The YouTube Files – Sledge Hammer!

Sledge Hammer! (ABC, 1986-1988)

A while ago I was watching some clips online of various ITV regions in the late-80s when they had something that could pass for a proper night-time schedule. I noticed a show that seemed to turn up rather frequently was the American sitcom Sledge Hammer! I decided that I should try and find out more about this, and after tracking down a few episodes to watch, I was rather impressed.

Inspector Sledge Hammer was a rather incompetent policeman, who thought that he was rather macho, and he would shoot first, and ask questions later. Indeed, he was so fond of his gun that he treated it as if it was his best friend. He often spoke to his gun, and it even took pride of place on a pillow in his bed. And when he isn’t suspended, he is challenged to deal with various crimes.

But things often end in chaos, with his “trust me, I know what I’m doing” (yes, that was his catchphrase) not managing to reassure anybody. The other main characters are Dori Doreau, his sidekick who often goes on assignments with him, and her more sensible attitude often comes to the rescue. And there was also Captain Trunk, who couldn’t believe what Hammer got up to, and would often inform him of this.

The first series ended with Hammer having to diffuse a bomb and failing miserably, which was a rather unsettling climax. But when it was decided that there would be a second series, it was announced that this was set five years before the first which concluded with the oblivion of the majority of the USA. This concept was adhered to for about five minutes, but then they just carried on, with many more tense situations for Hammer to show off in.

I was pleased that Sledge Hammer! turned out to fit my type of humour. Whilst probably not hitting the heights of Police Squad!, this is another cop parody sitcom that was very good. It won’t surprise you to learn that one of my favourite episodes featured the game show parody The Million Dollar Question, hosted by Peter Marshall (not to be confused with the Peter Marshall who was a continuity announcer on Thames, and hosted a few game shows himself), where Hammer went undercover to investigate the mysterious death of a successful contestant.

There were 41 episodes of Sledge Hammer! in two series, but none of them have been released on DVD in this country. When this was shown in every ITV region varied, and some episodes were being shown on LWT as late as 1996, a decade on from the first series, but this was always definitely worth staying up late for, and deserves another repeat run.

More TV Memories – 8 Simple Rules…

8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter (ABC, 2002-2005)

This is an American sitcom that started off fairly quietly, but is best remembered for going through a rather traumatic period. 8 Simple Rules… is a sitcom that was based on the book 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter by W Bruce Cameron, and centres around the Hennessy family. The parents are Paul, who is a writer, and Cate, who is a nurse. Their three children are Bridget, Kerry, and Rory.

Paul was played by John Ritter, and Cate by Katey Sagal, who of course had starred in sitcom Married… With Children for a decade (it was odd to think that the children in this sitcom were younger at the start than they were in Married… With Children which had launched 15 years earlier), and this was a character who was far removed from the bawdiness of Peggy. And Bridget was played by Kaley Cuoco, who would find fame by starring in the long-running sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

Most of the early episodes were based around the children becoming teenagers, and the rather strict rules that Paul had for anybody who wanted to date them. 8 Simple Rules… looked like it was going to settle down into becoming a rather straightforward domestic sitcom, with nothing too spectacular happening, but still containing enough amusing situations to keep going for a while. But then, something rather unexpected happened.

Shortly after work had began on the second series, John Ritter, who was best-known to viewers for starring in the sitcom Three’s Company and its sequel Three’s A Crowd (the American versions of the British sitcoms Man About The House and Robin’s Nest) died suddenly, and this show’s future was now in doubt. After a short break though, the decision was made to continue, with the character of Paul being written out.

There were some special episodes made without a studio audience, where the family were shown trying to cope with their loss. These were a rather tough watch though, as it was clear that a lot of the cast’s emotion was genuine, and this once cosy sitcom had suddenly turned rather bleak. It’s a long way from Married… With Children, put it that way. The role of Paul was not recast, but some new characters were added to fill the gap.

These were Jim, Cate’s dad (James Garner), and also her nephew CJ (David Spader). They struggled on until the end of the third series, but many people felt that without the father character, the idea was rather redundant really, and the ratings dropped off. There were 76 episodes of 8 Simple Rules… and they have been shown on various channels in this country, including Five, 5USA, ABC1, and Comedy Central.

The Comedy Vault – Home Improvement.

Home Improvement (ABC, 1991-1999)

I have said before that I am not as big a fan of American sitcoms as I am of British ones, most of them are far too twee or far-fetched for me, but I thought that I would look back at some more that did have some success in this country and attracted my attention. It always surprises me how many episodes American sitcoms can go on for. There were over 200 of this one, when in the UK, any that get past 25 are rather lucky. They really do things bigger over there.

Home Improvement was a sitcom that starred Tim Allen. He was a comedian who had developed a character as part of his stand-up routine (although when his stage show was shown on Channel 4 in 1993, this attracted some rather small ratings). He was something of a DIY fanatic, seeing himself as rather macho, especially when he had some power tools in his hands, but he was accident prone (and of course, his catchphrase was “eeeuurrgghh!!”).

This was then turned into the sitcom Home Improvement, where Allen played Tim Taylor (not to be confused with Tim Brooke-Taylor, er, yes). He had found fame by hosting a local cable TV show called Tool Time. In this, some rather ludicrous inventions would be featured that would supposedly help people who wanted to do some decorating at home (and the writers clearly had fun creating these).

But this often went wrong, and Tim’s suggestion of “more power!” never helped things, meaning that his more sensible co-host Al often had to come to the rescue. In the earliest editions, there was also the glamorous assistant Lisa, played by a pre-fame Pamela Anderson. And to flesh this idea out, we also saw Tim’s life at home, which could be rather action-packed too.

His wife was Jill, and their three sons Bradley, Randy, and Mark were entering their teenage years (and leaving them by the end of the run). Another regular was next-door neighbour Mr Wilson, who often spoke to Tim, and fulfilled two sitcom clichés. Firstly, his face was never fully seen, and secondly, there was some mystery about his first name (which also turned out to be Wilson). Another unusual element was the way that the scenes transitioned, usually overlapping each other.

Home Improvement was shown in this country on Channel 4, who stayed committed, and showed all of the 200+ episodes over seven years, although I don’t think that all of them were in a primetime slot, and there haven’t been that many repeat runs in more recent years. Allen has also had success by contributing his voice to the Toy Story series, and making lots of cheesy Christmas films.

CBBC Memories – The Addams Family.

The Addams Family (ABC, 1992-1993)

It’s not another cartoon review, is it? Yes, it is! The Addams Family are “the ghoulish clan”, as they became known, who were created by Charles Addams to appear in a comic strip. This led to a successful sitcom in the mid-60s (and I plan to review that soon too). There have been various spin-offs since. And there was a revival of interest when a well-received film was released in the early-90s.

This led to there being a cartoon version that was aimed at younger viewers. and I’m fairly sure that this was where I encountered this family for the first time (there had been a previous attempt at a cartoon version in 1973). The family live in Happydale Heights and consist of several bizarre characters, including the married Gomez and Morticia (in a connection to the earlier TV sitcom, John Astin reprised his role to voice Gomez).

There’s no doubt that he was very fond of his “Tish”. Their children are Wednesday and Pugsley, who bicker with each other as much as any other sister and brother do. And there’s Granny Addams and Uncle Fester, who was rather fond of doing experiments, and constantly blowing himself up. And don’t forget Thing the hand, and the grumpy servant Lurch.

There was also a running gag with references to various rather bizarre-sounding uncles, this really was a rather large family. One difference in this version is that their neighbours were the Normanmeyer family, who were as ordinary as they come, and they were rather convinced that there was always something strange happening next door, with the parents constantly telling their son not to interact with them.

There were 21 episodes in two series, and there were a lot of rather silly and strange stories featured. I suppose that the only comparable cartoon that was around at the same time would be Beetlejuice that was on CITV. It seems that The Addams Family was first shown on CBBC as part of the first series of Saturday Morning fest Live & Kicking.

This then moved to the main CBBC afternoon strand, and for a short while the original 60s sitcom was repeated on BBC2. And then a few years later, this ended up being shown about 1,000 times (and that’s probably not that much of an exaggeration) on Cartoon Network, at all hours, imagine coming across this on the TV at about 2am.

And after this, there have been some more films, and revival of the sitcom as The New Addams Family (that I reviewed a while ago), that unfortunately was always going to come off second-best to the original. And within the past few years, there has been a stage show, and a new generation of viewers have been won over with some computer-generated films, which are as spooky as ever.

More TV Memories – Hong Kong Phooey.

Hong Kong Phooey (ABC, 1974)

I have now come to the final Hanna-Barbera cartoon that I want to review, and I have realised that there really have been a lot of them. Others include Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and so on, but I don’t really remember those. It has definitely been a good experience to look back at these, there really are a lot of creative and amusing characters.

And it’s proof for me that they were as enjoyable as anything that the likes of Disney and Warner Brothers have had to offer. This was shown on CBBC for about a decade until the mid-80s, but the repeats stopped before I was a viewer, the first time that I saw this was actually on Cartoon Network in the late-90s. This is another one with a rather bizarre idea.

Who is the mysterious superhero who plays the main character in this show? Is it Sergeant Flint? No. Is it Rosemary, the telephone operator? No. Is it Daffy Duck? No. Is it Penry Pooch, the mild-mannered (canine) janitor at the police station? Could be… Penry turns into Hong Kong Phooey by jumping into a filing cabinet, but he always gets stuck, and Spot The Police Cat has to help out.

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Hong Kong Phooey really was “The Number One Superguy”, according to the rather groovy opening theme, and he was voiced by Scatman Crothers, and remember, if the Scatman can do it, then so can you. He was also quicker than the human eye, although that’s taking his boasting to rather ridiculous levels, as that’s not entirely possible.

He also had a car that he would jump into, that could change into various shapes. And he learned martial arts, well some of them, he would often have an instruction book to hand, if he needed some help. He would take on various villains, and often save the day (although it seemed that Spot was actually more skilled than he was). And nobody at the police station ever realised that he was their janitor all along!

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Once again, it’s a surprise to realise that there weren’t a huge amount of episodes of Hong Kong Phooey made, but there seemed to be so many Hanna-Barbera cartoons in production at this time, all competing for the attention of viewers, maybe they only had so many paintbrushes to go round. And this was another one shown as part of Cartoon Network’s Cult Toons, a real delight.

CBBC Memories – Captain Caveman.

Captain Caveman (ABC, 1977-1980)

This is yet another Hanna-Barbera cartoon that I remember watching as a second generation viewer (there really were a lot of them), and once again, I saw this as part of The CBBC Breakfast Show strand in 1997, almost worth getting up too early for. What did this one have to offer? Captain Caveman is someone who is discovered in a block of ice, and he is then brought back to life.

He has been in that block for thousands of years, maybe even millions. Of course, he is rather hairy, and he does have some trouble adapting to the modern world. He is joined by a female trio called The Teen Angels, who it seems bear every resemblance to the cast of Charlie’s Angels, the action TV show that was popular around the time that this launched.

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It turns out that he is some kind of superhero, but after putting up with talking bears, squirrel spies, and the like, nothing appears to be that far-fetched now, if viewers liked those ideas, they might like this one. He also had a club, that he banged everywhere, and seemed to be magic too! And of course, he goes and saves the day to everybody’s delight, and somehow it conveniently takes him exactly seven minutes every time.

Another notable thing is that Captain Caveman was voiced by Mel Blanc, the man behind a thousand cartoon characters (or thereabouts). And he would often shout “Captain Caveman!!” as loud as he could, and as often as he could, you don’t really forget that. I thought that this was the only thing that he was able to say, but he did manage to grasp a few other phrases.

There were 40 episodes, which were sometimes credited as Captain Caveman And The Teen Angels, and this has to be the nosiest (and maybe silliest) Hanna-Barbera cartoon from this era. This was shown in CBBC in this country for about two decades, well into the 90s. But I don’t recall there being too many revivals, although all four main cast members competed on Scooby-Doo’s team in Laff-A-Lympics.

CBBC Memories – Top Cat.

Top Cat (ABC, 1961-1962)

This is another one of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons (of which there were many), and would you believe that this is over six decades old now, but once again I first saw this many years later. I should start by pointing out that I never remember this one being called Boss Cat, as it was credited for many years to avoid confusion with a cat food brand.

For me it was always Top Cat, even though this title actually wasn’t officially used by CBBC until the late-80s. Top Cat is a cartoon where the main characters are to some extent a feline equivalent of the cast on the sitcom The Phil Silvers Show, which just like this one seemed to be repeated in the afternoon for a very long time after the original run.

I never saw this one too much myself, but I do know that it’s considered to be one of the greatest sitcoms of its era. Top Cat starred a wise-talking cat who is the leader, and that’s beyond dispute apparently. He was probably the sassiest animated cat around after grumpy Garfield, and he always wore a big hat. But he had plenty of companions, including Benny The Ball, Brain, and Choo-Choo.

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They are all alley cats who live in a row of bins in Hoagy’s Alley in Manhattan. Now I can’t help but feel that’s not very nice, this is better to watch if you don’t think about that part of it really. They are always getting caught up in various schemes, and trying to get one over Officer Dibble, who often seemed to have no idea what was happening.

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I was surprised to discover that the original run of Top Cat was shown in America on ABC in a primetime slot, but it turned out that this was more of a success when moved to an earlier slot which attracted more younger viewers. And it’s also a surprise to discover that there were only 30 episodes in one series, but beyond that there were a few comics and VHS releases.

There were frequent repeat runs well into the 2000s decade, it’s rather odd to think that this was still shown in the afternoon as late as that. But in more recent years there have been a couple of films (which have been computer-generated). And not so long ago the main characters appeared in an advert for Halifax, which seemed a rather unlikely place.

More TV Memories – Batman.

Batman (ABC, 1966-1968)

Now this is a TV show that is rather well-known, although I didn’t see this myself until there was a repeat run in the early-90s. The character of Batman had been around long before this show of course, originally becoming popular in comics. By the time that this came to the screen, there were a few questions. Was this a sitcom? Was this being played for laughs? Did people realise how strange all of this was?

In Gotham City, some know him as mild-mannered Bruce Wayne… but some, although they don’t realise it, know him as superhero Batman! The main character is played by Adam West, who was a good choice, because “nobody messes with Adam We!”. But he couldn’t have done any of it without this trusted sidekick, Robin The Boy Wonder.

They would always have to get into the Batmobile and come to the rescue against various villains. The most famous of these included The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler. And there were also the memorable fight scenes, mixed in with lots of sensational stunts, and crazy moments. Holy mackerel! That’s why the became known as The Dynamic Duo. There were 120 episodes packed into three series.

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What I do find interesting about Batman now though was how many different channels this has been repeated on over the years, and seemingly always aimed at different audiences. I remember watching this as part of Sharp’s Funday (that I reviewed a while ago) on Sunday afternoons on LWT, and I did find this enjoyable, and I think that there were also repeats on Saturdays around this time too.

By the mid-90s, the repeats had moved to Channel 4, but again they were aimed at younger viewers. And then in the 2000s, there was a repeat run on BBC4 in an evening slot. This really didn’t seem like the right channel for such a show, as this was supposed to feature educational programming. Maybe it was supposed to be an exploration of the campness and quirkiness of this era… or maybe they just bought them in cheap.

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And in the 2010s, this moved once again to ITV4, will these repeats never end? After the TV version, there would go on to be several high-profile and successful films, although these had a harder edge, along with other spin-offs. I also remember an animated version being shown as part of the early editions of CITV’s What’s Up Doc. And Adam West later went on to become the mayor of Quahog in Family Guy.

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.