memories of the ’70s – Wheel of Fortune

A simple spinning wheel and contestants trying to figure out a word or phrase to win became a favourite tv show of all ages – Wheel of Fortune.

Created by Merv Griffin, this game show was based on the principles of the game Hangman, with contestants spinning a wheel to win the opportunity to solve the puzzle.

Working with his staff, Griffin tested the show several times to fine tune the game, switching the wheel from being displayed vertically to being placed horizontally in front of the players.

Three contestants would compete, and when the show debuted as a daytime program on NBC in January 1975, it was hosted by Chuck Woolery with his lovely colleague Susan Stafford on hand to turn the letters.

In the 1970s, winning participants would use their loot to choose from a room filled with prizes each worth a certain amount, and would often be left with an amount that would gain them the large ceramic dog.

Between 10:30am and noon, North American viewers would get their half hour fix of Wheel of Fortune. By 1980, NBC moved the show from daytime to primetime, compensating for the change in their evening schedule of reducing The David Letterman Show from 90 minutes to 60 minutes.

I loved watching Wheel of Fortune – I would get excited when they would guess the consonants and would always encourage them to choose a vowel. And when the winner would go through the prize room, I always encouraged them to choose other options.

Thanks to syndication and a change of hosts in the 1980s, this game show is now the longest running syndicated game show in America – and still have devoted fans who are excited every time a contestant spins the wheel.

memories of the ’80s – Alf

Aliens returned as a humourous theme to 1980s sitcoms with the debut of Alf.

Short for alien life form, the series Alf was created by Paul Fusco and Tom Patchett. The series revolved around Alf, who had landed on Earth from the planet Melmac, arriving on the garage of the Tanner Family.

Deciding to hide Alf rather than let him be captured by the US military, the family allows him to stay, and then they learn his home planet has been destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

Alf decides to stay with the Tanner family, learning the ways of Earth. He is a troublemaker, a slob and eats constantly, but the family learns to deal with him and keep him a secret, despite the nosy Ochmonek neighbours who claim to spot something or someone but can never really be sure what they’re seeing next door.

Alf’s character is the comedian – he has all the one liners and draws attention to himself all the time, but at the same time is sympathetic to the family, likes to learn about humans and helps the family whenever he can.

Fusco portrayed Alf, and revolved everything around him, which didn’t capture viewers right away when the series debuted in 1986, but by the second season, the rating increased to place the NBC series at number 10.

Merchandise was popular from the series – with all the typical kids’ items from posters to lunchboxes as well as comic books based on Alf series by Marvel Comics.

A prequel series for kids was created for Saturday mornings: ALF – The Animated Series, showcasing the character on Melmac.

For the actors, the series was difficult as the main character who got all the focus was a puppet and the focus was always on Fusco and Patchett, the coproducer, writer and creator.

After four seasons, the series ratings had slipped and the show was cancelled by NBC, but the pop culture influence of an alien puppet was seen everywhere in the late 1980s.

memories of the ’70s – Mork & Mindy

Anything is plausible for a sitcom, and in the 1970s, it meant a couple who represented Earth and Space in the half hour series Mork & Mindy.

The character of Mork, played by Robin Williams, first debuted on Garry Marshall’s flagship show Happy Days, as a resident of Ork who tries to bring Richie back to his home planet as a specimen, but is foiled by Fonzie.

Impressed by Williams dedication to his character and crazy antics as a comedian, Marshall created this series, with Mork transplated to Earth in the 1970s by his handler Orson, to observe humans.

He befriends Mindy (Pam Dawber) one night when she is stranded and when she learns he is an alien, she decides to take care of him and lets him live in her attic as she deals with his interests and exploration in Boulder, Colorado.

Each episode brought wacky, bizarre and frenetic humour from Williams, who made Mork as off the wall as possible, yet made viewers sympathetic to someone who doesn’t understand the society and its rules.

Mork ends up working with Mindy at her Dad’s music store, who tolerates Mork and becomes friends with Mindy’s music student Eugene. Thanks to his creative mind, Williams created many unique attributes of Mork, including his greeting – “nanu nanu”, the accompanying hand gesture and his rainbow suspenders.

Debuting in September 1978, the series was popular with viewers, hitting number three in the Nielsen ratings after Laverne & Shirley and Three’s Company, and in front of Happy Days, who were at #4. All of these shows were on ABC, the leading network in the late 1970s.

The series was nominated for two Emmy Awards for its inaugaral season and in season two added new characters, but by the third season were losing viewers and the quirkiness of the show. In season four the network married Mork and Mindy, and added more guest stars, but was cancelled at the end of the season.

The pop culture influences were fast and furious thanks to Mork’s distinct habits and although the series wasn’t watched by many after the first two seasons, including this writer, the creativity and craziness of Robin Williams was always remembered to have started with Mork from Ork.

memories of the ’80s – Family Ties

For the 1980s, one family represented the changes in society and tried to make us laugh as well as address social issues in the series Family Ties.

Created by Gary David Goldberg, Family Ties starred Meredith Baxter Birney and Michael Gross as 1960s peace-loving liberal hippies, who in the 1980s are now parents living in Columbus, Ohio raising their three kids.

Their children are young Jennifer (Tina Yothers), self-centered Mallory (Justine Bateman, and Republican capitalist teenager Alex (Michael J. Fox).

The half hour sitcom debuted in 1982 on NBC TV, showcasing the cultural and generational divide between the liberal parents and the consumer driven, money-obsessed kids.

Mallory and Alex epitomized the 1980s, with their ideals driven by the belief in Reagonomics of the time period, while the parents represented the ideals of the past and their younger sister acting as the go-between in generations.

The initial idea of the show was to focus on the parents, but test audiences reacted well to Fox’s Alex P. Keaton and the focus was shifted more to his role in the family and how he relates to his siblings and parents as the oldest child, becoming a man and embracing his conservative ideals.

By its third season, Family Ties was in the top five of television, with all the actors now bonified stars. Michael J. Fox was routinely lauded for his role as Alex, winning the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series three times in a row from 1986-1988.

The series touched on teen situations, showing the different responses of these kids versus their parents in the 1980s as society embraced excess but also dealt with old issues like aging, addiction, sexuality and relationships.

Many actors were seen on this series including Courtney Cox, Tom Hanks, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Wheaton, Christina Applegate, Daniel Baldwin, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Hank Azaria.

With its continued stereotypical liberal vs conservative beliefs, Family Ties was a favourite of mine and many viewers, and by the end of its seventh and last season, the series ended with the end of the decade, with the characters moving onto their next lives in real life and tv land.

memories of the ’70s – Taxi

For tv viewers of the late 1970s, a unique sitcom came to the airwaves – all about  New York City cabbies called Taxi.

Created by James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed Weinberger, Taxi was about the characters who ran the Sunshine Taxi Company in NYC.

Many of the cast of characters considered their jobs temporary, but it was an ongoing love-hat with driving a cab and reporting to their dispatcher, Louie de Palma, played by Danny Devito.

Judd Hirsch played Alex Rieger, the thoughtful driver who looked at his job as a career, unlike his cohorts Elaine (Marilu Henner), Tony (Tony Danza), Iggy (Christopher Lloyd), Bobby (Jeff Conaway) and Latka (Andy Kaufman.

Each episode showed the reality of their unsatisfying lives, and the dream of becoming better and having it disappear – like losing a boxing match, an acting role a or a better job opportunity. The ensemble was a snapshot of the working man and woman.

Lloyd’s Iggy, a burnt out hippie/minister and Kaufman’s innocent mechanic Latka added a strange comic addition to the more conventional roles played by Henner, Danza, Conaway and Hirsch, while Devito’s dispatcher was a mean, crazy and odd man who acted out from the safety of his office/cage.

Debuting on ABC in 1978, the series may have a a half hour of laughs, but tackled serious storylines such as divorce, sexual harassment, drug addiction, alcoholism, blindness, obesity, gambling addiction and bisexuality, reflecting the reality of a changing society and the vices and dangers of a big city.

The series was a tv viewer favourite and an award favourite, nominated for 31 Emmy awards, and winning 18, including Outstanding Comedy Series in 1979. The series was also nominated for 25 Golden Globe Awards and was chosen by TV Guide as one of the 50 Greatest TV shows of all time.

After four seasons, the series moved to rival network NBC, but then was cancelled after its fifth year, with many of its main characters wanting to move on as well as the storylines not being as popular with viewers.

As a snapshot of changing society, it may have been all about the laughs, but for me and many viewers, it was a half hour of comedy and society commentary.

memories of the ’80s – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

In the 1980s, the hardboiled detective of the 1940s came back to the small screen in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

First conceived by Spillane in his first detective novel I The Jury published in 1947, Mike Hammer had an illustrious career in print before becoming a character on the small screen, as one of Spillane’s major characters.

Mike Hammer first came to television in the late 1950s, with Darren McGavin playing Mike Hammer. In the mid 1980s, Mike Hammer was brought back to television with Stacy Keach as the private detective uncovering mysteries for clients in New York City.

The reintroduction began with two CBS tv movies – Murder Me, Murder You and More than Murder.

Although set in contemporary time, the film noir elements were used in the tv scripts, with the main character always wearing a wrinkled suit, fedora and trench coat. Hammer was a guy’s guy, and far from being politically-correct.

Unlike the contemporary detectives on television, Hammer smoked, was often shown in bed with a new lady friend, and didn’t mind using his gun Betsy – a Colt ’45 – when needed.

Lindsay Bloom was Hammer’s secretary Velda, Don Stroud as Capt. Chambers, Kent Williams as ADA Lawrence Barrington and Donna Denton as The Face, a mysterious woman, were regular episodic characters.

But filming of the second season was interrupted when Stacy Keach, in England to star in a mini-series,was arrested for cocaine possession. Convicted and incarcerated for nine months, Keach was released after six months, and the series had been cancelled.

An additional tv movie with Keach as Hammer – The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer – lured back original fans, leading to the subsequent series The New Mike Hammer, starring Keach but with a new cast of characters. But this version didn’t keep fans interested and the series was cancelled after one year in 1986.

I remember occasionally watching this series, but not liking the film noir elements at the time, which as I grew older, I began to appreciate much more. But I do remember Keach’s arrest and conviction, which made news around the world.

A series that may have had a good life on television had its time cut short, but remembered for its stylish take on the 1940s circa the 1980s.

memories of the ’70s – Cannon

In the early 1970s, being a private detective meant you were not the standard – and another character that perfectly fit that description was Cannon.

Portrayed by William Conrad, Cannon, a former police detective, became a private detective after his wife and son died in a car accident.

The series was launched by being introduced by another popular detective series, Barnaby Jones, with its first two episodes.

Conrad was well-known to viewers after playing Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke and being the voice on The Fugitive as well on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Conrad’s Cannon was tough, smart-talking and had high-class tastes, including his prize possesssion, a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, which had a car phone, a rarity for this time period. He loved food and was a big guy, figuring out the mysteries of deaths, disappearances and all kinds of stories for clients in southern California.

Not afraid to fight, Cannon often used judo or karate moves against a foe – and when that didn’t work, he even used his large stomach, or his ’38 special revolver.

Cannon had some particularly unique quotes – “OK, sir, I’ll take your case and investigate what happened…But just remember, the truth is like rain — it doesn’t care who gets wet” or another gem “I‘ll have to think about it…You see, I’ve never been retained by a dead man before.”

 The series was produced by Quinn Martin, who had also brought The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones to the small screen. Airing on CBS, the series debuted in September 1971.

Nominated for an Emmy for best actor in 1973 and 1974, William Conrad’s popularity grew with the second and third seasons, as the ratings increased, pushing the show from #29 in the Nielsen ratings in its first year to top 10 in 1973/1974.

At the same time, tie-in novels were published in the United States and the United Kingdom, the first two written by Richard Gallagher and the rest of the series by Douglas Enefer.

For this young girl, I remember asking my Dad if he was going to watch the Fat Man – which was my nickname for Cannon.

Instead of the slick perfect looking people of television today, Cannon looked like he would be my neighbour, although the one with the car everyone coveted and the occasional dangerous glint in his eye.

By spring 1976 the series had lost its lustre with viewers and was cancelled. But the presence of another odd character as a private detective confirmed the stereotype once again.

memories of the ’80s – The Sally Jessy Raphael Show

Her signature red glasses made her a tv icon of the late 1980s – Sally Jessy Raphael.

With the talk show genre well-established, this veteran news reporter and radio reporter was encouraged by Phil Donahue and decided she wanted to try her hand at hosting a television talk show.

Although she was used to talking about the news of the day and politics, Raphael focused on relationships for her talk show – The Sally Jessy Raphael Show (later shortened to Sally).

Raphael was given her own show on a television affiliate in St. Louis, Missouri, starting out as a half hour show, talking about everyday problems of men and women and the issues that affected families.

Syndicated nationally in the United States, The Sally Jessy Raphael Show may have started small, but it soon became an hour and gained a following, especially with women, who related to her and the topics being discussed.

Her signature red glasses were integral to the show – although they were not her favourite by an accident. Raphael realized she had problems reading the teleprompter and purchased reading glasses on the spur of the moment – which happened to be red. Those glasses became her signature, one of the characteristics of her.

Like many talk show hosts, Raphael’s personality attracted the viewers – her unique sense of humour and hard-hitting questions were all part of a dynamic that made a show a ratings success. I occasionally watched Sally – knowing that she would tackle issues in her own distinct way – and certainly shared her opinions with the audience, who identified with her.

For 19 seasons, Raphael talked it up – kids, parents, sex, death – and anything that could be discussed. In 19 seasons she made her mark, always giving everyone equal time to discuss their point of view.

memories of the ’70s – The Phil Donahue Show

In the 1970s, the talk show became something that happened in the late afternoon, not just late at night and brought forth many previously unspoken issues thanks to Phil Donahue.

Begun in the late 1960s in Dayton, Ohion, The Phil Donahue Show was hosted by Donahue and was the first show to bring all kinds of guests to the television airwaves from celebrities to your next door neighbour, talking about all kinds of issues.

In 1970, The Phil Donahue Show, was syndicated nationally in the United States, and the audience for his unique form of show continued to grow.

The show didn’t just stay on the safe side of discussion – it tackled the current issues in the news, as well as civil rights, prejudice, environment, war, sexual issues and anything and everything that needed to be talked about.

Taped in Chicago, Donahue represented the average American – a middle class white man who would ask the question everyone was thinking.

I vividly remember watching the show while my Mum was busy with her housework – she liked to watch the show, to hear what was being discussed whether it was about families, politics or social issues.

And it wasn’t just one person or a group of people that would be involved – the audience would be able to ask questions too. Donahue hustled around his studio, giving the anyone in the audience an opportunity to share their opinions, comments and querys.

This show still holds the record for the longest running syndicated show on television for 26 years, and 29 years on air in total. Donahue’s ratings were strong, his demeanor popular and if there was a subject to be tackled, whether it was popular or unpopular, mainstream or on the edge, he would find people to talk about it.

Phil Donahue was awarded nine Emmy Awards for The Phil Donahue Show.

Thanks to Donahue, that format is still alive and well on television – and its no wonder we’re always curious about what will get asked and what subject could possibly be discussed despite the availability of information that’s out there.

memories of the ’80s – Roseanne

In the late 1980s, working class families who weren’t the ideal of pretty or showing how life resolves everything became the fixation of viewers in the series Roseanne.

Created by Matt Williams and Roseanne Barr, the series showed the life of the Connor family, living in southern Illinois and surviving day to day as a blue collar family.

Both parents worked outside the home, and the three kids dealt with the reality of their life in their working class community.

Barr had been a stand-up comedian, and developed the unique character of Roseanne, without the usual focus of a sitcom. She and her husband Dan, played by John Goodman, are both large, overweight people, not typically beautiful or likeable.

But the unique combination of them and their kids, Darlene, Becky and DJ, Roseanne’s sister Jackie and friends of the family, made their lives tv gold. As the lives change, boyfriends appear and disappear and everyone gets older, it was the revelation of that they mirrored real life that made this show so popular.

This half hour sitcom series struck a chord with American viewers, pushing it into the number one spot in its first year in 1988 on ABC TV.

Barr played Roseanne as a loud, opinionated woman, who didn’t suffer fools and was fiercely protective of her family and friends. This wasn’t a comedy that avoided tough subjects – it dealt with poverty, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, abortion, social class system, birth control, homosexuality and a whole host of things related to parenting and teenagers.

Many critics noted that the female dominated household was one that ignored beauty and showed intelligence and quick wit as the key to being in charge and ambitious. The series showed the ups and downs of relationships as well as the careers of Roseanne and Dan, as they try to make a living for themselves and their kids.

In 1989-1990, Roseanne was the most watched sitcom in the US with an average of 16 million viewers for each episode. Roseanne Barr became an A list celeb – one who wasn’t typical. Barr and Laurie Metcalfe, who played her sister Jackie on the series, both won Emmys and Barr and Goodman both won Golden Globes for their character portrayals.

The series continued into the next decade, reflecting the changes of the family with births, marriages and more secondary characters. But it was the unique combination of a real life family struggles that led many of us to watch this half hour sitcom, curious to see how Roseanne reacts to the day to day challenges of life.