Tag Archives: tv

Vintage WVIZ TV-25 Mug

I spent this past weekend dogsitting for my brother. Since I love dogs, especially these dogs, this was no inconvenience, but my wonderful generosity meant that the typical thrift store adventures weren’t going to happen. Since my main hobby is digging through stuff people couldn’t see fit to hold onto, well, let’s just say I don’t like being taken out of my comfort-zone.

Also, my cellphone is apparently not right in the head; I discovered that the only way to charge it without it constantly resetting/freezing/angering me to the point of violence is to shut it down completely and charge it that way.

It was immediately following one such charge-session that my reawakened phone alerted me to a text from my good friend Jesse. Jesse knows that I collect broadcasting memorabilia, and helpfully keeps an eye for me, which I certainly appreciate – especially when other duties keep me from hitting up stores myself, as was the case in this particular instance.

And boy, he found me a doozy: a vintage plastic mug for Cleveland & Akron PBS affiliate WVIZ TV-25! Cool winnins! Thanks Jesse!

My eyes were immediately drawn to the logo used. Logopedia sez this style was used from 1978 all the way up to 2000, but the exact variation of it as seen here (solid color, font of the call letters, etc.), coupled with the styling of the mug itself, methinks it almost certainly has to come from, if not the late-1970s then at least the early-1980s.

An online search, both via Google and eBay, told me nothing. In fact, besides the logo info and gut feelings on my part, I really don’t know much more about this mug than what I’ve already shared. It doesn’t take a giant leap to assume it was part of an annual pledge drive, though. I mean, that slogan “I’m part of the picture,” how could that not be pledge-related? Since PBS is, you know, funded by the public, this mug was (presumably) proof that the one using it made up a piece of the fabric that was public television in the Cleveland / Akron market at the time. Or something like that.

When it comes to PBS in the Northeast Ohio, there were, and are, two choices: WVIZ of course, but also WNEO-45/WEAO-49, which serves Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown – and more? Go read about it yourself on that Wikipedia link.

Anyway, from where I’m situated, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t pull in both affiliates. Sure, much of the programming was identical, but just like the WEWS/WAKC ABC situation here up through the mid-1990s, we got both. I didn’t really understand it growing up, but looking back, it’s sorta neat.

Of the two, I prefer WVIZ, but that’s not an opinion being swayed by this mug; it’s just the one I’m more used to, though there are points in my history where it’s been an even-split.

Still, my fondness for 25 increased my happiness with this mug, absolutely.

Like any other Northeast Ohio kid, a good portion of my formative years were spent with PBS. Sure, every kid watched Sesame Street, but for me, there was also Bob Ross, The Frugal Gourmet, and This Old House, all of which also colored my childhood. Or course, nowadays I can’t paint to save my life, asking me to cook anything but the most basic of meals is an exercise in frustration, and attempting to build anything beyond a paper airplane is just asking for a trip to the emergency room, but still, it was nice growing up with all that.

And believe it or not, it’s all running through my mind when I look at this mug, even though it’s (probably) a bit before my time and I never actually saw an example of it until this last Saturday. Go figure!

Advertisements

Vintage WDSM TV-6 DIALING FOR DOLLARS Keychain

I’m going to go outside of Northeast Ohio (but not the Midwest) for this update, because it’s my blog and I’ll do whatever I want. There’s only so much I can say about the subject, both because of its nature and because I’m neither from the area nor era in which it hails, but this is such a neat piece of vintage television memorabilia that it needs to be archived. Even if said archiving is on my stupid dumb website.

Backstory: I’m a big fan of the various incarnations of the Dialing For Dollars franchise that aired nationwide (though each market got their own locally-produced version). You may or may not recall this was a daily program, typically airing in the late morning or early afternoon, in which a movie was shown and viewers were phoned live on-the-air during breaks and given the opportunity to win a cash prize – a jackpot that would increase for the next lucky person called if the one prior failed to win it. Certain game play details could vary from iteration to iteration, but Wikipedia has an excellent write-up on the normative format and program in general.

Obviously, with the live, daytime format and lengthy block of time it would take up, having a regularly-scheduled Dialing For Dollars today just isn’t feasible. Too many people work during the day or are busy streaming inconsequential crap on their smartphones to pay enough attention to something like this now. Still, there’s little doubt it was a wildly successful movie showcase across the U.S. for decades, and as an example of not only television history but local television history, the “cool factor” is off the charts.

Here in Northeast Ohio, we had Prize Movie on WUAB TV-43, which wasn’t quite the same format as Dialing For Dollars but still had the ideal of live callers, daily movies and (potentially) big money prizes at heart. ‘Course, if you headed Youngstown way, you could see WFMJ TV-21’s Dialing For Dollars, as well as the Money Movie over on WKBN TV-27. Whether you could get those stations in my particular neck of the woods probably depended on weather conditions and/or how cheap you decided to be when you purchased your rabbit ears. You better reach deeper in them pockets if you want extra channels, sport!

(There was also something called the Bingo Movie on Canton’s WOAC TV-67 in the 1980s, which I can only guess was similar in spirit if not in practice.)

ANYWAY, Finding artifacts pertaining to Dialing For Dollars is a little tricky; for obvious reasons, there weren’t any official video releases of these programs (to the best of my knowledge), and besides, a good many of these aired either before or during the infancy of the home video era. (Though some, such as our Prize Movie, ran well into the 1990s; it really all depended on the market.)

So, that leaves the, as I like to call them, “supplementals.” You know, the promotional items. Things like glasses, mugs, TV listings and advertisements, and as our subject today demonstrates, keychains. I collect television-related stuff like this anyway, but Dialing For Dollars is an area of extreme particular interest in that, erm, area.

(Boy, I sure killed the end of that paragraph dead.)

And that brings us to the eBay-purchased promotional item you’re seeing to the right. From WDSM TV-6 of Duluth and Superior, MN, it’s a vintage keychain spotlighting their local version of Dialing For Dollars. I don’t know what year(s) it hails from exactly, but since Wikipedia tells me WDSM became KBJR in 1974, it’s at least as old as that. Neato!

The ring and chain project some old-timey vibes, as in I can’t see a modern day keychain using either style (unless they do; it’s not like I keep heavy tabs on this stuff) but it’s really all about the Dialing For Dollars fob here. It looks like a film reel! And check out the “R,” or rather, the swoop (?) coming off of it: it looks like a strip of film! Apropo! Also, lotsa dollar signs, because big money was at hand and it was just waiting for you, yes you, to win it!

Look, the thing is just cool, okay? I’m going to assume it’s an approximation of the actual logo used for the show, but that’s merely guesswork on my part and based on nothing substantial whatsoever.

I don’t know who hosted WDSM’s iteration of Dialing For Dollars, nor do I know for how long. A Google search told me nothing. TV Guides from the area would probably reveal some print ads for the program, but without knowing some rough dates, searching out appropriate issues on eBay could quite conceivably be like the proverbial needle in a haystack, and while I’m always up for a quest, I’m far too broke to attempt such a thing right now.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that anyone with any memories and/or info pertaining to WDSM’s Dialing For Dollars is invited to hit the comments and share what they know. See, this is an interactive site!

The other side of the fob features the station identification and location. More $$$igns, and look close for the covert, kinda-easy-to-miss “6.”

I wonder how people could obtain this keychain back in the day? A giveaway at personal appearances by whoever hosted the show? A consolation prize to those who failed to win the mighty dollars? I don’t know, but it’s definitely cool.

You’re not getting a true sense of scale from my pictures, and I don’t really feel like digging out a measuring implement to give exact dimensions, but the fob is about the size of a larger coin, as in it’s positively quarter-ish. Minus Abraham Lincoln’s George Washington’s visage plastered all over it, of course.

In fact, remember those Sacagawea dollar coins nobody really liked? Maybe they still strike them, but either way, I refuse to believe their inspiration was anything other than this Dialing For Dollars fob. Yep, you can spit facts about the legendary woman and her helping Lewis & Clark at me all day, I’ll still maintain an obscure, regional keychain was the actual catalyst. An exercise in frustration for you, an excerise in amusement for me.

I don’t know what this keychain is made of. Obviously the fob is shiny and plated in gold or some gold-like substance. Could be 22 karats for all I know. The actual ring and chain look to have some mild tarnishing, as you’d expect of something this age, but there’s no rust anywhere on it, so it’s made of whatever is resistant to those substances.

All things considered, it’s in exponentially good condition. A little tarnishing, a little wear, but since it’s at the very least 44 years old, that’s beyond minor. I’ll guess whoever originally owned this never actually used it. However they got it, maybe they either babied it, or it got thrown in a drawer and forgotten about. Hey, we’ve all got stuff like that. I know I do.

So there you have it, WDSM TV-6 of Duluth and Superior, Minnesota and their local incarnation of the Dialing For Dollars franchise, immortalized as an old promotional keychain. Like I said before, I don’t know who hosted the series or for how long, and I have no idea as to the specific details of its format, either. And you know, it occurred to me that this exact keychain could have shown up nationwide, with only the station I.D. on the back varying from location to location. I mean, I’ve never seen one, but then, I’ve never seen another one like this, either.

WDSM wasn’t the only Minnesota television station to have a program of this nature, by the way. WDIO TV-10 (also of Duluth) and WIRT TV-13 of Hibbing ran the Matinee Money Movie, hosted by Lance Parthé, for a period. Maybe its run coincided with this Dialing For Dollars at some point, I dunno. I’d like a keychain representing that show too, though.

Big Chuck & Lil’ John Promotional Flying Disc (Circa-1993)

Look chief, when I said back in February that I wanted to spotlight more Cleveland television memorabilia, I wasn’t lying. I certainly like seeing original broadcasts, or obtaining promotional photos, or finding vintage print ads, but here’s my hidden secret: one of my great passions in this hobby is collecting the, as I have deemed it, “solid memorabilia.” That is, mugs and glassware, pins, shirts, hats, or anything randomly emblazoned with the names/stations/logos of Northeast Ohio broadcasting. For whatever reason, I place these types of items in a different mental category than I do paper ware and video tape. So there.

Today’s subject fits my weird “solid memorabilia” ideal and new decree that I spotlight such on my stupid dumb blog to a tee, because this, this is legit. Dig this: it’s a vintage (from somewhere in the early-1990s) promotional flying disc for WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show. Yep, the iconic late night horror hosts/comedy duo of everlasting Northeast Ohio fame had their own promotional toy. Neato! As you can see, it features their classic caricatures and the old school WJW logo, all printed on a flashy green disc. Rest assured, this is exactly the kind of memorabilia I’m always on the lookout for!

I’m not totally positive on when it’s from, mainly because I don’t know how long they were pitching these. They were definitely pushing them in 1993, and thus that’s the “circa” date I’m going with, but I’m unaware of when they were first produced for sure, nor do I know when they stopped making them. So yeah, circa-1993.

I’m also not completely sure as to how the common dude-on-da-street could obtain these. I’d imagine they were sold regularly, probably at personal appearances and maybe at stores around town, but don’t quote me on any of that; it’s merely a guess on my part. I do know that they were given out as prizes for correct trivia answers on their show. That is, to studio audience members lucky enough to be called on and lucky enough to have a satisfactory answer to a given question, not to mention lucky enough to be in attendance at a show taping in the first place. If these flying discs were uniquely given out as show prizes, well, that’s just plain cool, and not something easily obtainable, either then or now, I’d assume.

Also, it’s important to note that it’s not a “Frisbee,” but a “flying disc.” Y’see, “Frisbee” is a Wham-O product and a trademarked name, but like “Band-Aid,” it’s often used to describe all similar products. But no, this is technically speaking a “flying disc.”

There were actually two of these discs out at the same time: a large (standard-size) disc, pink in color, and a smaller green one. The smaller variant is what you’re seeing above; I haven’t picked up the big one yet, mainly because I’m at the mercy of what comes up for sale and enters my line of vision. Plus, you know, there’s that whole scraping-together-enough-money thing, too.

The reason for the two different sizes? Well, obviously the big one signified Big Chuck, and the small one signified Lil’ John! That’s actually a pretty great gimmick, one that fits the duo perfectly.

So, not a long post, but then, there’s only so much I can say about a 25 (?) year old flying disc. Oh, and happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way; the disc is green, so it works here, right?

Vintage WJKW TV-8 Last M*A*S*H Bash Tickets (February 25, 1983)

Let’s get one thing clear: I’m a huge, huge M*A*S*H fan. From the earlier, comedy driven seasons to the later, more dramatic ones, I love the series as a whole. Of the 11 seasons the show produced, there are precious few episodes I don’t care for, and even then, I can still find at least something to like about the weaker entries.

It stands to reason I love collecting memorabilia pertaining to the show. Oh sure, the various DVD (and VHS, and Betamax) releases, yeah, I’ve got plenty of those. But, I’m speaking more about the “supplemental” materials; assorted promo items, toys, games, stuff like that. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a bit of M*A*S*H merch (M*E*R*C*H?), but our subject today is quite probably my favorite of the bunch.

Why’s that? Because it not only hits the required M*A*S*H bullet point, but also checks off being 1) fairly unique, and more importantly 2) Northeast Ohio-related. It doesn’t take much more than that to get your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter fired up somethin’ fierce!

Dig this: it’s a pair of dog tag tickets for what was dubbed “The Last M*A*S*H Bash,” held at Cleveland’s Terminal Tower Concourse on February 25th, 1983. 35 years ago this very day! Trust me, this is ridiculously awesome, and when I saw them pop up in an online sale for only a few bucks, there was no way they weren’t becoming mine. Cool winnins! (Technically, and just so we’re clear, this is really only a single ticket; both tags equaled one ticket, dig?)

I have a big interest in all facets of M*A*S*H, but a particular fascination with the series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” and the massive amount of hype that surrounded it. Make no mistake, it was an iconic, watershed moment in television (and pop culture) history, and these fake dog tags play right into that.

The actual finale aired on February 28th, 1983, so despite what you may infer from the name of the event, this wasn’t a gigantic viewing party. However, it was, from all appearances, a gigantic party, though. As you can see on the bottom tag here, it was a 6 hour event held to benefit charity, and although it’s not stated on either tag, it was limited to 5,000 persons. I’d imagine the entry fee was fairly hefty.

Top Tag: I always think of this as a WJKW TV-8 event, because they were our CBS affiliate and thus the ones to bring forth shiny new M*A*S*H episodes in Northeast Ohio, plus the ads for this event aired on the station, but in truth, they were really only co-sponsors. As you can see, Arby’s and WGAR also had a hand in making it happen.

Bottom Tag: I wonder what the stamping of “VIP” on the bottom tag entailed? Did that mean you got to sit right next to Larry Linville? Yes, even though the tickets give all the pertinent info (name, date, time, etc.), they fail to mention that Frank Burns himself was there! That’s cool, and had I not been negative 3 years old (well, negative 22 years old, since you had to be 19 to get in), I’d have so loved to meet him. I wonder if anyone asked if Frank Burns really ate worms?

(Why the less-than-stellar quality of these dog tag pictures, by the way? Shadows and flash and all that? Consider those watermarks! It’s either that or I emblazon my name all over ’em.)

Here’s the back of the second tag. Since I was obviously not at this event personally, I’m not sure how it was set up, but there was evidently a reception of sorts. (Please, anyone with further info or was even there, chime in with a comment!) As you can see, there’s the standard disclaimer on the back, and while it was totally necessary as a legal precaution, I can’t help but find it a little funny; just what was going to happen at this thing?! Would there be an reenactment of the Trapper John boxing episode? Or maybe Linville officiated a boxing match not unlike the fight between Klinger and Zale in a later episode? Would there be thefts akin to “I Hate a Mystery” present? Impromptu meatball surgery sessions? The mind reels at the possibilities! (I of course kid here.)

And so, there you have it, some info on “The Last M*A*S*H Bash,” held 35 years ago today at Cleveland’s Terminal Tower Concourse. Of all the things pertaining to the series finale, outside of the episode itself, this is probably my area of greatest interest. I mean, it’s M*A*S*H, it’s Cleveland, it’s WJKW, and Larry Linville was in attendance. That all gets a solid “neato!” from yours truly.

(I wasn’t kidding before; if you have any further info on this occasion, please share via the comments section!)

Atari 7800 Review: DOUBLE DRAGON (Activision, 1989)

Double Dragon on the Atari 7800? Time to rock!

Look, we need to get one thing straight right up front: I’m a Double Dragon fanatic. If there’s a console with an installment of the series found on it, I want it. I don’t claim to own every release for every system and/or handheld, but Double Dragon and its sequels do take up a relatively significant amount of space in my not-inconsiderable video game collection.

The series should be immediately familiar to anyone that was into video games in the late-1980s and early-1990s; the original 1987 arcade game basically launched the beat-’em-up genre. You know, side-scrolling fighting games in which you fought numerous enemies, typically but not always on a 3-D plane (that is, a foreground and background you can walk between). It was a smash, and naturally sequels followed. The original entries were eventually ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System, though they were only ports in a technical sense; they used the same street fighting motif and general plotlines, but basically did their own thing. Nevertheless, Double Dragon and its sequels, particularly those NES conversions, were seemingly ever-present on the video game scene of the early-1990s, which was when *I* was coming into my own as a young gamer.

Despite popularizing the beat-’em-up genre (though it wasn’t the first such game), looking back, it’s a little surprising how quickly Double Dragon‘s style of walking around and beating up bad guys was superseded by following games in the genre, and not just graphically, either. Only four levels (called “Missions”) and a relatively low number of enemies quickly appeared quaint when compared to longer, all-out fighting extravaganzas like Capcom’s Final Fight some two years later – a template beat-’em-ups largely followed in the early-1990s before the whole idea of a “fightin’ game” was steadily replaced by Street Fighter II and the like.

Actually, despite being wildly unfaithful to the arcade source material, the NES Double Dragon games probably hold up better than other versions nowadays simply because they lengthened and/or added original elements to the ports – additions that help them stand up against the subsequent, more-advanced games in the same genre.

The original Double Dragon arcade machine from 1987. The face that launched a thousand beat-’em-ups!

Still, taken on its own, the original Double Dragon (and at least the first sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge) remains a lot of fun today. Aside from some ugly slowdown when too many sprites are onscreen, it’s a fantastic beat-’em-up, though those accustomed to Streets of Rage and such may have a tough time getting into it. Nevertheless, for its time Double Dragon was quite the trendsetter. I mean, simultaneous two-player street fighting action, all in an effort to rescue a kidnapped girlfriend? A bevy of combat moves you could pull off? Colorful, detailed stages to traverse? A variety of enemies to pummel? Of course people would continuously throw quarters at it!

(Even if the period of revolutionary success was relatively short-lived, Double Dragon continued to be a name draw well into the 1990s, eventually spawning, besides the sequels proper, a Battletoads spin-off, a couple one-on-one fighters, an inexplicable board game, those ever-present Tiger handhelds, an animated TV series, and a terrible live-action movie that I, thankfully, only have limited experience with. The brand’s “oomph” sort of tapered off as the second half of the 1990s dawned, but there’s no denying how recognizable the franchise was in the years immediately preceding. A good deal of this popularity can probably be attributed to the series as it appeared on the NES, such was the visibility of both them and it at the time.)

It was also in this late-1980s setting that the 8-bit console wars came about. Perhaps calling it a “war” is a bit of a misnomer since, in the U.S. anyway, it was all about the NES. Seemingly every kid had Nintendo, and growing up, I initially wasn’t aware there even were other 8-bit consoles beyond it. I mean, sure, there were the home computers, but to me, it was basically those and the NES. In actuality, there were three viable 8-bit consoles at the time: besides the NES, there was the Sega Master System, and then there was the Atari 7800. Neither did much comparatively in the States, though the SMS was a force to be reckoned with in much of the rest of the world. (No kidding, the European and Brazilian SMS scene was, and is, fascinating!)

The 7800 was an interesting case; initially intended to right the wrongs that the Atari 5200 had ostensibly committed, the 7800 was meant to come out in 1984, restore Atari’s good name and blow the competition (namely the ColecoVision) out of the water. It was a pretty powerful system for the time, with terrific graphics, a sleek design, and the ability to play Atari 2600 games right out of the box and without an adapter.

It didn’t quite work out as planned though. There was a brief test market in ’84, but the combined effects of the infamous early-1980s video game crash and the sale of Atari Inc. from Time Warner to Jack Tramiel put a halt on an immediate wide release. In the aftermath, Atari Inc. became Atari Corp., and the 7800 was placed on the back burner until 1986. The 7800 was still a capable console with an enormous amount of potential, but with a library of older titles and a somewhat-damaged reputation to the name “Atari,” not to mention constant cost-cutting measures regarding new titles and peripherals, well, it was an uphill battle against the Super Mario juggernaut that the NES became as the 1980s wore on. The added competition of the Sega Master System didn’t help matters, either.

Even though the NES, SMS and 7800 were all originally developed around the same 1983/1984 time frame, and all eventually wide released in the U.S. in 1986, due to the specific circumstances surrounding the 7800’s debut and subsequent library, it feels like a console caught between two eras of gaming. To me, it’s like a system from both the early/mid-80s and late-80s, if that makes any sense. ‘Course, that’s one of the reasons I love it so much; no joke, the Atari 7800 is absolutely in my personal top five favorite consoles.

Anyway, fast forward to 1989. Gaming consoles are again big business, revolutionary titles are coming out left and right, and Double Dragon has already swept not only the arcades but also the NES and SMS. It was in this climate that the Atari 7800 port of Double Dragon, released by Activision, arrived.

The fantastic but ill-fated Atari 7800, complete with Double Dragon loaded!

This was amazing for a few reasons. 1) Nintendo’s licensing agreements with software developers meant that it was hard, often impossible, for the same games to come out on more than just the NES. Thanks to legal loopholes however, there were exceptions, and several titles well-known as members of the NES stable also appeared on competing consoles. 2) The 7800 was great at playing classic arcade ports such Asteroids, Centipede, Joust and Ms. Pac-Man, and had it been released in 1984 as intended, the matter would have been less egregious. But by the late-1980s, new names were needed, and the 7800 was woefully lacking in that area. Rampage, Ikari Warriors, Commando and Xenophobe were welcome exceptions, but that’s just what they were, exceptions.

(The issue of original games was another sticking point with the 7800, something Atari only seemed to truly realize within the last few years of the console’s life. By then it was far too late to save it, but we did get the Super Mario Bros.-ish platformer Scrapyard Dog, the intensely-quirky Ninja Golf, and what just may be the best game on the entire system, The Legend of Zelda-esque Midnight Mutants, starring Al “Grampa Munster” Lewis himself!)

The current homebrew scene has expanded the 7800’s library considerably, but where the original run is concerned, there were only some 60+ titles released, and while many of them were/are pretty good, there were few that would have truly raised eyebrows in that late-80s/early-90s video gaming climate.

Enter 1989’s Double Dragon. Simply put, this was the exact type of game the 7800 needed. A modern arcade port, and a hot one at that. The 1988 home version on the NES was a massive hit, and 1989 was also the year a (very loose) port of the sequel arrived for the ol’ toaster. Furthermore, the SMS version of Double Dragon was also an extremely popular title, one which some would say was even better than the NES’.

So yes, in a library that initially only consisted of 60+ games, Double Dragon stood (stands) out big time. They came close, but Commando, Rampage, Ikari Warriors and Xenophobe, while more current than most of the 7800’s offerings, and with some late-80s coin-op clout to boot, just didn’t share quite the same name recognition that Double Dragon had. Could any of them touch Double Dragon as far as popularity went? Thanks mainly to the wildly successful NES port, I’d say “no.” Indeed, this release marked the only time that 7800 owners could truly partake in the same then-modern gaming experience as NES owners could. Some of the same games showed up on both systems, but Double Dragon was one of the gaming properties of the late-1980s, in both the arcades and at home. For once, 7800 owners could bask in the same glow as NES (and SMS) owners!

(A cool example of this “phenomenon”: I have a comic book buried in my collection from either 1989 or 1990, I can’t remember which for sure, and when it comes to the advertisements found throughout the issue, not only is this 7800 game pitched, but so is the NES original and sequel! I’m going to guess that didn’t happen very often!)

A cart with perhaps more fisticuffs than any other 7800 game!

Double Dragon was a Technos Japan innovation, with the NES port released by Tradewest (in the U.S.) and the SMS’ by Sega themselves. Activision, they of River Raid and Pitfall! fame, were still riding the Atari bandwagon in the late-1980s, one of the few third parties to continue do so, and it was they that put out our game on both the Atari 7800 and still-breathing 2600. That’s right, there’s an Atari 2600 port of Double Dragon, too! Given the mega-primitive hardware and one-button limitation of the joystick, it’s actually a pretty impressive piece of programming, featuring some terrific graphics and sound given the console it’s on. It’s not the most playable version of Double Dragon ever released, the difficulty is too high and there are too many moves mapped to the single fire button, but it is recognizable as Double Dragon, and that in and of itself is amazing.

The cart you’re seeing here is, obviously, the 7800 version. The 2600 version looks very similar, with the same plain layout except the colors are reversed (white-on-black instead of black-on-white), and naturally with “for the…” altered accordingly. Considering the 7800 library is littered with dull, black & white cartridge artwork, it’s too bad a more-striking label didn’t show up, but beggars can’t be choosers – I mean, at least the 7800 got Double Dragon!

(Remember, this is an article from a North American perspective; label art and the like varied in other countries.)

The iconic Double Dragon title screen, reproduced on the 7800!

Upon powering up the cartridge, you’re presented with the pleasant surprise that the 7800 received the most arcade-faithful port of all three 8-bit consoles. Indeed, at points it almost looks like someone took the arcade game and “7800-ized” it.

Something is evident on the title screen that’s very, very important. Look down at the bottom of the screen and see what it says: 1 or 2 players.

“Yeah, okay, so what North Video guy? Everyone knows Double Dragon is a two-player game!”

Well sure it is…in the arcade and on most of the home editions. There was one home edition, however, that inexplicably made it two-players alternating. Which one was that? The NES! Yes, in what was perhaps the most visible version of the game out there, the biggest feature of the original coin-op, the meaning of the very title itself, was stripped out! The NES port, for all the tampering with the levels and moves it featured (more on both of those in a bit), was magnificently playable. But, there’s no doubt that removing the ability to simultaneously beat down thugs with a buddy absolutely destroyed some of the magic that made the game so popular in the first place.

Well, that simultaneous two-player action is indeed present here on the Atari 7800!

Mission One’s “city slum.” That’s a whip in Billy’s hand, and a bat on the ground. Dig the “Scoop Moto” billboard – just like the arcade!

The arcade-accuracy continues into the game proper. Even the (in)famous intro, in which your girlfriend is slugged in the stomach and carried away is here – a shocking and wildly uncomfortable bit of violence that I can’t believe flew even back then.

That short sequence upon the start of a new game is about all the exposition you’re going to get, because there’s really no in-game plot to speak of. Not that you necessarily need one; saving a damsel-in-distress wasn’t exactly a new innovation in video game plots by the late-1980s, but it provides sufficient motivation for fisticuffs, methinks.

The plot was expanded upon in supplementary materials, sometimes exponentially so; Japanese releases place the setting at some point in the then-near future, after a nuclear war has devastated the population and caused gang warfare to rise. I don’t like this explanation at all; it adds an added layer of science fiction to the proceedings that, in my opinion, the game just doesn’t need. U.S. story lines were more straightforward in their telling, with a much simpler tale of a rampant street gang, the two brothers that oppose them, and the kidnapping of a girlfriend by said street gang. That’s all you need; background is nice, but it’s not something generally required in a game of this nature.

The gist of the plot, in both Japan and the U.S., is this: The Black Warriors (the bad guys) have taken over the city, and are opposed by relatively few, save for the twin brothers of Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee (the good guys), who are quite proficient in the martial arts. In order to lure them on to their turf and take them out once and for all, The Black Warriors kidnap Billy Lee’s girlfriend Marian. This is unacceptable, and so Billy (and his brother Jimmy as the second-player) set out to beat down some thugs and rescue her.

To get to Marian, the titular characters must traverse four environments: the city slum, the industrial area, the woods, and finally, the enemy base.

These level layouts in 7800 Double Dragon are far closer to the arcade than either the SMS or especially the NES. The SMS mostly followed the stages found in the coin-op (and included simultaneous two-player action as well), though it diverged in a few spots. The NES port was all over the place, with levels that typically started out somewhat faithful to the coin-op and then just went nuts. Platform elements, a trip up a construction site, into some caves, and so on and so forth. It was fun, and it actually did work, but it wasn’t exactly arcade-accurate. Though as I said earlier, the additions served to lengthen the game and make it more suitable for an at-home experience, which means it has held up better in the long run (the same thing applies to the versions of Double Dragon II and Double Dragon III on the console, as well).

In the 7800’s case however, what you saw in the arcade was ported directly over to the Atari, and there’s something to be said for faithfulness to the source material. Unfortunately, Double Dragon wasn’t an especially long game as a coin-op, and that carried over here, too.

Mission Two’s “industrial area.” You certainly CAN climb up that fence!

By the way, if you’re totally bored, you may be asking yourself “hey, where’d y’all get these swell in-game screenshots, North Video Guy?” The answer to that is: I took them myself, with an actual 7800 console, cart and CRT TV. Y’see, I don’t emulate, so if these screenshots lack somewhat in the sharpness department, and I know that they do, that’s thanks to the good ol’ RF signal; no, the 7800 I used hasn’t been modded for AV output. Honestly, I actually think this gives a more accurate picture of how the game is meant to be displayed, closer to how kids playing it upon release first saw it. The harsh sharpness of emulation actually makes the game look uglier than it really is.

And while on that subject, let’s talk about the graphics proper. 7800 Double Dragon isn’t a bad looking game as a whole, but it is a mixed bag.

The arcade-faithful backgrounds generally look pretty nice. The first two stages have sort of a drab color-scheme, but the detail is excellent and the layout is just like the coin-op. The third and fourth levels are terrific, with a richly-detailed forest in the third and foreboding enemy fortress (complete with deadly spike pit) in the fourth.  Modern day homebrew games aside, the graphical-detail in the latter stages of Double Dragon are some of the best graphics seen on the 7800.

As for the sprites in the game, well, they’re another story. Simply put, for the most part they look like something the Atari 5200, a full console generation before, could have pulled off. They’re awfully blocky, and with a minimal amount of detail. Except for Abobo (the big, hulking enemy that has become one of the most popular faces of Double Dragon), the characters don’t really look very good. It’s quite a contrast with the backgrounds!

They may not all look great, but did everyone from the arcade original at least make it over to the 7800? Yes and no. Billy and Jimmy are here, using the same, palette-swapped sprite. The same goes for common thugs Williams and Roper, and 2nd level boss Jeff; they all use the same sprite as Billy and Jimmy, just with different colors. Female thug Linda is here too, but shares the same image as the kidnapped Marian. Head bad guy Big Boss Willy obviously gets his own design, as naturally does Abobo. (Technically, there was Abobo and Bolo in the arcade, both nearly identical save for a few differences, but c’mon, it’s always just been Abobo to the layman).

So yeah, everyone’s here technically, but not without some caveats.

As mentioned, the NES version is one-player only, and can display two enemies at a time, albeit with some graphical break-up. The SMS has two-players simultaneously and up to three enemies, but there’s a lot of flicker throughout. With the 7800 however, one of the strengths built into the system from the get-go was the ability to move a lot of sprites at the same time, without flicker or slowdown.

The richly-detailed forest of Mission Three. Note the number of sprites onscreen, without flicker or graphical break-up! Neato!

This ability is readily apparent in Double Dragon. The game can have up to four bad guys onscreen, plus your one or two players. No graphical break-up, no flicker, and no slowdown either, except for some choppy scrolling when moving to a new screen. This version plays a bit more sluggish as a whole, but it’s not a deal breaker, and the relatively slower, more-deliberate pace of the game actually serves it well.

While on the subject of sprites, one thing about the original coin-op that wore real thin, real fast was its tendency to slow down when the screen became crowded. Yep, the more sprites there were at a given moment, the more the action crawled. Honestly, if you’re able to get beyond the relatively-archaic nature of the game (early beat-’em-up and all), that’s really the only downside to what is otherwise still a terrific game.

The slowdown in the original coin-op often made the use of weapons more of a chore than a pleasure, which is a shame, because the ability to grab a new beat-down implement was another one of the revolutionary aspects of the game. You never saw Thomas appropriate one of those knives from a mindless grunt in Kung-Fu Master, after all!

The arcade featured bats, whips, knives, boulders, barrels, boxes and dynamite, all of which your character could pick up and use in his quest for kidnapped-girlfriend-vengeance. (And of course, they could always be taken from you, as well!) Only the bats, whips and knives made it to the 7800 port. In contrast to the later Streets of Rage, in which a knife could be used repeatedly or thrown at once, in Double Dragon it was always a one-throw deal. The bat and whips can be used repeatedly, though unlike the arcade, they eventually disappear when moving from one section of a level to another (common for home console conversions of the period).

Ah, but it was the attacks, the various combos you could pull off, that really sets Double Dragon apart from other side-scrolling fighters. Not set, sets. Later beat-’em-ups simplified the amount of attacks, sometimes with only a jump and punch button, maybe a special move. Double Dragon was considerably more involved, with a style of game play that more-closely resembled actual martial arts street fighting (I assume; so rarely do I get out to street fight). From the three buttons and joystick, you could pull off punches, kicks, jump kicks, reverse jump kicks, headbutts, elbow smashes, over-the-shoulder throws, the ability to repeatedly knee an enemy in the face, and with a buddy, one player could even grapple a baddie while the other slugged him (which worked the other way around, too). Amazingly, with all of these options at your disposal and relatively few buttons, it worked really, really well.

With only two attack buttons generally available, obviously all these moves didn’t always make it to the home versions intact. The NES port fared better than most; even though you had to continuously “level-up” to earn more of them, in some odd form of RPG-ness, you could amass an impressive range of attacks, including the ability to sit on an enemy and punch them relentlessly in the face. This wasn’t found in the coin-op, but rather in Technos’ prior beat-’em-up Renegade, which was Double Dragon‘s spiritual predecessor in more ways than one.

The SMS version retained a good number of the attacks, though for me, only the punches, kicks, jump kicks and headbutts were consistently easy to pull off. (You can elbow smash and knee-in-the-face, but I could only ever trigger those attacks by mistake!)

Mission Three is lengthy and culminates in a mountainside fight at the entrance of the enemy base…against not one but TWO green Abobos!

The 7800 actually fared pretty well in the translation. The knee-in-the-face and over-the-shoulder-throw options were, disappointingly, excised. (So is the grapple technique, though no home version got that, as far as I know.) But, along with the obvious abilities to punch, kick and jump kick, the reverse jump kick, headbutt, and elbow smash all made it in. Some of the button combos to make these moves happen are a little strange (down + punch to headbutt? What was wrong with double-tapping left or right like the arcade, NES and SMS?), but mostly this all works okay.

However, we now come to the biggest problem with the Atari 7800 version of Double Dragon, and it’s something that’s not the game’s fault: the painful stock U.S. 7800 controller. Here in the States, we got the “ProLine Joystick,” and from start to finish, it was pretty much a holdover from the early-1980s era of controller-design. Basically an elongated grip with a joystick at the top and a fire button on each side (think ColecoVision or Atari 5200), it was a controller not suited to long sessions of any game, never mind one that requires constant movement and button-pressing like Double Dragon.

Overseas, Europeans got the “ProLine Joypad,” and it’s a far, far superior controller. Basically Atari’s answer to the NES control pad, it’s a continual mystery why it never replaced the joystick here in the U.S. It’s not perfect, but considering the alternative, it’s definitely preferable, and it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to Double Dragon.

Y’see, this game has gotten a reputation for being overly difficult, and in many eyes, not very good. Hey, I’ve been on that side of the fence a time or two in the past, too. When I first got the 7800 port many years ago, I was by no means a novice at Double Dragon. And yet, I could barely make any headway before exhausting all my lives (you get three to start, an extra at 50,000 points, and no continues). I was probably convinced it was either the hardest or most poorly-programmed port 8-bit console port there was.

Fast forward several years, when I decided to get myself some of the European Joypads. After all, I loved the 7800, so why not, you know, fully enjoy it? 2600, or even Sega Genesis, controllers were fine for single-button games, but some of the best 7800 titles, like Commando or our subject today, require two. And what a revelation! A whole new appreciation for the 7800 port of Double Dragon was gained, all because I could finally properly play it! Go figure!

I think 7800 Double Dragon gets a bad rap as far as difficulty is concerned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s on the challenging side; the enemies can hound you and get some cheap shots in. But, it’s really not any more difficult than any other 8-bit conversion, and in fact is probably easier as a whole than the NES port, where you can save all of your lives only to blaze through them in a hurry on the last level.

The controller, I think, is one of the issues with that difficulty perception. Seriously, get the European Joypads. Do what you gotta do to play Double Dragon comfortably, because it ain’t gonna happen using the regular ProLine Joystick. I can beat the game using it, but it’s not exactly an ergonomic experience.

The controller used isn’t the game’s fault, but another key to enjoying the beat-down frenzy is: the punch. There’s a very simple method to avoiding frustration with this game, and it’s this: just don’t punch. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. When animating the attacks, the punch is given a “wind up.” It isn’t instant contact. As such, there’s a moment of hesitation, and this leaves you open to hits. In other words, you end up taking taking cheap shots and trading blows back and forth.

Some players like to spam the elbow smash (just like the arcade!) and jump kicks here, but in my experience, you don’t necessarily need to do that. When using a normal, ground-based attack, just stick with regular kicking. There’s no animation between the button press and the result, so it’s ‘instant,’ and as such, you can hammer away at baddies without taking too many unnecessary hits back.

Mission Four, with some of the best graphics in the entire game!

On top of that, the enemy A.I. is painfully stupid. Yes, they can be tough, but once you learn their patterns, you can counter them without too much trouble. Same goes for most beat-’em-ups, I know, but especially here. Much like the NES version, if you get in ‘close’ to an enemy, especially when coming in from underneath, you should be able to knock them down and eventually out while saving most of your life bar. As such, even the Abobos and Big Boss Willy, traditionally the toughest enemies, can be defeated without too much trouble.

So no, 7800 Double Dragon isn’t too hard. If anything, it might be a little too easy. You just gotta learn the tricks!

Lastly, we come to the music of 7800 Double Dragon. One of the most celebrated aspects of the game, in both its original incarnation and in most of the ports, was the soundtrack. Double Dragon featured an absolute classic score, one that not only fit the scenes you were traversing but also absolutely got you in the mood to beat down some street punks. On the 7800, we got…some of that.

Y’see, the system was originally intended to include a POKEY sound chip, which would have given it the sound quality of the Atari 8-bit computers and 5200, which was pretty good. When it was eventually released however, the POKEY was omitted as a cost-saving measure. The chip could be added to individual carts, though sadly, this was only utilized twice, for Commando and Ballblazer. Both have terrific music, but aside from those exceptions, the 7800 generally features sound identical to what the 2600 could pull off.

Now, it’s beyond old news to rag on the 7800’s sound quality. Compared to the NES and SMS, it sounds particularly bad, we know. It is what it is. It’s funny, I don’t even mind the sound of the 2600, but when it’s paired with the superior visuals of the 7800, well, it just kinda throws you for a loop.

That said, Double Dragon really should have utilized a POKEY sound chip. The soundtrack was so phenomenal that it absolutely, without a doubt deserved the honor. But, it didn’t. As such, we’re left with an incomplete, slightly-shrill score. Two of the mission tunes were omitted completely, meaning there’s some repetition involved. What is included is the famous title-screen track, Mission One’s theme, Mission Three’s theme (in the arcade, anyway), and the boss encounter music, plus the level-ending jingle. You’ll hear the first and third level themes repeated throughout, and not always where they should be.

Incomplete though it may be, at the very least, the music is recognizably Double Dragon.


Does this image practically scream “late-1980s” to you, or is it just me?

So when it comes right down to it, how does the Atari 7800 port of Double Dragon hold up? Better than it doesn’t. The music is a disappointment, and if you’re in the U.S., odds are you’ll have to contend with finding a better controller. Get over those obstacles however, and you’re treated with what I feel is one of the best games in the 7800’s library.

True, it lacks the length and extra features of the famous Nintendo Entertainment Version, but it makes up for that with the arcade-accuracy and simultaneous two-player action. And, while the graphics and sound are markedly inferior, I actually prefer this port over that of the Sega Master System, based solely on the gameplay. The SMS version, don’t get me wrong, I like it, but the control has always seemed too loose for my tastes; you’re basically out there swinging fists wildly – there’s no finesse, in my opinion. The 7800 version runs a bit slower, but you can really get into a groove while playing thanks to that.

Perhaps more importantly than how it stacks up against the rival 8-bit ports is what this Double Dragon represents. Think of it; you’re a kid in the late-1980s, you have an Atari 7800, while most everyone else has an NES. Maybe a few of your friends even have an SMS. Now sure, there’s plenty of great classic arcade ports at your disposal, and the 2600 library, but that stuff isn’t what’s burning up the video game world at the moment. Games have evolved, become more complex, bigger worlds, better graphics.

All of sudden, here comes Double Dragon, the arcade smash, the game that’s tearing up both the NES and SMS. And now it’s available for the 7800! The series would continue to expand via sequels, spin-offs, and so on and so forth, but for this one occasion, 7800 owners could boast the same game as NES and SMS owners could. Not that Double Dragon was the only shared title across the three; Rampage hit all of them as well. But, Double Dragon was a trendsetting name brand that, as I’ve said, was incredibly recognizable in the late-1980s and early-1990s. It showing up on the 7800 seems special to me in a way that, frankly, Rampage doesn’t. That’s just my perception, though.

Furthermore, the beat-’em-up was a genre sorely lacking on the 7800. Kung-Fu Master was fun, but simplistic and old hat by the time it came out on the system in ’89. Ninja Golf and Basketbrawl were quirky Atari originals that combined sports with fighting. And Karateka? We don’t talk about Karateka. None of them could attain quite the same level that Double Dragon achieved – and achieves.

Double Dragon was something special in the Atari 7800 library, and even if it wasn’t a perfect game, that’s still to be celebrated. Even today!

Episode Recap: The Son of Ghoul Show “Mr. Wise Guy” (March 6, 1999)

With Son of Ghoul’s big 31st anniversary show this weekend, and indeed, his actual 31st anniversary today right now yo, what say we take a look back at a vintage episode? I always like doing these. (My wi-fi currently hates me and wants me dead, so if I blaze through this, particularly in the second-half, that’s why.)

31 years is unbelievable for any television personality, but especially so when it’s the endangered-species known as “horror host.” Ironically, 31 almost seems a little, I don’t know, anti-climatic, I guess, after the massive hype that surrounded his big 30th last year. I certainly covered it, and was even present when SOG was fittingly honored at Monsterfestmania.

I thought of a couple different topics to post in honor of his 31st continuous year on Northeast Ohio television. I could’ve covered the earliest episode I taped (The Vampire Bat, in 1997), or his 12th anniversary show, or even the episode featuring the first piece of mail I ever sent in to him. I even briefly considered an article detailing a lot of the SOG memorabilia I’ve amassed over the years. I decided against each one of those, however, for a variety of reasons: I’ll save my earliest taped episode for the 20th anniversary of the broadcast this fall, I didn’t feel like covering Frankenstein’s Daughter during his 12th anniversary, and I’m not ready to detail my cringe worthy (yet nostalgic) first letter to him. As for an article focused on SOG memorabilia, I just couldn’t muster up the moxy to drag all that stuff out for a picture-taking session.

Nope, I decided on our subject today for one very simple reason: I just plain like the movie, 1942’s Mr. Wise Guy. Heck, I just plain like the episode in general, and to me that speaks more about my Son of Ghoul fandom than any ‘special’ occurrence I could dig up. After all, this was how the show usually was (is) to me each weekend: A fun, kick-back-and-chill movie showcase.

So, join me now as I detail The Son of Ghoul Show, as aired on WAOH TV-29 in Akron and WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (“The Cat”) and taped by yours truly waaaay back on March 6, 1999…

(Also, I’ve been on a real kick for The Cat lately, even more so than usual. This comes from that late-90s sweet-spot of the channel, so I’m happy with the choice. And, if that kick keeps up, I may dig something else out from the station to cover. You keep pushing me and I just might, pal.)

I vividly recall this being a surprise episode. Y’see, SOG was on twice-a-week at that point: 8-10 PM, Fridays and Saturdays, same episode. This was handy, because you could sample on Friday, and tape-as-needed on Saturday. But, for whatever reason, he was only on Saturday that week, a fact he briefly mentions in his intro (above).

I think (think) he was preempted totally the night before due to some women’s college basketball tournament The Cat was broadcasting/simulcasting/whatevercasting. So because he was only on Saturday that week, I couldn’t risk missing a must-have episode, especially with no knowledge of what the movie would be. Because said basketball tournament was concluding that Saturday, there was no telling when SOG’s show would actually begin; I had to start the VCR recording waaaaay ahead of time, which was why I wound up with like an hour of that stupid basketball game on the tape before the episode started.

This obsessiveness proved fortuitous. That night, we were at my aunt’s house for some party I was quite probably miserable at, and I flipped to The Cat to see what episode I was capturing. When it finally started and Mr. Wise Guy was revealed, I was pleased as punch. SOG had ran this film, I don’t know, a year or so prior, and I had regretted not capturing it then. I actually liked the movie!

And I wasn’t the only one; SOG himself mentions that he likes it as well during his intro. How often did (does) that happen?!

The reason I initially liked this film so much largely had to do with what it represented: A trip back to a more innocent time in cinema. This is pure, early-1940s matinee entertainment. It’s an East Side Kids (you know, the Bowery Boys, except not) film, so there’s some light hooliganism about, but even with that, an escaped convict, a murder, a death-row sentence, and a real-life war going on, it’s all so light and breezy that it never seems too heavy. I’m hesitant to ascribe the term “innocence” to a film that contains all that, but like I said, this is matinee entertainment; it’s not exactly a weighty, socially-conscious drama.

The idea of an East Side Kids film showing up on a horror hosted program may seem odd, but as SOG states during his intro, Ghoulardi himself used to run these (and fittingly, on Saturdays!). If these were good enough for Ghoulardi, they should be good enough for any other host, too. And somehow, to me they seem to ‘fit’ just fine. Maybe that’s because I grew up with SOG showing them occasionally (still does, in fact), but looked at objectively, they still work. It’s not like a b-western, which unless it shared some horror influence or other odd quirk (Terror of Tiny Town, anyone?), just wouldn’t seem to fit. Look, I can’t really adequately explain why it works so well, it just does.

And, in a trend that continues to this day, SOG doesn’t tamper with these kinds of films; no drop-ins, no sound effects. Just the movie straight. Evidently he has some real appreciation for these flicks, and we’re all the better for it. Even when missing those elements so well-known to SOG fans, it flows perfectly.

The title of the film comes from a moniker given to (and approved by) Leo Gorcey’s character “Muggs” McGinnis (first name: Ethelbert), who is deemed so several times throughout the picture.

The simple synopsis of the plot: The East Side Kids are sent to reform school. There’s a bit more to it than that, though. Unjustly accused of stealing a truck (a truck that, unbeknownst to them, houses an escaped convict), they’re sent to a reformatory run by a kind warden, a cruel guard, and a couple of troublesome inmates that are secretly in cahoots with aforementioned cruel guard. Also on the docket: Bill Collins, older brother of cast member Bobby Jordan’s Danny Collins, is accused of murder and sentenced to death row. Eventually these plotlines unbelievably though perhaps predictably, collide. And since this is from 1942, it all ends on a relatively happy note. ‘Cept for the dude who died, anyway.

Needless to say, much of this is played for laughs. Even while incarcerated, Gorcey’s gang never seems too concerned with their situation. Even as Danny frets over his brother’s predicament back in the real world, the other guys just sort of blow it off – which admittedly does play out a little strange. I can’t imagine that being realistic even back in ’42.

Still, as a whole, the movie is entertaining. Indeed, I wasn’t sure if I’d still get a kick out of it when I sat down to convert my VHS to DVD for this review, but it greatly held my attention throughout. I was even genuinely amused by certain moments, which can’t always be said of semi-comedies of this vintage.

Look, the movie is in the public domain, so don’t just take my word for it; check it out for yourself. Since SOG didn’t add any sound effects, you’ll see it (almost) as it aired here!

(Fun Fact: Some years ago at a thrift store, I stumbled upon a 3-VHS boxset of East Side Kids films. Included were both of their Bela Lugosi collaborations, Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose, as well as the title that really spurred the eventual purchase: Mr. Wise Guy. I never watched any of them, don’t think I even played any of the tapes, and subsequently the set became buried in my mound of crap videos. It should still be around here, somewhere, which is good, because unknown to me at the time was that the company who put it out, Passport Productions, was spawned from the ashes of Amvest Video, who we’ve seen here before. Cool winnins!)

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have much to do with plot, but rather stereotypes that were prevalent at the time. Ernest Morrison, often known as “Sunshine Sammy,” is the victim of some unfortunate racial jokes, as his character “Scruno” is the outlet for some now-wildly-inappropriate stereotyping. Look, I don’t claim to be a super-PC-advocate, but man, even I was uncomfortable with some of the gags at his expense.

That said, I am an advocate of not editing things of this nature to reflect current social attitudes. Yes, some of the jokes have aged terribly, but they reflect the time in which the film was made; you can’t rewrite history, only learn from it. And besides, the jokes are incredibly dated, but never really mean-spirited, if that counts for anything.

And with all that said, we now come to the rest of the show…

The first skit proper is actually an old bit from the WOAC TV-67 days, and I love it because it perfectly sums up SOG’s sense of humor, which very often syncs up with mine.

In a parody of the whole “carrying the Olympic torch” thing, here SOG dutifully marches with a plunger triumphantly raised, only to enter the studio bathroom and begin plunging! That’s all there is to it, and it’s great!

Truth be told, SOG doesn’t feature heavily heavily into this episode. I mean, he does, he shows up after each commercial-break, but it’s not new bit after new bit after new bit. His hosting duties, while prominent, maybe aren’t quite as prominent as they usually were, and I think that has much to do with this spot right here.

In a segment that takes up a healthy chunk of running time, SOG and guest Carl Thompson speak extensively on the Frightvision convention, coming later that month. Yes, Frightivision, the SOG-hosted horror convention; we’ve talked about it before! Here, SOG and Thompson thoroughly go over the list of guests and events coming to the show, and it goes on for around 8 minutes, which is pretty much a lifetime in horror-show-time.

That’s not a complaint on my part, though; I could not be happier this segment is present! I talked more extensively on the convention in the piece I just linked to (another SOG episode, Plan 9 From Outer Space, which aired later that same month), but Frightvision was a BIG deal. It was also my very first horror convention of any kind. Long story short: I positively loved it. I got to meet Ben “Gill Man” Chapman, Mark “Lost in Space Guy” Goddard, SOG’s own Fidge (who was great), saw Tom Savini (but didn’t meet him until the following year), and came home with some very cool loot (including a vintage SOG TV-67 promo card, which I still have to this day). All of the fanaticism that manifests itself in me for each and every Ghoulardifest began at the very first Frightvision, and for that I hold the fondest of memories.

So yes, seeing the segment that so aptly demonstrates the swirling hype surrounding Frightvision in the weeks leading up to it, that’s the sort of thing that can take me directly back in time. And movie aside, to me this is the defining moment of this particular episode.

An email segment. More (!) information on Frightvision is presented, and a spider glove that apparently belonged to Fidge is shown. Unless y’all want me to go email by email, there’s not much more I can say about it.

I would love to show the old school, wildly obsolete SOG email address, back when having an email address was still semi-innovative, but in the interest of avoiding confusion, I’ll refrain.

In the second mail segment, the reading of letters devolves into a long, drawn out explosion of fake fart noises, which has SOG and his crew dying with laughter. SOG: “Can you tell we’re so easily amused here?” Like the toilet torch earlier in the show, it’s a juvenile, and therefore riotous, moment. This is the stuff that helped cement my sense of humor, gang. You want someone to blame? Blame SOG.

Because my wi-fi is in a seemingly-perpetual state of precariousness, there were two other bits amidst all this insanity that I’m choosing to skip. One, a “Captain Kanga-Ghoul,” and the other, an on-location interview at a liquor store that happened to be one of Frightvision’s sponsors, were fun, sorta-filler bits, but frankly, I don’t have all that much to say about them. Also, I’d like to punch my wi-fi in the face.

Also, here is the point where I’d usually look at interesting (or so I think) commercials that aired during an original broadcast. I’m going to skip that feature this time around. Why? Because basically all of the ones I would have chosen were already covered in that previously-linked Plan 9 From Outer Space SOG episode recap. And the other, a goofy homegrown promo for a showing of Reefer Madness, was briefly looked at in the The Cat article I linked to way at the start of this post. I love it when I do my own work for me!

It all works out though, because I can end this article in accordance with the way this show itself ends: As the outro opens, SOG is seen jokingly patting his phony beard back into place, along with a “We’re not done yet!”

But, it’s what he says right after that that sums up not only the conclusion to this particular episode, but also the continuing 31 year odyssey his show has been on: “They say you’re not done till the show’s over! Or until you’re out of toilet paper; then you’re done!” I think I can speak on the behalf of SOG’s many fans when I say I hope SOG never runs out of toilet paper.

Boy, that sounded so much more philosophical in my head.

Happy 31st anniversary, Son of Ghoul!

(PS – I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to my legendary, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, trendsetting interview with the man himself!)

(PPS – They may not have been able to repeat this year, but man, I still love the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll stick with you guys win or lose! Just thought I should mention that somewhere, since the loss is naturally still on the mind of so many Northeast Ohioans right now.)

The CBS / Diet Coke Sneak Peak Promo VHS (1997)

Look at this incredible piece of 1990s television and VHS memorabilia!

This isn’t a super recent find; I came across it at a thrift store some months back, but man, I knew, knew it had to come home with me. And so it did! The content is right up my alley, and it’s still sealed, too! The price? Under a buck! Cool winnins!

As you can see, it’s a promotional VHS presented by both Diet Coke and CBS, given out in advance of the 1997 television season. Yep, this was the fall line-up on CBS! While out and about hunting for tapes, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget how neat they can be, especially after passing the 9000th copy of Titanic, but this is definitely one of the good’uns.

What’s really amazing about this, from a personal standpoint, is that even though I myself didn’t own this video back in the day, I remember so much of that ’97 CBS line-up. Even what I didn’t watch myself, I vividly recall being ‘around’ nevertheless. Advertisements in TV Guide and what have you.

But listen, this isn’t going to be a big huge full in-depth review of the tape, and for one very simple reason: I refuse to crack the shrinkwrap, man! I just can’t do it. I’ve never come across one of these before, and currently there’s only one like it on eBay…for a whopping $35! Whether that means it’s actually rare or not, I couldn’t say, though I doubt it; there was a time when preview cassettes (and later, DVDs) like this were fairly commonplace. Maybe still are, I don’t know. Nevertheless, my copy is going to stay minty sealed fresh – though I’m stretching the term minty here, since my copy is a little beat-up and dirty. Evidently someone did not appreciate the majesty of this tape the way yours truly does!

(Looking on eBay, it appears CBS released preview tapes such as this for several years. I’m not going to say I’ll go out of my way for any others, but should I come across them while thrifting, well, that’s a no-brainer purchase for sure.)

So, the front cover. The whole thing is apparently hosted by Ray Romano, whose sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond was steadily picking up steam around that time, if it hadn’t already. That was the season I started watching his show, though it was near the end of the year; actually, I think it had hit summer reruns when I first jumped on board. Anyway, it’s interesting to look back at the show in its earlier years; eventually it would be the cornerstone of CBS’ powerhouse Monday night line-up of sitcoms. (I watched the show avidly for years, though truth be told, it hasn’t worn particularly well for me.)

Cybill, the appropriately-named sitcom starring Cybill Shepherd, I never watched back in the day, though I caught some syndicated episodes in more recent times. Dellaventura and Michael Hayes were and are unknown to me outside of this cover, though the latter appears to feature David Caruso in some capacity, and that just puts the whole CSI: Miami pre-credits-pun thing in my head.

However, it’s the appropriate pictorial references to Meego and The Gregory Hines Show, neither of which I ever recall watching, that provide the real reason I’m so excited to own this tape. Y’see, there’s one very specific factor that makes this VHS a must-own, and it ain’t Ray Barone. Rather, the answer is found in Meego and Gregory The Hines Show, or to be precise, the block they were a part of…

Do ya see it?! Urkel! Yes, URKEL! The presence of Steve Urkel can only mean one thing: A Friday night block of sitcoms aimed at kids too young to go out and do anything else. That’s the pool CBS was jumping in that fall, and Family Matters was jumping with them.

Y’see, ABC’s Friday night sitcoms, deemed TGIF, was a big deal for quite some time. I absolutely grew up with it, and there’s a good chance you did too. I certainly have my share of nostalgic memories pertaining to the line-up (well, various line-ups), though in this more jaded day and age, it may be hard for some modern audiences to understand just why TGIF was such a dominate force. It was though, and while by no means was he the only reason, a big, big factor in that TGIF dominance was indeed Steve Urkel.

Meant to be a one-time-only character on a show that was supposedly facing cancellation, Jaleel White’s uber-nerd Steve Urkel instead became the de facto face of Family Matters and, for a time, a legit cultural phenom. Dude totally saved the series, stole the spotlight from ostensible star Al Powell Reginald Vel Johnson, got his own dolls, his own cereal, even his own novelty dance! Mystery Science Theater 3000 later brilliantly ripped into the (inexplicable?) phenomenon, and admittedly the Urkel character grew tiresome (and the storylines of Family Matters more insane) as the series progressed into the mid and late-1990s, but there’s no denying that, for a few years there, Urkel was one of the faces of ’90s television.

But you know what? I still like Family Matters! Oh sure, much of that has to do with nostalgia, the show was a big part of my childhood for sure, but as dumb (and crazy) as it could occasionally be, I still find myself enjoying it when I watch nowadays. Indeed, I’d say Family Matters is the definitive TGIF show, or at least tied with Boy Meets World. (Sorry Full House, you lose.) If you didn’t grow up during the 1990s, I’m not sure you’d get it, but those of us that were there, we know. Maybe. I do, at any rate.

ANYWAY, for the fall of ’97 CBS managed to snag Family Matters and other-TGIF-mainstay Step By Step from ABC and used them to headline the “CBS Block Party,” their very own attempt at a TGIF-ish line-up. Truth be told, both shows, and TGIF in general, were a little long-in-the-tooth by 1997 (and in my particular case, I was about to discover Son of Ghoul, which left little time for anything else Friday evenings), but there was a residual name-factor at play, so along with Meego and The Gregory Hines Show, CBS acquired Family Matters and Step By Step and proceeded to take TGIF head-on.

Annnnd it didn’t really work. None of the shows lasted beyond that season – some spectacularly so (Meego only made it six episodes!). Family Matters wound up being placed on hiatus mid-season, with the remaining episodes burned off during the summer of ’98. Still, despite the ultimate failure, as an experiment in late-90s programming and featuring two very 1990s shows, the CBS Block Party is an interesting subject to look back on, if nothing else. (Furthermore, while TGIF lived on, it was never really the same, though Boy Meets World continued to fight the good fight).

And that my friends is why this tape is such an important find for yours truly: It represents a piece of nostalgia tied directly into a programming experiment that ultimately didn’t fly. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

But what about the other shows promoted on the back cover of the tape? The Bryant Gumbel thing and Brooklyn South, I can’t say much about those. But Cosby and George & Leo I absolutely remember. Coming a few years after his previous, far more popular sitcom, Cosby I caught now and then, but frankly never thought it was very good. George & Leo, however, I liked a lot. It only lasted that single season, but I enjoyed it, and looking back, it was my first entry into what would end up being an endearing Bob Newhart fandom, though I wasn’t cognizant of that at the time.

So seeing all that plastered on the tape is an added bonus for me. Steve Urkel and Bob Newhart sharing the same stage? Did that ever happen prior? Or after, for that matter? Thas history, man.

Anyway, dig the helpfully included schedule on the back cover; it’s a veritable study in late-1990s television, albeit a CBS-centric one. (Well duh!) The only thing missing is David Letterman’s goofy smile to complete the package, though since this was the prime time line-up, his exclusion is understandable. Disregarding the shows I just don’t know much about, there’s not a whole lot listed that I actively hate. Except The Nanny. I detest The Nanny and always have. Also, I wonder how Don Johnson felt about Nash Bridges getting Step By Step as a lead-in? That’s not exactly a seamless transition!

Finally, I love the big WKBN TV-27 Youngstown sticker slapped on the back, even if they’re not quite my CBS affiliate (a WOIO sticker would have made this the ultimate). This isn’t unusual; the $35 copy on eBay demonstrates a sticker from the respective television market that one hails from, so tailoring these to local needs was evidently the norm. I would imagine this tape was made available for cheap (free?) in video stores, supermarkets, wherever VHS tapes were sold in WKBN’s market. I remember getting an NBC fall preview DVD in the early/mid-2000s at Best Buy, so I’ll go with that mindset regarding this CBS VHS.

On the surface, this may not seem like a “big” find, and in the grand scheme things, or at least in the grand scheme of my disturbingly large video collection, I guess it’s not. Nevertheless, it’s still amazing how this one transports me right back to the fall of 1997. Man, (I was in 5th grade! That’s mind-blowing to realize!) It’s a cool promotional representation of network television in the late-1990s, including some throwbacks to the earlier-1990s, as part of a TV experiment that ultimately didn’t take. Add in the looks at the shows that did take, and you’ve got an invaluable view of a very specific era in broadcasting. And I’m just going by the sleeve! I can only imagine what it’s like actually watching this!

I don’t know, maybe I should crack the shrinkwrap? Or do I dare hold out hope for a double instead? Oh the decisions that I must face!