special

A Slice of Halloween Programming from 1985

As I’ve said many times, I find few things more fascinating than entire blocks of captured TV programming from the past. They give you a glimpse of what a time was really like. It reminds me of picking up an old newspaper, sifting through the news items, seeing the ads juxtaposed against them. A block of video from any given evening was not intended to stand the test of time. Its purpose was to appeal to the fleeting sensibilities of that exact moment.

Due to the waning influence of TV networks and the general fracturing of media, an evening of television is no longer assembled with mass audiences in mind. All entertainment nowadays is aimed at smaller, targeted demos. When I was growing up, however, the eyes of an entire nation would be glued to one of three choices. Networks were aware of this and so they cast a much wider net, in a way that’s almost inconceivable now.

For a representative example, I present to you this chunk of children’s holiday programming that aired right around Halloween, 1985. The actual shows seen here are far less interesting to me than the context in which they are placed.

First of all, this serves as a reminder that kids’ shows were restricted to very specific times. Lucky kids with cable could watch Nickelodeon, but most kids got Saturday morning cartoons and maybe an hour of afterschool fare. That made “specials” like these true events. There was nothing else on TV during the evening that was meant strictly for kids. And if you happened to miss out on a block of “specials,” you were SOL for another month, bare minimum. Hence, why I taped so much of this stuff as a young lad. I was terrified of missing evenings like this.

Despite the fact that the shows were aimed at kids, networks knew the audience watching these shows would be large and diverse, age-wise. So the commercials that aired during the shows are all over the map. Sure, there’s some toy commercials, but there’s also car commercials, fast food commercials, and commercials for other network shows with little-to-no kid appeal.

There’s also more than a few completely terrifying news teasers that give you an idea of what it was like to live in or near NYC in the mid 1980s. Midway through this video, a local CBS anchor promises to give us an update on a “manhunt for a renegade cop” at 11. IMMEDIATELY after this, the first scene of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

You would never see such a thing on television nowadays, for a million different reasons. It is a perfect encapsulation of what both New York and TV was like back then.

And so I present to you, one hour of specials from a chilly October evening in 1985. This is intended to be viewed as is, in one long slab, commercials and all. I realize this runs completely counter to the internet circa 2013, and that no one will do this. That is my intent nonetheless.

The video quality is not fantastic, which is to be expected from a VHS tape that’s nearly 30 years old (which I watched 8 billion times). However, I believe the historic value trumps the visual deficiencies. Enjoy.

  • Shaun Mollica

    Joe Isuzu as the Yellow Pages Dragnet Dude!