Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 11.

This is a group that always tried to keep up with the musical trends of the 80s, and their chart positions frequently went up and down as they went in and out of fashion and tried various genres. ABC were a group that formed in Sheffield, and their frontman was Martin Fry. Their first hit single was in 1981, but it was in May 1982 when their most popular song was released.

“The Look Of Love” (the look of love! Sorry, had an ABC moment) reached no. 4, to become their biggest hit, and was proof that Fry was a charismatic and witty performer. Later in 1982 their first album “The Lexicon Of Love” was released, and there was a clear indication of their popularity as this spent four weeks at Number One. They would go on to have some more hits, and in 1983 second album “Beauty Stab” was released, although this one didn’t make the Top Ten. vlcsnap-00192

By 1984, ABC had something of an unusual relaunch. Fry recruited some new members, including some woman (who used to be a writer for The Face), and, er, some bald guy (although it was unclear what their roles exactly were). Fry also had an image change, with much longer hair. Their single “How To Be A Millionaire” had an innovative animated video, and they got on to cover of NME for the first time in a while. abc1

But overall their third album “How To Be A Zillionaire!” underperformed compared to their earlier successes. It seems that this turned out to be another case of style over substance. There was something of a recovery in 1987 though with another new line-up and fourth album “Alphabet City” which featured the much-acclaimed single “When Smokey Sings” (and was also a Top Ten hit in America). vlcsnap-00188

And in 1989, there was fifth album “Up”, which was an attempt to jump on the house scene, as they continued to struggle to stay relevant. “One Better World” wasn’t too bad (and around this time Fry was interviewed on Channel 4’s Star Test, although I don’t know if he said “I don’t know the answer to that question!“), but in September 1989 “The Real Thing” was released and reached only no. 68. Maybe this wasn’t such a wise move (I haven’t been able to find a video for this either). ABC split not too long after this, and it was rather disappointing seeing a once popular group end the 80s on such a low. vlcsnap-00189

By 1997 ABC was relaunched once again, although by this point it was essentially a solo project for Fry (also around this time his brother Jamie was in indie group Earl Brutus). Although the hit-making days have long gone, Fry has since got his sparkly suit out again and is still making albums (including the successful sequel “The Lexicon Of Love II”) and touring, and I’m sure that at some point he must have performed “The Look Of Love” at a venue not too far away from you.

The YouTube Files – Blankety Blank USA.

The Match Game (NBC, 1962-1969, CBS, 1973-1979, ABC, 1990-1991)

This will probably be the final original American version of a game show that later came to the UK that I’ll review, but I might go on to consider reviewing some Irish and Australian versions too because I am just fascinated by the world of game shows and I really enjoy putting the pieces together (and I hope that you’ve found them an interesting read too).

There have been several versions of The Match Game going all the way back to the early-60s. There have also been several versions in the UK of Blankety Blank, and indeed there is another one planned to be shown at Christmas this year. I have decided to review the early-90s version. The host by this point was Ross Shafer, and you’ll be pleased to know that he did indeed have a funny-shaped microphone, or maybe it was just the way he walked. vlcsnap-00086

Of course, there were also the six celebrity panellists. It was good seeing ventriloquist Ronn Lucas along with his friend Scorch The Dragon among them. He also had a show on ITV around this time (that I reviewed a while ago), and it seems that he was popular in America in the early-90s too. I presume that he’s still at it, although three decades on he’s probably gone a little mouldy around the edges, and I hesitate to think what Scorch looks like now too, ha. vlcsnap-00088

Also taking part were the likes of that guy who was in the sitcom Out Of This World (also shown on ITV for a short while), along with cast members of daytime soaps like All My Children. Just like in the UK, The Match Game didn’t take itself too seriously, although the format by this time was a little different. Two contestants took part, including a defending champion. vlcsnap-00087

The sextet are given a clue and they all have to fill in the blank, and write their answers on a piece of paper. Can the contestant get a match? There’s $50 for every one. Then there’s the Match-Up round. The contestant picks a celebrity. There are 30 seconds, and for every match they agree on, they win $50. Then it’s back to another round of the regular game. vlcsnap-00089

Then there’s another Match-Up round, but this time there’s 45 seconds, and $100 for every correct answer. The highest scorer goes on to play the Supermatch Game, but nobody wins a chequebook and pen trophy. This round is about the same as the UK version, where the contestant has to guess one of the top three answers. If they get the top answer, they win $500. vlcsnap-00090

In the final, the amount they won in the Supermatch Game is multiplied by ten. They then spin a wheel to determine which celebrity will play with them in the final. If the wheel stops on a double (like in Name That Tune), they could win a maximum of $10,000, an amount that could never be dreamed of in the UK. The contestant has to simply match their answer with that celebrity to win the money, and they could play for five days before retiring undefeated. It was all rather enjoyable.

CBBC Memories – Round The Twist.

Round The Twist (Seven, 1990, ABC, 1993, 2000-2001)

Following on from Just For The Record that I reviewed recently, this is another Australian show that was imported to this country and shown in a children’s TV slot, this time on CBBC. This was a sitcom, and it was a rather odd one that ended up running for over a decade. The early episodes of Round The Twist were based on the series of books by Paul Jennings. There was also a rather memorable opening theme song that was later used on an advert.

The show starred the Twist family (another convenient sitcom surname alert!), consisting of the three children Linda, Pete, and Brosnan, along with their widowed dad Tony (their mum had died four years earlier). They move into a lighthouse on the coast, and they then start to encounter a rather large amount of strange things, including ghosts in the toilet, scarecrows coming to life, dragons that breathe fire, and clones. These were often accompanied by some clever visual effects. vlcsnap-00898

Nobody else seems to believe them though, including nearby neighbour Nell, Mr Gribble, and the children’s teacher Mr Snapper, but they insist that these things are happening to them, is it possible that the lighthouse they have moved into is haunted? I also spotted in an episode that Linda had a poster of Bananarama on her wall, so of course she is terrific. vlcsnap-00901

There were 52 episodes of Round The Twist in four series. Rather curiously, there were some big gaps between series, including a three-year gap between series one and two (along with a channel switch), and a seven-year gap between series two and three. This meant that because of the children ageing, the main parts were frequently recast, meaning two actors played the dad, and three played the children. vlcsnap-00912

This was a show that definitely became popular on CBBC in the early-90s, and I remember watching the early episodes and quickly realising that this was one of the more unusual sitcoms that was around at the time, and there was a rather wide range of enjoyably strange moments. Some episodes were shown in the UK before Australia, there were rather a lot of repeat runs, including one in the mid-2000s on Five, and it has also been shown around the world where it retains a big fanbase. vlcsnap-00899

Rather pleasingly, unlike most other CBBC shows (imported or otherwise) from this era, all of the episodes of Round The Twist have been released on DVD in a boxset (and they are also on YouTube in full), and they are much recommended, if like me you enjoy strange comedy shows where you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

More TV Memories – Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Sabrina The Teenage Witch (ABC, 1996-2000, WB, 2000-2003)

You might remember a while ago when I reviewed the American teen sitcom Clueless, which was first shown in this country in a double on Saturday evenings on ITV along with Sabrina The Teenage Witch, so it’s about time to take a look back at that one as well. This was a sitcom also for teens that was fairly fluffy, although it did have something of a fantasy twist.

The origin of the show goes back long before this TV version, when the Sabrina character was featured in the series of Archie comics, which at the time was popular enough to have a TV show and chart-topping single with “Sugar Sugar”, the upbeat song that some people just can’t resist doing a dance to… or so I’ve heard. There was then an animated TV series in the early-70s, before about 25 years later Sabrina would return to the screen, but this time in a live-action sitcom. vlcsnap-01004

Sabrina The Teenage Witch starred Melissa John Hart, already known to viewers for playing the lead role in sitcom Clarissa Explains It All, and hopefully nobody realised that by the time this show started she was actually 20 years old! Sabrina Spellman gets something of a surprise on her 16th birthday when she discovers that she is a witch. Well you would be surprised wouldn’t you, that definitely didn’t happen on my 16th birthday. vlcsnap-01008

Sabrina’s dad lives in a spellbook, while her mum is a mere mortal, so she has to go and live with her two aunts Hilda and Zelda who are both witches too (and don’t look too bad considering that they are about 600 years old). Another main character is Salem the cat, who can talk, and can always be relied on to offer a witty aside about the current situation. It’s probably no surprise that the show was often compared to Bewitched. vlcsnap-01005

And we also meet some characters at Sabrina’s school, including Harvey, Jenny, and Libby, where she tries rather hard to keep her powers under control, and she would rather spend the time at The Slicery having too much pizza. There were also plenty of guest appearances by celebrities, and later episodes featured Sabrina at college and trying to get on with her new roommates including TV’s Punky Brewster. vlcsnap-01007

Sabrina The Teenage Witch was originally shown on Saturday evenings, and it came to ITV on the same day that The Simpsons launched on BBC1 in 1996, where despite being shown around the same time it managed to hold its own. Shortly after this, the show moved to CITV where it was shown very frequently for a while. There was also a comic, computer games, books, plus another animated series, and it can now be seen on 4Music. There were 162 episodes in seven series (including three films), and these have been released on DVD in a huge and very enjoyable 24-disc boxset.

More TV Memories – Muppets Tonight.

Muppets Tonight (ABC, 1996, Disney, 1997-1998)

The Muppets are characters who have appeared on TV for decades now, and they are fondly thought of by generations of viewers. They have featured in various shows including Sesame Street and films for decades, with one of their biggest successes being The Muppet Show that was set in a theatre and launched on ITV in the mid-70s (and I plan to review that one soon too). There was also the cartoon Muppet Babies, but let’s not think about that for now.

Muppets Tonight was an attempt to relaunch the Muppets on TV in the mid-90s, and I do remember watching this, including the memorable opening theme. The show was introduced by a new character who was created for this series, who was the dreadlocked Clifford (not to be confused with the Clifford in the Listerine adverts, partly because that was an animated dragon), who hosted a variety show on the channel KMUP. vlcsnap-01014

Plenty of the established characters also featured, including Kermit of course, along with Gonzo, Fozzie, and Miss Piggy. Could they put this show together, and would Clifford go on the be the next Letterman? Well, not really, because despite a large amount of celebrities being rather eager to make guest appearances, they were often unaware that the production behind the scenes was rather chaotic. vlcsnap-01018

As well as what was going on in the studio, there were also a few regular features, including a parody of Baywatch called Bay Of Pigswatch, which starred Spamela Hamderson, which really is one of the worst puns that I have come across. There were also plenty of other creative Muppet characters, old and new, of all colours, shapes, and sizes, who would feature in every edition. vlcsnap-01017

Muppets Tonight was initially promoted with much enthusiasm with BBC1 (even earning a Radio Times cover), and the show was given a primetime slot as it was hoped that many people would enjoy their return to TV. And because the show was of American origin, as it was shown on a channel in the UK that didn’t feature adverts, there were a few features exclusively added that US viewers didn’t see to fill the extra time. vlcsnap-01020

I did enjoy watching Muppets Tonight, but BBC1 seemed to lose interest rather quickly, and it was moved from its primetime slot, with the final edition going out quietly on New Year’s Eve 1996, before it vanished altogther. I think they didn’t even show the final ten or so of the 22 editions (but swapping channels in America halfway through the run didn’t help either), and I don’t recall a VHS or DVD release. The Muppets still remain very popular though, and they have featured in many more films since.

The YouTube Files – The Noel Edmonds Show.

The Noel Edmonds Show (ABC, 1986)

Noel Edmonds is someone whose TV career I have followed for a long time, from Telly Addicts to Deal Or No Deal, and much else besides. But I recently discovered that Noel, who has always come across as ambitious, also had an attempt at hosting a TV show in America. Would he be able to have success in the most difficult of markets? I managed to find a couple of editions on YouTube, so this is what happened.

In the summer of 1986, shortly before what turned out to be the final series of The Late Late Breakfast Show, Noel hosted five hour-long late-night shows on ABC, in what would essentially be a variation on what he was doing in the UK. The aim was to present Noel’s style to American viewers, and he would be helped in this by the typically overexcited studio audience who were clearly looking forward to what he had to offer. vlcsnap-01048

Noel also had a big stage with a sofa on it, can you believe it, he was living the dream that’s for sure. Among the various features were interviews with celebrity guests including pop stars and comedians (some of them live via satellite), along with music performances. There was also something that Noel has always seemed to be rather fond of, which was to get some people on stage and make them do some mildly silly stunts while everyone laughs. vlcsnap-01049

There were also some attempts to try and set some unusual world records, all fitting in with Noel’s desire to try out things that are a little different. But was any of this a success though? Well the fact that The Noel Edmonds Show only ran for one week is something of a clue. Noel seemed to have a good time, and hoped that he would be invited back for more, but this didn’t happen, and there were only five editions. vlcsnap-01051

From what I can find, the response from the viewers and critics of the time was exactly what I excepted it to be really, mostly consisting of “who is this guy? Is this what passes for funny in England?”. Not long after, following this disappointment, Noel was back in the more familiar surroundings of the UK, and he went on to further success in the late-80s with The Saturday Roadshow. vlcsnap-01047

However, Noel did eventually return to America, as about a decade on from this show, two editions of Noel’s House Party were made there. These didn’t really go down that well with viewers though, and Noel later felt that doing these specials was a little too gimmicky and expensive, meaning his dream of being a star on both sides of the Atlantic was never really fulfilled.

CBBC Memories – Fudge.

Fudge (ABC, 1995, CBS, 1995)

This is another American sitcom that was shown on CBBC in the late-90s. Fudge is a show that was based on a series of books by Judy Blume that in 1995 were turned into a TV series. The first episode was a 90 minute feature-length special called Fudge-A-Mania. It was supposed to introduce us to the characters, but rather curiously it was shown out of sequence about a month after the regular series launched in this country.

Peter Hatcher is a boy who lives with his family in New York City. When he is at school, he often spends time with the girl next door Sheila, and his best friend Jimmy, and his favourite sport is baseball. However, he is constantly upstaged by his immensely irritating younger brother Farley, who is known to everyone by his nickname “Fudge” (don’t ever actually attempt to call him Farley!). vlcsnap-00423

Fudge was about four or five years old, and everywhere he went with Peter he would carry on as if he was on a permanent sugar rush, constantly jumping around and squealing. Nobody knew what he would do next. What a pain! Also featuring are their parents Anne and Warren who often get caught up in Fudge’s antics too. Most of the stories are told from Peter’s perspective, and he even sometimes addresses the camera to tell us his feelings. vlcsnap-00420

It could be considered that some of the stories in the episodes were a little too sickly sweet for the average young British viewer who might be more used to shows with a harder edge, as things that happened included Fudge auditioning for a TV advert, losing his favourite cuddly toy, or having a birthday party, and that was about it really, how exciting. vlcsnap-00504

Also, occasionally this would be accompanied by some cartoon-style sound effects which was a little odd. It seems that there was also a younger sister in the books, but they weren’t included in the TV series. How Peter managed to put up with Fudge constantly causing chaos wherever he went whilst also trying to get along at school really was a mystery. vlcsnap-00486

There were 25 episodes of Fudge in two series (including a channel switch in America), and it was shown fairly often on CBBC until 1999, a few years after it had actually ended. Although there were some books, as far as I know the TV series has not had a DVD release in this country. It was yet another one of those shows that I remember watching for a while when I was about 12, I’m sure that many others watched it as well.

More TV Memories – Clueless.

Clueless (ABC, 1996-1997, UPN, 1997-1999)

I want to go back again to the time when I decided to set the video for some children’s TV shows in the late-90s. During GMTV’s Wake Up In The Wild Room, there were often trails for Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Clueless, which were shown as a double for a short while early on Saturday evenings on ITV in 1997, around the same time that The Simpsons was on BBC1. They still managed to do well in the ratings, and this might have been a factor in Homer and co. quickly being moved to BBC2.

It seems that Clueless if I dare say it was more aimed at teenage girls, but because I was in my early-teens at the time and in the target audience, and having seen the trails constantly, I thought that I might as well give this a go. Clueless started out as a comedy film released in 1995 that was loosely based on the 19th century novel Emma, with the lead role being played by Alicia Silverstone. vlcsnap-01002

This did well, and in 1996 it was turned into a TV sitcom (made by the same production team). The lead role was recast and now played by Rachel Blanchard. The main character in Clueless is Cher, a rich Beverly Hills teen really into fashion who was living with her dad, and when she wasn’t at school, often confusing her teachers with her rather vacuous observations, she was often talking to hunky guys on the phone. vlcsnap-00986

Cher would set up the story at the start of episodes, and we’d also hear her thoughts on the situation as the episode went along. Also among her circle of friends were Amber and Dionne. Episodes centred around such exciting things as having a new hairstyle, going to a party, or deciding which guy to go out with. It seems that compared to the film, Clueless began to lose its edge, and by the end it seemed to be a little too simple and fluffy for most viewers, it had turned into the thing that it had originally aimed to spoof. vlcsnap-00985

Another link to Sabrina The Teenage Witch is that Melissa Joan Hart appeared in an episode in character. There were 62 episodes of Clueless in three series, and the later episodes were shown as part of SMTV Live. There were also some books released, but as far as I know the show hasn’t had a DVD release in this country, although it went on to be repeated on various channels including Paramount Comedy and Trouble. vlcsnap-00981

After Clueless ended, some of the cast went on to further success. Donald Faison who played Murray, another classmate of Cher’s, was Dr Turk in the long-running sitcom Scrubs. And Rachel Blanchard was in two series of the British Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show, it was a surprise to see her turn up in a rather different comedy show. I’ll also review Sabrina The Teenage Witch soon.

More TV Memories – The Pink Panther.

The Pink Panther (NBC, 1969-1978, ABC, 1979-1980)

It’s time for another cartoon review. This is another show whose history goes back over 50 years. A long time ago there was a series of successful comedy films called The Pink Panther, and this character was then taken and given its own show on American TV that launched in 1969. The opening sequence was live action apart from The Pink Panther who was shown along with various other characters going around in a car.

Every edition normally featured three stories. One would begin with The Pink Panther having a smoke which seems a little odd now, and they didn’t look much like they did in the actual cartoon. Every edition was also just about dialogue-free (apart from the occasional groan, I don’t think that there were any words), and The Pink Panther as far as I remember never actually spoke at all. This was all accompanied by the famous theme music, and some canned laughter too. vlcsnap-00883

Every edition was also about six or seven minutes long, and every title contained the word “pink”. There were plenty of other characters who featured in their own stories too. These included Inspector Clouseau, who also appeared in the films. But the one that I remember most though was The Ant And The Aardvark. This was where a blue aardvark tried to eat a small red ant called Charlie. vlcsnap-00886

He always failed though, but he constantly tried in a Wile E Coyote style, even though everyone knew that he was never going to succeed and he shouldn’t have been bothering really. Then we would have another story from The Pink Panther, who most of the time was rather easy-going, although one thing that would get them flustered was doing the old painting a pole the same time as someone else so they constantly had to go round and round routine. vlcsnap-00885

There were 11 series of The Pink Panther, although the actual title changed rather regularly, and it even moved channels by the end of its run. Its basic idea remained the same though. This was another cartoon that I don’t think was ever shown on the main CBBC afternoon strand, instead it was in various slots. I remember watching on BBC1 on Sunday afternoons around the late-80s/early-90s, by which point most of the editions were about 20 years old. vlcsnap-00887

The Pink Panther remained popular enough for there to be several repeat runs, and then there were some specials and a few revivals, and it seems that one of these was shown in the 90s on Channel 4. There were also plenty of computer games and VHS releases, as there always are with these type of shows. Our pink hero was also used in an advertising campaign for fibreglass for some reason.

More TV Memories – The Jetsons.

The Jetsons (ABC, 1962-1963, syndication, 1985-1987)

Following on from The Flintstones which quickly became a big success, about two years later Hanna-Barbera decided to create another cartoon for ABC featuring a family that was at the opposite end of the timescale, many years (or indeed centuries) into the future. This was a show set in the Space Age. This was also shown in a primetime slot in America and presented as if it was an actual sitcom, canned laughter and everything. Would they succeed again?

I’m not sure if The Jetsons did end up being as fondly thought of by viewers as The Flintstones, but it still did well, and it has a rather memorable opening theme song. The show starred a family who lived in Orbit City. They have a fancy apartment, and they can also travel through the air in their car. The main character is George, who works at Spacely Space Sprockets. vlcsnap-00844

Trying to get the technology working means that he runs into trouble with his boss Mr Spacely and he seems to get fired every other episode. Their main rivals are the neighbouring company Cogswell Cogs and their boss often interferes. George’s wife is Jane, who spends most of the money that he earns on groceries (well that’s what she always insisted anyway). vlcsnap-00151

They have two children. The teenage daughter is Judy who attends Orbit High School and along with her friends is really into rock music. The son Elroy is eight years old who attends Little Dipper School, and he is very clever and well-behaved, sometimes. Also featuring were Astro The Dog, and Rosie The Robot who was a maid that liked to help out with the housework. vlcsnap-00837

Almost six decades on, it is interesting seeing what they thought the future would look like. Would there really be colour televisions? Most episodes ended with George having something of a mishap whilst trying to use the latest of the technologies, which made him yell “stop this crazy thing!” (this was sampled on a hit single by Coldcut). The show was also parodied affectionately (well, probably) a few times by Family Guy. vlcsnap-00842

There were 75 episodes of The Jetsons that were about 25 minutes long in three series, almost 100 fewer than The Flintstones. There were 24 in the original run in the 60s. Then, after a break of over two decades, rather surprisingly there was a revival in 1985 where another 51 were made. After this, there were a few one-off feature-length specials, the last of these being in 1990. vlcsnap-00556

I was also rather surprised when I looked on the BBC Genome which insisted that The Jetsons was first shown on BBC1 in 1990, I thought it would’ve been much earlier than that. Several episodes from both runs along with the specials were shown throughout the 90s in various timeslots, mostly early morning ones, and I remember watching some of these. And of course, there were plenty of books, comics, computer games and so on, along with a few episodes released on DVD too.