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.
One of the greatest television shows of all time, “Hill Street Blues” was first broadcast on this day in 1981. In its first season, it won eight Emmy awards (a record not beaten until “The West Wing”‘s first season) – and it would go on to be nominated 98 times over the seven seasons it ran. It was a weird blend of cop show and soap opera, with a level of realism little seen in either genre before that time.
It set new benchmarks in television drama, broadening the possibilities of the form – it is reasonable to think that such later shows as “The Sopranos”, “The West Wing” and most especially, “The Wire”, might never have happened without the trail that it blazed.
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.
If the phrase “wha chu talkin’ about Willis?” doesn’t make you cringe, you were presumably born after this show went off the air. Well, I suppose you might have liked it. Someone must have – it ran for eight seasons, and made stars out of the kids in it. That’s right, Gary Coleman was a star for a while.
Leaving the snark aside, “Diff’rent Strokes” was a fairly decent example of the American sitcom, and it did make a lot of important points about racism, albeit mostly in a humourous way. On the other hand, it also gave airtime to Nancy Reagan so she could push her “Just Say No” campaign, so no one agreed with everything it had to say.
Except that it really does take different strokes to move the world.
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!“
It is the most successful sketch comedy series in the history of the world by any measure: the longest running, the most prolific generator of spin-offs and the launching place of the most careers. Even just the original cast line-up is a chapter in comedy history: it consisted of Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase. Chase, Belushi, Radner and Aykroyd in particular would find that appearing on “Saturday Night Live” would really get their careers going.
The first ever episode featured George Carlin as the host, with Billy Preston and Janis Ian as the musical guests. It also introduced what would become famous recurring features, including The Bees and The Land of Gorch.
Although there had been occasional special matches played on a Monday night before 1970, it was not until that season of NFL play that they became a regular feature of the game. The first Monday Night Football game was played between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, at Cleveland Stadium.
The Browns defeated the Jets 31-21, and all the action was relayed to the lounge rooms of America by the commentary team of Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson and Don Meredith. The experiment was a roaring success – even movie and bowling alley attendances dropped on Monday nights as Americans stayed home to watch the games. Monday Night Football has been a regular feature of the game ever since, about to enter its 44th season.