When looking through the TV Guide Fall Preview issues that came out between 1977-1990, I find all sorts of little nostalgic gems, not to mention a parade of stars that I know and love. Even when a lot of the new shows don’t last, the stars do, eventually going on to successful series and some even making the jump to film. But for some reason 1983 just doesn’t seem to be a big year for television, at least not in terms of classic shows starting up or getting any before-they-were-stars insights. It’s not totally devoid, but it’s a little sparse on excitement.
The first thing that really jumped out at me was the introduction of the A-Team, which is by far the most notable new show that year (at least in my skewed perception.) Sure there are a few other notable shows making their debuts, namely Webster, Hardcastle & McCormick, and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, but the A-Team is really where it’s at, at least in the iconic television department. Honestly, I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that 1982 had twice as many lasting and memorable debuts (Cagney & Lacey, Knightrider, T.J. Hooker, Remington Steele, Cheers, Silver Spoons, Family Ties, St. Elsewhere, and Newhart)? Maybe with all of those shows still on the air, as well as shows that had been going from years prior (Simon & Simon, the Fall Guy, Gimmie a Break, Hill Street Blues, Too Close For Comfort, and Magnum P.I. just to name some of the shows from the previous two years) there wasn’t a real big push for new programming in 1983. Of course, 1984, when we get to it, will introduce like thirteen long-lasting and memorable series, so I guess ’83 was just a dud.
That isn’t to say there aren’t a few interesting faces popping up in some of these short lived new shows. In Goodnight, Beantown we get to see Bill Bixby looking for his third hit show (after the Incredible Hulk and the Courtship of Eddie’s Father.) Alec Baldwin pops up in his first adult performance as Dr. Hal Wexler, part of a trio a doctors in Cutter to Houston (which sounds like the core plot of Northern Exposure six years before it would premier on television.) Jim Varney, in a rare pre-Ernst role, rounded out the cast of The Rousters about a family of carnies (sounds like he still plays for the same kind of Ernst laughs though.) Cybill Shepherd, David Soul, and Sam Elliot star in The Yellow Rose, a failed attempt (looking back 27 years later) at taking on Dallas. Richard Dean Anderson makes a pre-MacGyver appearance in Emerald Point N.A.S., a naval romance set somewhere on the coast of the Southern U.S. Madeline Kahn got her own titular show Oh Madeline. We also get to see a pre-NYPD Blue Dennis Franz in the Bay City Blues. The star-studded Hotel makes its debut featuring a young Connie Sellecca alongside James Brolin and Bette Davis. Bill Bixby wasn’t the only Incredible Hulk star looking for work after the show ended, Lou Ferrigno stars as paramedic John Six in the emergency room drama Medstar. All in all 1983 feels like the eye of a hurricane (the hurricane of 80s television history that is.)
Joining the ranks of the almost forgotten, yet interesting shows of TVs past is slightly odd entry called Manimal, a Glen A. Larsen production (who also brought us Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, BJ and the Bear, and Magnum P.I.) The series centered on animal behavior professor Jonathon Chase who had the unique ability to shape-shift into animal (including mammal, reptile, or fish), which he uses to fight crime, secretly helping out plainclothes cop Brooke McKenzie. Even though the series was cancelled after eight episodes, it has developed a pretty strong cult following over the years. From what I can gather the special effects were pretty good, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as they were crafted by master artist Stan Winston. I’d be willing to bet that had the show managed to hang on a little longer, and given a slightly larger production budget, Manimal could have easily become the next Knight Rider.
There were some other fun tidbits in the issue though including an interesting ad for the Atari Service Centers. At first blush it makes total sense, I mean 1983 was pretty much the peak of their domination and it was just before the crash of the home video game market. It seems strange though that they were so successful that they could afford to run and staff 1,600 locations across the country. I’m assuming it was in conjunction with another established company and maybe Warner/Atari either certified/trained some existing staff or maybe just had one employee placed at an existing electronics repair shops. Seriously though, didn’t it make more sense to have customers mail in their systems for repair, even 27 years ago?
Also, I’ve talked about this before, but I miss all of the spot illustrations that used to pepper magazines, not to mention the paintings for movie posters and advertisements. There’s an awesome watercolor portrait ad for the flick Between Friends, an HBO film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Burnett in this issue. In the 70s, TV Guide used to have a ton of Jack Davis style illustrations (drawn by Dave Arke) done for movies and specials premiering on the local affiliates that were just awesome, but some time in the early to mid 80s there was a switch to cut & pasted photo collages that were just sort of fugly. Ever since there’s been a steady progression of perfecting the superimposed photo and integrating CG artwork that’s just made most magazine ads and movie posters boring and homogenous. In addition to the Between Friends art, there’s alao a couple of pieces of Arke work, one for the season premiere of Real People and a second for the debut of the show We Got It Made. Just look at that insanity!
Even though 1983 wasn’t all that big for live action television debuts, it was freaking huge for the world of animation, in particular syndicated weekday after-school fare. Not only did He-Man and the Masters of the Universe start running all over the country (though it’s strangely absent from my TV Guide copy so I guess the Canoga Park, California local affiliates didn’t carry it), but ’83 also saw the debut of the original G.I. Joe sunbow miniseries. This was the beginning of a boom that would rock the world of animation and usher in hundreds of shows throughout the rest of the 80s and on to today. If you’re curious about that first G.I. Joe mini series you can listen to me wax nostalgic about it with my co-hosts Jerzy Drozd and Kevin Cross in a two-part special of the Saturday Supercast.
One of the things that I completely missed out on in the 80s were a series of prime time specials that gave a sneak preview of the Saturday morning cartoons starting that season. 1983 featured a couple (though one of them is billed as an awards show), one on CBS hosted by Scott Baio fresh off the set of Joni Loves Chachi while the other aired on NBC and was called the Yummy Awards (which was hosted by both Dwight “Howling Mad Murdock” Schultz and Ricky Schroder.) The CBS special also featured Sorrell Booke and James Best (I’m sure as their Dukes of Hazzard characters Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane), as well as previews of shows like the Saturday Supercade line-up (Donkey Kong, Q*Bert, and Frogger), Dungeons and Dragons, and the Biskitts. The NBC special was a bit more star-studded featuring appearances by Mr. T, Kim “Tootie” Fields & Mindy “Natalie” Cohn from the Facts of Life, Justine Bateman, Bozo, and Gumby.
Also, repeated from the 1982 issue, there’s another ad for Beefeater’s Delight. To keep from misquoting myself I’ll just provide an excerpt from that previous post:
“Probably the weirdest ad I’ve seen so far in any of these TV Guides was the small one above called Beefeaters Delight! From what I can gather the ad is for entire sides of hanging beef at amazing prices, but what I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around is the idea that it’s being presented to the general public instead of in another more industry-centric fashion. I mean, I realize there are a ton of hunters out there that kill, keep and eat entire deer carcasses, but seriously, who invests in an entire half cow? That’s why we have supermarkets right? I do have to say that the insert advertising 5lbs of hotdogs or Bacon for $.99 a pound is mighty tempting. I wonder what that would work out to in 2008 dollars?”
Lastly, I found it kind of interesting that the real life husband and wife duo of Alex Karras and Susan Clark not only had the debut of their new sitcom Webster, but also a made-for-TV movie called Maid in America that they also produced. I guess it was a big year for the couple.
Next time I’ll take a look at the 1984 issue which is jam packed with classic TV debuts…