memories of the ’80s – The A Team

Action, adventure and ex-soldiers trying to help people, on the run from the US military and work as soldiers of fortune – that was the premise of The A Team.

Created by popular TV producer Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo for NBC TV, the series was Cannell’s first after being fired by ABC TV for Brandon Tartikoff.

The series was inspired by previous shows and films like Mission: Impossible, The Magnificent Seven, Mad Max and The Dirty Dozen, and based on a reference to special teams during the Vietnam War.

Airing its first episode after the Superbowl in January 1983, the series starred George Peppard as Lt. Col Hannibal Smith, Dirk Benedict as Lt. Templeton “Face” Peck, Dwight Schultz as the pilot, Capt Howling Mad Murdock and the strongman/mechanic member of the team Sgt. First Class BA Baracus, played by Mr. T.

There was a token woman – Amy Allen, a reporter, played by Melinda Culea in the first season and Marla Heasley as Tawnia Baker in the second season.

The team would have to routinely avoid the military police and each episode showcased their talents, as they fought, flew and conned their way out of situations, usually with a lot of gunfire and explosions, but with rarely any severe injuries or showing any deaths on-screen.

Peck would routinely use his charm on women to acquire things and people, especially Murdock, who was a resident of a mental hospital, while Baracus was unusually strong and a crack mechanic but refused to fly and would have to be knocked out before being transported, usually tricked by Hannibal, who was a master of disguise.

The first three seasons were successful with the series, especially scoring high with male viewers. The cult devotion to Mr. T also helped the show, which had spun off plenty of merchandise, and used the infamous lines “I love it when a plan comes together” and “pity the fool!” from the characters to become integral to current pop culture.

After four seasons the series lost viewers and 1987 was cancelled by NBC TV. The series was  heavily syndicated in North America and around the world, making it a successful series of the 1980s and a memorable contributor to pop culture for its comic style and unique characters.

memories of the ’70s – Baretta

File:Baretta Title Screen.jpgAn oddball cop who got the job done – in the 1970s Baretta was a unique cop show.

Played by Robert Blake, Det. Anthony (Tony) Baretta lived in a non-descript apartment with his cockatoo Fred, and is a regular undercover cop exposing the bad guys.

The series Toma, showcasing a highly realistic view of cop life and played by Tony Musante aired in 1973-74 and although popular, was criticized for its extreme violence.

Musante left after one season and the ABC TV series was reworked to become Baretta with Blake in 1975. Although still gritty, the series toned down the depictions of violence but didn’t shy away from the reality of crime from theft and organized crime to drugs, prostitution and murder.

Blake’s character had several catch phrases including “You can take dat to da bank” and “And dat’s da name of date tune”. Every episode showed him in disguise and when not on the job, he wore a trademark t-shirt, jeans and cap.

He used his neighbourhood pals as informants to make his job easier, including Rooster the pimp, Little Moe the shoeshine guy and Mr. Muncie, who owned the local liquor store, while keeping an eye on Mr. Nicholas, the local mob boss.

At the precinct, Inspector Shiller, Lieutenant Hal and Detective Fats kept their eye on Baretta while Detective Foley was always watching to see if Baretta would make a mistake.

After four seasons, Baretta’s run was done, but the realistic view of the world of cops was once again shown on the small screen.

memories of the ’80s – Educating Rita

This view of university was first shown on stage and then was interpreted for the big screen: Educating Rita.

Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London from Willy Russell, the play debuted at The Warehouse in 1980 starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston.

Walters played Rita, a Liverpool hairdresser who begins a relationship with Dr. Frank Russell played by Kingston, a university lecturer. Rita initially takes a class in literature and Frank becomes her tutor.

As the two grow closer, their relationship reveals the prejudices and beliefs of each other and how their judgments and assumptions start changing each other.

In 1983, Lewis Gilbert, produced and directed the screen adaptation of the play, debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine, the film follows the same path, showing how both grow and change, overcoming social class and society constrictions.

Although the film received mixed reviews, it won three BAFTA Awards, two acting awards at the Golden Globes for Walters and Caine as well as was nominated for three Academy Awards, including an adaptation nomination for Willy Russell and best actor and actress nominations.

Made for a small budget of just over US$6 million at Trinity University in Dublin, the film went on to gross over US$14 million, as viewers appreciated the story of Rita and Frank, and how they learn from one another.

As a commentary on the world of university, this play and film showed how assumptions and prejudices can be overcome, and everyone can become better, no matter where they think they currently stand.

memories of the ’70s – The Paper Chase

File:Paper Chase Book.jpgThis story hit three mediums in this decade – novel, film and tv series: The Paper Chase.

Written by John Jay Osborn Jr., the story is focuse on a first year Harvard Law student named Hart, who has one nemesis – Professor Charles Kingsfield, a tough teacher who isn’t letting anyone get through his class easily.

And of course, Hart has a love interest, the fascinatingly contrary Susan Field, a fellow student and Kingsfield’s daughter.

Published in 1970, Osborn Jr. completed the novel while a third year student at Harvard. The story was adapted for the screen in 1973, with Timothy Bottoms as Hart, John Houseman as Professor Kingsfield and Lindsay Wagner as Susan.

“Mister Hart, here is a dime. Call your mother. Tell her there is serious doubt about your becoming a lawyer.” – Kingsfield

File:Poster of The Paper Chase.jpg

Although not received with open arms by movie critics, Houseman’s portrayal of Kingsfield earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film.

In 1978, the novel was interpreted again into a tv series starring John Houseman as Kingsfield and James Stephens as Hart. Cancelled after one year, the series was re-aired on PBS and then picked up by Showtime in 1983, where it was relaunched and aired another additional three seasons.

The crux of the series lay within the original story of the relationship between Hart and Kingsfield – challenging each other to be better and do better.

“The study of law is something new and unfamiliar to most of you, unlike any other schooling you have ever known before. You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush and, if you survive, you leave thinking like a lawyer. – Kingsfield.

As this story lured readers and then viewers, the revelation of a student’s maturity and his growth is the key to the story – although he resents his instructor, he’s glad for the experience and so were we.



memories of the ’70s – The Waltons

In the early 1970s, there was one family we spent time with weekly: The Waltons.

Based on the book Spencer’s Mountain written by Earl Hamner Jr, the series (also created by Hamner) focused on the life of a rural Virginia family through the Depression and World War II.

A 1963 film, Spencer’s Mountain was produced and directed by Delmer Davies, and starred Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara.

The television series debuted as a tv movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, airing December 19, 1971. The hour long drama debuted on CBS TV in September 1972, although with different actors playing John and Olivia Walton – Andrew Duggan and Patricia Neal. They were replaced by Ralph Waite and Michael Learned for the series. Grandpa and Grandma Walton were played by Edgar Bergen and Ellen Corby.

Told from the point of view of the eldest son John-boy Walton, the series showed what is was like for families surviving the depression, and the changes that occurred from 1933 and during the war years of the 1940s.

Each episode would be narrated by John-boy, who was 17 when the series starts, played by Richard Thomas. His six siblings were Jason, Mary Ellen, Erin, Ben, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth.

Showing a wholesome family with traditional American values in the early 1970s, CBS put the series opposite tough opponents in the same 8pm timeslot, The Flip Wilson Show and The Mod Squad.

At the time the US Government had criticized televison and held congressional hearings into the current state of television. Many of the actors thought the series would be ignored by the viewing public, and created to appease the government.

Although it didn’t get the top 10 ratings in the first season, the series was recognized for the amazing acting, awarding Richard Thomas and Michael Learned repeated Emmy nominations and awards.

After its first year, the series earned a Peabody Award, for its showcase of issues. The series may not have fixated on the extremes of life, but it did show the despair, poverty, alcoholism and hardship that came from surviving that period of American history.

Viewers were enamored of the life the Waltons led, as much as the folksy camradererie of three generations of family that lived under the same roof – and the learned to deal with the changing world.

And as dedicated viewers know, for 10 seasons, every night, the bedtime chatter always ended with evening greetings – Good night John-boy.

memories of the ’80s – Hart to Hart

In the early 1980s, a wealthy couple decides they want to help others as they investigate crimes in the series Hart to Hart.

Starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, the duo were created by author Sidney Sheldon, who worked with producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg.

Spelling and Goldberg had heard of the Sheldon script which was focused on a couple who were both spies. Turning the idea over to writer Tom Mankiewicz, the storyline was modernized to become Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, two Los Angeles based jetsetters who with the help of their sidekick Max, use their amateur detective status to catch the bad guys.

Debuting in August 1979 on ABC, the charm of Robert Wagner and the funny warmth of Stefanie Powers soon drew in viewers.

The Harts find themselves at the beginning of each episode in their Gulf Stream private jet, and are soon helping friends and aquaintances with crimes like blackmail, murder, theft, assassination, drug-running and slavery.

Each episode showed off the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy, from Rolls Royces and Mercedes Benz to yachts, summer homes, ski chalets, mountain lodges, big city apartments and plenty of accessories from jewellery to clothing to the latest gadgets.

Within an hour viewers were treated to a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and famous as well as the Harts figuring out the crime and whodunnit. By season three, Hart to Hart had millions of fans, but in its fifth season, ABC cancelled the series due to low ratings.

As someone who liked a bit of the glamour of the show, I appreciated seeing all the lavish trappings of the so-called A list life, even if the storylines weren’t always as intricate and easily figured out.

memories of the ’70s – Ironside

For those who don’t know, there was a series that started in the late 1960s and featured a former police detective who becomes a consultant despite the fact that he’s in a wheelchair – he’s Robert T. Ironside.

Even with the societal prejudice against someone who resided in a wheelchair, Raymond Burr proudly portrayed Ironside, who helped solve police cases with what was most needed, his brains.

Produced and created by Collier Young, Ironside debuted in September 1967 on NBC, and hit its stride in 1970, when Burr was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Robert T. Ironside.

Ironside worked with a posse of three others – Det. Sgt. Ed Brown, socialite turned police officer Eve Whitfield, and bodyguard/assistant Mark Sanger, who had initially been hired to kill Ironside.

Each week the group would learn about various crimes and find the culprits, with Ironside operating from his own specialized consultant’s area within the San Francisco Police Department and with his own van for transporting himself and his crew.

For eight seasons, the show may have fluctuated in ratings, but two Golden Globe nominations and four  Emmy nominations for Burr proved that this show was breaking ground in depicting a crime procedural drama on the 1970s airwaves.

memories of the ’70s – Quincy M.E.

File:Quincy ME.jpgLong before CSI glamourized the world of forensic sciences, in the mid 1970s it was all about one coroner – Quincy M.E.

Starring Jack Klugman as the smart-witted and irascible Dr. Quincy, the show debuted on NBC in October 1976, as a one hour drama, produced by Glen A. Larson Productions.

Quincy was always referred to by his last name, and his character’s first name was a mystery – eventually it was known to begin with the letter R, but never revealed during the series.

In each episode, Quincy as the forensic pathologist for the city of Los Angeles would investigate suspicious deaths, and determine the cause of death, usually due to murder.

Working with his assistant Sam Fujiyama, Quincy was often in conflict with his boss Dr. Asten and LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Frank Monahan, as he pursued the evidence to solve the case.

Quincy was also a lady’s man and lived on a sailboat – adding to his character’s unique allure.

In consequent years, Quincy’s storylines included commentary on plastic surgery, drunk driving laws, punk rock, airline safety, hazardous waste, handguns, orphan drugs and poverty.

A popular show with viewers, Quincy ME was the first to show in-depth forensic evidence and research, two decades before the creation of CSI, Crossing Jordan or NCIS. It was shown in the UK, Canada and Australia and dubbed to be shown in Germany and Japan.

I regularly watched the showing, liking the independence of Quincy from authority as well as his dedication to science revealing the answers of what had happened.

The series was on air for eight seasons, until it was cancelled in the early 1980s, but was another success for Glen A. Larson, who created a show that was a definite influence on the way to solve a crime.

memories of the ’80s – Simon and Simon

Private detective shows never go out of style, and in this decade two brothers were the focus of finding out what really happened in the series Simon & Simon.

The brothers were portrayed by Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker and were polar opposite. Rick was a Marine, a Vietnam War veteran, and was laid-back make your own rules kind of guy. AJ was the college educated, flashy, gentleman, who liked order.

AJ lives in a small house that is also their office for the private investigation company, while Rick lives on a boat in the front yard. Mary Carver played Cecelia their secretary, while Tim Reid played their police buddy Lt. Brown.

Created by Philip DeGuere, the series debuted on CBS in November 1981, loosely based on the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But the first year had very low ratings and was in danger of being cancelled by the network.

The producers asked for a reprieve and the network moved the series to Thursday nights, after their successful show Magnum PI, and the series took off, finding viewers and fans.

Although the pilot was set in Florida, the series was moved to San Diego, where the brothers took on cases, although they had very differing styles and were often clashing over their methods of finding out information.

Each episode showed the different traits of each brother, figured out a case and threw in some humour as well as action scenes for good measure.

The series did a crossover episode with Magnum PI to drive ratings for both shows, and until 1988 kept pace. In 1989, the series was moved to Saturday nights, and with low ratings, was cancelled at the end of its eighth season.

The buddy genre is a popular theme in television and toss in the private detectives, crazy clients, a brotherly affection and regular disputes, this series was an easy to watch one hour of drama each week.

memories of the ’70s – The Streets of San Francisco

These partners focused on keeping the Bay City safe with the police drama The Streets of San Francisco.

Starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas, the Quinn Martin produced series was focused on the relationship between the two cops, Stone and Keller, the veteran and the newbie.

Each episode focused on a homicide, and the two unravelling the information, clues and tips to find out who was the main suspect. Stone was a 20 year veteran, a widower and becomes a mentor to the young Keller, an inexperienced and brash 28 year old, newly promoted to detective.

Both actors spent a lot of time with the local San Francisco Police Department, hoping to make the show as realistic as possible, and since it was filmed on location, it showcased the unique aspects of the Bay City.

As well Malden and Douglas became close friends, and their relationship made the difference on the small screen.

ABC TV was happy with the show, and its ratings, showcasing it on Thursday nights, and the duo were a popular choice for five seasons. From 1972 until 1977, the series was all about Malden and Douglas, who were both nominated for  Golden Globes and Emmys for their roles.

But in 1977, Douglas produced the successful film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and wanted to pursue his film career and left the series, with a new character to replace him – Richard Hatch as Insp. Dan Robbins.

But viewers like the Malden-Douglas combo and the series was cancelled by ABC TV at the end of the season due to low ratings.

I saw this show in re-runs several years later, and liked the duo as much as the views of San Francisco, a city I would only see many decades later, but  when I saw the cable cars, I was reminded of this tv series, a fave from my childhood.