Once upon a time before reality and other absurd shows infiltrated television screens there were programs that people could watch enabling them to escape their everyday lives even if it was just for thirty minutes. Such broadcasts included the following:
Tales from the Darkside 1984 – 1988
This thirty minute horror series produced by George A. Romero is a mysterious short story that has a strange yet surprising ending. The introduction is quite frightening as it begins with ominous music playing as a picture of grey clouds from up above move outward followed by the camera filming he very top of some trees as it slowly moves backward. The next shot is of high grass, a wooden bridge over a brook, a stream, a countryside complete with a barn and the last scene is of very tall trees like that of a forest with the camera now moving forward. What makes the opening theme even more chilling is the white water that calmly trickles down the rocks of the stream as a daunting voice comes on and says:
“Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality, but… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit… a darkside.”
After the narration, the picture of the trees in the middle of the screen (which is in widescreen format) turns completely around becoming an entirely different image of very dark trees while the grass in the background quickly changes color from gray to black as the words Tales From the Darkside appear in red and outlined in white. Lastly as the writing disappears upward the picture opens up similar to that of a book thus beginning each segment.
Though most closing themes are rarely worth watching Tales From the Darkside is an exception. While the same picture of dark trees appears the music is once again played as the credits are shown the same voice says:
“The darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us, until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.”
Tales From the Darkside is one of the best horror series ever made because each episode different and engrossing. While there were quite a few television shows whose premises were based on short horror stories during the 80’s this show is truly original keeping viewers in suspense from beginning to end. I still enjoy watching reruns of the Tales From the Darkside (and remember most of the them) which makes me realize even more how much better television was back then.
Murder, She Wrote 1984 -1996
Whether by sheer coincidence or just bad timing it seems like wherever mystery writer Jessica Fletcher is a murder occurs. Jessica Fletcher is a retired English teacher turned suspense novelist and amateur detective. Jessica, a widow did not start out as an author and actually began her astute career when she was in her early fifties. The show is set in Cabot Cove, Maine and every episode begins by giving viewers a glimpse of what it’s about followed by Jessica saying “Tonight on Murder, She Wrote.” What is so interesting about this show is the fact that each segment contains a different story line and no matter what it entails Jessica is always there asking pertinent questions which are often times considered intrusive but nonetheless in the end because of her tenacity she always solves the case. The fact that she writes mystery novels enables her to have a more keen intuition when it comes to looking for clues. As with most detective programs viewers have their own presumption as to who the culprit is and many times are surprised to discover it isn’t who they suspect which makes the show even more intriguing to watch.
Many famous stars would appear on the series some of whom were the criminals others who were not. Depending on the location of where the murder takes place police and sheriffs expect her to show up with her many questions though most don’t want her near their crime scene until she has proof that she’s close to solving the case then and only then will they listen to her. Since Jessica is a famous mystery writer many in law enforcement are fans of hers and welcome her assistance while others are far from pleased and don’t want her meddling. Occasionally she is aided by her friends including cantankerous Dr. Seth Hazlitt or the local sheriff who was originally Amos Tupper until he retired and was replaced with Sheriff Mort Metzger.
After several years of solving cases in Maine Jessica decides to move to New York in 1991 to be closer to her publisher as murders once again begin to happen. Following the cancellation of the program four television movies were made as well as a spin-off series called the Law & Harry McGraw but it did not feature Jessica’s character.
Murder, She Wrote is a prime example of how entertaining murder mystery shows were. Each week as a different scenario unfolded it allowed viewers to play sleuth as no one knew who committed the crime until the very end. This long-running CBS series had everything from guest stars, villains and a fascinating plot that kept audiences glued to their screens. I especially like the theme song because whenever I hear it I think of the Grey Poupon commercial or being in an English countryside. While I never watched the show when it first came out because it aired Sunday evenings and I had to go to bed early I did watch repeats and they really were good. I remember thinking the program was like watching a live version of the game Clue except instead of it being Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick each episode involved a different situation and killer.
Easy Street 1986-1997
This brief yet extremely funny comedy series shows audiences how perplexing life can become when people who are the complete opposite of each other all live under the same roof. L.K. McGuire is a one time Las Vegas showgirl who marries a much younger, wealthy playboy but when he suddenly dies she inherits half of his fortune which includes half of his Beverly Hills mansion. The only problem is that L.K.’s arrogant sister-in-law Eleanor Standard and her timid husband Quentin, who is more tolerant of L.K. than his wife reside in the other half. Eleanor does everything in her power to make sure L.K. whom she despises gets none of the money she is entitled to in addition to wanting her out of her home and life.
Feeling lonely with no family of her own L.K. discovers she has one living relative, her elderly uncle Alvin Stevensen who goes by the nickname Bully and has had his share of hard times. When L.K. finds Bully living in a delapidated retirement home with his friend Ricardo she feels bad about their living conditions and invites both men to her vast yet partial estate for the weekend resulting in them moving in despite the protests from Eleanor who is dead set against it. Regardless of how crudely Eleanor treats them L.K. maintains her right to live in the manor along with Bully and Ricardo who add laughter and chaos to the show.
Of all the sitcoms that aired during the eighties Easy Street had one of the most clever story lines because due to the stipulation of a will it brought several people from diverse backgrounds whose lifestyles were entirely different from each other together in the same mansion but instead of being a close, loving family the residence was divided in half consisting of a married couple who were not at all compatible and occupied one side while their sister-in-law, her uncle and his friend lived on the other and would trade insults and wisecracks to each other which made the program even more comical.
Perfect Strangers 1986 – 1993
A terrific show about two people entirely different from each other but whose personalities make them hilarious together. Originally from Wisconsin, Larry Appleton who comes from a large family moves to Chicago and is especially proud of the fact that for the first time in his life he’s on his own. His happiness is short-lived; however, when he answers the door in his new apartment and a man named Balki Bartokomous announces he ‘s Larry’s distant cousin. Balki, a sheepherder hails from a small, Greek-like Mediterranean island called Mypos.
At first Larry refuses Balki’s request to stay at his apartment but reluctantly agrees to it when he realizes Balki has no place else to go. While Larry is high-strung and usually has a detailed plan for everything Balki is carefree and enjoys trying new things as he adapts to his new life which makes them both an ideal match.
Perfect Strangers was hands down one of my favorite programs when I was younger because both characters balanced each other out perfectly hence the title Perfect Strangers making each episode entertainingly funny. I not only like the opening theme but used to love watching the story that went along with it as Larry’s family was saying goodbye to him when he got into his red Mustang with all his belonging piled high onto his hood and ventured off on his own and when Balki said goodbye to his family and got onto the back of a wagon while holding his belongings as a large sign next to him read AMERICA -OR- BURST.
* During its seven years on the air this sitcom had a number of different characters one of which was Harriet Winslow who went in to star in Family Matters which was a spin-off of Perfect Strangers. The actress Belita Moreno portrayed Edwina Twinkacetti during seasons 1 & 2 when both Larry and Balki worked at the Ritz Discount Store and Lydia Markham for seasons 3 through 7 but by that time Larry was now working as a newspaper reporter while Balki worked in a mail room. In my opinion the first few years of the show were the best. Last but not least we mustn’t forget one thing that never changed. The “Dance of Joy.”
Unsolved Mysteries – 1987 – 2002
This documentary series which originally premiered on NBC from 1987 to 1997 then on CBS from 1997 to 1999 and lastly on Lifetime from 2001 to 2002 profiles real-life situations by using actors and reenacting crimes that have not been solved, missing persons, conspiracy theories, legends and paranormal activity for which there is no explanation along with interviewing witnesses who are often times in silhouette. Each episode contains several unsolved and unexplained mysteries and viewers with any information are strongly advised to call the 800 number that appears on the screen.
Countless tips from viewers helped to solve many of the cases featured and often times after one aired the host of the program would say UPDATE just as the word was shown across the screen followed of the description of how a viewer’s tip helped to apprehend a fugitive or solve something which could not be explained.
During its five-year run the show was narrated by Raymond Burr followed by Karl Malden but most viewers including myself identify the program with the third and final host Robert Stack. The eerie music which accompanied the series added intrigue and anticipation and when Robert Stack would talk it made it even more frightful.
* In an attempt to revive Unsolved Mysteries Spike TV began airing the show in 2008 with Dennis Farina as the host since Robert Stack had passed away several years earlier but it was entirely different from the original program. The format of the show had completely changed starting with the introductory theme that was now more suspenseful but less likely to give viewers nightmares and featured pictures of various captions including folklore, murders, paranormal activity and other occurrences which had not been solved. The cases profiled were not new but rather previous ones from older segments. When an update took place Dennis Farina would say “In a recent broadcast” referring to the case that was now solved but had aired years earlier.
In addition, the show had become more modernized as a digital map of the United States would zero in on a particular city in which the crime or other type of activity took place that would describe the case. While I was glad Unsolved Mysteries temporarily made a comeback it just wasn’t the same as it had been during the time Robert Stack was the host.
* Unsolved Mysteries was one television program I couldn’t wait to see as just about every episode was truly enigmatic and kept many viewers on the edge of their seats waiting for the outcome of each circumstance. On several occasions I could have sworn that a neighbor of ours as well as a friend of the family had appeared on the show not as a witness but rather as a suspect in a crime but I never called the 800 number and that it itself is an unsolved mystery.