Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Benefits – and Sadness – of Hindsight

When you watch a television show that is 20, 30 or 40 years old, you cannot help but think about the fates that would befall some of the actors and personalities who had no idea then what their futures held. Sometimes, it can impact how you watch the show.

For every early glimpse of a great talent, there was sadly a reminder of later trials. Often you’ll get both within the same show – watch Happy Days and there’s Ron Howard before he became an Academy Award winning director, and his on-screen sister, Erin Moran, before she became a homeless alcoholic. Television freezes those moments in time. I wonder if some, like Moran, wish those frozen moments were permanent. 

Recently I received a bootleg tape of Challenge of the Network Stars from 1977, the second in those semi-annual Battle of the Network Stars competitions that pitted stars from ABC, CBS and NBC series in various athletic events. In this installment, host Howard Cosell had two co-hosts – O.J. Simpson and Bruce Jenner, both revered at the time as heroes and astounding athletes. One is now a pariah who sits in jail; the other is a punch line on a bad reality series.

But there’s also Gidget, starring a perky, impossibly cute teenage Sally Field. You wonder if she dreamed of winning an Oscar, much less two, or that she’d still be in demand as a movie star some 45 years after her surfing days.  And then you watch Family Affair, and think about how Anissa Jones (Buffy) would not live to see her 19th birthday. 

Did George Clooney ever think his mullet-sporting time on The Facts of Life would be a career highlight? Did that qualify as “making it” for a struggling actor? There was no such thing as reality shows back then, so if you told his costar Lisa Whelchel that, 30 years after Blair Warner, she would be on TV as herself, marooned with a bunch of strangers on an island in the Philippines, she would think you needed counseling. 

Actors in the sci-fi and fantasy genres experience both the blessings and curses of a particularly devoted fan base. Richard Hatch became a big star in the original Battlestar: Galactica series; Erin Gray was heralded as one of the most beautiful women on television in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Today, both are often found signing 30 year-old photos of themselves at conventions. Is that sad? I don’t know, maybe. Even if better roles never followed, they still get paid to spend their weekends meeting people who love them, and tell them how much they enjoy their work. I could get used to that. 

 When revisiting these shows, it can also be interesting to think back on what you were doing the first time you saw them, and how your life has changed. If someone had told my 13 year-old self, while I was watching Charlie’s Angels, that one day Jaclyn Smith would serve me lunch in her kitchen, I'd have thought the very idea was incomprehensible. Back then it seemed as if the stars who appeared on television lived in a completely different world than the rest of us. Now, we’re all Facebook friends.


  1. Good stuff, Maynard! I much prefer the imagined reality of the mid- to late-20th-century fictional TV universe than the staged reality of contemporary television. When I saw Erin Moran simulating an orgasm for laughs during a desperate, drunken moment on "Celebrity Fit Club," I longed for the days when she was a cunning ham.

  2. No offense, Mr. Hofstede, but you failed to mention Kim Richards. She was a cute child actress, but have you seen her on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"? I can't say she has aged too well. Worse yet, she has too often come across as a train wreck on that show! *sigh* :(