memories of the ’70s – The Secrets of Isis

From Saturday morning animation to live action – The Secrets of Isis was the first female superhero of ’70s television.

Debuting on CBS in September 1975, The Secrets of Isis starred JoAnna Cameron in the title role.

She played a highschool teacher (Andrea Thomas) who discovers an ancient amulet while in Egypt.

Finding the amulet belonged to an Egyptian queen, Thomas soon discovers that if she invokes the phrase – O Mighty Isis – she is tranformed into the goddess and has her magical powers.

Isis could fly, had superhuman strength, could affect time and was fast. Usually she preceded her feats of superpower with another incantation like “Oh zephyr winds which blow on high / Lift me now so I can fly!”

While as Ms. Thomas she had telepathic powers, mainly which she used to communicate with her pet bird Tut. Most of the time Thomas/Isis helped her highschool students when they were in trouble, but keeping her secret identity safe from her friends Rick and Cindy.

The series did well in its first season of 15 episodes, resulting in a second season with 22 episodes. But the series was then cancelled and went into syndication.

For kids of the 1970s, it was their first taste of a female superhero, before Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman came to the small screen. And for this girl, it was another fun series to watch as Isis came to the rescue.

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.

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 – Designing Women

These southern ladies showed their feisty, funny selves in a unique ensemble comedy of the 1980s: Designing Women.

Created by Linda Bloodworth Thomason, the series focused on four women: Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) the elder, elegant liberal sister to Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) the flashy former Miss Georgia beauty queen, who start a interior design firm. Mary Jo (Annie Potts) is a recent divorcee and designer, while Charlene (Jean Smart) is the office manager and the dumb blonde of the group.

Debuting in September 1986, the series focused on the relationships of the four women, and used comedy to show the bonds as well as the unique characteristics of being different kinds of Southern ladies.

As Suzanne marries, divorces and remarries, her sister Julia and Mary Jo deal with family, friends, boyfriends and clients, and Charlene shows off her lack of smarts, but also her loyalty. Meshach Taylor portrayed Anthony, an ex-con who becomes the only man among the women and an employee of Sugarbaker Designs.

Notable reoccurring husbands/exhusbands/boyfriends were played by Gerald McRaney, Hal Holbrook, Scott Bakula and Douglas Barr.

Although the series never achieved top 10 ratings, it was a viewer favourite and when CBS moved it around and then attempted to cancel it, viewers wrote in to save the show, returning it to the Monday night line-up and landing the show in the top 20.

But in the early 1990s, the viewers slowly disappeared and the show was cancelled in 1993.

This first series by Linda Bloodworth-Thomas led to several more series, all focusing on the southern US and its unique characters, which is what made this show a viewer favourite. These four ladies were never to be ignored, embracing the 1980s in its style and at times, over the top approach to life.

memories of the ’70s – Rhoda

Brash, outspoken and an independent woman, this gal pal of Mary’s became the focus of a spin-off in the sitcom Rhoda.

Starring Valerie Harper, the half hour comedy was taken from her character as one of Mary Richard’s gal pals on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she was very popular with viewers as the outspoken neighbour from New York City.

Launched in 1974 on CBS TV, Rhoda Morgenstern goes back to her native NYC on holiday, spending time with her sister Brenda (Julie Kavner). She meets Joe (David Groh), a recently divorced Dad, who at the end of her two week holiday asks her stay in New York City. 

The debut episode of Rhoda is the only first episode of a series ever to have hit number one in the Nielsen ratings, besting Monday Night Football for the record.

Initially Rhoda lives with Brenda, dates Joe and babysits his son, as well as dealing her Mother (Nancy Walker). She then moves in with her parents, but realizes that won’t work and then decides to live with Joe.

But the two of them decide to get married, and the hour-long wedding episode became the most-watched television episode until 1977, when mini-series Roots aired. It also became the second most watched episode of all time in television at the time, after the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy.

Fans were so excited for Rhoda and Joe, they hosted parties to celebrate and watch the episode and gifts were sent to CBS to the fictional couple.

For the next couple of seasons, the viewers loved the married life of Rhoda and Joe, but the writers weren’t as thrilled. Deciding to upset the apple cart, Joe was shown less and less in the series and then the couple was separated. Eventually the couple divorced, with the focus back on insecure single gal Rhoda, her sister Brenda and her parents.

Viewers kept with Rhoda, but by the fifth season, the obsession was gone. CBS moved the show to another time slot and then cancelled the series in 1978 in mid-season.

I remember watching Rhoda all the time – especially to see her relationship with her sister Brenda, who was insecure and a self-doubter. It fascinated me as I didn’t have a sister.

But although the series was cancelled, Valerie Harper’s portrayal of a single woman and the trials of tribulations of being an independent woman in the 1970s was an accurate, comedic showing of the change in women’s reality and portrayal on television.