Category: Prime Time TV

Up All Night: T.J. Hooker

Up All Night

Welcome back once again to the Retro Rambling’s Up All Night Theater.  Last night, I was craving me some classic 80’s Fall Guy, and tonight I want to keep the 80’s TV vibe going by watching some old episodes of T.J. Hooker starring William Shatner.  So kick back on tat couch of yours, settle in, and watch some adrenaline filled cop action, 1980’s style!

 

 

 

 

 

Up All Night: The Fall Guy

Up All Night

Welcome back to the Up All Night Theater!  Tonight, I had a hankering for some classic 80’s tv, and the show in particular I’ve been craving is The Fall Guy starring Lee Majors.  So without further ado, here are a few episodes for us to binge on and kill a few hours with tonight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Money No Whammies! The Michael Larson Story

Press Your Luck Michael Larson

 

A few weeks ago, Jason Gross released another episode of his Rediscover the 80’s podcast.  Along with frequent co-host Wyatt, they reminisced about their favorite game shows from their youth, and Press Your Luck came up.  Jason started relaying to Wyatt bits and pieces of the story of Michael Larson and his incredible performance on an episode from the mid-80’s.  I remember the episode well, and had since learned more about, so I thought I would put a piece together to detail the incredible story of how one man rose up and conquered a game show.  So, for your approval, I submit to you Big Money No Whammies:  The Michael Larson Story.


Michael larson

Back in May of 1984, a 35-year-old former ice-cream truck driver from Lebanon Ohio named Michael Larson flew to California to audition for the CBS game show, Press Your Luck.  Michael was no ordinary contestant though.  He was a man who had spent quite a lot of time studying the show, and was more than prepared when he got his break to appear on the show.

Most people who get to be contestants on game shows spend a fair amount of time preparing for them.  Larson had went well beyond what a normal contestant would though.  He had filled his home with televisions that he never turned off.  He would watch for hours on end, trying to find ways to get rich, spending most of his time focusing on infomercial schemes and game shows.  After searching for countless hours, he finally found his angle.  He would “press his luck” to earn his fortune.

The premise of the Press Your Luck game show was simple.  There was a rectangular game board that was filled with squares that indicated different cash amounts.  The contestants would take turns “spinning” the game board.  The squares would light up in what seemed to be a random order, and the player would press a button to stop the “spin”.  Lights would illuminate the square they stopped on, and they won whatever amount was in that square.  In addition to cash prizes, there were also other prizes like vacations, pool tables, or sailboats for example.  The squares to stay away from though, were the “Whammy” squares that featured a little cartoon drawing of a devil that would wipe out their entire winnings.  The players would amass as much money and prizes as they could, try to keep their turns going by winning as many free spins as possible, and trying to avoid Whammies at all costs.

Press Your Luck Game Board

But after watching the show for hours on end, Larson realized that the blinking board wasn’t exactly as unpredictable as it appeared to be.  With the use of VCR technology and a whole lot of pausing and rewinding, he discovered that the board followed five distinct patterns, which he was able to memorize.  He knew that if he could only get onto the game show, he would be able to control the board in any way he wanted….stopping on big money and free spins without landing on the dreaded Whammies….and he could make a fortune.

Larson didn’t really have any money though, so to even get on the show, he had to borrow air fare from his home in central Ohio to California, and he bought the shirt he wore on the show at a thrift store for just $0.65.  With that part of the plan all set, all he had to worry about was actually getting picked to be on the show.  He had watched more than enough episodes to know what kind of contestant the producers were looking for.  He knew that he couldn’t look cocky or confident, so during the screening process, he acted perky, excited, and self-deprecating.  The act worked, because he made it onto the show the same day he auditioned.  He continued his act from his audition onto the show….being overly excited, bouncing in his seat, cheering on his fellow competitors, and even taking shots at himself when asked personal questions by the host, Peter Tomarken.  At one point, Tomarken asked Larson what he’d do with the money if he won, and Larson responded, “hopefully I’ll make enough so I won’t have to drive the ice-cream truck next summer.”

Michael Larson

After the first round of generic questions that were always asked in order for the contestants to earn spins, Larson was the first to get his turn on the board.  On his first spin, he stopped on a Whammy.  This was likely part of his plan to avoid suspicion since he had no money to lose to a Whammy.  On his next spins, he collected a modest $2500.  His two opponents on the show, Ed Long and Janie Litras, earned $4,080 and $4,608 respectively.  That ended the first round, and after a commercial break, it would be Larson’s turn on the board once again.  He wouldn’t be so modest with this set of spins.

On his first spin, he hit one of the best spots on the board:  $4,000 plus a Free Spin.  He followed that up with $5,000 and a Free Spin.  Next was $1,000 and a Free Spin.  And he just kept going.  He spun the board 40 consecutive times, and never hit a Whammy.  Not only was he not hitting Whammies, he kept purposely landing on the big money squares that also contained Free Spins.  Normally, contestants would hit a Whammy somewhere between 5 and 10 spins, but Larson shattered that average with his amazing performance.  When he finally decided to pass his remaining spins, he had racked up $102,851 and a couple of trips and other prizes.  The cash amount was so large, the show had to drop the dollar sign from his podium display, because it was only designed for 5 digits of earnings, but Larson had shocked the system and ran his winnings up to 6 digits.

Michael larson

For his first 15 spins or so, the mood on the set was electric.  The crowd was cheering him on to keep spinning, his fellow contestants were shocked and amazed at his performance, and host Peter Tomarken was simply astounded.  But you know who wasn’t excited?  The producers back in the control room, that’s who.  It didn’t take very long for the producers to suspect that not all was on the up and up.  They quickly assessed that Larson wasn’t just lucky, but that he had some kind of system in play.  Unfortunately for them, there wasn’t anything they could do about it because as far as they could tell, he wasn’t breaking any rules.

As Larson continued to rack up the big money and free spins, the mood of his fellow contestants changed.  You could see they were losing their patience as all they could do was sit there and watch him play.

 

Press Your Luck Scandal

Michael’s turn took so long, that one single half-hour episode couldn’t contain his entire turn, so it had to be broken up into a two-part episode.  Even though they weren’t happy with his performance, the producers knew that this was newsworthy, and could potentially be a ratings grabber if advertised correctly.  To have enough content from the game to completely fill two episodes, Tomarken recorded an interview with Larson.

Normally, winners on Press Your Luck were invited back on the following episode to defend their title, but that offer was not extended to Michael Larson.  CBS rules stated that any contestant who’d won more than $25,000 couldn’t come back.  That little rule robbed the world of seeing just how far Michael Larson could go.

The two episodes aired on Friday June 8, and Monday June 11, 1984.  That was the only time those episodes would see the light of day for almost 20 years.  CBS was so embarrassed by what had happened that they locked the episodes away in their vault.  In later years, when USA and the Game Show Network bought the syndication rights to air old episodes, CBS refused to let them air the Michael Larson shows.

So What Happened to Michael Larson After Press Your Luck?

Since Larson hadn’t really done anything illegal, he was allowed to keep his $110,237, of which he had to pay $30,000 in taxes.  After returning home, he put $30,000 into a real estate venture that ended up being a Ponzi Scheme, so he had quickly lost over half of his winnings.

In November of 1984, Larson hit on his next big money-making idea.  Everyday, a radio station in Dayton Ohio would host a contest where contestants could win a cool $30,000.  They would read off a set of serial numbers from a $1 bill, and if you could find the $1 bill with the matching number, you would be the winner.  Since the radio station allowed several days to find each bill and collect the winnings, Larson thought he had time to sort through plenty of them and find a winner.

Larson deposited the remainder of his Press Your Luck winnings into several banks, and then withdrew all of it in $1 bills.  He had so many bills that he bundled them, and stored them in trash bags and burlap sacks.Once he sat down and started sifting through bills looking for winners, it didn’t take long for him to figure out that it would take a week or more just to go through half the money he had on hand.  He put half of the money back in the bank, and kept about $40,000 on hand for the contest.

Eventually, staring at serial numbers all day can make you tired and cranky, so he and his female friend decided to go see friends at a Christmas party.  While they were at the party having a good time, Larson’s house was broken into and robbed, meaning all of that cash was stolen and now gone.  Larson suspected that his female friend had a hand in the robbery, and their relationship deteriorated quickly after that.  Eventually, after fearing for her life with Larson around, she kicked him out.

Larson bounced around from job to job after that, eventually ending up as an assistant manager of a Wal-Mart.  In 1995, he suddenly picked up and left Ohio.  Family and friends later discovered that he was under investigation for his part in a lottery scheme that robbed over 20,000 people out of over $3 million dollars.  He was never prosecuted for the crime, but eventually passed away of throat cancer in 1999.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that CBS locked the episodes away in their vault for almost 20 years?  Well, they finally agreed to let them air in 2003.  That year, the Game Show Network produced a documentary about Larson’s incredible game called Big Bucks:  The Press Your Luck Scandal, which included footage from those episodes.  

On the same night the documentary aired, GSN broadcast a special edition of their Press Your Luck revival series called Whammy!.  They invited back Larson’s competitors from 1984, Ed Long and Janie Litras.  The third contestant on  the show was Michael’s brother, James Larson.  And wouldn’t you know who won the pony….James Larson walked away the winner, leaving Long and Litras to feel disappointed at the hands of a Larson once again.

If you would like to relive the incredible series of events on the game show, you can watch both episodes below.

And why stop there?  Go ahead and watch the 2003 episode of Whammy! featuring Michael’s brother James.

Celebrating 40 Years of Garfield

A few days ago, one of our favorite felines turned 40 years old.  That’s right, Garfield debuted in 1978, and is still going strong today.  I just wanted to take a moment and wish Garfield a happy birthday, and congratulate Jim Davis on 40 years of phenomenal success with his creation.  In honor of our cat hero, here is one of my favorite specials he starred in, Garfield in Paradise.  Enjoy.

Tag Team TV Pilot

In the mid – late 80’s, professional wrestling, and the WWF in particular, was big business. A lot of the WWF superstars were becoming household names thanks to Vince McMahon and his traveling circus. Two of the better known superstars were “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Piper had spent years as the biggest bad guy wrestler on the roster, while Ventura was well known as one of the voices of the shows as color commentator. Each broke out of the WWF world to become moderate successes in Hollywood. Piper had starring roles in B – Movies like Body Slam, Hell Comes to Frogtown, and They Live. Meanwhile, Jesse was becoming a solid back up man in action flicks with Running Man and Predator.

In 1991, they teamed up on the small screen in the pilot episode of Tag Team. The shows premise was simple. These two wrestlers couldn’t wrestle for a living anymore, so they decide to become cops. That decision was made after they used their wrestling moves to stop a robbery at a grocery store. It was a simple idea, but one that a television series could conceivably be based around.

As the air date for the pilot episode drew closer, Vince McMahon was hyping the debut of the show on his wrestling shows, and as a 13 year old wrestling fan, I was salivating. I marked the date and time on my calendar so I wouldn’t miss it. Here was another chance to inject more wrestling into my world, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Although I can’t recall what night of the week that this premiered on, I DO remember getting everything set up in my room for it. My chair was at the right angle, I had a frosty beverage at my side, and some sort of snack at the ready. I was pumped.

Tag Team TV Pilot

As I remember it, the episode was pretty good, and I thought it was really cool that these two wrestlers were going to be in a television show every week. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of just how exactly television worked at that time, and was quite disappointed when the show never aired again. The series wasn’t picked up, and the show was thrown into the huge pile of “could’ve beens” with hundreds of other series that were never picked up.

I listened to a podcast featuring Ventura and Piper a while back, and Ventura explained why the series wasn’t picked up. The two companies who were producing the show together, Disney and Corelco, got into a lawsuit with each other over something not even remotely related to the Tag Team series, and while in litigation, the show was left in limbo since neither side was doing business with each other at the time. When the lawsuit dust settled, too much time had passed and the Tag Team series was abandoned.

It’s a real shame, because the two had great chemistry together in the pilot, the premise was solid for an action/comedy show, and would have probably drawn decent enough ratings to keep the 13 – episode first season on the air. Whether it would have been picked up beyond that is anyone’s guess, but I know one 13 year old who would have watched religiously.

Check out the pilot and see what YOU think.

Retro Round Table: Favorite TV Shows of the 90’s

90's TV Shows

It’s time once again for another Retro Round Table, and this time, we’re talking about our favorite television shows from the 90’s.  The 90’s was a great decade for fun shows.  It seems to me that there were more good comedies and quirky shows than serious ones, but that’s why we do these round tables…to get more than my own opinion.  I’m joined today as usual by Hoju Koolander from the SequelQuest Podcast, Jason Gross from Rediscover the 80’s, Eric Vardeman from Eric V Music, and this week

So let’s get to it, and see what everyone picked as their favorite television show of the 90’s…..


Dana Carvey Show

There is no doubt about it, I watched way too much TV from 1990-1999. Not only did I watch too much TV live, I was recording it on VHS and re-watching these programs over and over again. So much so that at multiple times I burned out the family VCR. Most likely due to TV overload, I pretty much stopped watching network TV once the world survived Y2K and the last 18 years have been a blur. So what was my favorite boob tube experience from the decade where Urkel and Baywatch reigned supreme? Based solely on laughs that have lasted a lifetime, I would have to go with the short-lived prime time kamikaze mission The Dana Carvey Show. After winning our hearts as the nerdy sidekick, Garth in Wayne’s World, Dana Carvey somehow landed a 30 minute sketch comedy show on the ABC network in 1996 that aired after wholesome family sitcom Home Improvement. When I tuned into the cold open sketch where he appeared as President Bill Clinton addressing the nation from the oval office, my mind was blown as Carvey had live puppies suckle from multiple lactating nipples and this shocking bit of comedy instantly gained my loyalty. Each week pushed more boundaries of good taste and it’s no surprise that the show was cancelled after 8 episodes. Since our VCR was broken I had to record the shows on audio cassette, adding my own laugh track as I watched the hilarity unfold in sketches like Oscars Best Foreign Film Award and Nightline with Bob Dole. For years I cherished those tapes until the glorious day when Shout! Factory finally released the entire series on DVD in 2009. Those infamous 8 episodes are the absolute highlight of my 90s TV watching experience and no doubt shaped the warped sense of humor that has my wife rolling her eyes on a daily basis.

– Hoju Koolander

You can follow along with all of Hoju’s retro shenanigans on his twitter feed, @hojukoolander, read a lot of his his fine writing on a variety of retro topics at Retro-Daze, keep up with him at PopGeeks, and listen to his awesomely fun pod cast at SequelQuest Podcast where he and his cohorts craft sequels that we never got to movies that we loved!  Be sure to check out his latest piece over at Retro-Daze, Retro Magazine Round: Black Belt! 

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Nearly Forgotten TV Shows

Through the many years of television, there have been thousands of TV shows created.  Usually only the cream of the crop last for multiple seasons, and go on to live vividly in the memories of the people who enjoyed them.  There are also the shows that captured people’s imaginations, and even though they didn’t last too long, are still widely remembered.  Then there are those shows that only ran a few episodes or a short season or two, but were so good, they’ve not totally faded from memory yet.  These are the shows I’m talking about.  Shows that are worth seeking out if you’ve never watched them before.  Here’s five of these shows that are nearly lost to time.


Man From Atlantis

The Man From Atlantis

The Man From Atlantis only lasted for one season of 13 episodes, and ran on NBC during the 1977-1978 season.  The series actually began as a series of 4 made for television movies, and based on the ratings success of these movies, a TV series was given the green light.

The Man From Atlantis starred Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing on Dallas) as an amnesiac man who is given the name of Mark Harris, and he’s believed to be the only surviving citizen of the lost civilization of Atlantis.  He has extraordinary powers, such as the ability to breathe underwater, and endure extreme depth pressures.  He also has superhuman strength, and his hands and feet are webbed.  His weakness though is that his eyes are unusually sensitive to light.

Yesterdayland Archives | Man From Atlantis

 

Following his discovery, he is recruited by The Foundation of Oceanic Research, which is a government agency that conducts top-secret research and explores the depths of the ocean in a sophisticated submarine.

The Man From Atlantis was an early attempt at a superhero television show, coming along in the same time frame as Wonder Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman.  It enjoyed a few brief runs in syndication, but episodes of this show haven’t seen the light of day in years.


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