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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1995 – PART 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
telephemera years 1995 american gothic

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!

1995-96

The schedules were packed in 1995, with returns for all the hit sitcoms, teen shows, and crime dramas that had thrilled America during the previous year. Ellen, Grace Under Fire, Cybill, and Roseanne all provided strong female role models of varying types, while Mad About You, ER, and Friends were making Thursdays on NBC a must-see affair. For genre fans, Lois & Clark, The X-Files, Sliders, seaQuest 2032, and Star Trek: Voyager all returned, and there was genre-adjacent stuff to be found in Picket Fences and Walker Texas Ranger, both found on CBS in 1995.

As for new shows, the Earthbound aliens of 3rd Rock from the Sun were taking their first steps on Terra Firma. Nash Bridges was doing whatever it was Nash Bridges did, and The Drew Carey Show’s “Cleveland Rocks!” theme song was stuck in everyone’s head. But what about those shows that failed to gain a grip on the collective imagination of the American people? This is the story of four of 1995’s near (and not so near) misses…

American Gothic (CBS): Formerly one of the Hardy Boys in the 1977 Glen A Larson production, pop star Shaun Cassidy turned to Broadway after chart hits and television roles dried up, using his spare time to pen a script about a charismatic Southern Sherriff who may be in possession of sinister supernatural powers.

CBS optioned the script and American Gothic premiered on September 22nd 1995, executive produced by Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi. With Gary Cole in the main role as Sherriff Buck, a murderous rapist who also happens to be the law in the town of Trinity, South Carolina, viewers became enthralled by the pot-boiler plot, which centred on Caleb Temple, a young boy with a tragic past who Buck wants to claim as his own.

telephemera years 1995 american gothic

The production was richly atmospheric, the town as big a part of the story as any of the shady characters that inhabit it, and even the good guys are not what they seem on the surface. Critics were enthused by the possibilities but the network ran episodes out of order and, although it gained a following from a small number of dedicated fans, there just weren’t enough viewers tuning in to save it from the axe.

American Gothic was cancelled with four episodes left unshown, although these were included when the show entered syndication (and, it seems, shown in the correct order). The entire series was put out on DVD in 2005 and it’s recommended viewing, Cole’s simmering evil almost palpable, the feeling of dread every bit as thick as the network executives that killed the show with their incompetence.

Kindred: The Embraced (Fox): Pre-Twilight, fans of vampires with a taste for the exotic were served primarily by the books of Anne Rice and a strangely-popular roleplaying game called Vampire: The Masquerade. The RPG told of a vampire society divided into clans, at war as much with themselves as a humanity which hunts them and their own inner demons, and soap opera mogul Aaron Spelling saw enough to bring his unique blend of glamour, intrigue, and intriguing glamour to order a television series called Kindred: The Embraced.

Debuting on Fox on April 2nd 1996 and given a slot vacated by the successful Party of Five, Kindred introduced San Francisco police detective Frank Kohanek (played by C Thomas Howell), who discovers his city is infested with vampires ruled over by Julian Luna, a gangster who is also secretly Prince of the city’s five clans.

telephemera years 1995 kindred vampire masquerade

When a vampire they both loved is executed for breaking the “Masquerade” – the vampires’ code to keep their existence a secret – Julian agrees to her request to become Frank’s protector, feeding him insights into vampire society as it pertains to crimes Frank is investigating, and finds his life further complicated by his feelings for a human woman, reporter Caitlin Byrne (Kelly Rutherford).

An impressive attempt to bring the sweeping world of the RPG to television, Kindred aired its initial run of eight episodes before giving way to Party of Five’s return to the schedules, but no second season appeared the next year. Critics were mostly positive but were united in hating Frank, and viewers seemed to agree, not gathering in sufficient numbers to justify the show’s considerable budget. The full series was released on DVD in 2001 and Vampire: The Masquerade continues to be a popular pursuit for fang-loving gamers to this day.

Aliens in the Family (ABC): ABC’s TGIF strand – standing, in those still God-fearing times, for Thank Goodness It’s Friday – began in 1989, an attempt to provide a family-friendly block of shows as a lead-in for the popular news show 20/20 on Friday evenings. The shows featured were mostly traditional sitcoms but, in March 1996, the popular Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers vehicle Step by Step was shunted aside to make room for Aliens in the Family, a spin on the usual formula.

John Bedford Lloyd (in his first starring role) played Doug Brody, a single human dad abducted by Margaret Trigg’s single alien mum, falling in love and settling down to live a normal life – well, as normal as possible – with their blended families. Although Cookie was a human-looking alien, the father of her children was a different prospect, and so the children she brings to the marriage are brought to life by The Jim Henson Company, who acted as producers for the show.

telephemera years 1995 aliens in the family

ABC had initially intended to air 3rd Rock from the Sun in its TGIF block but decided instead to go with Aliens in the Family, thinking it warmer and less cynical than the other show, which instead found its way to NBC, where it enjoyed a six-season run. Aliens was less lucky, yanked from the air after just two episodes, with the rest of its eight-episode order airing deep into the Summer months.

Given such a response from the network, there was little chance of a second season, which is a shame because this is a warm and clever show, which makes good use of the muppets provided by Henson’s workshop and has something to say about blended families. There was no home video release but episodes are available to view on YouTube, and might be worth a look if you find your heart growing a size too small.

Deadly Games (UPN): With its schedule chock full of the various Star Trek offshoots and Star Trek: Voyager making its sophomore appearance, much was made of UPN’s new show for Fall 1995 having Leonard Nimoy as creative consultant and director of its pilot episode. The story he oversaw was simple: Gus Lloyd, an anti-matter physicist who designs videogames in his spare time, sees the villains of his latest creation leap into the real world as a result of an experiment gone wrong. With The Jackal and his minions wreaking havoc, only Gus, his ex-wife, and their friend Peter can stop them!

Having designed the game, Gus was in the unique position of knowing the villains’ weaknesses, and exploited them to thwart their evil schemes, much as his counterpart– The Cold Steel Kid – did in the videogame. Christopher Lloyd hammed it up as The Jackal, directing his cronies from his lair, and they were all patterned on figures from Gus’s past – an ex-girlfriend, a High School bully, a camp counsellor, and more.

telephemera years 1995 deadly games

James Calvert, who’d played TJ White in the 1988 Superboy show, starred as Gus, with Cynthia Gibb and Stephen Kay as his bewildered friends, and there were star monster turns from the likes of LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Dwight Schultz, and The Partridge Family’s Shirley Jones (as “One Mean Mother”).

Despite all the connections, Star Trek this wasn’t, and UPN put it out of its misery with an episode left to air in January 1996, although that thirteenth instalment was added to the DVD release in 2018, completing the set for anyone who still remembered the thing after all that time.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: Dweebs, above and beyond!

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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