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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1983, part 4

Written By:

Mr Alan Boon
Mister T, 1983

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!

1983-84

Glamour, adventure, and glamorous adventure were the order of the day in 1983 as the US settled into years of Reaganomics, with the big money, big hair, and even bigger shoulder pads of Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest dominating the TV ratings, making the likes of The A-Team, The Fall Guy, and Magnum, PI look positively gritty and real in comparison. The big new hits were single-moms sitcom Kate & Allie and Hotel, based on an Arthur Hailey novel that would soon become a permanent fixture of charity shop paperback spinners, and there were farewells to Happy Days, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, and Three’s Company (which had somehow lasted for eight seasons).

For genre fans, Airwolf and Knight Rider arrived to provide vehicular action and V: The Final Battle was creating the kind of buzz that would have set the internet alight if the internet was something that hadn’t only been invented in January 1983. Glen A Larson fans were well-served not only by the debuting Knight Rider but also the less-successful Manimal, Automan, and Masquerade, shows which did not outstay their already limited welcome. That’s what occupied the schedules in prime time but what about Saturday mornings? This is the story of 1983’s new kids’ TV hits and misses…

Mister T (NBC): There’s probably no way you could write Mr T’s life story and have be believable. He became Mr T – his legal name – at eighteen years old, determined that he would not be called “boy” like so many of his family and peers, that the first word out of people’s mouths when they were talking about him would be “Mister.” From there to adopting the hairstyle of the Mandinka warriors from a spread he saw in National Geographic, to being spotted by Sylvester Stallone while competing in America’s Toughest Bouncer on NBC and being cast in Rocky III, the world soon learned that this man was no fool, and certainly not one that could be in any way pitied.

In January 1983 he made his debut as BA Baracus on The A-Team, sending his star rising even higher, and had already signed a deal to star in an animated series made by Ruby-Spears. Erroneously titled Mister T (legally he’s just Mr), the show saw him become a coach to a youth gymnastics team, imparting wisdom to his charges – every episode ended with a particular lesson from our overgolded hero – and solving mysteries as they toured the world. Oh, and he’s got a dog. With a mohawk.

Mister T, 1983

The first season of twelve episodes debuted in September 1983 and took T all over the US and into Mexico, with subsequent seasons extending the team’s reach to Canada and Egypt, but wherever they went there were plenty of people up to no good. With the help of his flexible children, their capable driver, and a dog, T took down sinister scientists, ninjas, street thugs, pirates, arsonists, and all manner of threats to whichever locality their seemingly never-ending gymnastics tour took them to.

Somehow they got three seasons out of this, without ever explaining how T’s gymnastics squad was funded or where their parents were, and in the best Saturday morning tradition each of the thirty episodes can be watched in any order, the status quo reset at the beginning of each instalment. With all Ruby-Spears productions becoming part of the Hanna-Barbera operation in 1991, the DVDs can be obtained through the Warner Archive Collection but, really, all you need is that Haim Saban theme tune, one of the best of any Saturday morning cartoon or any TV show.

Rubik the Amazing Cube (ABC): Ernő Rubik was a professor of architecture and design when he created the puzzle that would make him famous, coming up with the concept as a way of testing his students. Obtaining a patent for the cube in 1975, it was first licensed in the UK in 1978, and in the US through Ideal in 1980. Within a year, Rubik’s Cube had become a phenomenon, selling almost 300 million units, and books offering short-cut solutions became best-sellers.

All of which explains why, on September 17th 1983, Rubik the Amazing Cube became part of ABC’s Saturday morning line-up. A Ruby-Spears production, the show’s basic premise involved the eponymous puzzle – with added head and legs – escaping from his evil magician master to be found by a trio of children (and obligatory dog). The twelve episodes largely dealt with the magician’s efforts to regain his property, but Rubik also found time to help the kids deal with more humdrum adversaries.

Rubik the Amazing Cube, 1983

Where Rubik the Amazing Cube broke new ground was in its mostly Hispanic cast of characters, voiced by Latinx voice actors including Welcome Back, Kotter’s Ron Palillo, and with a theme tune provided by ever-mutating teen group Menudo. The children were depicted as particularly bright, especially when it came to solving puzzles (which included usually having to put a scrambled Rubik back into order to access his magic powers).

Ernő Rubik went on to create Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Snake, Rubik’s 360, and more, all with diminishing returns and none of which earned a Saturday morning cartoon, although he’s still active at seventy-nine and you shouldn’t rule anything out when it comes to Rubik the Amazing Human.

GI Joe: A Real American Hero (syndication): Tired of seeing its twelve-inch line of GI Joe action figures beaten at the checkout by the three-and-three-quarter-inch Star Wars toys from Kenner, Hasbro took action. Not only would it produce its own line of smaller figures, but it would also engage the services of Marvel Comics to provide a compelling back story for its heroes and villains, told each month in the pages of a comic book that eventually ran for over twelve years.

To support both the comic book and the toyline, Hasbro engaged the fledgling Marvel Productions studio to produce a series of thirty-second animated commercials, which proved extremely popular. A year after the launch of the Marvel comic, Hasbro and Marvel went a step further, taking advantage of relaxed regulations surrounding the use of feature presentations as advertising  to produce an animated mini-series, perfect to sell its wares to a whole generation of kids glued to their goggle boxes.

GI Joe: A Real American Hero debuted in syndication on Monday September 12th 1983 and told, over five daily episodes, the story of the evil Cobra organisation’s attempt to steal a satellite, eventually thwarted by Duke and his team of colourful operatives. Written by Ron Friedman (although the basic concepts were all pretty much developed by Vietnam-vet Larry Hama at Marvel), the series was enough of a success that a second mini-series aired a year later, this time surrounding Cobra’s attempts to control the world’s weather.

GI Joe, 1983

In September 1985, a full series of GI Joe: A Real American Hero debuted, consisting of the fifty-five episodes needed to (when added to the two mini-series) take the show up to the level needed for quarterly syndication, with a second full season of thirty episodes following a year later. The story was continued in a feature-length animated movie released in 1987 that was originally supposed to end with the death of Duke, only for the backlash surrounding the death of Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie to force a late and clumsy edit.

The toyline continued to be popularly into the early 1990s, with DIC producing a sequel series of forty-four episodes between 1989 and 1992, and remains beloved for a certain generation of American adults who spent their adolescence re-enacting the cartoon’s episodes and shouting, “Yo Joe!” at every opportunity.

Saturday Supercade (CBS): Alongside turning Mr T and a multi-coloured puzzle into Saturday morning heroes, 1983 also saw Ruby-Spears take a crack at translating the thrill of the arcade – or its less-thrilling home equivalent – through a series of short cartoons based on the popular videogames of the time. Collected together as Saturday Supercade, the line-up spanned the developing videogame market to bring action from games developed by Konami, Sega, Nintendo, and more, in a weird mix of humour and adventure serials.

First up to bat was Frogger, a game that never attempts to answer the question “why did the chicken cross the road?” by instead featuring a frog who has no reason to cross, he JUST MUST. In this version of the story, however, Frogger is an ace reporter for The Swamp Gazette, engaging his pals to investigate stories that often involve him being squashed by traffic or eaten by an alligator (but always revived).

Saturday Supercade, 1983

Frogger was joined by a Donkey Kong that was on the run from Mario’s circus, Pitfall’s jungle explorer Harry, and an incredibly bizarre interpretation of Q*bert, who is now a 1950s teenager living in the town of Q*berg who has to deal with the attentions of a group of bullies, aided only by his girlfriend Q*tie and brother Q*bit. Donkey Kong and Pitfall were replaced for the show’s second season – yes, there was a second season of this nonsense – by segments based on Atari’s Kangaroo and Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair sequel, Space Ace.

In recent years, there has been a clamour for a home video release of the series, fed by a nostalgia-crazy band of forty-somethings, but rights issues and missing masters have prevented much of it being released, even as an on-demand release through the Warner Archive. Q*bert, though, did get his own DVD, compiling seventeen of the nineteen episodes – in 2015, through Sony Pictures Entertainment, although sales figures for this sure hit remain frustratingly elusive.

Next on The Telephemera Years: Back to 1974, a time when humans were not the only ones born free…

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: pre-1965 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (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: 1978 (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: 1983 (part 1, 2, 3)

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: 1989 (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: 1998 (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: 2006 (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: DIC (part 1, 2)

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

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

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

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

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

 

 

Mr Alan Boon

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