The obscurity of television nostalgia

Watching old TV shows and movies that we grew up with helps take us back to much simpler, easier times in our lives. Still, when I scan sites that sell old movies and TV shows, I’m always amazed to find how many shows and movies I’ve never even heard of.

For every show that’s a hit, there’s dozens occupying the pop culture landfill that didn’t take off. Some show and movie descriptions I’ve read in books and catalogs made me want to check them out right away, while the way other movies / shows are described, you cringe wondering how they ever got made in the first place, and often they’re just as painful to watch. (Cop Rock anyone?)

We had previously written about The New People, the short lived 1969 show that was Lost before Lost, except here it’s a bunch of hippie kids trapped on an island that used to be a test site for atomic weapons, so it has buildings and provisions.

Rod Serling wrote the New People pilot, and I’ve also been dying to see The Loner, which was Serling’s short lived western in the 60’s starring Lloyd Bridges. (Serling writing a western is too mind boggling to resist).


Cruising through several books and websites, all of the sudden I was shocked to see a photo of Kurt Russell with blond hair. He co-starred in a western show with Tim Matheson (Otter from Animal House) called The Quest in 1976. (The show didn’t last because it got creamed in the ratings by Charlie’s Angels).


You may also know the show Get Christie Love! because Harvey Keitel mentioned this short lived series in Reservoir Dogs. He also mentioned her trademark line, “You’re under arrest, sugar.” Get Christie Love! was also nominated in the book The Worst TV Shows of All Time along with Gilligan’s Island, and You’re In the Picture, a Jackie Gleason game show that only lasted two shows (the second episode was a half-hour apology from Gleason). It’s not that bad, Christie Love! that is. It’s kitschy retro ’70’s fun, which is totally up my alley. 


Speaking of Tarantino, I had no idea David Carradine, Bill himself, played Shane in the T.V. spin-off of the movie of the same name. There were also T.V. spin offs of the films Walking Tall, Paper Moon (with Jodie Foster in the place of Tatum O’Neal), Blue Thunder (with Dana Carvey), Star Man, Serpico, Casablanca (with David Soul?!), and Planet of the Apes, to name a few.


Here’s some more random searching through the TV show sites. You probably heard the Mystery Science Theater gang make references to Quark from time to time, and it was a sci-fi comedy where Richard Benjamin played a garbage collector in space. The Fifth Corner? Never even heard of it (I have heard of Quark though…) A guy wakes up next to a dead woman, he doesn’t remember who he is, or anything else, and there’s bad people after him. Sounds a bit like Memento, no?

Being a fan of monsters as a kid, there were several short-lived shows I watched in my youth including the pilot for Spectre, a Gene Roddenberry pilot that didn’t take off about an occult detective played by Robert Culp. (Roddenberry even brought back the Gorn lizard costume! It appears at the end as a demon). I also liked Lucan, about a boy raised by wolves, and Cliffhangers, which was an attempt at modern day serials you’d see every week in the theater. One of the Cliffhanger episodes was The Curse of Dracula, a modern day take on the famous vampire, which was the only serial on the show to complete from beginning to end before it was cancelled in four months time.


As far as shows in the What Were They Thinking category, how about Claws, a sitcom where Dennis Miller was one of the voices for three talking cats? Or Poochinski, where Peter Boyle plays a cop who dies, and is reincarnated as a dog? I hadn’t heard of those shows, no one else has either, but for fans of bad T.V., there were a number of infamous network bombs that were the television equivalent of the Hindenburg.


And how about Supertrain – the 1979 series which the Prime Time TV Show Directory called “one of the most expensive failures in the history of network television.” The Supertrain was a nuclear powered American bullet train of the future that speeds 200 miles an hour, and also had a swimming pool, gym, hair salon and disco. As TV Guide wrote of the show, “Think The Love Boat was bad? Picture it clanking across the country. Or picture Fantasy Island on wheels.”


I finally saw an episode of Supertrain recently, and the rumors of its awfulness are not exaggerated, although it’s certainly entertaining in a Plan 9 From Outer Space kinda way.

The same year, on the same network, NBC, there was also the Plan 9 of variety shows, Pink Lady and Jeff, hosted by an Asian singing duo and comedian Jeff Altman, that was mercifully killed after six months. (Believe it or not, you can also get this complete series in a DVD box set).

 Supertrain, Pink Lady, and Hello Larry, the show that McLean Stevenson left for M*A*S*H* making him the David Caruso of the late ’70’s, were an unholy troika for NBC, three of the worst shows in TV history all airing, and collapsing, in fast succession.


I wonder if one day these shows, and many others, could make their own cable channel. The really bad shows would be perfect for a Mystery Science Theater scenario, with a bunch of comedians heckling them off the screen. Having not seen many of the shows I mentioned here, I’ll bet some of them will turn out to be great lost gems, and many of them will speak for themselves why they never made it.