains Magazine.

Like a Kitten

Georgia

 

4.  Do the Arches – I’m not sure what’s more offensive, that Jaguar infomercial or this cheesy, cheesy song.

 

5.  Goofus and Gallant– And a beautiful Goofus and Gallant comic from Highlights in 1988

Goofus and Gallant

 

-ds