Television in the Eighties

Friday, March 18th 2005


I've recently been thinking about a lot of the shows I watched when I was growing up. And I'm thinking of obscure stuff - not just talking about Mr. Belvedere, Alf, or Mask - those were too mainstream.

Tranzor ZThe first show I want to mention is Tranzor Z. This was one of my favorite cartoons. It was similar to Voltron, I guess, but there was only one super-robot, with more weapons embedded in his three-story body than I can even remember. And the pilot, who flew an odd-looking hovercraft into Tranzor Z's head to pilot it, was for some reason obgliged to shout the names of the various attacks. Chest Ray!! Rocket Punch!! Photon Beeeeam!!

Tranzor Z's companion robots were even better. Aphrodite A was the obligatory female robot, but she was sadly lacking in the weapons department. While Tranzor Z had near-limitless supplies of lasers and missiles, Aphrodite A had only two rockets. Yep, you guessed it, her breasts were actually rockets. And once she'd fired one, she'd run around for the rest of the episode with a big hole in one side of her chest. Tranzor Z's other buddy was Bobobot. My favorite. Bobobot was the comic relief. He really had no weaponry at all. I believe that some guy had just managed to assemble the giant robot from spare parts in some junkyard.

The next show I'll mention is The Wizard, a show about a technological genius who just happens to be a midget. What a great gimmick! Otherwise, it was a lot like MacGyver. I remember one particular episode in which the guy rigged a car so that the steering and petals were nonfunctional and he could drive the car from a secret compartment under the hood where (of course) only he could fit. The bad guy got into the car and found, much to his chagrin, that he wasn't in control. Ah, you've got to love eighties television.

Thundarr the BarbarianNext, Thundarr the Barbarian.

The year 1994: From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man's civilization is cast in ruin. Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn... A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil. He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

That about says it all - I was pretty fond of that cartoon.

AutomanHow about Automan? It was a show about a computer-geek police officer (played by Desi Arnaz Jr) who codes a "hologram" that can fight crime. Automan was essentially jumping on the Tron bandwagon. Tron had been a hit two years earlier, but Automan couldn't quite match up. It was cancelled after twelve episodes.

I still remember the pilot episode: Automan, I built you! On a scale of one to ten, you're an eleven! Automan also had a sidekick named - (brace yourself) - Curser. Curser could create sports cars, helocopters, anything Automan needed. Once again, I give you eighties television.

You may remember Battle of the Planets, although you may know it by another name - G-Force. It was re-edited and re-dubbed years later under that name.

Battle of the Planets! G-Force, five incredible young people with superpowers! And watching over them from Center Neptune, 7-Zark-7! Watching, warning against surprise attacks by alien galaxies from beyond space! G-Force! Fearless young orphans, protecting Earth's entire galaxy, always five, acting as one! Dedicated! Inseparable! Innnnnn-vincible!

Battle of the PlanetsGosh, that must have been my absolute favorite cartoon growing up. About ten years ago, I caught some of the re-dubbed episodes on The Cartoon Network and scrambled for a blank VCR tape. But sadly, this was the re-edited version, and the characters' names were different than I'd remembered. Still, it was a trip.

Listen to the names of the enemies they faced: The robot sea anemone creature, the micro-robots, giant robot ants... do you detect a theme? And the best thing was that G-Force's ship, The Phoenix, could burst into flames on command, making it somehow invincible. The problem was that the crew inside the ship could hardly stand the temperature, so it was always a last-ditch effort. Oh, and somehow, by standing on each others' shoulders in a pyramid and flapping their capes, G-Force could form a tornado.

One thing I didn't realize until I watched the show as an adult was how downright violent it was. In one episode, the bad guys create an earthquake which swallows up some random scientist and then the ground closes back up on him - squish. The man's daughter, a little girl, ends up with G-Force inside The Phoenix when they confront the enemy, and the crew lays into the little girl, saying that she has to press the button which will launch a missle and kill the bad guys - for revenge. The little girl insists that she doesn't want to hurt anybody, although she's obviously torn, her finger hovering over the button. Eventually one of the G-Force guys grabs her hand and forces her to press the button and kill the bad guys. How non-PC is that?

In one scene from another episode, everyone is on some giant airplane, in some kind of giant hangar-bay. On a high balcony above the plane's docking port, Jason (one of G-Force's members) pins one of the generic bad guys to the wall and repeatedly punches him in the stomach. It was probably just to save animation frames that so many stomach-punches were thrown, but it came out looking just a bit overviolent and overdone because that shot went on so long. Then, he hits him one last time, and the bad guy goes flying over the rail, falls about fifty feet to the floor, bounces about three times, and then falls out of the plane to his death. I gawked when I saw that one.

This is the television that I grew up on. I think it was before I was even in Kindergarten.

Street HawkStreet Hawk was almost Robocop-like, although it was three years before robocop. I suppose they were trying for more of a Knight Rider thing. Still, same theme: a tough cop gets the crap kicked out of him by bad guys and returns in the employ of a secret government agency with high-tech equipment to beat the crap out of the bad guys. So Street Hawk was an all-terrain attack motorcycle designed to fight urban crime. Geez. The part I remember most is the music that would play when the motorcycle would turn on the rocket thrusters and drive upwards of 200mph, somehow taking sharp corners (even 90 turns!) at that speed.

Jayce and the Wheeled WarriorsNobody I've talked to remembers Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. In this show, The Lightning League, led by nineteen-year-old Jayce, battles the Evil Monster Minds whilst searching the universe for his father.

The Monster Minds, led by Saw Boss, are basically alien plant-men who can change at will into plant-vehicles resembling tanks, except they've all got big guns, giant jaws, and/or giant spiked wrecking balls at the end of tentacles. Of course, the good guys have their own vehicles, mounting guns, cranes, and giant drills. Most episodes consisted of the vehicles all driving around on the enormous vines that seemed to have conquered most planets, and fighting with the vehicles' melee weapons rather than the guns.

If you want a real kick, go here and read the lyrics to the theme song. It's nearly as cheezy as the lyrics to Hulk Hogan's theme song Real American.

Misfits of ScienceI'll bet you don't remember the Misfits of Science. I just recently got a copy of the entire seasons' episodes on DVD from EBay. The group was kind of a disorganized X-Men. A Scientist - Dr. Billy Hayes - leads a research team trying to help "misfits". His co-worker, 7'4" Dr. Elvin Lincoln invents a shrinking serum and becomes a misfit as he can then shrink down to 7 inches tall by yanking at the back of his neck. They're joined by two misfits they've helped: Gloria (courtney Cox) who's a telekinetic, and "Johnny B", the token cool-guy who was electrocuted during a rock concert and now can shoot lightning bolts and run at near-light speed. He's forced to wear shades to conceal his glowing eyes - he's not wearing them just to be cool - honest. But if he touches water, it burns him - could be deadly. How the heck is this guy even alive?!? The human body is mostly water!! How does he not die without water?!?

Anyway, This group is occasionally joined by Arnold Biefneiter, a.k.a. The Iceman. This is a cryogenically frozen worker from 1937 whose mind was apparently damaged in the freeze. He's obsessed with Amelia Earheart, and the only thing he can say is "AMELIA!!" as he stumbles around like the abominable snowman. Delightfully bizarre.

Kidd VideoThe last show I've got to mention is Kidd Video. This MTV-inspired show was big in its time. It was a combination of live action and cartoon, the premise being that the characters were members of a rock band who were snatched away by The Master Blaster and turned into cartoons. Having escaped The Master Blaster, they spend each episode cruising around in the flying Kiddmobile and avoiding capture by Master Blaster and The Copycats, trying to escape The Flipside and get back to the real world.

Ah, memories.

Comments on Television in the Eighties
Comment Friday, March 18th 2005 by tagger1948
I thought "Automan" was a riot - Desi Jr. was nothing like mom and dad, that's for sure.

For some _really_ cutting edge stuff, have a look at Now THAT'S kid TV!

And remember - we only got three channels - 3, 8 and 30 (well, two-and-a-half - VHF came in OK, but UHF was iffy, and UHF tuners were an _option_ on TVs in those days, so not everyone in the neighborhood could get channel 30!).

If you had an outdoor antenna, you could sometimes pull in Channel 2 in New York but at my house, rabbit ears and a bow-tie antenna (for UHF) were it.
Comment Friday, March 18th 2005 by Glenn
Nice job on this one Greg! Those are some cool-ass disturbingly farmiliar shows. Tranzor Z and Kidd Video are both both classic, but "street Hawk" is going to give me spontaneous perma-grin for about a week or two. I remembered the show but could never place the name of it. As I recall he would always use those rocket thrusters at night. I assume it must have been really late at night because there were never any other vehicles on the road. Just once, I would have loved to open door from a parked car collide with Street Hawk as he took a shitter doing 200 mph. Oh well.
- Glenn-a-ronomy

Comment Friday, March 18th 2005 by Glenn
Hmm.. That's strange. There seems to be some words missing from my previous entry which successfully defeated my humoress purpose. So sorry.

- Glennious
Comment Tuesday, March 22nd 2005 by Imbittered
This isn't a blog it is a blethis - but yes, ah momories.
Comment Wednesday, March 23rd 2005 by tagger
Now that I'm thinking about it, the TV programming I grew up with was a lot different than what you had in the 1980s. Aside from the live shows like "The Honeymooners," "I Love Lucy" and "Captain Video," we had the good old Saturday Morning Cartoons.

In the 1950s all the cartoons we saw on TV, with the possible exception of Disney's stuff, were made to be shown in movie theatres. A typical Saturday movie matinee comprised two feature films and a bunch of cartoons (and you could sit through the movies as many times as you wanted).

These cartoons were short - less than 10 minutes each - and you'd see them on local TV stations hosted by some kid show guy. Seems like all these shows were modelled after "Howdy Doody" - a bunch of kids on the stage, along with the host and some ten-cent prizes.

The real stars were guys like Max and Dave Fleischer, who did the "Popeye" and "Superman" cartoons. The real hoot was in watching the wartime "Popeye" shows, not to mention the "Three Stooges." Any station showing some of those today would be sued silly for the racial slurs and generally jingoistic tone of the propaganda - we still said "Japs" back then, and hadn't yet started buying cars from the same corporation that manufactured the aircraft used to bomb Pearl Harbor (Mitsubishi Motors, if you care). Comic books did their part in disseminating propaganda as well, but I digress.

The supply of theatrical cartoons dried up in the early sixties as the cost of producing hand-drawn cartoons rose. The half-hour cartoons that started cropping up in the 1960s, many of which were nothing more than 30-minute commercials, were poorly drawn and featured really crappy animation, the exception again being Disney. Don't take my word for it - compare a nineteen-thirty-something "Popeye" cartoon to, say, a 1980s "Thundarr." The amount of detail and the look of those old cartoons is absolutely incredible - more so when you consider that every bit of it was done by hand.

We also had some prime-time shows that piggybacked on the Spy Craze of the 1960s, the two most remarkable examples being "Get Smart" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Much of the prime time stuff in the 80s was a lot slicker than what you saw in the 50s, but for my money, Saturday morning just isn't the same.

Comment Tuesday, April 12th 2005 by Greg
Along the same lines, here's a commentary on Sesame Street.
Comment Wednesday, October 26th 2005 by Greg
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