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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1991, part 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, 1991-92

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!

1991-92

As the 1991 Fall TV schedule was released, tears were no doubt shed when fans realised this would be the last time they would see such favourites as Who’s the Boss?, MacGyver, Jake and the Fatman, and The Golden Girls, although history no longer recalls how people felt in any respect about The Cosby Show. None of them were doing top ratings by the time they departed – one very good reason for such departures, obviously – but America was still wildly in love with Roseanne, Murphy Brown, Cheers, and Murder, She Wrote, as well as a brand-new show called Home Improvement about a man with a funny laugh.

Other new arrivals included The Commish on ABC, Evening Shade on CBS, the vastly underrated Herman’s Head on Fox, and a TV spin-off for Harry & The Hendersons, with Jay Leno easing into Johnny Carson’s seat on The Tonight Show ahead of everyone’s favourite David Letterman. Genre fans had it tough on the big four networks, with Twin Peaks having finished the previous year, leaving Quantum Leap as the sole survivor, although Star Trek: The Next Generation was still airing new episodes in syndication. Those are all shows that people remember, though: what about the ones they’ve forgotten? This is the story of some less-notable TV shows from 1991…

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (ABC): After being besieged by fans for details of Indiana Jones’s life before he entered the Temple of Doom (the events of that movie taking place a year before Raiders of the Lost Ark), George Lucas gave them a taste of the nascent archaeologist’s early years when he included a flashback sequence at the beginning of the third film in the sequence, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. His appetite whetted, he set about writing a complete timeline for the young explorer and secured a deal from ABC to produce a TV series telling those tales with a massive budget of $1.7 million per episode.

Lucas asked Harrison Ford and River Phoenix to reprise their roles for the series, but neither had any interest in doing television and so the main role of the teenage Indy went to newcomer Sean Patrick Flannery, with George Hall playing a modern-day incarnation looking back on his younger years. The show launched in March 1992 with a feature-length episode entitled Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal, followed by five hour-long episodes that mostly featured Flannery but also introduced Corey Carrier as the ten-year-old Jones.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, 1991-92

With stories that took place between 1909 and 1917, and in locations from Verdun to the Congo, the first block of episodes was a massive success and ABC immediately ordered a second season, this time of twenty-two episodes, to begin in September 1992. The timeline stretched into 1920 and there was even room for a guest appearance from Harrison Ford in a feature-length episode in the middle of the run entitled Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues.

Although ratings for the second season were not anywhere near those of season one, the first few episodes rated well enough, but a five-month break between episode four and Mystery of the Blues caused an alarming drop-off, once the temporary boost of an appearance by Ford had worn off. After the tenth episode of the second season, the show took another six-week break and ratings were even worse when it returned, leading to ABC cancelling the show, their return nowhere near matching the show’s huge budget.

The final four episodes went unaired, but The Family Channel repeated the entire run, as well as commissioning four new TV movies, which aired from October 1994 to June 1996. Lucas also worked on shooting new footage for the eventual home video release to create a smoother transmission through time, transforming the first two seasons into twenty-two chapters under the title The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.

Raven (CBS): For most people, being an ex-Special Forces solider or a ninja would be enough, but Jonathan Raven, titular hero of 1992 CBS drama Raven, was both, all the better for kicking huge amounts of ass in his search for his long-lost son. Hunted by the Black Dragon gang, the mysterious martial-arts outfit he lived with after his parents were killed at the age of twelve, Raven operates out of Hawaii, helping out those in trouble.

Created by Frank Lupo, who co-created with Stephen J Cannell on The A-Team and Riptide before going solo on Hunter, Raven starred Jeffrey Meek, an actor who also had black belts in both Taekwondo and aikidō. Back up came from Lee Majors as Ski, Raven’s pal from his army days who is now working as a private investigator.

Raven, 1991-92

The show won plaudits for its accurate portrayal of Japanese culture but often seemed to be caught between two stools, appealing to the Baywatch crowd and fans of martial-arts action, but it earned a strong initial following. Ratings were certainly good enough that the seven-episode first season – it was a summer fill-in in the Jake and the Fatman spot – was renewed for a second block of thirteen for a mid-season slot in January 1993, although it was moved from a Wednesday to Saturdays, not the greatest of days for any show, even if it did have Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman as a lead-in.

Perhaps a second season stretched the concept too far or maybe viewers didn’t like such a dark concept presented in a cheerful way, but ratings fell off during the second season to the point that CBS opted to cancel Raven before the final episode had aired, not that it wrapped anything up. Still, the show did garner an increasingly fervent cult following, especially given that it was never re-run or syndicated, and the only home media release came in 2016 as a manufacture-on-demand affair.

Nightmare Cafe (NBC): Wes Craven originally envisaged Nightmare Cafe as an anthology series, along the lines of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, each episode featuring a story told by a customer of the titular establishment. NBC liked the idea and gave Craven the go-ahead, but it was only when he started writing the first script that he realised that he much preferred the bulk of the series to be about the café and its employees.

The concept was retooled with NBC’s agreement and Craven – busy with making Shocker at the time – handed over control of the show to Thomas Baum, an experienced producer who had worked with Craven on the unsold pilot Night Visions in 1990. Craven later regretted not being fully involved but the network were happy enough with the final pilot that it was shown as a surprise preview in January 1992, ahead of its scheduled showing a month later.

Nightmare Cafe, 1991-92

The in-show origin of the Nightmare Café was a mystery, but it had the power to materialised in different locations and seemed somewhat alive. Café owner Blackie (Robert Englund, back working with Craven after completing Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) was equally mysterious, as was the story of how kind-hearted cook Frank (Jack Coleman) and waitress Fay (Lindsay Frost) found their way into his employ. The theme of the show was one of redemption, with the café able to grant wishes, whether openly asked for or not.

Nightmare Cafe debuted to mostly positive reviews as that surprise preview on January 29th 1992, with the regular series beginning with a re-showing of the pilot on February 28th in a slot vacated by Reasonable Doubts, which moved from Friday to Tuesday. Ratings, though, were less than hoped for and NBC pulled the plug after just six episodes had been produced. Craven and Englund would reunite two years later on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, an attempt to make Freddy Krueger meta, but there were plenty who would have preferred more Nightmare Cafe instead.

Charlie Hoover (Fox): The son of a preacher whose divorced mother married another preacher when he was eleven, it wasn’t a surprise when Sam Kinison went into preaching himself, embarking on a seven-year career as a fire and brimstone merchant, winding up in Houston, Texas. After getting divorced, Kinison switched gears to stand-up comedy, filling his routines with the same kind of rant he’d used in his previous career, influencing another local comic named Bill Hicks.

Kinison moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and finally got his big break five years later, appearing on a HBO special presented by Rodney Dangerfield, after which he blazed a trail as one of the first rock ‘n’ roll comics. Although he’d made some minor appearances in comedy movies, Kinison hadn’t transferred to acting in the way predecessors Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy had, at least until 1991, when he was offered the role of Hugh in a sitcom called Charlie Hoover.

Charlie Hoover, 1991-92

Created by Ian Gurvitz, Charlie Hoover starred Tim Matheson as a man who reaches his fortieth birthday with a family that takes him for granted and boss that ignores him. All that changes when the voice in his head (played by you know who) appears as a foot-high guardian angel in a long coat and sets him on the path of putting things right, starting with sorting out a promotion.

Kinison’s humour never had a chance of transferring over to a mainstream sitcom, even one on a network with an edgier reputation like Fox. The show never gained anywhere near a solid following and was cancelled after just six episodes, but it turned out that this was the plan all along, at least according to Kinison’s brother, Bill, who managed his career.

Kinison had a reputation for wild partying and Charlie Hoover was a chance to prove he could work hard and be on time for filming. It also helped that many of the reviews reported that Kinison was too good for the show, and Fox were certainly happy enough to offer him another show, his own version of The Jackie Gleason Show. Unfortunately, on April 10th 1992, Kinison’s car was struck head-on by a drunk driver and, while it seemed he was initially fine, he sat down on the side of the road and died from internal injuries at just thirty-eight-years-old.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: More of 1991’s forgotten “treasures,” including Human Targets and Excellent Adventures!

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: 1970 (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: 1974 (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

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

The Telphemera Years: 1976 (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: 1981 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1983 (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: 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: 1999 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 2002 (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: 2007 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: O Canada! (part 1, 2, 3, 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

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