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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1984 – PART 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
telephemera years 1984 street hawk

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

1984-85

Dallas and Dynasty ruled the roost in 1984 and, with shoulder-pads and campy drama very much the in-thing, the only serious competition to the twin towers of glitzy soap opera came from NBC’s new hit sitcom The Cosby Show. Unable to compete with their competition when it came to over-the-top power struggles, the Peacock Network opted for humour and action, with Family Ties and The A-Team leading the charge behind Bill Cosby’s jumpers, and new shows like Remington Steele, Miami Vice, and Hunter making their bows.

With only The Fall Guy doing decent numbers other than JR Ewing and crew, both Moonlighting and Who’s Boss began long runs on ABC, while CBS unleashed Jessica Fletcher’s decade of mayhem in Murder, She Wrote, earning over twenty million viewers in its debut season. Genre fans were particularly poorly served in 1984, with just Airwolf, Knight Rider, and V: The Series providing even a low-level of sci-fi escapism, but there were some fantastic new shows set to debut in the new season and surely one of those would make its mark? This is the story of four of those shows…

Street Hawk (ABC): Threatening to do for motorbikes what Airwolf and Knight Rider had done for helicopters and cars, Street Hawk had all the trappings of a Glen A Larson or Stephen J Cannell show but in fact was the brainchild of Bruce Lansbury, Angela’s brother and the man who brought Wonder Woman and Buck Rogers to TV.

Lansbury commissioned Paul M Belous and Robert Wolterstoff (who had worked together on The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo for Larson) to flesh out his idea for a crime-fighting motorcyclist, producing a two-hour pilot that was picked up by ABC, debuting as a mid-season replacement on Friday nights in January 1985 for a fourteen-episode run.

telephemera years 1984 street hawk

The theme music by Deutsche elektronische oddballs Tangerine Dream heralded the adventures of Jesse Mach, a former motorcycle cop injured in the line of duty who combines his day job as a public relations officer with night-time exploits riding the secret government project Street Hawk motorcycle, fighting crimes that only a man on a very hi-tech motorbike can solve.

Despite being sold to forty-two overseas markets, Street Hawk’s scheduling opposite Dallas didn’t help it to build anything near the audience its special effects budget desired and there were a few disappointed petrol heads when it failed to return for the 1985 Fall season, as well as kids in the UK sold on the show through their ERTL diecast replicas and teatime ITV broadcasts. The complete series has been released on DVD and is begging for a nostalgia movie remake.

Otherworld (CBS): Otherworld was created by Roderick Taylor, the rock star turned screenwriter who’d enjoyed a surprise hit with the Michael Douglas political thriller The Star Chamber and was given the chance to write and executive produce his own project for CBS, selling them on the story of a family of tourists abandoned at the Great Pyramid of Giza who find themselves transported to a strange new world…

Sam Groom and Gretchen Corbett played the adults of the Sterling family, with Jonna Lee, The Karate Kid’s Tony O’Dell, and Chris “the younger brother from The Last Starfighter” Herbert as their kids, and their adventures on the planet Thel bring them into contact with freedom-yearning robots, the Zone Troopers, and – after the teenagers try to introduce rock ‘n’ roll to the new world – the Church of Artificial Intelligence.

telephemera years 1984 otherworld

Despite some stark differences, Thel is very much like the US of the 1980s, albeit with fewer freedoms; it is this that much of the conflict in Otherworld is built upon as the family attempt to assert the rights they take for granted, which is very much not the way in Thel! John Astin, Mark Lenard, and Vincent Schiavelli all make guest appearances throughout the series, which has episodes directed by Paul Michael Glasar and Taylor himself.

After debuting as a mid-season replacement on January 26th 1985, Otherworld ran for just eight episodes, a victim of a uninterested TV audience rather than any serious competition on other networks. It aired in the UK on the ITV network and has never been made available on home video, though most episodes seem available to watch on YouTube.

Half Nelson (NBC): Sometimes it seems like starring in two celebrated Martin Scorcese and Robert De Niro movies – for one of which you received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor – might not be enough for an actor, and that’s the only thing that can explain Joe Pesci’s presence in Half Nelson, a comedy drama from Glen A Larson that aired as a late season replacement on NBC in March 1985.

Pesci played Rocky Nelson, a former New York cop who moves to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, paying his way by working as private security for the rich and famous. To be fair, Pesci looks like he’s having the time of his life in the show’s title sequence but as fun as the show – which was co-created by Quincy, ME co-creator Joe Shaw – you can’t help but wonder why Pesci’s here.

telephemera years 1984 half nelson

Still, he has decent backing from Dick Butkus, Victoria Jackson, Fred Williamson, and Bubba Smith (as well as Dean Martin as himself), and there are guest appearances by Julie Newmar, Cesar Romero, and John Saxon, but just six episodes were made and Pesci only ever made one more TV show, an episode of Tales from the Crypt in 1992 directed by Joel Silver.

Some enterprising soul has uploaded the complete series to YouTube and it’s worth a watch although it’s very 1985. Pesci’s next major role was in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, before zooming back into the public consciousness with Lethal Weapon 2, so perhaps Half Nelson isn’t so strange in hindsight.

Dreams (CBS): One of CBS’s bright new hopes for 1984 and programmed in a block with Scott Baio vehicle Charles in Charge on Wednesday nights, Dreams was the rags to, well, rags story of a young rock band hoping to make it big and land that elusive record contract.

Created by comedian Andy Borowitz, who had also written for Archie Bunker’s Place and The Facts of Life, and with episodes directed by Bill Bixby, the show starred John Stamos – at that point best known for a spell on General Hospital – as Gino Minelli, who pulled together a band of aspiring musicians that also included Caine Devore, Jami Gertz, Albert Macklin, and rich girl Valerie Stevenson, whose voice Minelli hopes will rocket them to stardom.

telephemera years 1984 dreams

With a suite of songs written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly – the duo responsible for “Like a Virgin,” “Eternal Flame,” and “True Colors” – Dreams was expected to be CBS’s youth hit of the season. With Highway to Heaven and The Fall Guy as its opposition, it wasn’t expected to meet much in the way of competition in its demographic but, as so often is the case with youth-oriented TV shows, that demographic didn’t necessarily have possession of the remote control.

Twelve episodes aired before the show was cancelled a week before Christmas, with the band still no nearer their end goal than when they had begun, although one of their songs – “Alone” – was later recorded by Heart and hit number one on the billboard chart. In another twist of fate, the name “Dreams” was already taken by a real band and the producers had to pay them for the rights; that band used the money to record their debut album under their new name, Extreme.

Next on The Telephemera Years: More 1984, and a walk on the Wildside…

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

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