Category Archives: VCRitage

Late Night 10th Anniversary Special, 1992

Last year, David Letterman “celebrated” 30 years as a late night talk show host. “Celebrated” gets quotation marks because he didn’t mark the occasion at all, really. Even this year, when Letterman entered his 20th year of hosting The Late Show on CBS, the milestone was barely noted at all. Bill Murray (first guest on Letterman’s NBC and CBS shows) made an appearance as Liberace for some reason, but that was Letterman’s only concession to the date. He apparently loathes anniversary specials and is now at a place, career-wise, where he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Like work on Fridays, or answer questions about not wanting to do an anniversary special. (This Times article on Letterman’s 30th year in late night features zero quotes from the man himself.)

That’s a shame, because it was an anniversary special that first exposed me to David Letterman as a young lad. I assume so, anyway. As a kid, I never would have been allowed to stay up late enough to see Late Night as it aired. I had no real chance to see any of Letterman’s genius until I caught a prime time anniversary special full of clips. When I saw Letterman crushing things with a pneumatic press and throwing things off a five-story building, I thought to myself, in my own little kid way, “This is what TV was made for.”

Whilst scouring my VHS archives recently, I found a tape containing the Late Night 10th Anniversary Special, which aired February 6, 1992. This is a unique artifact for many reasons. Johnny Carson’s retirement was imminent and Letterman had already been officially passed over as his replacement. This, plus a decade of accumulated slights by NBC and parent company GE, made it abundantly clear he would leave the network when his contract expired in 1993.

Previous anniversary specials were more befitting Late Night’s weird, almost community access sensibility. Take, for example, the fourth anniversary special from 1986, wherein Dave, Paul Shaffer’s band, and a crew of technicians conduct the show from the cabin of a 747 flying from Miami to New York. Not a flight they’ve chartered, but a scheduled flight, full of confused, oblivious passengers who find themselves the unwitting audience (and occasionally, victims) of this program.

Then, take a look at the 10th anniversary special below, filmed at Radio City Music Hall with Rockettes, an all-star band, and huge studio audience. It’s almost an audition for the spiffier, toned-down show he’d soon do at 11:30.

Letterman killed The Talk Show Host by creating a talk show in which the host very obviously thought the very idea of a talk show was bullshit. It is strange to see him in this 10th anniversary special, attempting to undo that killing, in his own way. He even seems genuine when thanking the audience for waiting on line to get inside.

For all of the Picture Day propriety, though, there is still plenty of weirdness on display. Observe the studio audience and note that it is packed to the gills with mooks. From the outfits worn and the reactions hooted, you’d think it was Howard Stern on stage. I swear I spotted at least three dudes in Boomer Esiason jerseys. This serves as a reminder that during their respective 1980s heydays, Letterman and Stern were often spoken of in the same breath, comedy-wise, as being (each in their own way) purveyors of edgy, take-no-prisoners laffs.

You will also see a brief appearance by Bill Murray, Letterman’s first ever guest and kindred spirit in practicing the fine art of fake sincerity. Live Stupid Pet Tricks make an appearance as well, but the real treat here is to see the clips from old shows and be reminded of just how strange Late Night was. Try not to think about how, because of Letterman’s acrimonious split from NBC, we’ll probably never see these clips outside of YouTube again. (And while you’re at it, try not to think about how we’ll never see Conan O’Brien’s greatest stuff for the same reason.)

In the final half hour, we receive another reminder of how many amazing bands Letterman had on his show, bands that never would have appeared on The Tonight Show, or anywhere else on TV at the time, for that matter.

This leads into a special live rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, backed by a band with an insane assemblage of musicians. I remember watching this as a kid and cringing because I hated Bob Dylan. Now I watch it and…I still kinda cringe. I’ve tried with Dylan, I really have, but me and him are never gonna happen. Since he’s the most influential songwriter of his age, I’m willing to concede the problem lies entirely with me, not him. I blame the abundance of harmonica in his tunes. I’ve reached the point in my life where I actually enjoy some of his songs, but once the harmonica kicks in, I check out. No harmonica here, but Dylan’s voice, ew boy…I think I’d take creepy Victoria’s Secret Dylan over this.

And as always, for you weirdos who like commercials, here’s a collection of ads that aired during this broadcast. Featuring: The hilariously failed Reebok “Dan & Dave” campaign, an NBC-4 News “special report” on “Sex & Sports,” a promo for a Matlock movie where he visits “a town that makes its money on murder!”, and a slew of rock-stupid Budweiser spots.

A Few Minutes with 120 Minutes, 1991

Recently rediscovered within the Vast and Dusty Scratchbomb VHS Archives: A nearly complete episode of 120 Minutes, MTV’s “alternative music” program. This aired December 15, 1991, and provides some insight into what exactly constituted alternative music (at least as far as MTV was concerned) during the waning days of the First Bush administration.

I’ve chopped this up into three pieces to ease playback and preserve some of the flow of the original. The first half hour of the show is missing from my tape, so we pick it up with host Dave Kendall introducing a clip from a live Cure pay-per-view special. I remember more than one friend ordering that special and borrowing the tape from them, then trying to figure out a way to copy it. Never cracked the code before I had to return it.

Though this apisode aired and was presumably taped after Nirvana “broke,” you’ll notice very little Seattle stuff here. Grunge would soon dominate the 120 Minutes playlist, but during this particular episode the videos leaned heavily toward industrial (Ministry, Nitzer Ebb), British shoegaze, and indie rock like Urge Overkill.

If you watched that first video, you heard Mr. Kendall tease a mini-documentary on The Clash, and here it is, narrated by Kurt Loder. There’s some amazing live footage here that I’ve never seen anywhere else, from the band’s early days, their 1982 concert at Shea Stadium, and lots of stuff in between. Also, some interesting testimonials from Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon.

And here’s the last half hour of the episode, which contains some curious Christmas music from Hoodoo Gurus and The Wedding Present. Stick around past the end credits to catch an episode of the weird animated omnibus Liquid Television. This show does not seem quite as mind blowing to me as it did back when I was in junior high, but then what does, really?

Finally, if you’re one of those weirdos like me who enjoys watching old commercials, here’s a playlist with ads that aired during this episode, plus a few spots from 1992 I found on the same tape. Highlights include:

  • Promo for MTV’s Best of 1991 programming featuring Cindy Crawford and background music of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which is as much 1991 as is legally allowed by law.
  • In the same dated vein, a promo for an issue of People Magazine that promises the lowdown on all the dirt from the set of Hook.
  • Casio Rapmaster keyboard, which looks and sounds exactly like what you think it does.
  • An unsettling Christmas-themed commercial for Playboy.
  • The now-forgotten TurboGrafx 16 gaming console.
  • Weird wrap-around promo for the band The Ocean Blue, which starts with an ad asking you to stick around the real ad.
  • A Super Nintendo commercial featuring a fresh-faced Paul Rudd.
  • Strange ad for Introspect jeans; can’t decide if this is misogynistic or simply dumb.
  • Foot Locker spot featuring Karl Malone’s LA Gear Mailmans, which, yes, was a thing.

The Lost Art of the Anniversary Special, Featuring Nazi Donald Duck

I know that the readers of Scratchbomb are students of genuine American folklore. Therefore, this will be of interest you: A Donald Duck 50th Anniversary special from 1984.

Back in those days, television loved to pay tribute to beloved pop culture figures via one-hour programs, during which the figure in question was feted by whatever random celebrities could be assembled. The pinnacle of this art was, of course, the Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special. Produced by Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video, it remains one of the most amazing things humans have made. This was just one example; in the mid-80s, it seemed every three months brought another such tribute to the airwaves.

People tuned in by the millions to watch these shows because back then, if you wanted to catch a “highlight reel” for I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners, this was your only recourse. Nowadays, if you want to see someone’s greatest moments, you can search for them on YouTube and you don’t have to pay Cher or Jeff Goldblum to punch up the proceedings.

However, back in 1984, the heyday of such programming, a special about Donald Duck all but demanded to be MC’ed and narrated by Dick Van Dyke, who also has some split animation/live action bits with the guest of honor. As in other such specials of its time, Donald is further celebrated by testimonials from a polyglot selection of stars seemingly picked out of a hat: Donna Summer, John Ritter, Kenny Rogers, Henry Winkler, and Andy Warhol, who is seen sketching out his own illustrated salute.

andy warhol + donald duckThe special also contains an enormous amount of old cartoon footage that is, I’m sure, locked up in a vault somewhere along with Walt’s frozen head, never to be seen again. For instance, a cartoon meant to promote postwar “understanding” between America and its neighbors to the south, with that understanding achieved by drinking cacha├ža and dive bombing bikini-clad girls on a beach with some kind of magic carpet. But that pales in comparison to a war-time short wherein Donald has a nightmare he lives in Nazi Germany and has to assemble bombs all day to the tune of Spike Jones’ “In Der Fuhrer’s Face.” So if you ever wondered what Donald Duck covered in swastikas would look like, wonder no more.

As with my Halloween presentation, the Donald Duck special is presented here with commercials included, intended to be viewed as one would have viewed it back when it was aired. (Source tape comes from a rebroadcast in 1985.) Again, the quality is not fantastic, but some sacrifices are needed to bring you Nazi Donald Duck.

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.