The Essential TV Guide Fall Previews of the 80s, Part 1: 1981!


By Shawn Robare




About a year or so ago I stumbled upon something pretty cool on eBay that I thought would be fun to share on Branded in the 80s, namely an almost complete run of TV Guide Fall Preview issues for the eighties (1981-1990.) I’d still like to locate the issues from 77-80, but instead of putting this off any longer, I thought I’d go ahead and start posting the highlights from these issues.

My family was TV Guide-oholics while I was growing up. First off we didn’t have a television with a remote until I was in high school, and we didn’t have a remote controlled cable box until a couple years before that. Up until then, all throughout the 80s we had those old cable boxes that had a slide lever that you pushed to the right to get into the higher numbered channels and to the left to get to the lower numbered channels. It was one of those types of boxes that you family’s drunk acquaintances would swear could pick up the pay channels for free if you just stuck a playing card between the lever and the receptor inside. Ours were typically connected to the TV by an extra long cord that was always stretched across the living room so that my dad could toggle through the channels while he lay on the couch. Anyway, because channel surfing was a little more archaic and because none of us cared for the one channel that would flash programming for all the other channels (what’s become the TV Guide channel oddly enough), we lived by our weekly TV guide digest.

On Satudays my mom would come home with the weekly groceries and I’d always dive into the bags looking for our copy of the guide so that I could flip straight to the ‘Movies’ section to see what was playing on the pay cable channels. We only ever subscribed to HBO and I was always dying to see what was going to be on that week, not to mention lamenting what I couldn’t see on Showtime or Cinemax. Sure, we also received the HBO guide by mail once a month, but my parents usually swiped it up and it would soon disappear never to be found again. I would also roughly plan out my Saturday morning, trying to come up with the best way to navigate through the cartoons on the various channels, though ultimately I would always end up sitting in front of the TV and switching between toons, mid-show. Of course, the best issue only came out once a year, the Fall Preview edition which showcased all of the new programming on the main three networks.

As I mentioned above, the earliest issue in the lot I picked up was the 1981 edition. I was only four at the time, so I doubt I flipped though this particular issue, and with a few exceptions, I don’t remember many of the new shows that were offered up. I still can’t help but smile while looking though it though. Actually, another interesting aspect of the TV Guide is that it’s geared towards local markets, so every week there should be at least 100 to 200 different editions depending on where you live in the country. Though most of the up front and cable material is the same, there are some interesting bits of local flair in the middle. Most of the issues in the stack I purchased were from California, and in the small region that was actually lucky enough to pick up Channel Z (there’s a great documentary on Z Channel that gives background on the whole phenomenon), so it’s kind of a kick to see what was playing through out part of the 80s.

Anyway, without further to do, here are a bunch of thumbnail that link to larger scans from the issue…

      

I think it’s weird that the artist who mocked up the cover chose to put a ring on what I assume is a lady’s hand drawing back the right side of the curtains. I don’t know why I find it weird, but I do. Though there were plenty of cigarette and liquor ads, the one that caught my eye first which a whopping 6-page Sears spread featuring all sorts of appliances and electronics. From $400 dollar monstrously sized microwave ovens (though they allude could cook a whole turkey, though I wouldn’t want to eat it) and surprisingly modern-priced washer and dryer units, to pricey TVs (with Super Chromix picture tubes) and $800 Betamax players. Interesting side note on the Super Chromix picture tubes, I distinctly remember putting my face up so close to the TV glass that I could only see the weird green, blue, red color bars. I always wondered how it could look so good from far away and so simple up close. Ah the wonders of science and technology, and stupid kids smudging their grubby faces on TV screens…

      

I didn’t scan in every TV show preview page, but I tried to snag the ones with some recognizable faces, like the above show King’s Crossing with a young Linda Hamilton. The one show out of this entire book that I wish I had paid attention to at the time was the show The Powers of Matthew Star. It sounds like an 80s version of Smallville, except the dude had a kickass spear!

      

I also tried to scan in shows that have since become pop culture icons, like Simon and Simon above. Believe it or not, I have never seen a single episode of that show. My wife is ashamed of me.

I also thought it was kind of weird how openly liquor used to be advertised with soda brands. The above Bacardi ad is only one of like three in this issue alone that has major brand sodas in them, advertising the beauty of a mixed drink. Does this ever happen anymore?

Of course I was all over the Saturday Morning cartoon ads in the TV Guides I bought. These make wonderful companion pieces to the ads I’ve already posted from the various comics books of the 80s. This one above fills in the 1981 ABC gap in my original post. There was also a tiny ad for one of the ABC Weekend Special cartoons which I vaguely remember catching every once in awhile…

      

There was also a nice Solid Gold ad (featuring Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John, who has been a crush of mine every since I saw Xanadu this past year.) For some reason, though no one in my family really seems the type to have watched it, I remember having Solid Gold on in the background on the weekends while we had our big family meals (typically either steak or burgers.)

      

Now there’s a show that I have weird memories of, Sha-Na-Na. Actually, my memories are all fragmented and for some odd reason seem to be getting mixed up with both Scott Baio and Hee-Haw of all things. I remember the weird song they’d sing where the one dude was pumping his guns and twisting his wrist and fist outward and inward. Again, why aren’t there compilations of stuff like this on DVD. I don’t need a season of Sha-Na-Na, just an episode to stir up some more truthful memories. Sigh.

Also, we have another Saturday Morning cartoon ad, ah, excuse me, a Saturdazzle ad. Man, to wake up early on a Saturday morning to catch Fat Albert on Saturdazzle, tizzle my dizzle and the hippity hoppity and junk. Anyway, you can find a different version of this ad from a comic book here.

Above we also have yet another show I’m sorry I missed and is now sadly gone (though I bet there’s stuff on youtube), Fridays. Would you look at that young afro-clad Larry David! I wonder what hyjinks Andy Kaufman was getting into that week? Btw, I love love love Mark Blankfield, he was great in the Incredible Shrinking Woman…

        

Above we have some more fun preview pages showcasing the beginnings of the Fall Guy, Gimmie a Break, a running try at a series by Joel Higgins (who would later cement his fame in Silver Spoons), and a last ditch effort by Gabe Kaplan (who should have known better than to try and follow up Welcome Back Kotter with anything.) There are also a few fun ads, including one for Dial soap with some fun illustrations, a very conniving cigarette ad, and some old packaging for Nuti-Grain cereals.



Last but not least, we have a preview for Open All Night starring Bubba Smith (who was making a name for himself acting-wise in the Police Academy movies), and George Dzundza (who I believe was partnered with Chris Noth on the first season of Law & Order.)

Anyway, that basically the highlights from this issue. It was really cool to get a look at the listings even though they weren’t my particular local stations growing up. It was cool to see what re-runs were playing at the time as well as all of the cartoons and such. Hopefully I’ll be showcasing another issue each week until I’ve made my way through the rest of the 80s (and I might hit a couple from the 90s just for good measure.)

  • Christian

    Hey Shawn! Frikkin love this. Keep up the fantastic work.

  • HooveR

    LOL, fro’d-out Larry David… hee hee hee!! And reading that premise for the Gabe Kaplan show was amazing. God, apparently they thought any premise would work back then if the stars were right… wonder how many episodes THAT show lasted??

  • Jay

    isn’t it funny that the lone ranger/zorro hour is finally getting onto DVD this year…2008? lol.

  • Jeff Sparkman

    I’m envious of your TV Guide score. I’m a little older than you, so I am scarred by actual memories of watching Enos. I also taped an episode of Fonz and the Happy Days Gang off of TV Land a few years ago and found it again recently. Yikes. I don’t know if I could handle the one-two punch of that and Laverne and Shirley in the Army…

  • Ryan

    Was wondering if you have come across an ad (that was featured in many TV Guides in the 80′s featuring a with a man in green face paint dressed up as an alien. He looked just like my grandfather. Don’t remember what the ad was for.