memories of the ’80s – Pound Puppies

A phenomenon of the toy store landed on the small screen with its cute story of canines – Pound Puppies.

Distributed by Tonka, Pound Puppies were cuddly stuffed dogs, each with floppy ears, droopy eyes and a unique personality, which came with a carrying case and adoption papers.

In the initial group there was 10 dogs that were up for adoption at your favourite toy store, but many more characters were added, as well as kittens.

With names such as Nose Marie, Howler, Whopper, Beamer and Bright Eyes, the puppies were an instant hit with kids, who wanted to adopt them all. With the success of sales in 1983, Tonka’s distribution increased, and in the next few years, spread to 35 countries and sales of US$300 million.

Next came the television special, created by Hanna Barbera in 1985. The Pound Puppies animated special featured Violet, a dog from a wealthy family who is targetted by dognappers. Violet is picked up and placed in the city pound, where she meets the local gang, led by Cooler, Bright Eyes, The Nose, Scrounger and Howler. Actors used in the series for their voices included Ron Pallilo, Jo-Anne Worley, Don Messick and Alan Oppenheimer.

In 1986 ABC TV launched Pound Puppies the animated series, which featured the voices of Nancy Cartwright, Ruth Buzzi, Pat Carroll and Peter Cullen. The characters (minus Violet) continued on their exploration of the city for two seasons.

In 1988, an animated film, Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw was created which was panned by critics and ignored by movie-goers for its inconsistent animation and had no connection to the continuing story of the series. The era of Pound Puppies came to an end.

I had a friend whose youngest sister was obsessed with these stuffies and the series – a sickly sweet combination of sad stories and puppy triumph. For the under 5-7 set, it was the all the rage. For the parental group, it was a phase, that eventually ended and was replaced with something else.

memories of the ’70s – Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-lympics

Saturday mornings were a laugh a minute for kids, especially when parody came into play with the creation of Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-lympics.

Produced by Hanna Barbera Productions, Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-Lympics was created in 1977 as a morning series that would highlight its well-known characters.

Since ABC TV had been the network of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics and Battle of the Network Stars in the previous year, this production was a spoof for the kids.

Sixteen episodes were created for the first season and eight more for the next season, and for the first time, Hanna Barbera didn’t include a laugh track.

Organizing the Hanna Barbera characters into three groups, the 45 favourites of the small screen became three teams: the Scooby Doobies, Yogi Yahooeys and the Really Rottens, each competing for gold, silver or bronze.

Points were awarded for each competition and could be subtracted for mischievious doings (such as the Really Rottens meddling).

Each episode was modeled on the Olympic TV coverage with announcers Snagglepuss and Mildew Wolf, who would wear similar attire to the ABC correspondents.

Each competition was similar to an Olympic race or scavenger hunt and would be held in different places on the planet.  From Israel to Japan, India to Switzerland and England to Mexico – the teams travelled all over the planet.

Guest announcers included Fred Flintsone, Barney Rubble and Jabber Jaw as colour commentators for the competitions. The culmination of each episode was the rocket race to the moon and the final competition would be held on the moon.

As a kid I loved these shows – the combination of silly actions, dastardly deeds, and a string of jokes was a perfect lure for this young child. It was laugh out loud funny – and even smarter than I realized since it was a parody, and very, very well-done.

memories of the ’80s – Beauty and the Beast

In the late 1980s, this classic French fairytale was shown in a new way with the television series Beauty and the Beast.

Starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton, the series was set in New York City.

Hamilton played Catherine Chandler, a NY district attorney who finds out she has a guardian angel in the form of Ron Perlman, who plays Vincent, a man/creature of the underground in this hour long drama.

Chandler’s character is beaten and left for dead in Central Park and found by Vincent, a man who resembles a lion.

Through their relationship, Chandler learns of about a whole other level of her city, where a underground group of people live in tunnels and survive on the streets. She promises to keep the secrets of Vincent and his friends in Tunnel World, and find out why she was attacked.

The first season focused on unveiling why Catherine had been a victim of this crime and the relationship between her and Vincent, who lives in the shadows. Unlike the traditional storyline, Vincent as the beast, doesn’t transform into a human ideal of male beauty, but continues to be the beast, showing his inner strength and qualities.

In season two, the side character of Tunnel World are shown more – to see how they ended up in this community and by season three,  because Linda Hamilton was pregnant and wanted to leave the series, the show creators developed a major change in the storyline. Catherine is kidnapped by the head of an evil crime syndicate, gives birth to Vincent’s son, dies and Vincent is left to search for his missing child.

The drama of this series led it to become a cult favourite – and when the relationship of Catherine and Vincent was ended on screen, it soon lost ratings and was cancelled by CBS.

But as a series, its fairytale romance became a favourite of viewers, and in 2012, is being resurrected for the small screen once more.

memories of the ’70s – Fantasy Island

In the late 1970s, a concept for a new television series was born out of two television movies, depicting a place where your questions and concerns could be answered: Fantasy Island.

Starring Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize, the first television movie aired in 1977, with Montalban as Mr. Roarke, the owner of a private Pacific Ocean island, where people came to live out their fantasies for a high price.

Villechaize played Tattoo, the sidekick of Mr. Roarke who would announce the arrival of guests with the call “De plane, de plane” in his unique French accent.

Produced by the successful Aaron Spelling, the two movies were a hit – gaining good review and large viewing audiences.

Each guest paid US$50,000 to have their fantasy revealed, but Mr. Roarke would also guide them in life lessons, in order to become better people and learn about themselves. In the follow up television film, Return to Fantasy Island, more is revealed about the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, who may be immortal or at least could time travel.

The success of the two television movies led to the launch of the series on ABC TV in 1979, with each episode showing three guest stars what path they would take – and when chosen, the fantasy had to be completed, no matter the fear or dislike of the the guest for how their fantasy was unfolding.

The series ended in 1984, as viewers didn’t like the changes to the series, especially the removal of Villechaize and the replacement with a butler named Lawrence.

I watched this series (which was a solid Saturday night hit for ABC) in tandem with Love Boat, both shows revealing the hidden lives of the guests who would arrive. It was silly and odd, but an hour of discovery for the characters and viewers.

memories of the ’80s – Max Headroom

In the mid 1980s, technology created a new tv fixation – Max Headroom.

Beginning as the host of a Brit music tv show, Max Headroom was the creation of George Stone, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton.

Portrayed by actor Matt Frewer, Max was supposed to be the world’s first computer-generated tv host – although it technically wasn’t true.

Thanks to hours of makeup, a fibreglass mould as his suit and Ray Ban sunglasses, Max Headroom was only shown from the shoulders up, usually with a simple graphic image behind him.

His voice would go up and down, creating an odd speech pattern. And he became a star.

His odd humour and strange presence seemed to strike a chord with tv viewers on Britain’s Channel 4 as he made fun of the typical tv hosts and was sarcastic in his commentary. His music show became a cult hit, with viewers increasing by twofold thanks to Max Headroom.

Exported to the North American market in Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future, a television movie in 1985, the character’s odd style caught the eye of viewers on the other side of the Atlantic.

In 1986, the tv series debuted, which lasted two seasons on ABC. The hour long show was set in a world dominated by tv networks, but couldn’t make it through a second season thanks to the strength of CBS series Dallas and NBC series Miami Vice.

I remember seeing this character and wondering why anyone would watch this series. I saw the promos, but never was lured to actually watch any of the tv series, although I saw plenty of Max Headroom thanks to tv commercials and the use of the character in a music video by the band Art of Noise.

After the cancellation of the series, there were rumours of a film, but the character quietly disappeared into the ether of 1980s pop culture, an character that tried to be ahead of the current technology, yet ended up being a brief flash in the timeline.

memories of the ’80s – Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

During the excess of the 1980s, one television program illuminated the holdings of the 1% – with a distinct voice over – Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Debuting in 1984, the syndicated show was created by Al Masini, well-known for his successful entertainment shows including Solid Gold, Entertainment Tonight and Star Search.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous focused on the elite lives of the wealthy, showing their massive homes, outrageous numbers of cars and boats, as well as letting the common man behind the high gates and into the exclusive VIP areas around the globe where the billionaires went to play.

Each hour showed off the trappings of rich – from the private islands to the grand estates – from old money to new millionaires. And for all of us viewing the show, it was like looking at a catalogue of how to be rich, without the means to be able to buy anything, yet we wanted to see.

Hosted by Robin Leach, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous became the accepted standard of how the wealthy must live – with gold-plated items, access to the world’s luxury brands and a permanent red carpet rolled out for this exclusive group.

And each episode ended with his signature send-off – “wishing you champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

I remember watching this show with my Mum, and we both would be amazed, intrigued and sometimes disgusted at the opulence shown. It didn’t matter how wealthy you thought someone might be, there was always someone else with another far-out view of how to spend their endless amount of cash.

For a decade labelled excessive, this program illuminated all the materialism that was celebrated so openly.

memories of the ’70s – Angie

The simple premise of rags to riches fueled the creation of this late 1970s sitcom – Angie.

Starring Donna Pescow as Angie, a waitress at a Philadelphia diner, this character was all about her working class roots, and surrounded by her Italian family – her sister Marie and her Mum Theresa.

Angie starts to date a customer, Bradley, assuming he’s a student and discovers her boyfriend isn’t poor but abundantly wealthy and a doctor who works at the clinic across the street.

This half hour sitcom debuted in February 1979 as a mid-season addition to the ABC lineup. Starting as a lead-in to the very popular Mork & Mindy, Angie became a hit, as fans welcomed the budding romance of Angie and Bradley. Many fans knew Pescow, who had been one of the stars of Saturday Night Fever.

As their relationship continues, Angie discovers the life of the wealthy seen through Bradley’s sister Joyce, his Dad Randall and his niece Hilary. Each half hour used the stereotypes of both working class and the wealthy to fuel laughs and understanding between the two families.

The second season saw the characters get married, blending their family and focusing more on the life of a young married couple, but fans weren’t as excited by the changes, ratings dropped and the series was cancelled at the end of the second season.

I remember watching Angie – and like many fans liked the interplay of Angie and Bradley when they were dating, but when they got married, it wasn’t the same – and I stopped watching.

A brief entry into the television schedule, Angie’s premise was a good hook, but advancing the story so quickly led to its death knell – as fans didn’t want resolution, they wanted to continue the back and forth drama of the stereotypical relationship of Angie and Bradley.

memories of the ’80s – Love Connection

For this post-school afternoons of the 1980s, many of us were fascinated with the Love Connection.

Hosted by Chuck Woolery, this updated version of The Dating Game took a new perspective – instead of finding someone to date, the two contestants had already gone on a blind date, after the one contestant had chosen the other from a videotaped message (there were three to choose).

After going on the unchaperoned blind date, the audience would see the videotapes, choose who they thought the date should be with, vote and then hear the details of what happened with the contestants through closed circuit television. The contestants would be kept separate during the revelations of the date details.

If the date went well, the couple would be reunited on stage after disseminating the ups and downs of the date to the audience via Woolery and would be pronounced having a Love Connection and would elect to go on another date paid by the show.

If the date didn’t go well, the contestant would not be reunited on stage with the other contestant, but the audience would still see how they voted, and the contestant could elect to go on a date with the audience choice of potential date material.

Launched in 1983, Love Connection was syndicated and seemed to be one of those shows that I watched with a bit of a train wreck mentality – its not like I really liked it, but I couldn’t look away – and would be very involved in which contestant was chosen and why it was the right or wrong choice.

Like its predecessors, Love Connection was about the simplest premise – meeting Mr or Miss Right – and hoping that this may be the way to true love.

memories of the ’70s – Laverne & Shirley

For the 1970s, two funny single girls, just trying to make a living, were one of the popular sitcoms of the decade – Laverne &  Shirley.

Created by Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz and Mark Rothman, Laverne & Shirley was a spin-off from the successful series Happy Days, starring Penny Marshall as Laverne and Cindy Williams as Shirley.

Set in the early 1960s, the show debuted in 1976 on ABC and featured characters from Happy Days as guest stars.

Set in Milwaukee, Laverne de Fazio lives with her best friend Shirley Feeney, working as bottlecappers at the local Shotz Brewery. The two  girls deal with their work life, as well as their odd fellow employees and neighbours, Lenny Kosnowski (Michael McKean) and Andrew “Squiggy” Squigman (David Lander) who they communicate with through the building’s old dumbwaiter.

The girls deal with single girl issues – living together, dating, and trying to survive on their meagre salaries. Shirley has an on again off again boyfriend Carmine, known as The Big Ragu (played by Eddie Mekka), a former boxer now dance instructor hoping for his big break one day on Broadway. Laverne’s father Frank (played by Phil Foster), is a single Dad who runs the Pizza Bowl, one of their local hangouts.

Laverne is more fearless and aggressive, sporting a bold L on all her clothing and fond of Pepsi and milk when she needs some fortification, while Shirley is more conservative and demure, keeping her Boo Boo Kitty close by when needed. The two were a popular duo – gaining top ratings, even beating out Happy Days for viewers.

With the early success, the two stars recorded an album called Laverne & Shirley Sing, including a few original songs and several 1950s and 1960s standards. The theme song of the series, Making our dreams come true, sung by Cyndi Grecco, became a top 30 hit on the Billboard charts.

I watched this show for its slapstick humour and silliness, not always getting the more serious themes that were incorporated into the half hour. I liked how each character had its odd quirks, which although seem wierd, its more like real life.

The girls eventually would be in the Army (with Vicki Lawrence playing their sergeant) and move to Los Angeles after losing their jobs in Milwaukee due to automation. But for the 1970s, the halcyon days of the late 1950s and early 1960s were happily showcased in Laverne & Shirley as the idyllic time in American history.

memories of the ’70s – Welcome Back Kotter

The highschool classroom was never made so cool by the underdog as it was with the Sweathogs and Mr. Kotter in Welcome Back Kotter.

The idea of comedian Gabe Kaplan, this tv sitcom was launched on ABC TV in September 1975, based on Kaplan’s highschool experiences in Brooklyn, NY.

As Mr. Kotter, he returns to his roots in Brooklyn at fictional James Buchanan Highschool to teach the remedial class, populated by the Sweathogs, so-named as the classroom was on the top floor.

A former Sweathog, Kotter knows that everyone has written off the students, but he believes in them, unlike the grouchy vice-principal Mr. Woodman.

Starring John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino, Ron Pallilo as Arnold Horshack, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington and Robert Hegyes as Juan Epstein, these four students were the core of the class, each with their own quirky personalities and immediately become very close to Mr. Kotter.

Each half hour dealt with the realities of school life, as the world of the students, coupled with crazy schemes, odd happenings, girls and of course, plenty of humour. Each character became known for certain catchphrases, that became their trademark for the series.

Barbarino was always saying “What? Where? Why?” as well as a the insult “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”, while Horshack, who routinely knew the answer in class was shown to yell “Oh! Oh! Oh!”. Washington was all about his distinct delivery with “Hi there” and “Hello Mr. Kot taire”, while Epstein was always trying to get out of any commitment with his “Hey Mr. Kotter I got a note!”.

For four seasons, the series did well, garnering good ratings and plenty of laughs – but it was Travolta’s star that rose, with his film projects (Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Carrie) which led him to leave the series and then came the show’s downfall in the ratings.

Kaplan tried to introduce other characters and a different premise by moving the series to community college, as the actors were all hitting their late 20s, with Travolta the youngest actor.

For me, I saw this series as a kid as just plain funny, thinking of these older kids as comedians and how one asserted oneself in highschool. Of course, my life would be far from this reality, but I appreciated the distinct slang and the world of Mr. Kotter’s highschool.

Ending its run in 1979, Welcome Back Kotter showed a funny view of highschool, but also celebrated the underdog, and the tough road for those students in highschool.