Thursday, June 5, 2014

Now For Something Different: 1980s T-V-O-D Theme Songs

FROM THE TRANSMITTERS OF MOUNT WILSON -  Growing up in Southern California there is one thing that has seemingly bonded us whether we live in Anaheim, Compton, La Puente, East Los Angeles, Covina or Cudahy, and that is what has been broadcast in the airwaves from the transmitters of Mount Wilson to thousands of homes in Southern California. Local Southern California television is highly unique and very memorable for many of us, but this blurb is not about local television (that will, and MUST, have its own posting soon), but rather national network television of the 1980s.

 photo shutterstock_132384326-390x285.jpg

Like ignoring much of a changing, and sometimes troubling, America in the 1980s network television hardly represented what was happening in diverse places like Southern California.

Television in 1970s America seem to reach a certain level social awareness, most notable with Norman Lear at the helm behind hits like "All in the Family," "Good Times," and "Sanford and Son," among others. The decade had its share of over-the-top, utterly inane programs as television should be an escape from the perhaps nerve-racking way of life, but it seem television in the decade that gave us the resignation of President Richard Nixon and election of Jimmy Carter had something to say. Come the new decade of the 1980s a seemingly cultural shift takes place, Ronald Reagan is elected president ushering in a new era of social conservatism, and this change is strongly reflected on television where programming moves from social awareness and gives way to absurd over-the-top escapism programs like a Texas oilman who is an international spy on the side. Despite their over-the-top appeal more times than not the shows, unlike many of the previous decade, were very decadent and non-offensive. 

All that said, this story is not really meant to be a social-culture study on 1980s television, and, despite that setup above, what follows is really a tongue-and-cheek post about one thing that really mattered in 1980s television, the theme song.

For all their blandness, the 1980s televisions show theme songs left a major impression on American pop culture, and frankly the theme songs were much better than the program itself.

In no particular order here is an assortment are some of the best and worst theme songs from the long gone era known as the 1980s.

Last Season of Happy Days
Okay, we know what you are probably thinking, Happy Days is considered to be more of a 1970s show, despite lasting until the summer of 1984, and surely Happy Days' best days were in the mid-70s, and so it is easy to understand why it is often associated being a "70s show." Come the dawn of the new decade seismic shifts in the Cunningham's world took place when Richie left to join the Army followed by his pal Ralph Mouth. Replacing Richie was some kind of distant family member played unexplainable by a modern 1980s bleached-blond hair Ted McGinley, and the always talked about but never seen Jenny Piccolo finally showed up. From that moment it was tantamount to that moment in your life where something changes and you know things will never be the same again. Indeed things were never the same again, but by their final season when the shark The Fonz jumped over had long died and sank to the bottom of the ocean the show truly reached its nadir by altering its beloved opening theme song.

If there ever was a television show that is the ethos of being a shell of its former self it is Happy Days. Come the final season there was no effort to at least give the show a proper sendoff and maybe try to go back to the program's roots, or at the very least develop a plot explaining why the style and feel of the show changed, and give what few viewers were left some closure.

Diff'rent Strokes
No need to make any improper Gary Coleman jokes, or such jokes concerning to travesties that would befall the cast of Diff'rent Strokes, all there is to say is, how can you not want to sing along with this song.

Like Happy Days the series' last season theme song in 1985-86 changed a bit with added synthesizers along with cast changes, and moved to ABC from NBC, but, unlike Happy Days, the show stayed the course without any major upsets to the series.

Days of our Lives
If you were a kid in this decade of the 1980s home sick, or pretending to be sick, you knew your free rein of watching the morning fare of network game shows and old cartoons on maybe KTLA or KTTV was over when you heard this creepy theme, and suddenly you were not so sick as going outside now seems like a better option. Yes, for you young kids today it is hard to imagine when parents demanded the television your only option until you could get the TV back was playing outside, playing with toys that you have played with several times before, or maybe, listening to records alone in your room.

This opening was used from 1972 until 1993 when McDonald Carey died as Mr. McDonald's family requested the show no longer use his likeness. Did you care to know, the sand falling into the hourglass was just a string.

Hunter and Magnum P.I.
If fast cars, guns drawn, explosions, steamy romances and morally rogue within the law cops sounds like several programs from the 1980s, you would be right. Two of the more successful shows of this genre were Hunter and Magnum P.I., which followed unconventional, but really conventional, cops and their sidekicks around to catch the evil bad guy. (Okay, Magnum P.I. was some kind of private eye and quasi-cop.) Each show followed the trail of the bad guy that always led to explosions, car chases, sometimes preventing a time-bomb from destroying the city, catching "urban" drug dealers, dealing with a steamy romantic interest, who sometimes becomes a hostage, which sometimes caused a dramatic plot twist by revealing she once had a relationship with the bad guy, and all accompanied by humorous jabs towards the partner. Rinse, wash and repeat. The complexity of thwarting some criminal mastermind always took just a hour every week with officers of the law who would never think of colluding with the enemy like Officer Vic Mackey.

The moral goodness of LAPD officer Richard Hunter is a long way from the boys at The Shield.

Oh Tom Selleck, in the 1980s women wanted to be with you and you made men grow mustaches to assert their masculinity.

Silver Spoons
So the premise of Silver Spoons was Ricky Stratton, who's mother threw him into a military boarding school after she remarried thinking her son would interfere with her new life, somehow manages to track down his father he never met, and as luck would have it his dad is not only super wealthy, but basically the CEO of his own toy company. It gets better, the father's home, aside from being an sprawling mansion, is filled with toys. With all that there is one question, or plot hole, many have wondered, where in the hell did that train go to when it left the house?

It could be argued Silver Spoons was a good refection of the Reagan era showing excessive wealth and creating a desire for audiences to dream and just maybe obtain such wealth.

Punky Brewster
In many "remember these theme song" stories Punky Brewster often seems to be left out, much like Punky's mother did to her and her dog Brandon. It is true, in the plot for some reason Punky's mother just utterly abandoned her and Brandon at a supermarket one day and this old unmarried man named Henry who she never met, who also happens to owns a photography shop, picks her up and they live together. Yes, read the plot synopsis again, because it does sound a bit creepy and something that would be in one of those Lifetime channel movie reenactments.

It is a very endearing theme song accompanied by Punky dressed in very bright, totally gnarly clothes. It would seem Henry did not mind so much shopping inside the woman's section at Chess King for his adoptive daughter.

It's Garry Shandling's Show
Finally, there was one show that broke through the absurdity of the era with witty comedy, but more times than not the show itself is often overlooked for the show's very catchy theme song, and it is easy to understand.

Just like the show the theme to It's Garry Shandling's Show was ridiculous, but cleaver. The show truly pointed out the absurdity of television comedies during this era.

While we look back at plenty of television shows from the 1980s with campy eyes one must remember that was pretty much want you had to choose from. Yes, there was bit of a broad brush painted here as there were a handful of interesting shows in this era, and if you were lucky you had HBO or some other cable channel, like the Z Channel, showing unique fare uncommon for its time, but there were a lot of places in Southern California that well into 1990s were still not wired for cable. Whatever thought-provoking, compelling unique television did exist in this time most shows were often, if not quickly, met with a cancellation notice. There were no internet forms or YouTube to find the series and create a new fanbase in hopes of having the show reinstated, or at the very least have a web revival. This was the era of "the big three" and those suits in New York who decided what America was going to watch.

Today, despite the nonstop glut of so-called reality shows there is much better television than in the 1980s. Hard to believe? Well, just compare some of the best scripted shows on television today to that of the 1980s. Of course the trade off is we no longer have many of the catchy themes today as we did back then, and we have to wade through more moronic television to find the good stuff, and that is too bad.

The past is always fun to visit, but trust us when we say you never want to live there.

1 comment: