ALF

TV classics: ALF

USA 1986-90, four seasons, 120 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Paul Fusco, Max Wright, Anne Schedeen, Andrea Elson, Benji Gregory.

Plot summary: He’s an alien life form who crashes into the Tanner’s garage. Needless to say that from that day onwards, nothing will ever be quite normal again.

ALFReview: In the 1980s, television offered a lot of gems for kids to grow up with. Out of this World, The Cosby Show and an odd fur ball called ALF. As a mixture of comedy and science fiction, the show was one of a kind. It stood out from a wide array of family shows by blending new ideas with proven concepts. It was directed at an audience who still had a heart for Mork and Mindy but also liked true-to-life puppets like the Muppets. Operated by creator Paul Fusco, ALF was a 285-year-old alien from a planet called Melmac whose sense of humor was as grown-up as his appetite. Loud, funny and always looking for trouble, the little alien soon won the hearts of the Tanners, the family whose garage he had crashed into with his flying saucer. Although still struggling to fit in with his human rescuers in the pilot, ALF quickly adapted to the habits and joys of American life. Glued to the radio, television and the fridge, the visitor from outer space made the best of his secret existence in the Tanner household and entertained his audience with comments on human customs.

Technically difficult and thus demanding in production, the show only lasted four short seasons and left its fans with a cliffhanger finale. Despite his untimely farewell, ALF has remained popular in reruns until today. Available on DVD since 2004, the show is now considered a TV classic and continues to entertain children and their parents in equal measure. Unfortunately, the boxsets are incomplete and only offer all episodes as shown in syndication and not the full length versions. For die-hard fans, however, there’s still hope for an improved release. Until then, the edited edition will have to do (unless you are lucky and still have your tapes from the late 1980s).

Don’t hear the theme song in your head?! Here’s the pilot episode to refresh your memories of how ALF actually came to our planet.

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.

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?!

Hotel

TV classics: Hotel

USA 1983-88, five seasons, 115 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: James Brolin, Connie Sellecca, Nathan Cook, Shari Belafonte, Michael Spound, Heidi Bohay, Shea Farrell, Harry George Phillips and Anne Baxter.

Plot summary: For the hotel staff, life is busy at St. Gregory’s, for the guests, it’s pure leisure and luxury.

Review: Based on Arthur Hailey’s novel from 1965, Hotel focused on the lives and loves at St. Gregory, a fictional five star hotel located in San Francisco. Led by Anne Baxter as hotel owner Victoria Cabot, the show predominantly featured the professional and personal lives of general manager Peter McDermott (James Brolin), his assistant manager Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca) and their staff. Supported by a colorful collection of guest stars, including Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Joan Fontaine, Beverly Garland, Leslie Nielsen, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Betty White, Shelley Winters, Jane Wyatt and many others, the show met the standards of Love Boat, a comedy hit also produced by Aaron Spelling on ABC at the time.

Although originally featuring Bette Davis as the head of St. Gregory who was soon replaced by Anne Baxter for health reasons, Hotel faced a lot of dramatic changes in characterization and plot. Speaking to an audience who enjoyed the mix of soap opera and celebrity appeal, the show had the perfect time slot on ABC, following an equally dramatic Dynasty. With season one available on DVD since 2009, fans of the show are invited to revisit the glamor and allure of St. Gregory’s, its sympathetic staff and matriarchal owner beautifully portrayed by Bette Davis’ 1950 on-screen nemesis Anne Baxter. A shining example of the prime time soap genre celebrated to perfection in the 1980s, the show also has the quality to appeal to those who may still be unfamiliar with the program but enjoy a cast of well-known faces and a regular dose of emotional mayhem. So for anyone who was happy about the recent comeback of Dallas on TV, this show could be the perfect treat.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King

TV classics: Scarecrow and Mrs. King

USA 1983-87, 4 seasons,  88 episodes, approximately 45 minutes each, CBS, color. Cast: Bruce Boxleitner, Kate Jackson, Beverly Garland, Mel Stewart, Martha Smith, Greg Morton, Paul Stout, Sam Melville

Plot summary: Amanda King, a divorced mother of two, lives an uneventful life with her mother in DC until she stumbles into Lee Stetson who happens to be an agent with the alias Scarecrow.

Review: Designed as a family show with James Bond elements and romance, Scarecrow and Mrs. King entered American living rooms in the fall of 1983, introducing Kate Jackson in her first series lead since Charlie’s Angels in the late 70s. Teamed up with Bruce Boxleitner, she instantly built up a chemistry between herself and her co-star and thus turned the show into a decent hit. Typical for its day and age, Scarecrow and Mrs. King used the cold war as a setting for suspense and entertainment, but also managed to give the characters room to grow. Starting out as a housewife and mother, Amanda Kind slowly tapped into the world of espionage, curious and excited about her new adventures but also feeling guilty for having to keep her family in the dark. Apart from her budding attraction to The Agency’s star agent Lee “Scarecrow” Stetson, Amanda’s dynamic with female agent Francine (Martha Smith) and her clueless mother Dotty (Beverly Garland) only added to the charm and quality of the show.

Diverting, good-natured and mildly patriotic, Scarecrow and Mrs. King worked well for three consecutive season until Kate Jackson, unfortunately, was diagnosed with breast cancer in season four. Her treatments resulted in the reduction of her character and led to alterations that ultimately affected the show in an unfortunate way. The series was finally canceled by CBS at the end of the season, closing the characters’ storylines without too much dissatisfaction.

Today, three seasons of Scarecrow and Mrs. King have already been released on DVD and it’s safe to believe that the last season will follow eventually. For anyone who used to enjoy the show during its original run, it is a great pleasure to revisit the charming storyline in a good quality that will outshine your old VHS recordings. Lee Stetson and Amanda King are still as lovely and entertaining to watch and their supporting cast members continue to be a blast. Blessed with Beverly Garland, Mel Stewart and Martha Smith, the show still has the potential to attract a new audience that may not even have been born when the series first aired. It is a fun show full of suspense, romance and witty lines, and if you’re fond of the 80s, this gem will definitely make you smile.

Author’s note: Happy 4th of July by the way!

Murder, She Wrote

TV classics: Murder, She Wrote

USA 1984-96, 264 episodes, 12 seasons, 45 minutes each, CBS. Created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, Producer: Angela Lansbury, Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, David Moessinger, Music by John Addison. Cast: Angela Lansbury, William Windom, Tom Bosley, Ron Masak, Guest Stars: Julie Adams, June Allyson, Barbara Babcock, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Len Cariou, George Clooney, James Coburn, Courtney Cox, Marcia Cross, Mike Farrell, Michael Horton, Kim Hunter, Shirley Jones, Brian Keith, Dorothy Lamour, Martin Landau, Keith Michell, Kate Mulgrew, Leslie Nielsen, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Paul, John Rhys-Davies, Wayne Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jean Simmons, David Ogden Stiers, Loretta Swit et al.

Plot summary: JB Fletcher is a retired English teacher gone bestselling author who writes mysteries for a living and solves real murders after hours.

Review: Already looking back on a renowned career in Hollywood and on the Broadway stage, Angela Lansbury became a household name when she entered America’s living rooms in the fall of 1984. As former English teacher gone mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, she won the hearts of audiences worldwide, solving crimes on paper and in person while sometimes butting heads with the police outside of her hometown Cabot Cove in Maine. Inquisitive by nature, Mrs. F found it hard to resist investigating the crimes she stumbled into, often bringing her own life in danger when she got too close to the truth.

Supported by some recurring characters, Jessica worked with her hometown sheriffs, Doctor Hazlitt, Scotland Yard and an agent from MI6. She solved murders on vacation and on book tours, found crimes that hit close to home but never got gritty. Her way of investigating was suspenseful yet family friendly. Murder, She Wrote was not CSI or Law & Order_ SVU.  The show relied on strong performances and a whodunit story rather than violence and exaggerated action. JB Fletcher was a widow and retired teacher, she didn’t carry a gun or used science jargon. She used her eyes and ears to observe and connect the dots – much like Miss Marple had, solving crimes a different way.

Always savvy, warm and assertive, Jessica Fletcher was a respected member of her community and extended family, always eager to expose the truth behind the crimes she got involved with. Angela Lansbury did a fine job creating one of TV’s most beloved characters, a part that put four Golden Globes on her resumé and a record of twelve consecutive Emmy nominations.

Canceled due to time slot changes in 1996, Murder, She Wrote has remained a popular program in reruns and on DVD. Living on in a franchise that includes mystery novels, games and four TV movies, JB Fletcher is still a beloved member of many households around the world and continues to entertain her fans both young and old.

Murder, She Wrote opening theme

Hart to Hart

TV classics: Hart to Hart

USA 1979-84, 110 episodes, 5 seasons, 47 minutes each, ABC. Created by Sidney Sheldon, Producer: Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, Music by Mark Snow. Cast: Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Lionel Stander

Plot summary: As hobby sleuths, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigate mayhem and murder with a little help from butler Max and their dog Freeway.

Review: Loosely based on The Thin Man narrative, Hart to Hart entered American living rooms in the summer of 1979. Starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a wedded team of hobby sleuths, the show combined murder, mayhem and comedic situations with guest stars such as June Allyson, Diana Muldaur and Roddy McDowell. Supported by Hollywood veteran Lionel Stander as Max, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigated crimes in their hometown Los Angeles, as well as on trips around the world. Always combining duty with pleasure, Hart to Hart was a mystery show with the right amount of romance and action to entertain a family audience.

Originally written for Cary Grant, Robert Wagner was cast as a younger version of the charming leading man whose mansion was located in Mandeville Canyon. His on-screen chemistry with Stefanie Powers, once a guest star on his previous TV hit It Takes a Thief, was the main attraction of a show that never made it to the top of ratings. Warmly embraced by world audiences for the couple’s flirtations and banter however, the show had a decent five year run. With an unfortunate decline in script quality, the show was ended in 1984 and successfully rerun for many years until the formula was revisited in the early 1990s. Reprising their fan favorite parts in eight Hart to Hart TV movies, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers reunited with their equally popular colleague Lionel Stander who remained a set imperative until his death in 1994.

Still dearly remembered by audiences around the globe, the Hart to Hart TV movies are now available on DVD while fans are still waiting for seasons three through five of the original show to be officially released. With their felicitous homage to Nick and Nora Charles with a dash of Mr. and Mrs. North, it would be a shame to not see the Harts on DVD as a complete set. Self-made millionaire Jonathan and his journalist wife Jennifer deserve to be introduced to young viewers who may not watch as much TV as generations before them but rather stick to DVDs and online streaming. In 2012, the upbeat tone of the series and the romantic foundation of each episode are still as entertaining and enchanting as in the 1980s when the show premiered on ABC. It is the perfect show for any spring season – hearty, suspenseful and bewitching. You’ll never forget it, especially due to the charm and quality of the performances of the three main actors and an adorable Lowchen dog called Freeway.

Hart to Hart intro