I remember being pretty excited as a tot about “The Last Dinosaur.” I was probably too young to enjoy it when it debuted on ABC on February 11, 1977 — I’m betting it picked me up as a fan a few years later, when I would have been around the age of a first- or second-grader. Here are a few quick, weird facts:
“The Last Dinosaur” was originally intended as a theatrical release. It hit television after it failed to find a distributor (though it was later successfully marketed to theaters overseas).
As you can tell from the clips below, the special effects are strictly man-in-a-suit, with no stop-motion photography. (Hey, if you’re feeling charitable, you could say the split-screen works pretty well.)
The character played by Richard Boone is named the unintentionally porntastic “Maston Thrust, Jr.,” because apparently the screenwriters decided they needed a heroic, masculine-sounding name, but only had a couple of seconds to think of one. (Or maybe … they were unconsciously conflating the name for the prehistoric mastodon?)
Here’s some more early Tom Hanks weirdness … he starred in ABC’s cross-dressing comedy “Bosom Buddies” between 1980 and 1982. The show ran for just two scant seasons. I’m surprised at that, because I seem to remember it being a much bigger deal in the 1980’s — maybe just because it was a big hit at my house, when I was in second and third grade. I wanted to be like the guys in the show, albeit without the cross-dressing. I wanted to be grow up to live in New York City with my best friend and a beautiful blond girlfriend name “Sunny,” and get into zany hijinks.
I remember thinking that Hanks’ co-star, Peter Scolari, was the cool and funny one. I thought Hanks was annoying, even if he did look like Billy Joel, whose music my older sister had taught me to really like. (Joel’s “Glass Houses” album was stacked vertically with the others beside the living room record player, not far from where I watched this show on the family’s color television.) And that is indeed Billy Joel’s “My Life” playing as the show’s theme song — but it had a different vocalist, for some reason. (No matter how many times I hear it, that song will always take me back to the 80’s.)
Scolari’s career following the short-lived “Bosom Buddies” certainly hasn’t paralleled Hanks, but he’s still done a hell of a lot of television. (Among many other things, he surprisingly starred as Commissoner Loeb in “Gotham” in 2015. I didn’t see that one coming.)
As you can see from the opening credits below, the central plot device for “Bosom Buddies” was that the two guys had to pretend to be women in order to live at an all-women’s apartment building. It only occurs to me now as I’m writing this that the show’s title was a double entendre. I actually asked my Dad what the word “bosom” meant when I was a kid, and he gave me an answer that was accurate, if incomplete. (He explained the colloquial meaning of the expression — a “bosom buddy” was a best friend, who you figuratively held close to you. I subsequently told my best friend next door that he was my “bosom buddy” at one point.)
Yeah, I know it’s strange that I can remember a conversation from 39 years ago about an obscure TV show. It’s weird what people remember.
(I was talking about ABC’s “Donny & Marie” show from the late 70’s, which I really enjoyed as a tot.) At the time I suggested they the Osmond siblings were immortal vampires because they are still performing in Las Vegas.
I take it all back. I was just reminded that Osmond is the unnamed dancing man in the 2008 “first take” video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “White & Nerdy.” Have you seen the way this guy mugs and dances for three minutes straight? He’s hilarious. And he’s a goddam force of nature. He’s like Spider-Man 2099. He’s cooler in that three minutes of video than I will ever be.
Besides, I’m old too. I feel certain I was told at some point years ago that the guy was Osmond, yet I completely forgot about that when I discussed the show. I also don’t know if “throwing shade” has fully replaced “smack-talking” in the vernacular, or even if the term should be hyphenated.
You think that 80’s kids are old? Well, I also have memories of the 1970’s; after all, they fully occupied the first seven years of my life.
And I remember “Donny and Marie” (1976-1979), which ran on ABC. It was a sanity-challenging, Kafkaesque combination of disco, country music, family entertainment, themed-comedy skits, sequined outfits and … ice-skating. Which made it either the height of 70’s cheese or the very nadir of Western civilization — you decide.
I’m embarrassed to admit here that I loved it, even if I was a tot at the time. (Hey, if you’re five or six years old, then the sight of Donny being a non-threatening goofball on stage was the very height of hilarity.) You can see what I mean in the second clip below, if you can stomach all four minutes of it.
What’s interesting about this show is that it was kind of a dinosaur in its time … variety shows had been on the decline for a while in the late 1970’s, and were already being supplanted by the situation comedies that would become the trademark of the 1980’s. Bizarrely, NBC tried to launch Marie in her own solo variety show during the 1980-81 television season, but it just didn’t catch on. It was cancelled after seven episodes.
What’s truly crazy is that Donny and Marie are still performing in Las Vegas. I kid you not. Google it. You can even see them tonight at The Flamingo. There’s at least a chance that they’re immortal vampires.
Postscript: I at first typed “Donny and Maurie” in that blog post headline, and I feel certain there’s a terrible joke hiding there somewhere about Donny hearing the results of paternity test on “Maury Povich.” That would make a great “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
I was only a baby when ABC debuted the original “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” in 1973, but I caught it when it was rebroadcast around the end of the decade, when I was … six or seven years old? And dear GOD did it scare the crap out of me.
Since then, it’s become a minor legend in the horror fan community as one of the rare made-for-television movies that is easily as scary as something you’d see in a theater. This was the film that was remade in 2010, produced by Guillermo del Toro and with Katie Holmes in the lead role. (And I thought that the remake was a fun horror fantasy, even if it wasn’t terribly scary.)
I actually caught the film again about ten years ago, courtesy of Netflix’ DVD-by-mail service. And it was still creepy enough.
Here’s another very obscure Throwback Thursday post about broadcast television in the New York metropolitan area — this was the intro the ABC 4:30 movie. People commenting here at its Youtube entry remember it from the 1970’s … I thought I remembered it from the very early 1980’s as well. But I could be mistaken.
One commenter said that, as a young child, he thought that the image of the spinning camera-man looked like “a mechanical frog monster.” I thought that as a kid too!
“Airwolf” (1984 – 1987) and “Blue Thunder” (1984) were part of the decade’s fad of building TV shows around incredibly high-tech vehicles — sports cars, helicopters … even a preposterously conceived “attack motorcycle.” (Does anyone else remember 1985’s lamentable “Streethawk?”)
“Airwolf” was a decent techno-thriller produced by CBS. (It was revamped in its final year and relaunched on the USA Network.) It had great action sequences, a likable star (Jan-Michael Vincent) and seemed written to appeal to an older audience, with a fairly sophisticated and morally ambiguous overall story setup. And goddam if it didn’t have a kickass theme — even if it’s a bit of an earworm and leans heavily on the snythesizers. (It was an 80’s thing.) You can check it out in the first clip below.
“Blue Thunder” was ABC’s putative competitor, I suppose. It was an adaptation of what I remember to be a pretty respectable 1983 feature film with Roy Scheider, but the show only ran for a single season. I hardly remember it. (As you can see from the second clip below, though, it had a pretty interesting cast, including Dana Carvey, Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith.) I’ve never heard anyone bring up “Blue Thunder” nostalgically either. I do remember that my friend Keith was a fan — he and I got into a spirited debate once about which could defeat the other in an aerial battle.
If Hollywood wants to recycle everything from the 1980’s … how the hell did “Airwolf” escape its radar? (No pun intended.) I would love to hear Ki: Theory update that killer theme.
There’s a pretty damn interesting chestnut from from 80’s-era nuclear nightmare films available on Youtube — 1983’s “Special Bulletin.” (The link is below.) I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it. I think most 80’s kids remember ABC’s “The Day After.” That infamous television movie was a cultural touchstone that scared a generation of kids. “Special Bulletin” was produced by NBC the same year, actually preceding “The Day After” by nine months. Instead of a world-ending war with Russia, the feature-length special imagined a single incident of nuclear terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina. (I myself had no idea that Charleston was the strategic military nexus that the movie explains it to be.)
“Special Bulletin” was filmed as a “War of the Worlds”-type narrative, consisting exclusively of faux news coverage, and it’s pretty damned good. (It won a handful of Emmys.) It’s just as frightening today — or maybe more so, given the increased threat of precisely this kind of terrorism from stateless groups.
The acting is mostly good, the directing successfully captures the feel of live news coverage, and the absence of a musical score further lends the movie a sense of realism. The story has a few surprises for us, too — the plot setup is creative and interesting, and much more thought went in the the teleplay than I would have expected. The film asks some difficult questions about the role of the media in affecting the outcome of high-profile crimes like the one depicted. (Would such questions be more or less relevant in the age of camera-phones, uploaded ISIS executions and Facebook Live? I’m not sure.)
I was also quite impressed with some of “Special Bulletin’s” thriller elements. (I’d say more, but I will avoid spoilers for anyone who wants to watch it below.)
One thing that detracts from the format’s realism is the fact that some of this movie’s actors are easily recognizable from other roles in the 80’s (although it’s fun spotting them as an 80’s movie fan).
Most viewers my age, for example, will recognize Ed Flanders and Lane Smith. The utterly sexy female reporter who arrives on location at Charleston Harbor is Roxanne Hart, who later played Brenda in “Highlander” (1986). (She’s still quite beautiful, guys, and she’s still making movies.) Most jarring of all, however, is a prominent role played by David Clennon, who any fan of horror-science fiction will recognize as Palmer from John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, “The Thing.” This is still fun, though — he has that same disarrayed hair. Was it his trademark back in the day?