One switch. Two choices. As I said way back here, where you can see the box in the wild, ON TV (1977-1983) was a subscription service that would unscramble UHF channels in participating markets. Los Angeles was one of those markets, and it was the first pay-for-TV service my parents got, probably around 1982. That same year, ON TV secured the rights to Star Wars and aired the film on a pay-per-view basis in September. My parents and a number of other neighborhood parents chipped in, and a whole mess of ecstatic kids joined me in our tiny living room for the occasion. Our TV was 19″ at most.
Here’s the intro to ON TV’s “opening night” in 1980, featuring 10, Norma Rae, and Slap Shot. Not exactly a kid’s dream line-up. I dig how the logo mimics the straightening out of the scrambled UHF signal.
First time I’ve seen this, and I don’t know if it ever aired. According to the source, it’s from a VHS tape belonging to Alan Murphy, a graphics programmer at Atari (1980-1987) who worked on coin-op and console games, including Gauntlet and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The animation is excellent!
“Look for part one on the newsstands, and knock wood there’s a copy left.” Simple, spooky, brilliant.
Published December 16, 2014
Christmas , Commercials , Obsolete Tech
I got you some commercials for Christmas. Unwrap and enjoy.
(Ronco is still around.)
There were four major reasons original laser tag was a short-lived fad, with both Photon and Lazer Tag ending production in less than 5 years. First, Lazer Tag, the more popular brand by far, came out in November 1986, and the units were drastically underproduced when demand was highest. Second, the technology may have been cleaner than paintball, but it was much less effective. Nothing pisses off a kid more than a hit that doesn’t register. Third, the units were expensive (about $50 in 1986) and playing alone was boring, so you and a friend (or, better yet, friends) had to convince the respective parental units to shell out. Four, there were very few official arenas to support team play and provide the futuristic atmosphere the game required (as played up in the commercials). By Christmas 1987, we had moved on to something much bigger and better: the NES.
One last thing. Laser tag wasn’t immune to the biggest toy gun problem of all. In 1987, a group of teenage boys was playing Lazer Tag at night in a California elementary school. A neighbor called the police, and when a sheriff’s deputy arrived, one of the kids, thinking the deputy was a player, jumped out and “tagged” him. The cop shot twice, and the kid died.
(Ad image via X-Entertainment)
Published September 23, 2014
Commercials , LJN Toys , Toy Guns/Weapons
The commercials are slightly different and highlight different weapons (pump-action shotgun, water grenade set), but the catchy tagline is the same: “The look… the feel… the sound… so real. En-ter-tech.” The cadence and music are unmistakably military, and the letters of Entertech appear on the screen in time to the rattle of a machine gun.
Zap-It was another Entertech gun line, the gimmick being that the “ammo” was disappearing ink. The first commercial is from 1987, before enactment of the orange tip law. Watch the kid pop out from behind the door and shoot the pleasantly bemused postman! (There were 18 postal killing incidents in the U.S. between 1983 and 1997. The first use of the phrase “going postal” in the media seems to date to 1993.)
The second commercial, from the early ’90s, features guns decked out in all the colors of the rainbow. The Death Wish fantasies of the Reagan era gave way to Clintonian sax appeal and Vanilla Ice brand hip-hop.
Published July 17, 2014
Commercials , D&D , Make Mine Marvel , TSR
These are all the TSR-produced commercials I’ve been able to find so far. They aired in (from top to bottom) 1982, 1983, 1983, 1984, and 1985. I’ve posted them before with the exception of the 1984 spot, which is very well done and advertises not only the red cover Basic Set (Frank Mentzer revision), but the Marvel Super Heroes and Adventures of Indiana Jones RPGs. The 1983 Star Frontiers commercial is my favorite.
Let me know if I missed any.
Published May 6, 2014
Only $1399! But you may as well spring for the “totally portable” model—only $2495!
Two years later, Radio Shack’s Transportable Cellular Phone System was “just” $799.
They couldn’t come up with a better pose for Spidey? The villain molds look great.
The Amazing Spider-Man live-action pilot premiered in 1977, and the series resumed in 1978. The witty web-slinger, Marvel’s most relatable and engaging (in my opinion) hero, was everywhere.
True: Skatetown U.S.A. was Swayze’s film debut. He played Ace, the bad boy.
- See Ace chuck his gum at the crowd before he starts his routine. Ace is pissed! Ace is a bad boy!
- See Ace remove his tiny belt and whip it around in a frenzy of bad boy rage! Ace will cut you, man (with roller disco choreography)!
- See Ace move very slowly around the rink for what seems like an eternity, rubbing his belt on himself, trying to look tough while doing pirouettes on skates, and so on.
- Suddenly, Ace drops the belt and pulls off some disco moves I recognize from Saturday Night Fever. Ace picks up speed, hops onto the Skatetown U.S.A. stage, hurls himself off in slow motion, picks up the belt again, and finishes his bad boy routine with a Zorro-esque flourish! Breathe, people. Breathe.
Need more Patrick Swayze on roller skates? Here he is (red suspenders) in a 1981 A&W Root Beer commercial.