TV is different nowadays. Back in the 80’s we had 4 channels in the UK. That was it. The 4th one only came along in 1982. They called it Channel 4. Go figure. The only way to get more would be to have one of those huge satellite dishes, that only mega-rich people could afford, installed in your back garden. The character Boycie had one in Only Fools in Horses. How much they cost, how they worked and indeed what the hell they actually picked up God only knows. German channels I’d imagine. Just from that alone, you could probably have made a fortune recording the late night programming from Deutschland to VHS tapes and selling them on the bootleg porn market.
Then Sky came along with BSB in 1989, they amalgamated with each other within a year and eventually got some competition from cable in the mid 90’s in the form of NTL and Telewest. The cable is now all owned by Virgin Media who absorbed the original two regional competitors and along with BT, they form the three major TV supply options in the UK in the modern day and with them a plethora of TV stations and shows. What we have now would have been the stuff of fantasy back then. In fact, there would have been no way to even perceive it.
The quality of TV now is also miles above what it was back then. Back then TV shows were where big Hollywood actor’s careers came to die. Nowadays a big Hollywood actor is almost expected to have a presence on a major television show. Probably beginning with The Sopranos in 99′ and carrying through to the present day we now have shows which not only attract millions of viewers but multi-million £/$ budgets, huge fees to the participants, sweeping cinematography, top class directors and subsequently gushing praise from critics.
Back in the 80’s though we had A-Team, Knightrider, Streethawk, Airwolf, The Dukes of Hazard, The Equalizer, Dallas, Dynasty, Magnum and from a kids perspective an absolute shed load of high octane cartoons. Compared to UK TV shows the production values of the American offerings which had well and truly invaded British television sets in the 1980’s, were on a different level. The acting was at times circumspect, the direction almost non-existent and the narratives somewhat pedestrian. Indeed it was rare for any of these shows to carry a story arc longer than 2 consecutive weeks. They were very much episode of the week type programmes. I exclude Dynasty and Dallas from that of course. They were soap operas, dramas if you like and boy were they dramatic. I challenge you to find one contemporary show in the past three decades which engaged the public en-masse like the ‘Who shot JR?’ storyline did. I mean I wasn’t even born yet and it still intrigued me.
Prime-time TV was of a different quality back then. Of course, it was very much a different time and catered to a different audience. A less undemanding one with different expectations and far fewer options. There was a good chance back then that on any given evening of the week the majority of households were tuned into the same show. Nowadays what with the sheer variety of options it would be incredible if even a third were watching the same thing on any given night. Indeed it’s only probably soap operas along with the news and certain sporting events that could cast a simultaneous spell over the public at large in the modern day.
So let’s get to it. A critique of my favourite shows from back then, in that simpler time.