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US Television in The 1980s

Detailed information on our featured US shows


Knight Rider

The premise was that young police officer Michael Long (David Hasselhoff) was shot in the face and left for dead. Millionaire Wilton Knight, who rescued him, left his estate to Michael on the condition that he used the resources to fight crime.

Out of respect for the dead millionaire he took his saviour's surname and became the Michael Knight that we know and love.

Michael also inherited an amazing computerised black car that could talk, had mood swings and could drive itself - much to the consternation of potential thieves. He (it had a masculine voice) was called Knight Industries Two Thousand or KITT for short.

With the help of Wilton's friend Devon Miles, F.L.A.G. and a lorry-cum-garage they always succeeded in their fight against crime.

 

The A-Team

Wanted for a crime they didn't commit, the A-Team had escaped from a maximum security prison and survived as soldiers of fortune.

The plot was almost the same every episode: a local rich and powerful crime lord or mafia gang would beat up the locals, the A-Team would arrive and fend them off for a while.

Then Amy would be captured and they'd try and rescue her with a clever disguise and then out of nowhere BA Baracas would turn up in a modified army vehicle and bust the baddies.

The Cosby Show

Hard to believe now, but the idea of a TV show featuring a middle class Black family was once seen as dangerously radical by TV networks.

What would otherwise have been regarded as a rather pedestrian sit-com became the subject for discussion in learned journals.

Re-runs of The Cosby Show are still on air today, and Mr Cosby himself is doing very well, thank you.

 

Moonlighting

Before his hair fell out and he started blowing up buildings, Bruce Willis was the star of this romantic adventure serial, set in a US detective agency.

He and co-star Cybil Sheppard would trade wisecracks while dodging bullets and swearing blind that they didn't fancy each other.

Every week it was 'Will they, won't they'. Whether they ever did is now shrouded in the mists of time.

 

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles

A heavily criticised cartoon from America about four turtles who once belonged to a little boy but ended up being covered in radioactive gunge. They turned into the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you're in America - Ninja was thought too violent for the British audience).

The turtles live in the sewers with a rat who acted as their Sensei and mentor, training them for their missions. They ate pizza and shouted 'Kowabunga Dudes' a lot.

Leonardo was the quiet one, Donatello the funny one, Michelangelo the crazy one and Raphael was the strong one - but who cared, they all look the same.

 

Cagney & Lacey

Unlike most cop show on TV, "Cagney and Lacey" did not try and dazzle us with car chases, mind-bending mysteries to be solved or sex kittens posing as police officers (mind the nails!) . It was always about the characters. It was their experiences and reactions to the case and the crime around them, the pressures of the job, the conflicts with each other, that was the focus of the show. And the "Perps", or criminals, had their story, too. At its best, the crime-of-the-week drew you into an issue, a POV , a social problem, whose solution was dramatically argued through the reactions of the police officers involved - primarily the leads, of course.

Besides the writing, what made this work was that we cared about the leads, and we cared what they thought. We especially cared what happened to them. Outstanding, often stunningly realistic, acting from Sharon Gless (Christine Cagney) and Tyne Daly (Mary Beth Lacey) made us feel like we knew these 2 people, and they made us root for them. Their acting rapport was such a lucky happenstance; they complimented each other's styles and characters beautifully. You can't buy that kind of performing chemistry.
 

Cheers

There aren't very many shows that I deem almost (or absolutely) perfect. 'Cheers' is, by far, definitely one of them. On the top. 'Seinfeld', 'Roseanne', 'Bewitched', 'Frasier'...(Those are just a few of the others that I think are great.)

'Cheers' is the perfect show because it has something for everyone. There are so many different character personalities to chose from in that one, simple bar that you can't NOT have a favourite. I don't think anyone (anyone that's ever watched the show) could say "I don't like it, I don't like any of them!" ...But how could you not? For the people that want an (at least) semi-intellectual character (instead of everyone being a complete moron) they have Frasier, Diane, Lilith. Everyone loves Norm's witty one-liners as he enters the bar. Coach and Woody are goofily funny in their own stupidity. Carla has her crude, sarcastic zingers. Sam and his "little black book." Cliff with his "know-it-all" attitude when in actuality he doesn't know a thing. Rebecca's a great, all-around character...

It also has the backup of being CONSTANTLY funny, some episodes aren't completely boring, then the next, twenty times funnier than the one before (though, I admit, some are absolutely hilarious!) It gets better and better with each year, not old and drawn out, just more jokes! That's why it lasted so long.

So, if any of you read this, look in you're TV guides to see when it's on. After just a few, you'll know and love the characters, and you'll be completely hooked!

 

Dallas

Dallas is the greatest TV series of all time. The close second is "The Simpsons" but as a mature adult soap, "Dallas" tops them all. Not only was it the most talked about series in its time but it has everything you want from a fiction programme. Sex, Oil, violence, revenge, business, family. It was one of the most glamorous shows ever and was about power and wealth. Extremely enjoyable. People explain how bad the ending years were but how can any series last that long and all be good!. It did its best to keep you glued to the TV. However in 1996, the first of 2 reunion films of the 90s, "JR Returns2 was a fantastic comeback and well made!

What is most amazing about "Dallas" is the fantastic, well written characters. Especially JR Ewing, the evil devilish money lover who would walk over anyone to get ahead but who is also devoted to family business! It is a tough series with great acting from Linda Gray, Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy. The series only kept going as long as possible to keep the devoted viewers happy because when this ended something ended in all of its viewers. It was like loosing something you had lived with for 13 years!

 

Dynasty

Although ABC's "Dynasty" really began as a response to the wildly popular "Dallas" on CBS, the show became so much more over its original U.S. run, from 1981 to 1989.

While "Dallas" had a bit of the earthy element of the ranch and the land and their value (think Miss Ellie) mixed in with the big-bucks oil industry, "Dynasty" was all glitz, all the time. After the show found its way during the first season, and Alexis arrived for the second, the characters went great guns in their portrayal of '80s capitalism and high living. We all wanted to watch. Maybe, in a way, we all wanted to live those lives. But would we, really? Hmmm ...

Being a chick, I enjoyed the **fashions** and the intrigue as I watched the show originally in the 1980s. I was a teen who hadn't yet experienced the big world out there yet, and I think the show appealed to a lot of people my age for that same reason. I'm thankful that the show has been released on DVD now, because I talked to so many fans over the years who desperately longed for the videos (back before DVD)!

 

Falcon Crest

Set in the fictional Tuscany Valley of California, Falcon Crest focused on a large family of wealthy vinyardists, who were either bickering with each other, plotting against each other, and occasionally swapping mates. Legendary film star Jane Wyman played the ambitious matriarch Angela Channing, constantly at loggerheads with her nephew Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth), an airline pilot (and ex-Vietnam vet) who returned to Falcon Crest to claim his inheritance following his father's mysterious death. Others in the FC's large cast included Chase's long-suffering wife Maggie (Susan Sullivan), their children Cole (Billy Moses) and Vickie (Jamie Rose, Dana Sparks); Angela's children Emma (Margaret Ladd) and Julia (Abby Dalton), Abby's irresponsible son Lance (Lorenzo Lamas), who married the conniving Melissa (Ana-Alicia), when she was pregnant with Cole's child. A solid soap during its first season, FC got a major boast with the arrival of nefarious Richard Channing (David Selby), who turned out to be related to the Giobertis and would stop at nothing to get his share of Falcon Crest. The first 5-6 seasons of Falcon Crest remain among the best television has ever offered, with terrific acting, strong storylines, suspenseful and unforgettable cliff-hangers, and a wonderfully dry wit.

Hill Street Blues

In the days of E.R and NYPD Blue, it's hard to remember just how ground-breaking a show HSB was. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. The quality of the acting and writing, the documentary look and feel, the seedy broken down environment, the brutally frank situations and language (for the time), the fact that the "bad" guys got away with it as often as not, the huge ensemble cast, the long one-take scenes, the unhappy endings etc. etc.

Needless to say, the American people wanted nothing to do with such quality at first - until it won a record number of Emmys and they couldn't ignore it anymore. If nothing else, this series proved to the networks that quality can sell soap after all.

If you like your E.R. think a kind thought for Hill Street Blues - the series that made it all possible.

Little House on The Prairie

The late Michael Landon spent his life as a part of our tv family. From 1959 when Bonanza came on the air until 1989 when Highway to Heaven was cancelled, there was not a single year that he did not have a series on the air. That is a record that will stand for all time I believe. He specialized in creating high quality family programming. People don't generally realize that Mister Landon wrote and directed the majority of the episodes of Bonanza, Little House and Highway To Heaven. Little House showed us a simple, strong loving family who stayed together and solved their problems with the power of love and understanding.

Michael was everyone's favourite strict but loving father. Melissa Gilbert said she really looked upon him as a father figure and the chemistry between Half Pint and Pa showed it. Thru Mary's blindness and her baby's death to Laura's marriage and all the other problems the Ingalls stayed together. The show had a first class ensemble cast and everyone did a wonderful job at creating colourful characters from Victor French's lovable Mister Edwards to Katherine MacGregor's snobby, mean Mrs. Olsen. What I like is the fact that Harriet Olsen always got her "comeuppance" at the end of every episode as did Nellie, but they never really did learn their lesson. One episode I remember particularly well was the one where Richard Mulligan played a Civil War veteran who was still troubled by his experiences at the Battle of Shiloh. He had ran away in battle and was seriously addicted to morphine. Mulligan was brilliant in the part and unlike most episodes, this one had a completely tragic ending. He killed himself. Also, the episode where Albert became an addict was excellent.

People made fun of the scene where he vomits on Pa during withdrawal but that is exactly what happens to addicts when they go through it. Matthew Laborteaux visited rehab centres to research his part and it shows. It is a chilling look at the horrors of drug abuse.

Magnum

The first couple of years the show had too work the glitches out. Once they got the formula right this was an entertaining show. There were some memorable stories, I like the one with his quarterback friend Darcy. This show had a budget that today's producers would salivate at. A Ferry, a chopper, a mansion, and great locations. Tom Selleck grew as an actor in this series, and the 80's over the style is missed with today's shows. Who care's who gets voted off the island, or people making out in the bathroom on the show Friends, I rather watch a show with production value, professional actors, directing, and some fun. Time well spent on A&E

Murder She Wrote

After a stint as Miss Marple on screen, former movie star Angela Lansbury was a dead-cert for this watchable but ridiculous murder mystery series. She plays Jessica Fletcher, a crime writer and amateur sleuth who solves more crimes than the cops - but she almost always knows the victim and/or the main suspect.

Lansbury is good although the scripts were increasingly trite and the solutions became blindingly obvious. If there is a file of papers, Jessica will steal it. If times don't tally, Jessica will be on the trail quicker than a bloodhound. Ron Masak played long-suffering Sheriff Metzger for most of the run, always being shown up by Jessica's dogged insistence that every decision he makes is wrong. William Windom played her doctor friend, Seth Hazlett, from series 2, adding some comedy value, but he really was slumming it in this series.

Cabot Cove becomes the US murder capital - everyone who lunches with Jessica, talks to her on the telephone, or even bumps into her in the street might end up as a murder victim. This ranges from movie stars to drug smugglers, to gossipy biography writers and theatricals, to high-flying business men and willowy models.

In the tradition of 'Columbo' and other US crime series, 'Murder She Wrote' doesn't tax the brain and - amazingly - had enough material to replay pretty much the same episode for twelve years and some feature length specials. When it ended in 1996 we even missed it. A bit.

The Fall Guy

Another classic teatime viewing experience from Glen Larson. Totally mindless, relaxing formulaic Larson stuff. The success and longevity of his series prove that old formulas work and this 5 year series was no exception. Colt , Howie and Jodie (most male viewers reason to watch!) were to the 80's what Xena is to a new generation.

 

The Waltons

TV Land is showing the series in sequence (for the most part), and I'm enjoying seeing it again, for only the second time. The acting is excellent, as are the production values. The terrible reunion shows of the 90s did not do justice to the series. They "messed" with the chronology, jumping ahead in time, for the sake of historical landmarks, when they should have respected the reality of the series.

Granted, the last two seasons were strained, but I am currently viewing Season Six, the first without John-Boy, and it works quite well. Some complain that the series is a 70s version of the 30s/40s, but in 2004, I would not agree. I grew up in Virginia during the 60s, and I definitely feel that the series creators have adequately presented the dignity and attitude of the Southeast. Again, the reunion shows were idiotic. (Did these people never buy new appliances, or pave their driveway? The last reunion, set in 1969, was ridiculous. The characters were ten years younger than they should have been. The youngest child would have been around 41 years old, not 30.)

 

Data, links and Information courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

 

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