January 5, 1981 — “The Great Space Coaster” is first broadcast

A children’s television show created by Kermit Love (who had previously worked with Jim Henson on The Muppets) and Jim Martin (who would later work with Henson on Sesame Street), The Great Space Coaster ran for five seasons and had a total of 250 episodes. As you might suspect from the creators, it used a lot of puppetry.

The central premise of the show was that three singers – Francine, Danny, and Roy – traveled to an asteroid (on board, of course, the Great Space Coaster) which was inhabited by a wide variety of alien lifeforms, most of them puppets. Being a kid’s show, it features lots of songs and moral lessons, and the occasional celebrity guest star.

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Bug Powder Dust — Bomb The Bass

January 12, 1981 — “Dynasty” premieres

In a three-hour long introduction, Dynasty first appeared on tv screens across America on January 12, 1981. Over the course of nine seasons, it would become one of the most dominant shows on the decade. In the field of soap operas, it and its competitor Dallas – both of which revolved around wealthy oil families – reigned supreme.

But Dynasty, although it rated respectably in its initial season, didn’t really take off until its second season, the first episode of which introduced actress Joan Collins in the role she is still best known for, Alexis Carrington. Collins and Dynasty were synonymous in the Eighties, an actor and a show that couldn’t be separated from each other. Dynasty finally came to an end on May 11, 1989, after 220 episodes of scheming, betrayal and infidelity.

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TV Party — Black Flag

February 1, 1981 – Trevor Chappell bowls underarm in an international match

It is one of the most scandalous incidents ever to have disturbed the televised narcolepsy that is Professional Cricket: on this day in 1981, Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to bowl underarm to New Zealand batsman Brian McKechnie.

It was a one day match at the MCG in Melbourne, the third of five in a series, and so far the series was tied 1-all. And on the last bowl of the day, McKechnie, if he hit a six, could tie the game. The infamous underarm bowl was intended to prevent this from happening. It was legal under the rules of the game, but it was widely seen as unsporting behaviour, not living up to the spirit of fair play.

The rules of One Day International Cricket were changed after the end of the 80-81 season to prevent a recurence of the event, and the bad reputation it gave them has dogged the Chappell brothers (more Trevor than Greg) ever since.

1981 — Basia Bonkowski hosts the first episode of “Rock Around The World”

It was nothing short of a revelation.

A host playing music clips or having bands perform live in the studio was nothing new, but it was the way Basia went about it. For a start, she didn’t pass herself off as an expert, just an enthusiastic fan. And the music! At that time, Australian television played mostly mainstream acts from the UK, the US, or home. Basia took the title of her show as a mission statement: she didn’t care where in the world a piece of music came from, so long as it was good.

Fans responded to this approach, and the show rapidly went from playing once a week to screening four times a week. It only lasted three years, but those three years saw the Australian music landscape changed forever, with international influences becoming stronger, and local bands given a shot at reaching a national audience rather than just however many people could fit in the pub.

May 5, 1981 – Bobby Sands dies in the Maze prison

Bobby Sands was 27 years old and a member of the British Parliament when he died in the Maze prison in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He had spent the last 66 days of his life in a hunger strike, protesting to be declared a political prisoner rather than a regular criminal – his sentence in the Maze was as a result of his actions with the IRA.

In death, Sands became a martyr to the cause of Irish liberation, and attracted sympathetic messages from allies of the IRA all over the world, as well as neutrally aligned governments and media outlets. Perhaps the best summation came from the Hong Kong Standard, which stated that it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars.’ Thirty years and more gone, and that war grinds on.

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The Sign — Eric Bogle

August 1, 1981 — “MTV” premieres

On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen: rock and roll,” played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV’s logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. Appropriately, the very first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

And thus it would remain for the first few years, when MTV took its full name – Music TeleVision – seriously. But try finding a clip on MTV these days – it’s all Real World retreads and Behind The Music rockumentaries now. Well, not all, but enough to make one nostalgic for when MTV played any weird crap they could get their hands on just to fill the hours.

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TV Party — Black Flag

December 26, 1981 – Boom Boom Mancini defeats Manuel Abedoy

I guess it must have seemed appropriate: a day of boxing on Boxing Day. In 1981, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Manuel Abedoy had a bout at Ballys Park Place Hotel Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mancini won handily via a technical knock out, and although this was not a title bout, it paved the way for Mancini’s attempt on the Lightweight Boxing title the following year.

1981 — The arcade game “Mouse Trap” is released

Mouse Trap was a 1981 arcade game released by Exidy, A fairly obvious Pac-Man ripoff, it was successful enough that it was also ported to three different home game systems ColecoVision, Intellivision and the Atari 2600.

Mouse Trap did at least change up certain aspects of the game from Pac-Man – there were doors that players could open and close, it was possible to store power pills for later use, there were six rather than four hunters, and bonus items were available constantly rather than intermittently. The game had a small but devoted following, however, by 1999, very few of the arcade versions of it were still extant.

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Mousetrap — Buckner & Garcia

1981 — The arcade game “Frogger” is released

One of the all time classics of arcade gaming, Frogger is a simple enough game in its concept: you have to steer a frog across a busy highway. How hard could that be, right?

Produced by Konami, and distributed by Sega and Gremlin all around the world, it was very successful as an arcade game. So it’s no surprise that it would be ported to various computer and gaming systems. Perhaps more surprising, in thirty years, it hasn’t lost much in popularity – it’s now available for nearly any platform it can be, in a variety of remakes and sequels, most of them with greatly revised and improved gameplay.

1981 – The arcade game “Donkey Kong” is released

One of the most successful game franchises of all time – if not the most successful franchise – Donkey Kong originally started life as a Popeye game. Nintendo didn’t have the rights to Popeye, so they altered the characters into more original ones – although as the obviously King Kong inspired name of the game suggests, not that original. Still, it’s a good thing for them they did.

The Donkey Kong franchise has done very well itself, but Donkey Kong was also the origin of Mario, who would go on to become Nintendo’s flagship character and a highly successful game franchise in his own right. To date, across assorted media, there are more than 20 Donkey Kong games (depending on how one counts different versions of the same game), and another 30+ Mario games. It’s hard to imagine that a Popeye franchise would have been that popular.