Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Still More Retro TV Nights

As with my two previous pieces on this topic, I’ve selected some stellar programming lineups from the Comfort TV era that can now be recreated thanks to the availability of their shows on DVD (or on retro TV networks like Decades).

While the volume of classic TV releases has slowed considerably in recent years, enough new titles have appeared to fill in some gaps and make more of these nostalgic experiences possible.

So let’s journey back once more to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when there were just three networks, cable was what allowed Ma Bell to hook up your telephone, and satellites were used only for spying on Russians.

ABC: Saturday, 1983

T.J. Hooker
The Love Boat
Fantasy Island

Escapism was the aspiration here, as it often was on Saturdays in the Comfort TV era. With adults off from work and kids off from school, networks delivered shows that specialized in diversion. T.J. Hooker didn’t have the exotic locales of the series that followed, but its depiction of an L.A. cop’s crusade to clean up the streets was about as credible as anything cooked up by Mr. Roarke and Tattoo. 

Added bonus: The possibility of seeing Heather Locklear on all three shows. 

CBS: Monday, 1979

The White Shadow
WKRP In Cincinnati
Lou Grant

Here’s the kind of prestige programming schedule viewers came to expect from the Tiffany network. All four series in this esteemed lineup received Emmy Awards (not in a major category for WKRP, but stars Howard Hesseman and Loni Anderson were nominated). 

All of these shows lived authentically in their environments. The White Shadow never whitewashed the challenges faced by inner city high schools. The M*A*S*H condemnation of Vietnam (by way of Korea) captured the insanity of war, from recurring battles over useless territory to doctors patching up young soldiers so they could go out and get shot again. The backdrop was more benign on WKRP in Cincinnati but just as true-to-life. Anyone who worked radio at that time could identify with its bizarre tales of eccentric talent, crazy on-air promotions and gimmicks to boost ratings.

And Lou Grant? Simply the best show about journalism ever created. I wish its portrayal of that profession was still considered a model for how to do it right. 

CBS: Saturday, 1961

Perry Mason
The Defenders
Have Gun, Will Travel

How remarkable was it to have the opportunity to watch television’s two best legal dramas back-to-back, without even getting up to change the channel? 

Start with these shows, in which lawbreakers are read their rights and tried in a court of law, and follow that up with two shows in which justice was delivered without the need for lawyers, judges and juries. 

NBC: Friday, 1986

The A-Team
Miami Vice
L.A. Law

There’s something appropriate about the progression here from outlaws to police to lawyers, a familiar pattern in crime and punishment. But I would define this lineup more as a study of professionals at work. Start the evening with a crack military squad helping the innocent (and firing thousands of bullets in every episode that never hit anyone). 

Move on to a team of detectives making Miami in the ‘80s slightly less scuzzy; and then head up into a spectacular downtown Los Angeles skyscraper to sit in on a meeting with McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, where cases are rarely lost despite all the inter-office couplings. Just don’t forget to look down before you get on the elevator. 

CBS: Saturday, 1972

All in the Family
Bridget Loves Bernie
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Bob Newhart Show
Mission: Impossible

Not as perfect as the now-legendary CBS Saturday lineup of the following year, when Carol Burnett replaced the IM Force in the 10pm timeslot (providing a less jarring transition from the easygoing Bob Newhart Show) and M*A*S*H replaced Bridget Loves Bernie, which deserved a better fate. Still, there’s not a bad show in the bunch. 

CBS: Saturday Morning, 1976

Sylvester & Tweety
The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
Ark II
Clue Club

Saturday morning lineups from the Comfort TV era are hard to recreate, because there is almost always one show in the schedule that was short-lived and not likely to be shown again or released on DVD. But here’s one that can be done, even if you have to cheat by using the Warner Brothers Looney Tune anthologies for the material aired as Sylvester & Tweety and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour.

After that, settle in for a mini-marathon of Filmation classics, starting with the animated Tarzan series, which has been praised as one of the more faithful adaptations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. 

The Shazam/Isis Hour and Ark II are delightful throwbacks to when live-action science fiction and superhero stories delivered thrills on what appeared to be a ten-dollar per episode budget. 

Round out the morning with Clue Club, the best of Hanna-Barbera’s countless Scooby-Doo knockoffs. Some of the mysteries here, such as “The Disappearing Airport Caper” and “The Dissolving Statue Caper,” are still pretty clever. You may not guess the solution before Larry, Pepper, D.D. and Dottie. 


  1. Wow, that CBS 1961 Saturday line-up was incredible! My Mom loved GUNSMOKE...but the other three rank in my top 10 best TV series of all time.

    1. Still hoping for more 'Defenders' from Shout - but that hope is sadly fading.

    2. Mr. Hofstede, would you be willing to settle for individual episodes of "The Defenders" being made available for purchase via VUDU, iTunes, and/or Amazon Prime Video? I can't say that I haven't been bummed about "Murder, She Wrote" disappearing from Netflix's streaming service.

      Back in 2008, a certain dude on a now-defunct message board basically said that he NEVER saw a big market for TV series on DVD. This was back in 2008. Movie Gallery was still in business then.

  2. Mr. Hofstede, when did cable television first come into your life? I understand that MTV was available in Wichita before it started becoming available in New York City. You might want to check out Stuart Galbraith IV's review of Shout! Factory's "T.J. Hooker" DVD set. To do so, check out the following URL/link:

    BTW, Mr. Hofstede, I imagine you are aware of the fact that Heather Locklear was arrested last month. Her latest mug shot is even worse than her 2008 mug shot! Very sad! :(

    1. Very sad indeed about Heather.
      I first got cable in 1994, somewhat late to that table.



  3. Mr. Hofstede, did you ever see a 1985 telefilm called "The Rape of Richard Beck"? The late Richard Crenna won an Emmy for his work in that movie. Imagine if there had been an episode of "T.J. Hooker" where the title character (yes, the one played by William Shatner) got BRUTALLY raped. Perhaps the episode in question would've dealt with Hooker's perceived loss of masculinity.

  4. Christopher, that scenario would not have worked on T.J. HOOKER. That wasn't what the show was about. There is a CHIPS episode with a horrible highway pileup and many grisly deaths. My brother and I HATE that episode (even though one of my favorite actors Eric Braeden guest stars). It wasn't what CHIPS was about. Imagine BRADY BUNCH with a rape episode. You just don't do it. PS: A great show dealing with a man's perceived loss of masculinity is HAWAII FIVE-O "Skinhead" from 1972. Heavy topics worked on that series.

    1. Gary, do you watch "The Young and the Restless" on a regular basis? Also, would an episode about male-on-male rape have worked for "The Streets of San Francisco"? How about "Barnaby Jones"?

      BTW, I recent bought the "Skinhead" episode of the original "Hawaii Five-O" via VUDU.

    2. Christopher, No, despite being a Braeden fan I've never seen an episode of Y&R. In fact, I forget that his Victor role on that show is what he's best know for now (the RAT PATROL's cultural relevance having slipped precipitously in recent decades).

      On your question about what would work on what series, my thoughts are STREETS was a grittier show and tackled more daring topics. They had a later episode about a homosexual cop, for example. BARNABY JONES, even though a fellow QM Production, was more folksy and light. I don't think it would have worked there. Certainly not for me.

      I hope you liked the "Skinhead" episode. HAWAII FIVE-O never shied away from gritty topics, and that was one of the grittiest eps of that period.

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    5. How about "Cannon"? Could THAT show have had a decent episode about male-on-male rape?

      I haven't really watched the "Skinhead" episode of "Hawaii Five-O" yet. What do you have to say about the current "Hawaii Five-0" (with a "zero") series, Gary?

      BTW, "The Rat Patrol" WAS set during World War II.

  5. YES, I too have discovered the joys of recreating Retro TV Nights. With a pile of DVDs and IMDB to conform broadcast dates, I've put together a few primetime evenings. Awhile ago I watched the 1971-72 seasons of HAWAII FIVE-O and CANNON back to back just as broadcast (and I wished for period ads, sponsor spots, and station identification to make the experience complete).

    Some lineups just don't work well, however. CBS Friday nights beginning in Winter 1979 was THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, and DALLAS. Strange bedfellows indeed! I can't imagine going straight from the Duke boys to the Ewing boys.