As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, television, for better or for worse, has been crucial in making me the person I am today. I spent probably more than my fair share of time in front of the idiot box, watching my favorite shows being aired on the few channels that were available then, then patiently waiting for another week before I could watch the same show again.
Back in the day, there wasn't any cable TV or the huge selection of channels that we now take for granted. We only had five channels (2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13), and TVs were tuned using rotary dials, or if you were lucky, pushbuttons. I remember the scolding that I often got every time I twisted the rotary dial of our TV one way or another. Grownups then were convinced that turning the dial too fast or turning it the wrong direction would break the TV. There was also the old wives' tale of staying at least six feet away from the screen to avoid the TV's "radiation," prolonged exposure to which can supposedly "blind" you.
And there were the shows. The 70s and 80s were a gold mine of television programming. There was hardly any day that I didn't have a favorite show scheduled. Then, life was much simpler. After getting home from school, I did my schoolwork and had dinner (though not necessarily in that order) and proceeded to watch my shows. I still have pleasant thoughts of those shows, though some of them are quite cheesy and unsophisticated by today's standards. Still, it brings back fond memories. Here are some of my favorite shows of that era:
The Six Million Dollar Man
Opening narration: "Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive." "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."
United States Air Force Colonel Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) was critically injured when an experimental aircraft he was piloting crashed. His left eye, right arm, and both of his legs were damaged beyond repair and replaced with bionic implants, which gave him superhuman sight, strength, and speed. He would be relying on these enhanced abilites in his missions as a secret agent for the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). Inspired a spinoff entitled The Bionic Woman featuring Lindsay Wagner.
Memorable gimmick: The electronic sound effects and slow motion every time he used his bionic abilities.
Lynda Carter plays the reknowned female superhero Wonder Woman on the small screen. 30 years later, still the definitive live action depiction of the Amazon champion of Paradise Island.
Memorable gimmick: Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC) agent Diana Prince, twirling in place to magically transform into Wonder Woman.
Opening narration: "There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. They may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive far, far away, amongst the stars."
A lost tribe of space-faring humans, perhaps descendants of the forefathers of our early civilizations, fight for survival battling a race of cybernetic humanoids knows as Cylons, while searching for legendary thirteenth colony: Earth.
Memorable gimmick: The electronically synthesized voices and roving laser eyes of the Cylons. Also features an awesome, majestic orchestral theme composed by Stu Philips and Glen Larson and performed by John Williams and the Boston Pops. The theme was used for a while during the 80s as the theme of Newswatch, Channel 9's evening news program, if you still remember it.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Opening narration: "In the year 1987, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. Aboard this compact starship a lone astronaut Captain William Buck Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension. In a freak mishap, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast: an orbit which was to return Buck Rogers to Earth five hundred years later."
The role of Buck Rogers was played by Gil Gerard.
Memorable gimmick: Erin Gray as the sexy Earth Defense Forces Colonel Wilma Deering, and Mel Blanc of Looney Tunes fame, playing the voice of the annoying yet comical robot Twiki.
Opening narration: "Knight Rider. A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law."
Invulnerable, superfast, hi-tech car with artifical intelligence and virtually every electronic gizmo you can think of (and some you can't). Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG) operative Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff) at the wheel. Adventures galore every week.
Memorable gimmick: The car itself was the gimmick. After the show, we never looked at cars the same way again.
Opening narration: "In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... THE A-TEAM."
Memorable gimmick: Hundreds of rounds of ammunition are expended at the climax of every episode, not to mention the setting off of all sorts of explosions. Miraculously, no one ever seems to get hit, or injured in any way. And who can possibly forget B.A. Barracus (played by Mr. T., Laurence Tureaud in real life)?
Stringfellow Hawke (played by Jan-Michael Vincent), with the help of his friend Dominic Santini (played by Ernest Borgnine) fly an armored, supersonic, heavily armed stealth helicopter prototype codenamed Airwolf in various missions for a branch of the CIA known as "The Firm."
The physics-defying maneuvers of Airwolf, the retractable helmet visors with target LEDs, and the rather cheesy glowing projectiles meant to portray missle shots. I still loved the show despite the obviously fake effects and somewhat crappy editing of depicted missile hits. The Airwolf theme composed by Sylvester Levay is my hands down favorite TV theme of all time.
Opening narration: "This is Jesse Mach, an ex-motorcycle cop injured in the line of duty, now a police troubleshooter. He's been recruited for a top secret government mission to ride Street Hawk, an all-terrain attack motorcycle designed to fight urban crime...capable of inordinate speeds up to 300 mph and immense fire power. Only one man, federal agent Norman Tuttle knows Jesse Mach's true identity. The man....The machine...Street Hawk."
Playing Jesse Mach was actor Rex Smith.
Memorable gimmick: Hyperthrust which in the story pushes Street Hawk to a top speed of up to 300 mph, and the hi-tech full face helmet with a built-in HUD, zoom, and other capabilities.. The show also features an outstanding techno theme composed and performed by Tangerine Dream.
Richard Dean Anderson plays the role of Angus MacGyver, an operative of the Phoenix Foundation who prefers to rely on everyday items used in ingenious ways along with his extensive scientific knowledge in getting through missions and various situations instead of using violence or firearms.
His Swiss knife and his spontaneous inventions known as "MacGyverisms."
This list is not by any means complete. There are a lot of other shows that I followed religiously at the time, but due to certain constraints, were no longer included in the list above. Actually, I never expected this post to be this lengthy. I was planning to write only a few words about a few of my favorite old TV shows, however I ended up discussing nine of them. And these are only live action adventure shows. I haven't even covered the sitcoms and animated shows yet. Maybe I'll write about them in a future post.
From the list of shows above, I guess you can tell that I've been fascinated with machines and science fiction from an early age. I still am.
How about you? What were your favorite shows of the 70s and 80s? Fire up the comment box and tell me all about it. :-)