TV Nostalgia

June 16, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

These days, it seems that almost every TV show known to man is available on Region 1 DVD. Even some of the most abysmal excuses for entertainment are showing up. ("T.J. Hooker," anyone?) Oddly, however, four of my favorite TV shows from the mid-to-late-'70s are nowhere on the "to be released" roster. To be fair, a couple of my '70s favorites have been available for some time ("I, Claudius" and "Fawlty Towers"), but I often wonder if/when the other four will show up.

"Poldark" is a BBC import that initially aired over two seasons on "Masterpiece Theater" in 1977 and 1978. (Those in the U.K. saw it in 1975 and 1977.) There are a total of 29 50-minute episodes, and it's based on the first seven novels in a 12-book series by the late Winston Graham. (His best-known work may be Marnie, which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock.) Of those reading this, I'm guessing about three people are familiar with the subject. In its day, "Poldark" was one of the most popular "Masterpiece Theater" series (although host Alistair Cook once commented it was his least-favorite of all the MT programs), but it has long since been forgotten by nearly everyone. I have VHS copies of all the episodes, but that's about as much as I can hope for. The U.K. recently saw a substandard DVD release (a crappy transfer of the VHS originals), but I don't expect to see something on Region 1 - ever. Or at least not in the near future.

"Cliffhangers" ran during the summer of 1979 and lasted about 10 weeks. It was an anthology series that included episodes of three recurring serials, each 20 minutes long: "The Curse of Dracula" (with Michael Nouri as the Count), "The Secret Empire," and "Stop Susan Williams" (starring model-turned-actress Susan Anton). I don't remember a lot about "Cliffhangers," except that, at age 11, I was addicted. Of course, in keeping with the name of the program, each episode of each serial ended with a cliffhanger. As best I can recall, "The Curse of Dracula" was horror lite (with a little romance), "Stop Susan Williams" was contemporary action, and "The Secret Empire" was an homage to the '40s movie serials. I believe the episodes of "The Curse of Dracula" were edited together into a TV "movie" that was shown on some UHF and cable stations in the early '80s. I think I may have seen it on the Late, Late Show during my college days and shuddered at how bad it is.

My favorite comedy during that era was not "Happy Days" or "Three's Company." Instead, it was something called "CPO Sharkey," which, although not much of a Neilsen hit, managed to survive for two seasons, largely on the strength of Don Rickles' acerbic sense of humor. As with "Cliffhangers," my memories of this show are dim, but I know it had me laughing as much as any American TV program. One year, I remember it being shown back-to-back with Richard Benjamin's "Quark," which I found to be amusing, but not up to the standards of "Sharkey." ("Quark," incidentally, was developed to piggy-back on the success of Star Wars. Unlike Battlestar Galactica, it took a humorous, rather than serious, approach. Like Battlestar Galactica, it was a ratings disappointment.)

Finally, turning back the clock a few more years, there's "The Six Million Dollar Man." I started watching this in 1974 at about age seven, and was hooked. I stayed with it until the end, by which time it had re-defined cheesiness. For a while, I watched "The Bionic Woman" spin-off, but, without Colonel Austin, it wasn't the same. (I may have had a crush on Lindsey Wagner, but, all these years later, I can't really remember.) A few years ago (actually, about 10 years ago), I caught a few episodes when the Science Fiction Channel was re-running the series, and found that, all things considered, they held up pretty well. I'm surprised Universal hasn't released this series yet, but I suppose that the thinner their vaults get, the more likely this is to see the light of day. Hey, I'd buy it, if only for old times' sake.