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.

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.