We all have television shows we remember from our childhood, some are popular and last for years; others run out quickly and become an obscure footnote in history. Some of these shows we forget they have happened or have an idealized remembrance of how good they really were. Today we look way back into our childhood and ask ourselves what are some of our favorite obscure shows from our childhood and were they any good?
I wish I could have picked more than three, as a child of the ’70s and 80s it was a crazy time for strange, cool stuff – Shazaam!, Blue Thunder, Manimal, The Snorks – and the list goes on. Here are the verdicts on my three favorite:
H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)
So full disclosure, I am not old enough to have seen this show when it originally appeared, sometime in the 70s I caught it in reruns. Prior to the creation of the Internet, if I had mentioned this show, no one knew what I was talking about. I thought it may have been some sort of dream or misremembrance. Thanks to YouTube and Wikipedia I became sane again; it really was a TV show. It ran for seventeen episodes in 1969 and then rerun in syndication. It was a Sid and Marty Kroft production and like most of theirs (Bugaloos, Far-Out Space Nuts, Land of The Lost, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters) it was trippy. It starred “The Artful Dodger” from the Oscar-winning movie Oliver!, Jack Wild (Jimmy), a talking flute, and the villain Witchiepoo. H.R. Pufnstuf was a friendly dragon who was the mayor of Living Island. The creators claimed there were no intentional drug references but look at some of the characters, “Ludicrous Lion”, “Max Von Toadenoff the Great” and “Hippie Ants” and not think they were high on something. The theme song is catchy but apparently ripped off from Paul Simon as he gets a writing credit here. You want to know the plot? Check out the opening credits, it’s all you need to know, and you will be able to answer “Who’s your friend when things get rough?”
Verdict: Trippy, crazy stuff that was best left in Kroft’s idea box.
Bonus: “H.R. Pufnstuf & The Brady Kids Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was a thing.
MG: I never saw this, but am aware of its resurrection as a cult classic. I just learned that the term “Witchiepoo” came from this show. I’m going to call a little bit of foul on you for picking a show that first ran before you were born, but if it had that big of an impact on you, ok.
DJ: To be fair we don’t have any rule on this and I saw it in reruns…still counts.
The Master (1984)
The Master is the 1984″Ninja” TV show starring Lee Van Cleef as senior citizen ninja, John Peter McAllister, trains pupil Max Keller(Timothy Van Patten) while driving around in a customized van stopping crime and helping people. Oh, and wait a minute, he is an “American” Ninja who left Japan, so he could search for the daughter he has never known. One more thing, apparently you can not retire from being a “ninja” or have a family, so the Ninja elders send his former student Okasa out to kill him. Okasa is what we call the recurring theme, similar to the A-Team always being hunted by the authorities. Sounds awesome right? Well, as a kid who loved Bruce Lee and saw a lot of Kung Fu movies on our local UHF station, it was awesome! Lee Van Cleef often played bad guys usually in cowboy films, so it is nice to see him, in one of his last main roles play a good guy. Demi Moore makes an early guest appearance as does George Lazenby. Unfortunately, the action-packed show was never meant to be as it was canceled after just 13 episodes. Check out the opening, it still gives me goosebumps.
Verdict: Yeah not awesome…stunt double for Van Cleef is Shatnerian, poorly acted, and sorry Tim Van Patten, you are not even the best Van Patten in your family and the catchphrase was “No kidding”, Really? Might be time to reboot this thing.
Bonus: So Max has a hamster he keeps in the custom van, and the customization is as follows: hamster cage, souped-up engine, and semi-bullet proofing.
MG: Don’t recall seeing this one, but there was a lot of TV watching back then, so maybe I saw an episode or two and it has been wiped from my memory. You have to hand it to the 80’s, they went in a lot of directions to create TV shows. I kind of miss that spirit of TV programming vs. the more recent approach of trying to recreate the hottest trend (or just running crap through the copier, i.e. NCIS: NY, LA, NO, BS, etc.).
Space 1999 (1975-1976)
Space 1999 had an amazing opening theme, it was a cross between Jesus Christ Superstar and Gustav Holst, rocking guitars turn into space classical. The opening itself inspired the reboot of Battlestar Galactica as it flashes parts of each episode throughout the opening.
Real-life married couple Martin Landau, as the commander, and Barbara Bain, as the doctor, fresh off of working on Mission Impossible, starred in this 1975 British space drama. The premise is simple: Moonbase Alpha is a space station on the moon, where nuclear waste is dumped and somehow causes an explosion that takes the moon out of its orbit, and then we are off and running. The moon goes through black holes and space warps and encounters many adventures. It did get a second season but apparently, Martin Landau fought a lot on scripts and a third season was just never in the cards. For me as a kid this was pretty great, the only sci-fi I really knew at the time was Star Trek and this had better production values, and it was very dramatic. I also owned a pretty sweet Eagle 1 toy ship. I wish I still had it.
Verdict: If you are going to party like it’s 1999, party like it’s Space 1999. It’s still awesome. For its time it looks fantastic. Is the science goofy? Yes. Is the acting perfect? No. But it’s fun, scary, and it looks like what Kubrick would have done if he created Star Trek. It’s worth checking out and YouTube can help with that.
Bonus: Quite a few people who would later work on Star Wars would be part of this production including actors David Prowse, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Julian Glover.
MG: Finally a show I’ve seen! People forget that this came out BEFORE Star Wars (fun fact – the original Millennium Falcon design was deemed to be too close to Eagle 1, and it was changed to the now iconic “hamburger” design). My strongest memory of this show was the tentacled monster that sucked people into its lower mouth. My sister would pretend to be the monster by swinging her arms and recreating its noises. It truly terrorized me. Looking at some clips and images from the show – there was quite a bit of death, charred bodies, skeletons, etc. Good stuff for a 5 year-old to be watching.
Despite there being only a handful of channels to watch, there were so many shows from the 70’s and 80’s that were accessible to kids and captured my interest. The obscure selections here are memorable to me, even if I don’t recall much of the actual storylines. Thankfully, YouTube, Wikipedia, and IMDB are there to fill in the gaps.
Salvage 1 (1979)
“Once upon a time a junk man had a dream”
Talk about REALLY obscure – I have yet to meet anyone that truly remembers this one. Even IMDB has only two images in its listing. The premise centers on the “junk man” played by Andy Griffith, whose dream it is to recover the moon buggies and other stuff left on the moon after the Apollo missions. So he pulls a classic “ragtag” crew together, with varying specific talents, and builds a working rocket. As an 8-year-old, I thought this was the coolest idea ever. The rest of the episodes focused on the team going to various remote places on earth – think jungles, deserts, shipwrecks, etc. to find glory in scrap metal. Season 2 only lasted 3 episodes, so it must not have found an audience and ABC canceled it. Needless to say, it didn’t make Andy Griffith’s highlight reel.
Verdict: Creative, albeit ridiculous, idea for a movie – not enough for a series.
Bonus: Isaac Asimov was the show’s “scientific advisor”.
DJ: When you say REALLY rare, you REALLY mean it, I have never seen this but I was pleased to see the father from Silver Spoons as the former astronaut. I have never loved anything with Andy Griffith so I will need to pass on this one. This does make me think that you could produce anything in the late seventies.
I feel almost guilty including this since it only ran for 3 months from November 1981-January 1982. But I do have a friend who remembers it, and for some reason, I think about this show from time to time, probably because it creeped me out and led to many nightmares. Hosted by James Coburn, it was considered a “horror/thriller” anthology series, kind of a cut-rate Twilight Zone. Coburn had one of those voices, like Leonard Nimoy narrating In Search Of, that made you feel uneasy like you knew you were in for something unsettling. The clip I included here features the intro with his legendary voice. There’s no one like that anymore. The one episode I always remember featured toy army guys that came to life and killed people (at least that’s how I remember it). That episode featured Ronny Cox, the incomparable character actor from a thousand 80s movies and TV shows (i.e. the baddie from RoboCob and Total Recall). The TV networks seem to have no interest in anthology series’ like this anymore, although Black Mirror on Netflix, a British series, is in this genre and very well done.
Verdict: The red-lit darkroom was a staple for creepy locations in film & TV, except now darkrooms are virtually gone. Another casualty of the digital age.
Bonus: I was surprised to learn some of the well-known actors that starred in this series, including Billy Crystal, Steve Allen, Rue McClanahan, Helen Hunt, and character actor staples like Brian Dennehy and the aforementioned Ronny Cox.
DJ: Again never seen it, but James Coburn is great in the opening…love his work.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1980)
There is definitely more name recognition with Buck Rogers since it’s a character that goes back to 1929 in comic books, a radio show, a 30s film, and a newspaper comic strip, but I wonder how much people really remember this TV series. Before researching this for the blog, I always thought it was remarkable that Gil Gerard reprised his role for the TV series after doing the theatrical film. Turns out, the film was originally “made for TV” and they just decided to put it in the theaters, hoping to cash in on some Star Wars mania, of course. Although the robot Twiki’s signature “biddi-biddi-biddi” utterance was memorable, I recall wishing he would just cut that crap and say what he had to say (fun fact, Mel Blanc did the voice). Erin Gray played Buck’s sidekick/romantic interest, and even at nine years old I thought she was beautiful. Despite just falling short of two whole seasons, the list of guest stars is substantial, including Jamie Lee-Curtis, Gary Coleman, Jerry Orbach, Jack Palance, Markie Post and Roddy McDowall.
Verdict: Pre-cable and VCRs, shows like this were a way for me to capture something of the essence of Star Wars. Yes, it was cheesy, but some episode storylines were creative. How has Buck Rodgers not been considered for a remake after all this time?
Bonus: It had the same creator as the more successful Battlestar Galactica and often recycled the sets and props from that show.
DJ: Finally something I have seen. So this one has the girlfriend from Silver Spoons – I was a big fan of Silver Spoons. So back in the 90’s in our “sell Star Wars action figures at toy memorabilia shows” phase Gil Gerard, a featured guest at one of these shows, was signing autographs right next to Jill Whelan, Captain Stubing’s niece from Love Boat. I decided to go talk to him, since I loved this show. I thought I was being non-confrontational and I asked him what he has done since the show and he seemed to be offended by that, telling me he hasn’t stopped working. I did feel bad but Nuclear Hurricane and Reptisaurus didn’t quite make my viewing schedule. I do see that he was in last year’s Nice Guys so maybe he is making a comeback. I hope so he certainly deserves to be known by a whole new generation of Rogerites.
MG: I forgot about when you met, and pissed off, Gil Gerard. As a famous princess once said: “you do have a way with people”.