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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1984 – PART 2

Written By:

Alan Boon
telephemera years 1984 double dare

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 Fall season and surely one of those would make its mark? This is the story of four more near-misses…

Wildside (ABC): Western shows had once ruled the world of TV, finally falling out of favour in the early 1970s when Bonanza breathed its last after a fourteen-season run, but by the mid-1980s they were a rare breed, although there had been attempts to revive the genre earlier, mostly reboots of Maverick but without James Garner in the title role.

Wildside tried to make Westerns cool again, with the titular town being home to four of a five-strong gang of outlaws, now trying to go straight as legitimate businessmen, their fifth wheel having become Governor of California. A brooding William Smith, youthful John D’Aquino, Howard “Roots” Rollins, and professional wrestler Terry Funk played the four desperados, with Sandy McPeak as the Governor, and the quintet received able backing from J Eddie Peck and a young Meg Ryan.

telephemera years 1984 wildside

With their life of crime behind them, the men found themselves saving their small town in every single episode, which wore thin by the time episode three saw a band of rogue British soldiers try to drive out the townspeople to steal their oil rights, and just six episodes aired before the plug was pulled in April 1985, the show having debuted as a late-season replacement in March opposite The Cosby Show.

Later that year, Silverado became a box office hit, paving the way for the big screen Western revival that peaked with Young Guns (and Young Guns II), and maybe Wildside played a small part in that. Creator Tom Greene, obviously buoyed by working with Funk, went on to produce the Hulk Hogan vehicle Thunder in Paradise, which failed to do for powerboats what Wildside hadn’t done for Westerns.

E/R (CBS): E/R is set in the Emergency Room of a Chicago hospital, where a cast of young and cool doctors mix their personal and professional lives, and it has both George Clooney and Mary McDonnell in it but it’s not the ER you’re thinking of. Rather, this is a sitcom that debuted on September 16th 1984, as part of a block with AfterM*A*S*H, and with a killer theme tune written by Jimmy Webb and performed by Lou Rawls.

The show developed out of a play written and performed by the Organic Theater Company of Madison, Wisconsin, that had originally been directed by future Re-Animator helmer Stuart Gordon and was adapted by the veteran writing partnership of Bernie Orenstein and Saul Turteltaub. Clooney came along halfway through the show’s single season run but McDonnell was there from the start, alongside Elliott Gould, Conchata Ferrell, Lynne Moody, Shuko Akune, and Bruce A Young as the local beat cop who is dating the ER’s receptionist.

telephemera years 1984 e/r

The pilot episode opened on Dr Eve Sheridan’s first night in the department, where she was played by Marcia Strassman. McDonnell would take the role going forward and, as with the slightly more serious NBC show of the mid-1990s, each episode advanced the ongoing storylines as well as introducing medical emergencies that either tugged at the heartstrings or tickled the funnybone.

Despite some good reviews from the critics, going up against The A-Team was too much to deal with and even a switch to Wednesdays didn’t save the show, which wasn’t renewed for a second season. E/R has never been released on home video, and there’s precious little of it on YouTube, save for the opening and closing credits, and some teaser trailers, so if you want to see Dr Doug Ross in his pre-fame days, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Code Name: Foxfire (NBC): This column has played host to a number of unlikely premises for TV shows, not all of them earning the plaudits or derision they were due, but Code Name: Foxfire noty only ranks highly in a list of preposterous elevator pitch concepts but also, it’s fair to say, received its just desserts.

After David Raschke’s CIA agent goes rogue, selling his services to the highest bidder, the President of the United States puts his own brother (played by John McCook) in charge of assembling a task force to hunt him down. McCook’s John Hutchings is a drunk and a fool, but he somehow cobbles together an all-female squad, led by Liz Towne (Joanna Cassidy). Towne has served four years for a crime she did not commit after being framed by her ex – Raschke again – and she wastes no time assembling her own XX chromosome version of The A-Team.

telephemera years 1984

Sheryl Lee Ralph and Robin Johnson star as ex-con Maggie and punky Danny, respectively, and the pilot sees them stop a rogue missile from starting World War III, all with the help of a seaplane. It’s utterly ridiculous stuff from creators Richard Chapman, Bill Dial (a longtime Stephen J Cannell associate), and Joel Schumacher (who was presumably too busy making St Elmo’s Fire to notice what was going on here).

Just eight episodes aired before it was put out of its misery, with a month between the seventh and the last instalments, and nothing much remains of it anywhere except for the bonkers opening credits and a few clips. Treasure them and hope for a full release one day…

Double Dare (CBS): Post-Star Wars life proved to be tough for some of the cast, with only Harrison Ford truly capitalising on the fame he achieved as Han Solo, and that was certainly true for the series’ Lando Calrissian, Billy Dee Williams. After a clutch of failed TV pilots and a spell on Dynasty, Williams was given his first starring role, as professional thief Billy Diamond, spring from jail to work undercover for the San Francisco police.

Part of Diamond’s deal with Police Lieutenant Samantha Warner (played by Janet Carroll, Tom Cruise’s mum in Risky Business) is that his erstwhile partner Ken Sisko (Ken Wahl) joins him on the job, where they will use their burglary skills to solve crimes or something. Wahl had burst onto the scene as Richie, the leader of the titular gang in The Wanderers, before appearing with Paul Newman in Fort Apache, The Bronx, and was tipped for stardom.

telephemera years 1984 double dare

A role in a cool, primetime cop show couldn’t hurt, even if he was recovering from a motorcycle accident that saw him need over eighty stitches in his head, but unfortunately the thin gruel on offer in Double Dare did little to help his career and, once the six episodes of Double Dare had limped over the line (a seventh remained unaired), his later career is notable only for a three-year stint in the CBS show Wiseguy.

As for Williams, a pattern of TV movie after TV movie was only interrupted by appearing as Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s first Batman film, a role he lost to Tommy Lee Jones when the character fulfilled his Two-Face destiny in Batman Forever. Now, like his Star Wars co-star Mark Hammill, he makes his living from voice acting – as Lando Calrissian, naturally – and must wonder what might have happened if Double Dare had better scripts and wasn’t on against The Fall Guy and Highway to Heaven

Next on The Telephemera Years: Those shows that didn’t make it to air in 1984, including astronauts and ferrets!

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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