1984? It was a crazy year. We saw the first Apple Mac computer (with mouse driven graphical interface.) Michael Jackson claimed the crown as the king of pop winning all sorts of Grammys for Thriller. Crack was introduced into the US while over a million people died of famine in Ethiopia. The world didn’t quite succumb to a secretive snooping big brother as foretold in Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, at least not at that time. One thing is for sure, in the midst of all of this American television was having one of its best years ever with the debut of fourteen “classic” new series (though I’ll let you all decide on the following show’s classic status…)
Jane Curtin found her way back into the spotlight after her inaugural stint as one of the not-ready-for-prime-time players on Saturday Night Live. Joined by Susan St. James, the duo launched Kate & Allie which would run for six seasons throughout the rest of the decade. Night Court debuted, instantly making Richard Moll an unmistakable TV icon as well as making stars out of Harry Anderson and John Larroquette. Airwolf took to the Skies blasting away a plethora of terrorist piloted bubble helicopters and making it cool to serenade eagles with a cello. Soleil Moon Frye taught a generation of kids that it was cool to be weird and eclectic as Punky Brewster, a show that for all intents and purposes defines a lot of what we think of when remembering what it was like to be a kid in the 80s. Scott Baio finally found his niche as a babysitter/heartthrob in Charles in Charge (brining along good friend Willie Ames for the ride.)
Angela Lansbury started solving crimes faster than she could make them up in Murder, She Wrote. Michael Landon joined the must-have-been-blessed as one of a handful of actors to have three hugely successful television shows with the debut of Highway to Heaven (after the duo of long-running stints on Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie.) Whereas Michael Jackson was the verified King of Pop, Bill Cosby took the crown as the king of television with the start of one of the most successful shows of all time in the titular Cosby Show. Who’s the Boss showed that there was still life in Tony Danza and Katherine Helmond after Taxi and Soap respectively, as well as introducing the world to a cute and scrappy Alyssa Milano. Stephen J. Cannell was also having a banner year with not one but two new hit shows, Hunter (starring Fred Dryer in a career defining role as Detective Sgt. Rick Hunter) as well as Riptide, which introduced us to an awesome orange robot (the Roboz), as well as filling in the awesome aquatic vehicle action void left in the wake of or vehicle oriented shows (like Streethawk & Airwolf which also debuted in ’84, as well as Knightrider and the Dukes of Hazzard which were already dominating the airwaves.)
And finally, the show that defined the look of the mid to late 80s, Miami Vice starring Don Johnson, Edward James Olmos, and Phillip Michael Thomas. It vies with Hill Street Blues as the quintessential 80s cop drama and single-handedly ushered in the jacket over a T-shirt look for men in their 30s. Mixed in with all of this scripted entertainment was another new series that would run off and on in one form or another for 20 years, TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes (hosted by Ed McMahon and produced/hosted by Dick Clark.) TVsB&PJ, most likely inspired by Candid Camera, would keep the practical joke game going and eventually inspire more insipid programming like Punk’d. Ashton Kutcher is no Dick Clark, though, not even an Ed McMahon. Also, debuting in the same year, though months later was ABC’s answer to TVsB&PJ, Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders hosted by perennial agitator Don Rickles and co-host Steve Lawrence. The show was short-lived, never gaining the ratings of its predecessor.
Even though some of the other series wouldn’t necessarily fall into the “classics” category, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t some interesting offerings. Stacy Keach tried breathing new life into Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (after Darren McGavin’s run decades prior.) One of my favorites from this season, Street Hawk also made its initial bow (and short 12 episode run to the cancelation finish line.) Spinning-off from the Jeffersons was the zany emergency room sitcom E/R, which starred Elliot Gould and oddly enough George Clooney 10 years before he rocketed to stardom in another show also titled ER. I remember catching this in reruns on the USA network when I was home sick from school. Speaking of Spin-Offs, John Ritter exited Three’s Company to star in Three’s a Crowd as a more responsible Jack Tripper looking to get married to his girlfriend Vicky. Even though he’s free of the Farleys and Ropers of the world, he still has an overbearing landlord, Soap’s Robert Mandan who plays James Bradford who also happens to be Vicky’s father. Before he became a household name on Valerie (later the Hogan Family) Jason Bateman was looking to parlay his experience starring on Silver Spoons with a new series, It’s Your Move (also starring David Garrison of Married With Children Fame.) I only remember catching a couple episode of the show, but I liked what I saw. Bateman was the essence of conniving and smarmy as a kid which is what made his performance as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development all that much more surprising to me when it first aired…
Rounding out the failed but notable series in ’84 was the first and only, full-on season of V, a continuation of the two highly successful mini series that preceded it. As a kid I had two huge crushes, one on Jane Badler (who played the villainess alien lizard woman Diana) and Faye Grant who played doctor and revolutionary Julie Parrish. I don’t think I caught that many episodes of the regular series but I was obsessed with the two mini series and honestly I think I enjoyed it even more than Star Wars at the time. I was always bummed that we only ever got one real toy from the franchise, the nazi-esque Visitor figure, though there was a planned 3.75″ line that unfortunately never materialized…
1984 also saw the 1st annual MTV Music Awards. I wonder if the music awards show will stop now that MTV has dropped the Music Television byline from their logo?
There were a couple more Saturday morning cartoon specials as well. On NBC we had the Laugh Busters co-hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro, Thom Bray (of the new show Riptide), and Danny Cooksey the newest addition to Diff’rent Strokes who would go on to star in the Nickelodeon live action show Salute Your Shorts as Bobby Budnick (as well as voicing Montana Max on Tiny Tune Adventures.) In addition to the Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks the special also featured the Mr. T cartoon, the Snorks, Pink Panther and Sons and my favorite Kidd Video. On CBS later in the week we got a chance to see Saturday’s the Place hosted by Joyce De Witt and Ted Knight of all people. This special featured the Richard Pryor series, the various shows on the Saturday Supercade, the Get-Along-Gang, the Muppet Babies, and Dungeons and Dragons. I really wish these specials would find their way to DVD someday. Speaking of kid’s shows, 1984 also saw the introduction of the cable-only series KIDS Incorporated which always reminded me of a musical version of Saved By the Bell. Though he wouldn’t appear as a regular until the following 1985 season, the show introduced me to Ryan Lambert who played the badass Rudy in the Monster Squad.
There seemed to be a ton of candy ads in this issue, but the one that really caught my eye was a mail-in offer for a Skittles or Starburst belt. I wonder if any of these are still circulating around on the secondary market?
Anyway, next time, 1985…