The past is a foreign country: 80s TV

The past is a foreign country: 80s TV

St. ElsewhereFirst, if you want a chance to win a copy of Yesterday head on over to Xpresso Reads and drop your name in the hat. Now, following on from my intro to the 80s post, it's time to delve into some of my favourite shows from the first part of the decade. This is all stuff that Freya might've run into while flicking channels (with the monster-sized corded remote that was in use at the time). Because this post is focusing on the 80s I'm leaving out all the 50s-70s repeats I would've watched in the 80s, but they made up a lot of my viewing then too (I have to admit that to this day I love watching Theodore Cleaver's antics in Leave It to Beaver).

Back then the TV environment was very different from today and most popular shows were on the three big networks ABC, CBS and NBC (Fox didn't launch until fall 1986). Plus, in the pre-Internet days and with VCRs only beginning to gain popularity (my family didn't get one until 1986) you had to watch your favourite show in its regular timeslot. Here are my most-loved shows from 1980-1985, in no particular order, with some notes on each.

Simon and Simon (weekly primetime show)

Sort of like a detective version of The Odd Couple but featuring two brothers who run a detective agency together (also sort of like Supernatural without the demons!). Rick was the freewheeling one with the cowboy hat and A.J. was his strait-laced younger brother. So big a fan of the show was I that I wrote the program asking for a signed photo and actors Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker obliged. While I quite liked them both I had a definite JP crush at the time.

City Limits (Fridays & Saturdays from around 12:30 to dawn)

Only Canadians of a certain age will remember this classic video show hosted by Chris Ward. It ran for about five hours through the night, and starting at around fifteen years old I would park myself in front of City Limits for as many hours as I could keep my eyes open. This was pre-MuchMusic, which started in the summer of 1984, so at the time City Limits was the closest thing we had to MTV but also somehow cooler because its late timeslot made it seem almost like a secret. Broadcaster and songwriter Christopher Ward hosted and City Limits is where Mike Myers character Wayne Campbell first appeared. Mike used to drop by City Limits as his alter ego. Sadly I couldn't find one existing clip of the show to link to or embed.

Three's Company (weekly primetime show)

Remake of British sitcom Man about the House. Premise: Aspiring chef Jack Tripper pretends to be gay so his uptight landlord won't mind him living with two cute women his own age. Silly as that sounds (although most sitcoms sound pretty silly anyway!) John Ritter's easy charm made the show loveable.

The Equalizer (weekly primetime show)

Edward Woodward has such a steely vibe that he was perfectly believable as Robert McCall a retired intelligence officer who has turned to directly helping civilians for free. I see this as an ancestor of today's Person of Interest. They're even both set in New York.

Late Night with David Letterman (Mondays to Thursdays from 12:30 - 1:30)

The first time I saw Letterman I was sleeping over at a friend's house and her older sister happened to be a fan. When Late Night began in 82 it was way past my bedtime so it wasn't until I was about fifteen that I was able to catch it myself and even then it was somewhat of a rarity (my school insisted on starting in the morning!) but for several years whenever I was in a crappy mood just tuning in to Late Night would set me right. It was funny in a way that I'd never seen before at the time, as well as being another show that almost felt like a secret by virtue of its timeslot. Check out this clip of rival:

Family Ties (weekly primetime show)

This family oriented sitcom ran from 1982-1989. A left-wing couple bring up their ultra-conservative son (played by Michael J. Fox) alongside their two daughters. Mostly the show was played for laughs but it had its serious side, tackling issues like drug abuse, racism, alcoholism and suicide.

General Hospital (Monday - Friday, 3-4PM)

One of my favourite General Hospital storylines included secret agent Robert Scorpio and an arch-villain's evil plot to build a weather machine capable of creating something called "carbonic snow" which could be used to freeze the world (I swear I'm not making this up! It was an actual GH plot in '81). Here Scorpio finds kidnapped love interest Holly.

But I started watching around about the time of Luke and Laura's romance and was just as entranced by it as everyone else. Now I'm appalled that show ever developed a romance between the two considering Luke had actually raped Laura two years earlier. Disturbing, harmful and incredibly insensitive - this is exactly the kind of attitude that fuels rape.
30 million viewers tuned in when Luke and Laura were
married on November 16, 1981
Kate & Allie (weekly primetime show)

Two divorced long-time friends move share a house and raise their kids together which seemed like somewhat of a novel arrangement at the time. Divorce really only became common in North America during the 70s and 80s. I confess I barely remember any specifics about the show, except that the characters were likeable.

St. Elsewhere (weekly primetime show)

My mom and I were totally devoted to this angsty medical drama that ran from 82 - 88. It was both realistic and emotional in a way which most 80s shows just weren't, and featured a strong cast including Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, David Morse, Mark Harmon and Ed Begley Jr. No surprise that later my mom and I both became devotees of E.R. too! My heart still melts a little at the sound of the St. Elsewhere opening credits tune.

The New Music (weekly show, Saturday night?)
Canadian cutting edge magazine style show about music that started in 1979 and was eventually incorporated into MuchMusic in what evolved into a less interesting tone and format. In the 80s I considered host Daniel Richler the epitome of cool (I even list him as one of my heroes in the school yearbook). I still have his autograph somewhere along with 1985's anti-drug slogan: "Stay alive in 85". Below you can see him interview the band Cabaret Voltaire around the 1:12 mark:

Read the Rest of the 80s series:
* The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Movies
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Toys and Technology
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Music

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