Forgotten Cool: Poring Over the TV Guides

Once upon a time, before cable TV and the internet were a thing, pop culture junkies like me had to get our information about things like new stuff coming out, hot trends on the public’s mind, and so on and so on, from newspapers and magazines. Even “infotainment” shows like Entertainment Tonight didn’t really exist. Print was IT.

I devoured everything I could find on the subject of mystery and SF and adventure fiction back in the day, which meant I was a devout reader of TV GUIDE.

Especially the Fall Preview issue every September.

Goddamn but I loved those things. I read them cover to cover, obsessively, even when the articles were describing shows I was forbidden to watch because they were on too late at night or too adult or whatever other arbitrary reason my incredibly tightly-wound mother landed on.

But TV GUIDE wasn’t my only source. The Sunday papers of the time also usually had some sort of weekly TV tabloid guide as an insert.

These were usually hard-to-read grid schedules sandwiched between dozens of ads and the occasional little filler bits of trivia about this or that.

I read those too, but more often than not, they irritated me with their shallowness and inaccuracy. I was reminded of this a few days ago when a couple of different nostalgia websites I enjoy resurrected these particular dimwit articles from TV newspaper supplements. I thought I’d share them here just to give you an idea of the severe nerdrage they evoked in my young self.

Here’s the first one…

Clearly the guy writing this held The Six Million Dollar Man in complete contempt. Because I was there and I can tell you exactly why the ratings ramped up, and it wasn’t really Steve at all. It was writer/producer Kenneth Johnson and his tearjerker introduction of the Bionic Woman, Jaime Sommers, close to the end of the second season.

Lindsay Wagner could ACT. She raised Lee Majors’ game just by being in the frame with him. America loved Jaime and because Steve loved her too the whole country was rooting for them. Jaime’s tragic passing absolutely undid me… and I guarantee you I was not normally into ‘mushy stuff.’

It was a hell of a piece of TV coming from a show not normally noted for its emotional content. Almost a sucker punch, even for a jaded genre fan like me who knew that Steve could never really get married or have any other permanent change happen, because, y’know, next week they have a new episode.

But America loved them. You kids today and your ‘shipping… before Castle and Beckett or Buffy and Angel or any of those, we had the star-crossed bionic couple. You have no idea. America wanted Steve and Jaime together damn it. Killing her off launched a nationwide wail of dismay that ABC could not ignore.

So they resurrected her.

My parents thought it was farfetched but I was from comics, I shrugged it off. (Comics fans and Trekkies understood resurrection was a thing. I was both.) Steve and Jaime’s tormented romance became the engine that drove the third season launch…. and they teased us with it for the next couple of years. Jaime got amnesia. Steve met a hot alien. Jaime couldn’t commit. And so on.

It eventually led to Jaime getting her own show, and of course it was a huge success.

This in turn let ABC do multipart crossovers just like Marvel Comics. I was in heaven. This was EPIC.

Once in a while we’ll screen Kill Oscar for kids who are visiting and you know, it still works. They love it.

That success, back in 1976, is what cascaded into the bionic wave that gave us Man From Atlantis and Incredible Hulk and so on.

The Hulk, incidentally, also launched with a Kenneth Johnson tearjerker. Never quite forgave Johnson for killing off Susan Sullivan in the pilot.

The point being, I was a fourteen-year-old kid at the time and I knew this stuff. People who get paid to write about TV for newspapers should have known it too.

But this earlier one was even worse. Check it out:

I WAS NOT AMUSED.

Okay, let the writer have his damn dad joke. Honestly, though, it’s embarrassing to admit that I almost missed the Clark Kent thing because I was so appalled at the “Robin and Alfred” part. I mean, really? Batman never unmasked as Bruce Wayne??

Are you fucking kidding me? Villains find out all the damn time.

There’s Joe Chill…

(And his mother….)

Blockbuster…

Hugo Strange…

Talia….

And her dad….

Bane…

Even Bruce’s Aunt Agatha, who makes Aunt Harriet look like an Einstein.

Then there’s all the times Bruce just up and TELLS people. Kathy Kane…

Catwoman….

(He told her a BUNCH of times, actually…)

His fellow Justice Leaguers…

Honestly, I’m pretty sure the only ones in Gotham City who haven’t figured it out by now about Batman being Bruce Wayne are about four muggers and Commissioner Gordon. And he tried to tell Gordon.


It’s just that Gordon didn’t want to know.


So get out of here with your Robin and Alfred bullshit. We’re probably in triple digits by now, especially if you count all the guys in the League of Assassins who were working for Ra’s Al Ghul back in the Daughter of the Demon.

Those newspaper guys, they should have come and asked me. I’d’a told them. Hell, I used to grump to my mom and dad about this sort of thing and they didn’t even ask.

Come to think of it, no one ever has, not to this day. I guess it’s a good thing I got a column gig. I’d hate to think I wasted my life learning all this nerdlore.

Back next week with something cool.

17 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    That sort of thing is why I ignore serious critics.

    My favourite is a local review of Star Trek: Generations, where the serious local critic said words to the effect of:
    “You already know how it ends; Kirk lives, the galaxy is saved.”
    Apparently, you don’t need to watch a movie to write a serious review of it.

    (Although, ‘Trekkers know resurrection is a thing’? What are you referring to here? That was years before The Search For Spock.)

  2. Oh, TV Guide and all similar things were manna to me back then. And they made me aware of shows I might not otherwise have watched; working though Hulu, CW.com and such, I’m much less aware of what’s out there.

    The three TV movies that reunite Steve and Jaime and eventually marry them off are cool. The second introduced some kid named Sandra Bullock as a new bionic agent — too bad it didn’t go to series, I thought she had some talent.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    I only got my hands on TV Guide occasionally, when visiting a friend’s house, or the few occasions when my older sister (I think? It wasn’t either of my parents, that’s for sure) would pick up a copy. I had to settle for the inferior TV supplement that came with the Sunday papers, along with Parade magazine. Just wasn’t the same…

    Otherwise, on the whole Steve Austin/Jamie Summers romance, oh, yeah, I remember it well. It always bugged me a bit that various circumstances always kept them apart. And Lindsey Wagner was probably my first little-boy crush.
    And if that snooty critic was put off by “humorless Steve Austin,” I hope he liked The Fall Guy (I know I did – and still do, most of the episodes are up on YouTube, so I watch them occasionally).

    1. Edo Bosnar

      In fact, speaking of Fall Guy, I just recently watched the episode in which Wagner guest-starred, playing Colt Seever’s old high school sweetheart – so plenty of winks, nods and callbacks to their bionic adventures of a few years before.

  4. John King

    In the UK we have multiple competing TV listing magazines. I get one of the cheapest. I notice some errors appear whenever a specific episode is broadcast

    so one Sliders episodes concerns a world where “Rembrandt the painter is as famous as Elvis” (anyone who’s seen an episode will spot the error there)

    and one Episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) [A.k.A. My Partner the Ghost] titled “The Ghost who saved the bank of Monte Carlo” is, according to the magazine, set in Las Vegas

    The Newpaper TV listiings are just as bad
    I remember them praising Jim Carey’s performance in the Cher film “Mask”
    and in one mini quiz asked who in Thunderbirds drove a Pink Rolls Royce and gave the answer as Lady Penelope (Parker was the chauffer who drove it)

    of course even magazines dedicated to cult fiction gets thing wrong – one had a quiz asking which actress was in one episode of Star Trek and also played Catwoman – giving the answer as Lee Merriwether but Julie Newmar also fits the description

    1. Le Messor

      I remember a newspaper quiz asked “What’s the name of the Phantom’s dog?”
      My dad was reading it to me, so I said ‘it’s not a dog, it’s a wolf. Its name is Devil.’
      In the newspaper’s defence, they said the same thing in the answers section. 🙂

      Oh, I loved Jim Carey in that Cher film; when all the camp counsellors are telling that guy to take off his mask and he says ‘all-rightey then!’

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    We just had the daily paper listings, for years. Ou local paper didn’t include a tv supplement until around the 80s. It really didn’t matter too much, as we were in a farm town and could really only tune in two networks; and, occasionally, PBS, until I was older and we had a newer tv, with a better antenna (Our neighbors had a tower antenna and got great reception. Ours depended on weather). We pretty much just had our favorite shows and regular movie slots. Later, our supplement really only had one article per week in there; everything else was a listing or one sentence description. My neighbor and my grandparents used to have tv guide.

    For us, it was usually an entertainment section article, when it was time for the fall season or if there was going to be a big special.

    I do recall our tv supplement having a photo and small article about the return of the Man From UNCLE tv movie, that had a better shot of the new UNCLE Special than the actual movie did. In the film, Solo has it in the climax, but they never have a close shot of it and he is disarmed in about his second or third scene with it. They didn’t even show it off in the lab, when he meets their new gadget guru (a beautiful woman who is hot for Ilya). They spent more time on the COP 4-shot mini-pistol that Solo carries for the mid-section of the film.

    I was gonna correct about Susan Sullivan being in the Hulk pilot until I realized I was confusing her with Mariette Hartle, who dies in the second season premiere. David Banner just needed to stay away from blonds.

  6. jccalhoun

    I too used to read the TV Guide listings when I was a kid in the 80s. I would look for late night movies to record. That’s how I eventually got to watch The Prisoner. I had heard of it somehow but had never seen it until a local station (I seem to remember it was an ABC station not even an independent) aired it at 1am or something. I can’t imagine why they decided to do that but I thank them for it.

    1. When I first got out of college and couldn’t afford a VCR, I spent many nights staying up to catch films airing in the dead of night on WGN or TBS — several of the Thin Man movies, for instance.
      One local station aired a whole bunch of Hammer films but it conflicted with my night shift job so I missed them (caught up on them since, though).

  7. We must have had a TV Guide subscription. Not entirely sure why, although I guess we did watch plenty of TV. I read those things a ton, and it’s one of the things where I know about nerd stuff etc a lot without actually knowing stuff firsthand. My knowledge has been strangely acquired….

    And I always liked the questions in the TV section of the paper, where someone would write in and ask about such and such TV show or movie that they vaguely remembered. This was pre-Google/YouTube, which is probably what killed that feature, but y’know, even having those things, a lot of people still wouldn’t know how to find certain things. You can’t look up a word in the dictionary to spell it if you’re not sure how to spell it, to make an analogy.

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