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 ’70s – Josie and the Pussycats

From the colourful pages of a comic book, the characters Josie and the Pussycats jumped into the world of television animation in the early 1970s.

Created by Dan DeCarlo, the characters were transformed for the small screen by Hanna Barbera in 1970, after the success of The Archie Show.

Featuring an all girl band, the series, which aired on CBS,  focused on their escapades solving mysteries and meetings spies as they travelled the world on tour with their entourage, always finding adventure.

Led by lead singer Josie, bubble headed drummer Melody and level-headed Valerie, the girls were on the road with their manager Alexander, his sister (and the band’s nemesis) Alexandra and their roadie Alan. Each episode featured a song by the band, usually to the backdrop of some chase, and the girls wore matching leopard outfits on stage.

Valerie became the first African-American female character portrayed in a Saturday morning cartoon series. Sixteen episodes were made for television.

Re-run in 1971, the series was reimagined for 1972, putting the girls in a different arena: Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. Sent into space by Alexandra, the girls were now focused on surviving space and avoid being kidnapped by aliens.

Sixteen episodes were made, and re-run in 1973, after which CBS cancelled the series. But the re-runs lived on, shown on NBC Saturday Morning cartoon line-up in 1976.

These girls played music, had fun and solved a mystery – as well as broke ground in the world of television and animation.

memories of the ’70s – Vinnie Barbarino

In the mid 1970s, a tv character became a household name: Vinnie Barbarino.

Debuting in September 1975, Welcome Back Kotter was an ABC-TV sitcom about a highschool teacher, played by Gabe Kaplan, who dealt with a bunch of unruly unique students in a Bronx highschool.

One of the students was Vinnie Barbarino, played by new to the small screen John Travolta.

As one of the Sweathogs, Barbarino was a loud-mouth with a big ego and a lot of bravado. He was their leader, a heartthrob and had lots of attitude.

He had the curly shaggy hair, the mischievious smile and the tight jeans and denim jacket to lure the girls and show off to his buddies.

His character became incredibly popular with viewers, especially because of his unique swagger, and his unique sayings, like “up your nose with a rubber hose”, “I’m so confused…” and “what? where? why?” his patent response to not wanting to do something.

As he often became love-stricken, accentuating his Italian-American stereotype, he would howl “waahh-ha-ha-howwww…”! And he would always say “but I’m Vinnie Barbarino.”

Everything was said with his particular unique accent, and with a lot of body language – he would swagger, gesture and constantly flip his hair. And viewers loved him.

For this decade, this character became a sex symbol – which certainly didn’t hurt when John Travolta decided to move on to the big screen.

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 ’80s – American Gladiators

In the late 1980s a new competition game show came out swinging – American Gladiators.

Created by Dan Carr and John Ferraro, the game show was based on a competition held at a Pennsylvania highschool, with the concept sold to the Samuel Goldwyn Company.

10 men and 10 women were pitted against the gladiators, chosen from a preliminary competition of strength and agility. Gaining points (the highest total per event was 100) with their achievements, the competitors stay in the game by trying to place in the top three until the final round.

During the one hour show, the competition was treated like a traditional sports event, showing the competitors and calling the actions just like any professional sport.

The competitions were held in the Gladiator Arena, alluding to the Roman Gladiators of the past. The competitions were all timed, so it wasn’t about beating the person as much as it was about beating the clock to finish an event.

Meanwhile the gladiators (three men and three women) were former NFL football players or pro/amateur bodybuilders, who competed to win events such as powerball, whiplash, slingshot, skytrack, pyramid and the grand finale – Tug o’ War.

The first season debuted in 1989, and was hosted by former NFL great Joe Theismann and Mike Adamle.

Initially the prize for competitors was to become an American Gladiator, but that was abandoned, and a cash prize of $10,000 was on offer.

As the syndicated series continued into the next decade, there were foreign editions created in Mexico and Japan and the series was screened to huge popularity in South Africa, Finland, UK, Australia and Germany.

I tried to watch this series, but didn’t really believe the competitors could ever beat the gladiators, so it held no allure for me. But I was alone, since this show became the inspiration for many 21st century competitions that are ratings gold.

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.