I happened across a YouTube video the other day called “11 Intros to Tacky 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV,” and decided to watch it. Not sure that “tacky” is the right word. Maybe “short-lived” or “justifiably obscure” or some such. But the thing that surprised me — though it shouldn’t have — is that not only had I never seen any of them, I’d never heard of any of them.
That might sound like bragging. Actually, I will brag a little. I didn’t own a TV in the 1980s, and with certain exceptions, such as the last episode of M*A*S*H or the airing of The Day After, I didn’t watch much. I’m certain I’m better for it.
(Then again, the ’80s had no monopoly on TV SF failure: these are intros from 1975-80, all of whom failed. I watched much more TV then, but only vaguely remember Time Express and Buck Rogers, and watched Battlestar Galactica for a short while, until its stupidity got to be too much to take. Whoever complied the video left out Quark.)
The 11 shows in the video from the 1980s are Automan, Manimal, The Wizard, Wizards and Warriors, Misfits of Science, Shadow Chasers, The Phoenix, Powers of Matthew Star, Starman, Outlaws, The Highwayman. I wonder what kind of coke-bender decision-making allowed some of them to go on the air, just judging from some of their ridiculous — that’s the word, “ridiculous 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV” — intros.
I recognized a handful of the actors. The Wizard’s David Rappaport was easily the best-known dwarf actor of his generation, and I remember he did a good job in the underrated Time Bandits (need to see that again; maybe I overrated it 30 years ago). Glad to know Rappaport had his own TV show, even one that didn’t last long. Sorry to learn that he didn’t last long, since he shot himself to death in 1990.
Robert Hays is instantly recognizable in Starman, though there’s no way he’s getting away from Ted Striker and his drinking problem.
Among the 11, the prize for most ridiculous concept (according to me, and it’s a tough competition) goes to Outlaws, whose intro explains that a gang of Texas outlaws from 1899 is magically transported to the late 20th century, along with the sheriff who was chasing them. More than time travel magic, too, since they somehow or other ended up on the right side of the law in the 1980s. You’d think they’d take to knocking over convenience stores and passing bad checks in our time. Also, one of them is black, perhaps the most improbable plot element of all. Played by Richard Roundtree, who will never get away from John Shaft.
The prize for bad intro writing goes to The Highwayman. They are supposed to be supernatural guardians of the world, or something — and if so, why did the producers pick a word that means bandits on the road? Anyway, the intro, which sounds like it’s read by William Conrad (a job’s a job), goes like this:
“There is a world, just beyond now, where reality rides a razor-thin seam between fact and possibility. Where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow. Patrolling these vast outlands is a new breed of lawman, guarding the fringes of society’s frontiers. They are known simply as Highwaymen, and this is their story.”
The “razor-thin seam between fact and possibility”? Whoever wrote that was trying for Rod Serling, and failing.