This week's TV Talk (which still runs Thursday -- you're just getting the advance copy) looks at the influence of '80s schlock television on today's culture. Kinda playing off "Transformers" and that sort of thing.
In the column, I allude to the number of fall TV pilots I've seen that would be right at home in 1984. No, not "Bionic Woman" -- that show is ironically grounded in the 21st century. But, for instance, last night I was watching another NBC pilot, "Life," which could have been sandwiched between "Magnum, PI" and "Matt Houston, PI" on the schedule. Except, you know, for its regrettable lack of a "PI" in the title.
I was talking about this phenomenon with my wife and it's something I'll need to return to in the fall when these shows actually premiere.
I think the key ingredient that makes these "80's" shows is the dotdotdot. If the show's premise involves a (usually silly) twist on a standard plotline that requires a pause for effect, then it's a dotdotdot.
Confused? Let me explain: The A-Team is the perfect example of this. A team of supersoldiers is wrongly convicted (dotdotdot) and escapes to fight injustice.
The show's intro actually has a pause right in it, albeit in the wrong spot: "In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the…A-Team."
Get it? So "Matt Houston" was "rich businessman has a secret life... fighting crime." "Remington Steele" was "struggling PI invents glam alter ego to drum up biz (dotdotdot) only to have a mysterious stranger assume the role." "Knight Rider" was "cop is left for dead, but given a new face and a new life dotdotdot plus a supercar." That one doesn't work as well.
I think in the perfect formulation, the dotdotdot would always be followed by "fighting crime."
My wife thinks "Greatest American Hero" fits into this niche: Nebbishly teacher has an alien encounter and is given superpowers dotdotdot to fight crime." I argue that that show was too campy from its conception to fit this mold.
Also, "Magnum PI" doesn't quite fit, since there was really no twist, just a bunch of deus ex machina to give Tom Selleck a Ferrari, helicopter and friends with guns on a pretty limited salary. The beauty of Magnum is how much fun they had playing with the illogic of the setup.
Anyway, I'm trying to think of a few more examples. "Heart to Heart" works, although I think that was from the '70s. Same with "Charlie's Angels." "Airwolf" sort of falls in the "Knight Rider" category. "The Scarecrow and Mrs. King" is a teriffic example of what I'm talking about. (Or, in the '80s vernacular, "what I'm talkin' 'bout, Willis").
"Moonlighting" kind of works, even if the writing was better than most of these others: "Rich socialite loses everything dotdotdot except for a fleabag detective agency."
Does "Riptide" fit? I loved that show, but I think it falls more in the Magnum file - deus ex helicopters and speedboats. "Miami Vice" belongs in that column, too.
How about "The Fall Guy"? I really don't remember anything about that show.