Custer

TV classics: aka The Legend of Custer

USA 1967, one season, 17 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: Wayne Maunder, Slim Pickens, Michael Dante, Robert F. Simon, Peter Palmer.

Plot summary: After the Civil War, Lieutenant Colonel Custer takes command of the 7th Cavalry, a group of misfits, criminals and ex-Confederates at Fort Riley, Kansas.

220px-Wayne_Maunder_Custer_1967Review: In the late 1960s, one of America’s most popular genres slowly began saying farewell to television in its traditional form. Often considered too rough, Westerns were replaced by modernized versions that used the Old West as a mere setting for whodunits or family-friendly stories. Starring Wayne Maunder in the title role, Custer was one of the last original Westerns, a show suggested by Larry Cohen and produced by 20th Century Fox. Although blessed with popular guest stars of the time such as Agnes Moorehead, William Windom or Barbara Hale, the show failed to become a success. Based on George Armstrong Custer’s life, the program was violent and often historically incorrect. Protested by Native Americans and opposed by The Virginian and Lost in Space on NBC and CBS, the show never really stood a chance. Canceled the same year it was launched, Custer became TV history after only seventeen hour-long episodes. Still remembered and cherished by die-hard Western fans today, the show can be revisited on DVD or on Youtube. For anyone who enjoys the style of the 1960s, Custer may be a real gem that deserves re-evaluation. The same goes for anyone who’s fond of TV classics in general, including those the majority of us has long forgotten – unfortunately or not. It’s your decision.

Watch Custer: Death Hunt here, guest starring Barbara Hale and Patricia Harty.

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The Cosby Show

TV classics: The Cosby Show

USA 1984-92, eight seasons, 202 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Sabrina LeBeauf, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Lisa Bonet, Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Geoffrey Owens, Raven-Symoné, Erika Alexander.

Plot summary: A lawyer, a doctor and their five lively children – come meet the Huxtables and their jazzy lives in Brooklyn Heights.

Cosby ShowReview: Since I’ve been looking at family sitcoms from the 1980s, how could I not mention my favorite family of them all, The Huxtables?! Led by Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad, the show was not only blessed with a cast of extremely talented actors, but also with great storytelling. Based on a lot of real life family issues, the Huxtable household was chaotic, lively and full of love. An unexpected but instant hit, The Cosby Show focused on an upper middle class family and their daily problems with a refined sense of humor that put the parents back in charge of their kids. Clair and Cliff, a lawyer and an OB-GYN, set the rules for their headstrong offspring as equal partners who never put their marriage second to anything. Balancing their careers and family, they also always took time for themselves.

Although the show didn’t shy away from touching serious topics such as teen pregnancy or living expenses, the Huxtables didn’t openly address racism but rather exemplified their values to their kids and audience alike. As an African-American family, they were proud of their education, history and family backgrounds. They loved jazz and promoted diversity without spelling it out. At Bill Cosby’s urging, the program was educational without being preachy. The Huxtables and their friends were not defined by the color of their skin nor referred to as anything but individuals. Although sometimes criticized for presenting an ideal that was far from reality for a lot of viewers, the show had a successful run of eight seasons with only the last one dropping noticeably in ratings. Available as a complete boxset, The Cosby Show can now be relished in all its unedited glory. For anyone who still remembers Rudy, Vanessa, Theo, Denise and Sondra, this is a real treat and a grand opportunity for fans to share their childhood favorites with their own children today.

Don’t remember Clair, Cliff and their kids?! Refresh your memories here.

Family Ties

TV classics: Family Ties

USA 1982-89, seven seasons, 180 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Meredith Baxter-Birney, Michael Gross, Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers, Brian Bonsall

Plot summary: In the Keaton household, two worlds collide. The parents are hip, the kids are square.

Family TiesReview: Hip parents, square kids was the pitch line to sell Family Ties to NBC. Originally focused on Elyse and Steven, the left-wing parents of a brood of three, the show picked up on the evolvement of the yuppie in the 1980s. Brought to life by a then still unknown Michael J. Fox, Alex Keaton was the oldest son of the family, a personified young Republican who idolized President Reagan. Alex was smart and funny, a perfect juxtaposition to his liberal parents, their values, likes and attitudes. It was that contrast that turned the show into an instant hit and pushed the baby-boomer parents on the sidelines of attention. Apart from Alex, Mallory and Jennifer Keaton were equally genuine characters. Mallory’s materialism was as defined as her brother’s enthusiasm for Reaganomics and, paired with her simple mind, turned her into a direct opposite of their mother and her strong feminist convictions. Jennifer, the youngest daughter, was the only Keaton offspring who followed into her parents’ idealistic footsteps and thus stood out with a mind of her own. Andy, the youngest addition to the family in season five, imbibed his brother’s conservative philosophy from his infancy, leaving Jennifer as the sole quasi-ally of the Keaton grown-ups.

Successful for seven consecutive seasons, Family Ties hit a nerve in the 1980s and reunited grandparents, boomers and their children in American living rooms. Lighthearted with a touch of sincerity, the show held its ground in a time when family sitcoms flourished on TV and also gave birth to a new star, Michael J. Fox. Fondly remembered by young fans and mature ones alike, the program also featured (now famous) guest stars such as Courtney Cox, Tom Hanks or Judith Light. Although already considered an 80s’ classic, Family Ties is every bit as fresh and entertaining as it was thirty years ago, in its freshman season. So for those of you who love to travel back in time or simply wish to pass on their childhood memories to the next generation, the program’s sixth season was just released on DVD with only the last one missing to complete your collection. Have fun diving back into the warmth and chaos of the Keaton family. I’m sure they will welcome you like a family member the way they used to back in the 1980s, no matter who you side with in an argument, Elyse and Steven, Jennifer, Andy, Alex or Mallory.

Want to get into the mood for some Keaton family banter? Watch the original Family Ties intro here.

Valerie aka The Hogan Family

TV classics: Valerie’s Family: The Hogans

USA 1986-91, six seasons, 110 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC and CBS, color. Cast: Valerie Harper, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Licht, Luis Danial Ponce, Josh Taylor, Edie McClurg, Sandy Duncan.

Plot summary: Valerie Hogan is a mother of three boys who know how to keep her on her toes, especially in the absence of her husband, an airplane pilot.

valeriecast-1Review: A couple of days ago, I read (like many of you I presume)  about Valerie Harper’s current struggle with brain cancer. Upon processing these sad news, I immediately remembered the shows I saw with her as I was growing up: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and, predominantly, Valerie. Starting in 1986, the actress starred in the now famous family show as Valerie Hogan, a mother of three boys whose idiosyncrasies seemed to increase as soon as their pilot father (Josh Taylor) had taken off to yet another international destination. Never shy of parental advice, witty comebacks and organizing skills, Valerie managed her boys with a mix of independence and charm. She was not exactly a housewife but later worked from home in order to better meet her family’s needs. David (Jason Bateman), her oldest son, always challenged her patience while Mark and Willie (Jeremy Licht and Danny Ponce) added trouble of their own to their mother’s daily tasks and duties.

Although a family program, Valerie (as the title may suggest) originally focused on the mother of the Hogan family, her life and struggles. Within the first two seasons, however, the show slowly shifted into a more adolescent direction and had a closer look at the three teenage brothers. Simultaneously, the comedy writers adopted a more realistic tone and thus paved the way for unexpected changes that occurred in season three when the female lead was axed from her own show. As a result of revenue issues, Valerie Harper’s character was killed off in a car accident and left her screen family in a state of shock. With Michael Hogan (Josh Taylor) stepping up to take care of his children, eagerly supported by his sister (Sandy Duncan) or their quirky neighbor Mrs. Poole (Edie McClurg), the show was aptly renamed Valerie’s Family: The Hogans. While the show found a successful way to cope with the sudden loss of their named star, Valerie Harper herself sued the network and production company for breach of contract. In response to the ongoing dispute behind the scenes, the actress’ name was completely dropped from the title by the end of season three and for its remaining seasons, the program was simply called The Hogan Family.

Although slowly declining in the audience’s favor after the transition from Valerie Harper to Sandy Duncan as the female head of the family, the show also broke ground by touching topics such as safe sex and AIDS. Unfortunately, however, the Hogans did not recover from switching networks from NBC to CBS in 1990 and was thus finally canceled in 1991 without a proper series finale. Today, selected episodes are available on Youtube and in occasional reruns. A DVD release has not yet been announced but fans of the show don’t give up hope for their childhood classic to finally be made available. Even though The Hogan Family took the path of many of its peers and went downhill towards the end of its run, the show still brings back good memories of a time when family entertainment was still a pivotal part of evening programming. With its iconic theme song and wonderful cast, the series has stood the test of time with old fans and new ones alike. Enjoy the pilot here and judge for yourselves. If you liked the show as a child, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it again. Thank you, Valerie Harper, for bringing back the memories despite the sad circumstances. It’s shows like these that will keep you alive and healthy in our hearts forever.

The Dick Van Dyke Show

TV classics: The Dick Van Dyke Show

USA 1961-66, five seasons, 158 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Matthews, Richard Deacon.

Plot summary: Rob is the writer of a successful TV show. At home, he is the loving husband of Laura and their son Ritchie. Together, they master the adventures and challenges of everyday life with warm hearts and a healthy sense of humor.

The-Dick-Van-Dyke-ShowReview: In 1960, Carl Reiner created a TV show based on his experiences as a writer in Hollywood. Called Head of the Family, the show featured Reiner himself in the leading role as Rob Petrie and Mr. and Mrs. North alumn Barbara Britton as his television wife. Despite the lovely casting choice for Mrs. Petrie, the show failed to meet the necessary enthusiasm to be picked up for a complete season and found its way back to Carl Reiner’s writing desk. Re-imagined and re-cast with Dick van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, the show made a comeback one year later. Named after the new leading man, The Dick Van Dyke Show found a home on CBS for its first season and was renewed for four more due to Procter & Gamble’s commercial influence on the network.

Rewarded with 15 Emmy Awards (out of 25 nominations), the show offered a look behind the scenes of a fictional variety program, The Alan Brady Show, as well as a glimpse into the Petrie household. Although using the quirks of Hollywood as a setting was nothing new by 1961, The Dick Van Dyke Show managed to find a balance between the ballyhoo of entertainment and the everyday chaos of family life. Blessed with the comedic talents of the two leading actors as well as their natural chemistry, the show was lighthearted, smart and funny. Shaped in quality and style by writer/creator Carl Reiner (who also appeared as fictional TV star Alan Brady), the show remained top notch from beginning to end and is still popular in reruns today. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, the entire series can also be revisited by old fans and new ones alike – a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who appreciates classy comedy and a wholesome but quirky style.

Remember the show or need a reminder? Watch the pilot here.

Growing Pains

TV classics: Growing Pains

USA 1985-92, seven seasons, 166 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: Joanna Kerns, Alan Thicke, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, Jeremy Miller, Ashley Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Plot summary: When Maggie resumes her journalism career, it’s Jason who gets more involved with the Seaver kids and their growing pains.

Growing_PainsReview: In the 1980s, family sitcoms conquered the TV market. The Cosby Show, Family Ties or Valerie (aka The Hogan Family) – as a kid of that era, those shows are as familiar to you as your own family stories. The Huxtables, Keatons and Hogans are like relatives stirring up fond memories of a time when your biggest problems were curfews, chores and flunking physics. Growing Pains was one of those shows, popular for seven seasons with two reunion movies produced in 2000 and 2004 to add to a nostalgic retrospection of a carefree childhood in more complicated times.

Growing Pains shows the daily adventures of the Seaver household. Mother Maggie who returns to her journalism career in the very first episode, leaving the kids to husband Jason, a psychologist who’s running his practice from home. Together, they are trying to handle their growing offspring Mike, Carol and Ben. Mike is not only the oldest of the brood, he is also the biggest troublemaker. His sister Carol is the smart kid while Ben is the lippy one, each of them fighting to get the upper hand in the family but also sticking together when their pubescent mess hits the fan. As a show of its times, Growing Pains put a lot of emphasis on the children and their problems without ignoring the parents and their (sometimes troubled) world. Blessed with an outstanding cast including Joanna Kerns and Alan Thicke, the show managed what the majority of programs fails to do: it’s stayed fresh not only in the hearts and minds of die-hard fans, but also works in reruns on DVD two decades after the final episode aired on TV.

Like many good programs and things in life, however, Growing Pains also had a downside. While Kirk Cameron (Mike Seaver) explored religion and its meaning in his professional and private life, plotlines and casting choices began to create controversies the born-again Christian later blamed on his inexperience and youth at the time. His screen sister Tracey Gold (Carol Seaver) struggled with anorexia and practically missed the last season due to her deteriorating health. Fully recovered now, the actress has been outspoken about the dangers of eating disorders for girls since. Despite those struggles behind the scenes, the show remains a precious piece of 80s nostalgia still worth watching – as a trip back to your own childhood or to pass it on to a new generation. After all – As long as we got each other, We got the world spinnin right in our hands. Baby you and me, we gotta be, The luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin’ – who could resist that theme song?!

The Jetsons

TV classics: The Jetsons

USA 1962-63 and 1985-87, three seasons, 75 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC and syndication, color. Produced by Hanna-Barbera. Voice talents: George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Mel Blanc, Don Messick and Jean Vander Pyl.

Plot summary: In the year 2062, the Jetson family lives a normal life in Orbit City with their house-robot Rosey and George’s best friend, Astro the dog.

The JetsonsReview: In 2062, life for the Jetsons is full of conveniences: the household is organized by computers and Rosey the Robot, an outdated housekeeper model whose homey attitude and cheeky remarks fit right in with her human family. George is the soft patriarch and Jane his dutiful wife who both love to push buttons to make their lives as easy as possible. Together, they are raising their two children, fifteen-year-old Judy and little Elroy who’s already six-and-a-half. The world they live in is Utopian and futuristic, their apartment elevated above the ground. In their everyday lives, the Jetson children attend school like children from all decades while father George works with his friend RUDI, a Referential Universal Digital Indexer (aka his work computer), whose personality is as human as Rosey’s or Astro’s. Jane Jetson is primarily a housewife whose favorite pastime is shopping as well as delighting her family with new gadgets and fashion. In 75 episodes, they were supported by many recurring characters including George Jetson’s boss Mr. Spacely and an alien called Orbitty.

Produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, The Jetsons were created in color as a Flintstone family in space. Referring to contemporary trends and styles of the early 60s, the show was targeting a grownup audience in its first 24 episodes, a strategy that was changed in the mid 80s when Hanna-Barbera relaunched the program for another two seasons with decent success. Using all the original characters, the sci-fi cartoon family conquered the hearts of many children between 1985 and 87, a hey day for re-imagining TV classics from Leave it to Beaver to Perry Mason.

For anyone who grew up loving Orbit City and the funny mishaps the Jetson family had with their everyday technology, the show is now available on DVD with only the third season not yet announced for release. If you’re like me, you’ll discover your inner child again by watching this lighthearted show from a bygone time when computers did not yet dictate so much of our daily routine. For those who can’t wait to get the complete boxsets, selected episodes are also available on Youtube, including my favorite Rosey the Robot (a character so fondly based on Hazel, another fantastic 60s show and a favorite of mine only recently presented on this blog by yours truly).