Ah, the 80’s. It was a time when TV shows wrapped everything up by the end of the show, nobody got killed (think The A-Team), and episodes were filmed before a live studio audience. If it wasn’t the golden age of television, it was at the very least bronze.
But the 80’s were also a decade of trial and frequent error. For every Cosby Show, there were a dozen other shows than never made it past two seasons. Below, in no particular order, I’ve compiled the top eight of these short-lived 80’s wonders:
Knight Rider on a motorcycle. True, this computer-controlled bike didn’t talk, but that didn’t stop it from having omniscient “sensors” that picked up bad-guy activity in the vicinity. Ridden by injured ex-cop Jesse Mach (cf. injured ex-cop Michael Knight), the Streethawk bike could go approximately 5,000 mph when it’s thrusters were engaged. Of course, it’s proto-Garmin computer navigation system kept it from crashing into slower-moving objects like bullets.
Sledge Hammer! (1986-88)
This is still, in my opinion, arguably the funniest show to ever appear on TV. It took the Airplane/Naked Gun style of humor and morphed it with a pre-postmodern mockery of itself and, most of all, any other police show before it. I still remember the bellyaches caused by incessant laughing when watching Hammer blow up well, everything. Trust me, I know what I’m doing…
In the 1980s, the coolest technology on the block (other than sweatbands) were holograms. Even National Geographic featured one on its cover in 1984. Holograms were awesome because they were 3D and they could serve so many functions like…well, they couldn’t really do anything. But wouldn’t it be cool if they could talk, have artificial intelligence, and create any vehicle that was need on demand? Of course it would. Enter Automan, a hologram who emerges from a computer world that looks remarkably like a popular movie of the time called Tron. Hmmm…
In the late 80s, ABC needed a show about a brilliant problem-solving scientist crime-fighter type. Apparently, MacGuyver wasn’t getting the job done in that area, so the network opted for Probe, a show starring Parker Stevenson — whose mannerisms eerily resemble those of Tom Cruise. Stevenson’s character Austin James had a computer which talked to him, of all things…
Max Headroom (1987-88)
In the past, the future always looks bleak, and it didn’t get any bleaker than the outlook of Max Headroom. The future was so bad that we somehow needed to be visited by more — you guessed it — artificial intelligence. Max Headroom wasn’t a hologram, but he did spin off to sell “New Coke.” Despite this pairing of two stuttering stars, neither Max nor New Coke made it much longer.
Tales of the Golden Monkey (1982-83)
It was Raiders of the Lost Ark which brought back the mystique of the 1930s to bear on America a half century later, and television was ready to carry the torch where Lucas and Spielberg left off. Tales of the Golden Monkey involved the swashbuckling pilot Jake Cutter as he flew through the South Pacific whose adventures surrounded ancient treasures with mysterious powers. He was no Indiana Jones, because unlike Jake Cutter, Dr. Jones didn’t have a dog with an eye patch.
Bring ‘Em Back Alive (1982-83)
See above description for Tales, but swap Jake Cutter with “big game trapper & collector of wild animals” Frank Buck.
The Master (1984)
Who can forget the Ninja fever of the 1980s? I remember recess hour in the schoolyard where kids would show off their nunchuks and throwing stars (“zero-tolerance” hadn’t quite yet arrived on the scene…). Television desperately needed a Ninja, and Lee Van Cleef was ready to don the black mask as John Peter McAllister, an American ninja who roams the countryside looking for his long lost daughter. The Master McAllister is shadowed by his sidekick, his hot-headed protégé Max Keller. The plot: travel around unleashing ninja badness on bad guys who don’t know any better.