Monday, November 30, 2009

Ubiquitous 80s and 90s Advertising Slogans

An effective and memorable advertising campaign can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, a phrase associated with your product will be forever embedded in your consumers' minds. On the other, they will probably find this mentally inextricable campaign to fall somewhere between mildly irritating and hair-tearingly unbearable. So to review, yes, they'll remember it, but they'll also grow to hate it. Sort of a mixed bag if I ever saw one.

Adhering to the age-old adage of "all publicity is good publicity", these advertising agencies pushed forward with these catchy campaigns that with repeated viewing came to resemble nails on a chalkboard. Regardless, if we're still remembering them a decade later, it must be a testament to their effectiveness. Here are just a few of the ads that populated our favorite TV blocks and haunted our dreams throughout the 80s and 90s:

Where's the Beef? (Wendy's)

There must be something to be said for repetition. By my count, the old broad on the right croaks, "Where's the beef?" three times in a thirty second spot. No wonder we all remember it so well: they were essentially drilling it into our consciousness with these ads.

The ad served to showcase the perceived poor ratio of bun-to-burger we find at most fast food restaurants. Not at Wendy's, though, according to our elderly spokesfriend Clara Peller. She's not sold on that all bun/mini burger combo and is quick to question the relative location of her cow byproducts, and with good reason. Nice going, Clara. You tell it like it is.

"Where's the Beef?" became such a popular slogan that 1984 presidential candidate Walter Mondale actually adopted it for his campaign, accusing fellow Democrat-in-the-running Gary Hart of being all show and little substance. Admittedly, Mondale didn't ascend to the presidency either, but you have to admire his cajones for adopting a fast food slogan as a debate point.

Got Milk? (Milk)

The Got Milk? ads are still circulating, but they premiered and reached their peak popularity in the 90s. Above is the first television spot in which an Aaron Burr fanatic fails to win the $10,000 radio call-in prize about, you guessed, it, Aaron Burr. And why, do you ask, were his noble Burr-loving efforts thwarted? Why, a peanut butter sandwich of course. With no milk to wash it down. All sandwich and no milk makes a very sad boy. Or at least one out $10,000. It seems the message here was fail to drink milk, miss out on valuable contest prize opportunities. You don't have to tell me twice.

The ads featuring the trademark mustache ran in many popular magazines, showcasing milk mustachioed celebrities with a blurb about their calcium-rich lifetstyles. We'll just ignore that many of the young starlets featured in these ads went on to lead drug-addled, eating-disordered, generally troubled lives and chalk their resilience up to milk-related bone strength.

To read the full article about the Got Milk? campaign, click here

Wassup? (Budweiser)

This ad is proof that more irritating your ad, the more likely it is to catch on as a general societal phenomenon. These Budweisers commercials feature a group of beer-drinkin', football watchin' fellas greet each other on the phone with the phrase, "Whasssssup?" There was a certain inflection and accompanying head-shaking movement that made the phrase distinctive from its less idiotic counterpart, "What's Up?"

The ad was actually based on a short film entitled True, which was basically the "Whassssup?"-loving premise we see here only with less direct product placement. That film caught the attention of someone over at Anheuser-Busch, and the rest was irritating catch phrase-spewing history. This ad was shown so often and parodied so frequently that it was quickly woven into the fabric of our daily speech patterns. I will admit, I did like the international version of the ad Budweiser put out. When that Japanese guy bellows, "Konichiwaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?" I just melt a little inside.

Yo Quiero Taco Bell (Taco Bell)

There's nothing like good old fashioned animal ethnic stereotyping to bring something fresh and fun to the fast food advertising table. Thanks to Taco Bell, I can't imagine any of my friend's chihuahuas speaking in anything other than a Mexican accent. Granted, they don't really speak so much as yip, but I'd prefer to not feel guilty over my racial profiling-style translation of their yips into requests for cheesy gorditas.

Taco Bell's chihuahua became a very popular advertising icon, and his trademark phrase, "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" quickly rose to catch phrase status. All this dog did was walk down the street, proclaim his desire for Taco Bell in Spanish, and everyone loved him. It seems the second you throw another language into the mix, the ad suddenly becomes exotic and interesting to the general public. I can't imagine we'd have reacted the same to a Staten Island Taco Bell Dog.

I Want to Be Like Mike (Gatorade)

In 1992, who didn't want to be like Mike? We were all in awe of the basketball star's incredible prowess on the courts, and if Gatorade promised to make us just a little more Mike-like, well, then we were going to take them at their word. I drank hundreds of Gatorades and have yet to make a jump shot. How do you explain that one, Gatorade? Huh?

Keeps Going and Going and Going (Energizer)

Though most of us 90s kids wouldn't know it from our own respective childhoods, the Energizer Bunny actually started as a parody of their battery-producing rival Duracell's trademark Duracell Bunny. I know, right? A Duracell bunny? Who knew? The popularity and resonance of Energizer's mascot far outlived its competition, and its Energizer Bunny soon became a highly recognizable character. I mean, he wears wayfarer sunglasses and plays a marching band-style drum. What's not to like?

What Would You Do For a Klondike Bar? (Klondike)

The people at Good Humor-Breyers just knew that we were all gaga for the rich chocolatey ice-creamy taste of their trademark Klondike Bars. So they posed us a simple question: What would you do for a Klondike Bar? According to their commercials, it seemed we'd do quite a bit. The ads were definitely memorable, but they also made me seriously question my candy-coated ice cream intervention. I'm still working on my 12 step program. I'm just about to apologize to my dog in the above ad for mocking him just to get my fix. Sorry, Fido.

Just Do It (Nike)

What exactly is this mysterious "it"? We may never know, but at least Nike dropped us all some helpful hints in the slogan's premiere ad spot in 1988. "It" must be some sort of athletic ball, though its exact specifications are never clarified. I guess we'll just have to keep buying Nike products till we find out. I have a feeling that Swoosh will eventually point us in the right direction, though I can't be sure.

Once You Pop, You Can't Stop (Pringles)

Yes, that's right: not only did this decade's advertising campaigns encourage us to embrace our addiction to Klondike Bars, we were supposed to take on the Pringle fix as well. I'm not exactly sure what all of these addiction-themed ads are trying to tell us about the relationship between advertising and susceptibility to addiction, but I don't think I want to know. I can't even look at a duck anymore without picturing myself in full on Pringle duck-bill mode. That's how far this has gone. Are you happy now, Pringles? Well? Are you?

Pardon Me, Would You Have any Grey Poupon? (Grey Poupon)

When I think class and upper crustiness, the first place my mind usually goes is mustard. I can't help it. I know they must eat caviar and filet mignon also, but my childhood advertising never exposed that side of wealthy living to me. No, all I got was the Grey Poupon angle. Apparently, if you're classy and you drive a Rolls Royce, people are bound to trouble you for some Grey Poupon so you sure as hell better have some on hand. I mean, can you imagine the humiliation if another Rolls pulls up alongside yours and you don't even have any mustard to offer? For shame.

I've Fallen, and I Can't Get Up! (LifeAlert)

Okay, okay. I admit it. This one is such an easy target. It just oozes a corniness and poor reenactment quality that rivals any grainy black and white fake footage I've seen in those Discovery documentaries about unknowing pregnancies. And let me tell you, that's no easy feat.

Despite the fact that our narrator informs us that she was allegedly "deathly ill", she still summoned the mental wherewithal to press her LifeAlert button. Now that's a powerful system. Death doesn't stand a chance against it. Whether it's Mr. Miller's poorly acted chest pains or Mrs. Fletcher's trademark falling/inability to get up, this commercial was really asking to be mocked. If you're trying to convince children to respect the elderly, I'd advise never showing them this commercial. Even after the laughter eventually dies down, they're doomed to forever think of the old as both helpless and in desperate need of acting classes. Not exactly the respectable combination they may have hoped for.

To read the full post on the I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up! campaign, click here

Whether or not you'd like to admit it at this juncture in your life, most of us shamelessly repeated these refrains as if we'd discovered the golden ticket to comedic exceptionality. At one point or another, you probably pretended to be a Rolls Royce patron in desperate need of spiced mustard or a Chihuahua seeking his favored cheesy sour cream chalupas. It's time to embrace your embarrassing youthful slogan parroting and remember these campaigns for what they were: brilliant forays into the realm of eternal memory. Someday we may be old and senile, but we will probably still quip from our adjustable hospital beds about the addictive qualities of Pringles or the basketball skill-affirming powers of Gatorade. Now that's good advertising.

Friday, November 27, 2009

90s TV Thanksgiving Specials, Part III

Hope all of you in the states had a great Thanksgiving! To those of you outside the country you can just revel in the notion that your country is probably not quite as fat as ours. Not yet, at least.

Home Improvement Thanksgiving

Today's 90s Thanksgiving TV episode selection is from Home Improvement. Love it or hate it, it was an old 90s standby, and this episode should not disappoint. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

90s TV Thanksgiving Specials, Part II

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all*! As promised, Children of the 90s is bringing you 3 fun-filled days of 90s Thanksgiving episodes!

Garfield's Thanksgiving

Today's is a goodie. Garfield and Friends gave us this fun little Thanksgiving special way back in 1989, but I dug it up so you can all enjoy it all over again. Hopefully you can squeeze in watching snippets of it somewhere in between your meal-induced food coma and dozing on the couch watching football.

*Even though I'm back home in my home state of Minnesota, I'm contractually obligated by the state of Texas to say "y'all" at least once a day to validate my residency

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

90s Thanksgiving TV Episodes Part I

We* here at Children of the 90s wish you safe travels and a happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the States! I too will be traveling and will not have internet access to write full posts. Also, there's an imminent likelihood of me ODing on green bean casserole, so this may be the last time we see each other in awhile. I ask only to be buried submerged in a layer of cream of mushroom soup and topped with zestily seasoned crispy onion strings. It's sort of like a Viking funeral in a casserole dish ship, only they just go on to serve you en flambé.

If you do manage to sneak away from the family onslaught for, oh, say, 22 minutes each day this week, I will not disappoint. I am proud to present the first installment in a three-part series of 90s TV Thanksgiving specials, scheduled and ready to go for you to enjoy this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now there's something you can be thankful for.

I had to search far and wide for these videos (which, of course, I'd like to disclaim that I do not own nor do upon which do I intend any type of copyright infringement. The people who posted them may have, however, so I recommend you go after them.)

Today's Offering--Friends: The One with All the Thanksgivings

I'm going to be up front with you and let you in on a little secret: I don't speak Romanian. Nonetheless, I spent 20 minutes of my life browsing a Romanian equivalent of YouTube to bring you one of my favorite Friends episodes, "The One with All the Thanksgivings". I scoured the internet for an embeddable version of this episode, and let me just say that it was pretty well hidden. You're welcome.

Okay, Okay, it's just me

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

AOL/AIM Guide for the Perplexed 90s Child

I had the abrupt realization the other day that I no longer use America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). Their instant messaging program used to be the very cornerstone of my existence, and it's simply faded into the obscurity of my impending (okay, imminent) adulthood. Though functions like Facebook Chat and GChat keep us messaging our friends instantly, the loss I mourn is of our quirky but universal rules of AIM etiquette and practice.

Hearken back, if you will, to a time before Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all other social media. Back when your online persona had a single avenue of emergence. When our away messages, chat icons, and AIM profiles defined us so completely to our judgmental online peers. A time when just the right balance of ~*~*~* to words with aLtErNaTiNg CaPiTaL aNd LoWeR cAsE lEtTeRs were enough to make your profile sparkle.

Yes, it was a simpler time. My boyfriend and I were discussing the issue and he mentioned his previous middle school AIM addiction that bordered on meriting a 12-step program. "I remember thinking to myself that if I were really rich, I would make a handheld device so I could take AIM wherever I went," he mentioned. Just imagine how it would shock his middle school self to learn that nearly every one of us has one of these in our purse or pocket right now. They're called cell phones.

Evidence of a simpler time. Oh AOLBuddy and InternetFriend, how we miss your newbie-like innocence

Before we were constantly plugged in to ten different networks of social media, we were a single-minded bunch. There were a complex set of unwritten rules that governed our AIM behavior. Let's explore a few of the universal norms and mores that drove our socially conscious AIM activity:

Create a Screen Name that Conveys Your Personality

Generally, these types of screen names included words like "Sweet" and "QTpie" for a girl and sports or athlete names for boys. Because our middle school minds were so achingly unoriginal, at your suggestion of a screenname AIM would inevitably spit back something like, "How about QTpie18483134852?"

Inclusion of birth year, age, or graduation year numbers was a popular motif, one that would likely have brought many of us into To Catch a Predator-like scenarios in the current online climate. In the early days of AIM, choosing a non-conventional or highly unique and personalized screenname was akin to social suicide. Yes, we had 12 versions of KittenLuver on our buddy lists, but it was far better than having been perceived as an individual.

Read Everyone's Away Message Religiously and Addictively

Nowadays we can get our fix via Facebook or Twitter, but it was back in the AIM glory days that we first grew enamored with the notion of broadcasting our every activity cyberworldward. If God forbid our internet was ever down, we would shake and convulse with the pains of voyeurism withdrawal.

Update Your Own Away Message to Show How Interesting, Witty, and Popular you Are

Helpful Hint: Single word informative away messages are always a social faux pas. To simply write "Showering" or "Eating" is the equivalent of admitting how boring and mundane your life really is. No, you needed to be "Gettin' my shower on" or "Foodin' it up" instead. See how much more interesting you seem?

More often than not, it was important to let people know that not only were you out doing something, but that you weren't alone. "Out with my girls!" or "Playin Bball with Dave and Dan" were variations on socially acceptable norms. No one would ever, ever write "Quietly reading alone in my room". The only time you were allowed to be alone was while studying, and you better have used that away message to complain about it or you'd be suspected of (gasp!) enjoying schoolwork. For shame.

Choose the Perfect Icon

When AIM released the icon option, we all eagerly pored through the catalogs with Talmudic levels of focus and analysis. Was I more of a kitten or a flower? It was a tough call. Deliberation over whether I made the right choice haunts me to this day.

Select the Most Emo Available Pre-Emo Era Song Lyric for your Profile

This was before the coinage of the term "emo", but it's generally a good fit for the style of song snippet we placed meaningfully (or so we thought) in our profiles. The lyrics were supposed to have some type of personal meaning, but usually you just saw it in someone else's profile, thought it made them look wise and thoughtful, and adopted it as your own.

Extra Credit: Include a link to your angsty xanga or LiveJournal

Pick a Fun Sound to Chime when your Boyfriend/Girlfriend/Crush/Stalkee Signs Online

What's your auditory fancy? AIM had you covered. Rather than the basic open door/slam door sounds, you could choose an "Eep!" or "Ding Dong!" to alert you of the arrival of a socially significant peer. That signature noise was enough to make any of our pre-adolescent hearts skip a beat or two.

Know the Lingo and Punctuation Norms

The moment I realized that when I think to myself "I don't know" the letters IDK appear instantaneously in my mind's eye, I knew my love affair with IM had probably gone too far. Most of the old standards are still in circulation today ("OMG", "WTF", and the like), but we did have a few incredibly complicated ones to deflect our parent's curious eyes.

Speaking of i's, no one dared capitalize theirs in casual online conversation. The aforementioned alternation of capital and lowercase letters was, however, acceptable. Also, the proper way to end every sentence was with an ellipsis, even if it gradually trailed off an incomplete thought...

Choose Your Emoticons Wisely

Writing online comes with the added trouble of people misinterpreting what you wrote. The upside to this, however, was that you could always, always claim you were "jk" if what you said went over like a ton of bricks. Accidentally tell your friend they looked fat in their swimsuit at Susie's pool party? Simply add a :p or a ;) and you were totally off the hook.

Extra credit for more technically difficult but wholly unnecessary shapes such as:
A rose: @>---,---
Elvis @;^[)
Fish <')))))- <

Group Your Buddies by Lists with Ridiculous Names that Contain Words like "Peepz" and "Homies"

It's important to categorize all of your friends into groups, so be sure to come up with some catchy and vaguely descriptive names. Any sort of trite, overused slang to describe your friends was always a good move, especially if it was something your parents didn't understand and thus re-cemented their position as ignorant no-nothings. There are only so many times that you can explain to them that the categorization "Tight People" was not a sexually loaded term.

Find the Font and Color that Represents Your Personality

This was especially important, as it stood for how people would perceive your online identity. Were you more of a powder blue Comic Sans or a neon green italicized Helvetica? You better pick something and stick with it, because nothing was more irritating than those AIMers who would change font style and color every time they signed on. That's like them speaking in a falsetto or false baritone every time you had a conversation. It wasn't tasteful, and it just wasn't done.

Play Semi-Cruel Mind Games Through Use of AIM Functions

Not all AIM actions were well-intended. In fact, some were rather diabolical. When you were fighting with a friend, it was critical to use your AIM functions to your advantage. For example, you may select the "do not show as idle" function that forces people to worry erroneously that you're there, but you're ignoring them. Very tricky, yes, but very effective.

Blocking certain users was another popular ploy, as was clicking "Warn" to up their warning level. Bonus points for using your away message to write cryptic, esoteric things like, "You know what you did." Come to think of it, plenty of us employ these very same methods on Facebook today. You can take the 90s kid off the AIM, but you can't take the AIM out of the 90s kid.

It just goes to show you that no matter how mature we may think we've become, we can still read through these and think, "Oh, that's a good idea!" So, farewell for now, everyone, or TTFN for those of you who are so AIMily inclined. Check back the rest of this week for some wonderful 90s Thanksgiving TV episodes to tide you over for the long holiday weekend. Until then, *~*~*~hAvE a GrEaT tHaNkSgIvInG eVeRyOnE~*~*~*

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Real World

Last weekend, sometime between my many hours wasted watching For the Love of Ray J, World's Strictest Parents, and MTV Teen Cribs I got to thinking where exactly reality TV has veered off course. We all know it's far cheaper and easier for networks to produce reality shows that actual scripted TV shows with content and purpose, but somewhere along the way the phenomenon has spun out of control. While now we're now looking for the greatest American dog and giving Brett Michael's most curious female cast-offs their own half hour of television, in the 90s reality TV was still a burgeoning idea. It may shock and amaze you now, but the modifier "reality" once preceded the noun "TV" without even a trace of irony.

The Real World is still on of course, but we can all agree it's gotten a whole lot less real over its 22 seasons-to-date run. Now at open casting calls I imagine they have check boxes with labels like "Drunken Frat Boy Likely to Pick an Ignorant and Poorly Thought-Out Fight" or "Frustrated Psuedo-Intellectual Racial or Sexual Preference Minority Prototype", but in 1992 when the show premiered the show was a fresh concept.

Producers (and now reality show moguls) Jonathan Murray and Mary Ellis-Bunim initially considered making The Real World a semi-scripted soap opera, giving the preselected cast members a blueprint of their character development and storylines. You know, like they do nowadays on reality TV. If this idea had come to fruition with the quickly dissembled so-called "Season 0" cast, we could have seen Tracy Grandstaff (the then-future voice of MTV's Daria) play out as a character on The Real World. The pilot was soon dropped and exchanged for an actual set of seven strangers, forming the 1992 premiere season of The Real World.

In 1992, we first heard of MTV's grand social experiment, as the New York season premiered with these now-familiar words:

This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World.

For your viewing pleasure, a montage of Real World Intros. I couldn't find them any other way. The first one on there is New York, my favorite part of which has got to be when they intone "...and start getting real," after which we hear a cast member yell, "Can you get the phone?" This was them not being polite/being real in 1992. Amazing.

So, what exactly happened when people stopped being polite and started being real? In 1992, this was actually a provocative and novel question. MTV brought in Becky, Norman, Heather, Julie, Kevin, Eric, and Andre to help us find out. I'm going to go out on a limb here and side with pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman in declaring the first season to be the only season of TRW that was actually "real" by any definition of the world. There was no meta self awareness going on, nor was there shameless self promotion in pursuit of low-tier fame. The first cast was the only one with no idea what was in store, what would get them screen time, or how the show would look as a finished product.

This was a short-lived phenomenon, of course, and soon the show was riddled with the kind of drama producers and sponsors salivate over. Here are just a few of the many, many ratings-skyrocketing dramatic moments that characterized the show in the 90s:

Puck vs. Everyone, Especially Pedro (San Francisco)

Sometimes good heartedness and good TV just don't mix. David "Puck" Rainey was a prime example of this phenomenon. No one could deny that watching his puzzling, over-the-top, and frequently unhygienic antics was entertaining. His worldview, however, was not quite as appealing to viewers as his penchant for picking his nose and eating peanut butter from the jar with his fingers. Puck was a notorious attention hog who represented the brazen new class of wannabe fame-seekers who made up the rising underclass of reality TV. He came to blows with pretty much everyone in the house, but the most memorable and shameful was his confrontation with Pedro Zamora.

Zamora had been diagnosed with AIDS, and his kind spirit and desire to battle ignorance against his disease made him the ideal target for Puck. Essentially, Puck became incensed that Pedro was a far more interesting character than him and thus was receiving far more attention. The only logical solution in his deluded mind was to attack Pedro constantly, instigating unnecessary confrontations. Pedro, in all his goodness, was ready to leave the house under the siege of torment until the other cast members decided to evict Puck. Sadly, Pedro died almost immediately after the airing of the San Francisco season finale, but his triumph over an asshat like Puck was a well-deserved minor victory.

Melissa and Dan Fight Over Postal Rights (Miami, 1996)

I don't know about you, but I take the US Postal Service's code to honor the privacy of my mail very seriously. Which is why it came as no surprise to me when Dan exploded upon finding that Melissa opened his letter containing pricey materials for his work. He goes so far as to call her a stupid bitch, which seems a little harsh for some innocent housemate mail-tampering. Things escalate quickly, as they tend to do on The Real World. In retaliation, Melissa flung some anti-gay slurs at him, which in retrospect was probably not a wise move. The drama just oozes from this clip. It's ridiculous TRW at its finest.

The Slap Heard Round the World (Seattle, 1998)

Possibly the most infamous of Real World moments was what MTV dubbed "The Slap Heard Round the World". Even this early in the game, MTV realized the value of branding and packaging TRW's drama and making it seem like news. I suppose it's a testament to the show's resonance that people still remember this moment, though to its credit it is absolutely crazy.

Irene was looking for an out, so she cried Lyme Disease and asked to leave the show. To be fair, she did actually have Lyme Disease, but her claims of its debilitating impact may have been just a bit exaggerated. In what must have been a Lyme Disease-induced bout of insanity, she outs Stephen as a homosexual. Smooth move, Irene. To retaliate, Stephen does what any normal guy would do. That is to say, he throws her prized stuffed animal into the watery abyss and then stops her moving car to slap her in the face.

If he was working to quell those murmurings about his sexuality, this may not have been his best move. All in all, Irene may have had the last laugh, or at least a validation of her character over Stephen's. In the early 2000s he was arrested for prostitution and then for stealing a 1988 Toyota Camry. Smooth move, Stephen. We can only imagine his indisposed clients asking to reenact that fateful slapping scene. Though to be honest, I'd prefer not to.

As many of you well know, these moments are just the tip of the iceberg. The crazy seemed to snowball with each new season, turning the show into a free-for-all frenzy of threesomes, stereotyped character molds, and general drunken debauchery. In the early years, though, it was more of a legitimate social experiment to see what happened what people stopped being polite, and started getting real. Okay, so that reality may have included a verbal pillaging for semi-innocent mail tampering, but it still beats watching The Real World: Cancun.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Magic of Science: 90s Shows that Made it Fun to be a Nerd

Considering educational science-themed kids shows of today have names like Dude, What Would Happen?, you have to wonder how far this type of programming is going to backslide. In our day, these shows didn't need cheesy gimmicks to pull in our attention. Except science-themed music video parodies on Bill Nye. Oh, and the penguin puppets on Beakman's World. And the swashbuckling sword fights on Mr. Wizard's World. Okay, so I made that last one up, but the underlying point was that no matter what the decade, you usually need a little more than straight educational segments to sell science to kids.

These shows must have had something special, though, to get us to voluntarily subject ourselves to learning in our precious free time. I'm sure some parental coaxing or even in-class watching sessions may have been in order, but no matter the means, we were watching. These shows found a magical point of compromise between education and entertainment and served it to us in a bubbling beaker of science learning. The producers and writers knew that kids are inherently inattentive, so they were sure to throw a fair amount of explosions in the mix.

The straightforwardness of these show's educational value was remarkable. Unlike some of its edutaining contemporaries (I'm looking at you, Ghostwriter), kid's science shows weren't tricking us into learning while we thought we were simply enjoying some mindless show. With science programs, it was all out in the open. Sure, they took pains to make learning fun and interesting, but they never once tried to hide the fact that we were doing what amounted to extracurricular science homework. Whatever the impetus for our spontaneous bouts of learning, our teachers and parents weren't complaining.

Bill Nye the Science Guy

Catchy theme song, right? It's all I can do to not start chanting Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! alone in the comfort of my living room. The folks behind Bill Nye definitely achieved their goal of making science seem fun and exciting, at least in the opening credits. They take all the vaguely science-y sounding words and use them as mere background noise for the the snappy theme. The things floating across our screens seem vaguely educational, yes, but when they're flashing in a maniacal strobe-light manner, they seem just a tad more exciting than they do in our Earth Science textbooks.

Bill Nye was a fast-paced, engaging show aimed at the learning resistant tween demographic. The show utilized humor and sight gags while constantly cutting from one experiment to the next. It didn't give us time to get bored and change the channel. If we were nearing that boredom threshold, though, Bill knew just what to do to keep us hooked.

Two words: song parodies. Yes, you heard (er, read) right. Nye offered us Weird Al-esque song parody musical videos with scientific themes. The "Soundtrack of Science" segment was truly ridiculous, but it demonstrated the show's good sense to not take itself to seriously. For your enjoyment, I offer my very favorite Bill Nye parody, the truly absurd "Bill's Got Boat" a parody of "Baby Got Back" sung by fictitious musical act (wait for it) Sure-Floats-A-Lot.

Can't you see she just wants to be buoyant?

To read the full post on Bill Nye the Science Guy, click here

3-2-1 Contact

The visuals in that intro really make you nostalgic for a simpler time. When I see that bar graph on that black screen computer, I just light up. It's kind of cute and kitschy-looking now, don't you think?

The show also made a version especially for in-class use, further blurring the line between formal and voluntary learning. You may have enjoyed watching it in school, but you were still essentially shackled to your desk by law. It's a fine line, don't you think?

3-2-1 Contact
had a variety of segments including features on such exciting scientific topics as volcanoes and robots. My favorite recurring segment was The Bloodhound Gang, which back in the day meant cool scientifically-minded child detectives, but now brings to mind the images of humping music video stars dressed as monkeys. Thanks a lot, musical group Bloodhound Gang. You've tainted the innocence of my intellectually curious youth.

I yearned to answer the phone, "Bloodhound Detective Agency: wherever there's trouble we're there on the double!" I'm thinking of starting to pick up at work that way, just for fun.

This intro is pure mid-to-late 80s, and that song is amazing

Mr. Wizard's World

If that intro just doesn't do it for you, check out this 1990 promo. It just screams excitement. Learn to make clouds! Blow up two balloons at once! Run backwards! Golly, Mr. Wizard, is there anything you can't do?

This 80s and 90s version was a revival of Mr Wizard's (nee Don Herbert) show decades earlier. In the 1950s and 60s, Watch Mr Wizard launched thousand of Mr Wizard science clubs. If you're ever feeling a little nerdy for liking the third version of the show (that's the 80s/90s one), just think to yourself, by 1955 100,000 kids had applied to be club members. Now that's nerdy.

We may not have had local watch-along clubs, but we did get our own healthy dose of fun experiments at which to marvel. Mr Wizard would perform some sort of mysterious trick, we'd ooh and ahh, and then we'd be stuck sitting around for the tedious explanation. The show ran in reruns for several years and often played very early in the morning. I distinctly remember irritating my parents with my wide-awakeness at 6 am and being stuck in front of the TV for some good old fashioned science learning. Oh, the memories.

Newton's Apple

If you thought TV scientists from the 1950s were interesting, just look at the winners we got to host Newton's Apple. An NPR broadcaster, a museum director, and even future MTV News correspondent SuChin Pak. Now there's a selection! Of course, this was all over the span of several years, but you get the general idea.

I admit my allegiance to this show stems from a similar place to my fervent devotion to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Being from Minneapolis, these shows were something of hometown heroes, produced in my own backyard. Well, not literally in my own backyard. Though I do think our shed would have been a lovely scenic backdrop for bottle rocket launching.

Beakman's World

Beakman's World was sort of like a modified Bill Nye. It covered many of the same topics and scientific phenomena, only its eccentric host was fictitious. Beakman was played by Paul Zaloom, a lively pupeteer and actor who brought to life the world of science through amusing experiments. Beakman was quite popular with the lab-assisting ladies; he had three comely female scientific companions throughout the course of the show. He also had a guy in a rat suit. Don't ask, just infer that it was funny.

They also had the aforementioned puppet penguins, which were of course adorable. They were sort of crotchety and judgmental, but then again they lived in a place where it was consistently below zero temperature. I'll cut them some slack.

These TV shows prove that adults needed not be sneaky to try to get us to sit down and watch something educational, they just needed to be kid friendly and have a good sense of humor. Oh, and have lots of explosions. Lots of explosions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the holiday season is upon us. Like it or not, each year stores start pushing their Christmas wares earlier and earlier. In a couple of decades, we'll probably be stringing lights in July. Despite the overcorporatization of Christmas, I always love the holiday season. No matter how cynical you are, it's tough to not feel even the tiniest bit festive. The music, the lights, the trampling of shoppers on Black Friday. It just makes my heart smile.

The Nightmare Before Christmas, however, did not make my heart smile. Or at least not at the ripe young age of 8 upon its theatrical release. It gave me not only the Nightmare before Christmas but also the Nightmare on Christmas and for about three weeks afterward. It's pretty safe to say all my Christmas cheer evaporated the second I saw that stop-motion animated child pull a severed head out of its gift box. I don't even celebrate Christmas, so I can just imagine the impact it had on those who did.

Now, of course, I recognize that the film is brilliant. It's a pretty magical movie, if you're willing to overlook some of the stomach-turning visuals and sight gags. Literally, the sights made me gag. I have a tiny admission to make, but you have to promise not to share this information. It's classified. Can we pinky-swear on this? Great, thanks. The truth of the matter is that I have an unnatural fear of stop-motion animation. Between this movie and James and the Giant Peach, I maybe got four hours of sleep between 1993-1996. Whew, I'm glad I got that one off my chest. Seriously though. If you ever so much as flicked a camera on and off between frames, I was not watching it. Period.

Somewhere around 16 I finally conquered my fear and watched The Nightmare Before Christmas the whole way through. I adored it, but I can certainly see why Disney pushed to release it under the guise of its Touchstone label. The movie is pretty unsettling, overall. It's dark--both visually and thematically--and it's a little heavy for children. Against the backdrop of upbeat Disney films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Nightmare was definitely the odd one out in their animation offerings. While the other Disney films were touting feel-good just-be-yourself messages, Nightmare had a much darker message on hand.

When I watch the trailer now, I marvel at the wondrous world created through the magical minds of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, the respective visual and musical geniuses behind the film. When I saw the trailer back in '93, I'm pretty sure my only reaction was "AHHHHHH!" It may also have involved running out of the theater, hysterical crying, and the eventual breathing into a paper bag.

The movie opens on "the holiday worlds of old" with a fairy tale air of mystery and enchantment in the voice-over. It segues quickly the the impaling of pumpkins on spears and monsters lurking under the stairs in the apt setting of Halloween Town. Their Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, leads them in the Halloween festivities during which the residents of Halloween Town rejoice in their scaring antics. We soon learn that Jack's grown tired of his lot in fright-inducing life in "Jack's Lament":

While wandering Halloween Town's forests, Jack accidentally slips through the conveniently local space/time continuum into a mysteriously cheerful place called Christmas Town. The whole place is aglow with twinkly little lights, ice skaters frolic around a giant pine, elves sing cheerfully from their racing sleds. Jack is confused by the warmth and feeling of Christmas Town and its contrast to the horrifying head-throwing pastimes of Halloween Town.

Though he does not completely understand what exactly he's seen, Jack presents his discovery to his fellow Halloween Town residents. Halloween Town is, on the whole, not impressed. They point out everything awesome about their own beloved holiday and have complete tunnel vision against the happiness and joy of Christmas Town. Tough Luck, Jackie.

Despite their disinterest, Jack becomes completely obsessed with Christmas and hatches a plan to kidnap Santa and take his place. Sounds pretty foolproof, right? I really can't imagine any way this plan could possibly go awry.

Because it's a Tim Burton movie, we're to believe a crazed scientist (awesomely named Dr. Finklestein) cobbled together and then brought to life a rag doll who begins to develop romantic stirrings for Jack. Then again, we're in a magical Halloween-themed town teeming with spooky bats and roaming mummies, so that's probably the most realistic of our plot points. The movie allows you the luxury of complete suspension of disbelief, as you find yourself wanting to believe that it might just be the right thing to kidnap "Sandy Claws" and replace him with a blood-chilling skeletor. In the context of Halloween Town, it almost makes sense. This rag doll chick, Sally, has a vision that Jack's plan will end disastrously and attempts to warn him of the dangers of his Christmas-stealing mission.

Ignoring his fellow townspeople's ambivalence, Jack eagerly assigns new and exciting Christmas roles to his neighbors. They still don't totally get it, so you've got to admire their stick-to-itness.

Jack thinks crazy kids Lock, Shock, and Barrel (voiced by Paul Rebeuns, aka PeeWee Herman) would make excellent accomplices and enlists them to kidnap Mr. Sandy Claws:

Again, they're not totally on board with the real spirit of Christmas Jack is so adamant they find. Instead of bringing him back, they bring Santa to the even crazier Oogie Boogey. Oogie's a bit of a gambling man, and he's not against implicating our buddy Santa into his irresponsible debauchery.

Jack is one of those misguided good-intentioned saps that just won't quit. He boards his coffin sleigh and rounds up his skeletal reindeer, eager to do Santa's good work. He doesn't quite know what the children of the world will want, so he's pretty sure shrunken heads and poisonous reptiles will do the trick. Done and done. Sally, on the other hand, is not so pleased with the way things are turning out, especially regarding the increasing levels of dementia enacted by her would-be beau. Catherine O'Hara does not disappoint as Sally, though it's no A Mighty Wind.

The people of the world realize that there's an impostor Santa polluting their skies and filling their stockings with terrifying trinkets. The army shoots down his sleigh, after which Jack is presumed dead (or deader, I guess, considering he's already just a skeleton). Jack quickly realizes he needs to set things right, free the real Santa, and enjoy his own lot in life as the Pumpkin King. A quick revelation, sure, but this is a Disney film so it's all par for the animated course.

On their way to set things straight, Sally is captured by the vile Oogie. In an oddly chivalrous act, Jack acts even viler and breaks apart Oogie's outer shell to reveal the revolting insects inside. Excuse me, I'm going to go vomit. Be right back. Okay, still here? Anyway, Santa gives them a harsh talking-to before going on his gift mission, but gives them some happy snow to show that he's not holding a grudge. All seems to be as it was again, with the added bonus of a brewing Sally and Jack romance. I never thought I'd say a fictitious romantic affair between a skeleton and living rag doll would be adorable, but the movie really sells it.

Nightmare manages to be all sorts of contradictory things at once, both sweet and vile, sentimental and cruel, cute and frightening. It's Tim Burton's unbridled imagination at its best, giving us a well-developed fantasy world to scare and delight us. His signature style and attention to detail makes it almost like a real world all unto its own. Which is probably why I was so scared of it in the first place. I hope the ensuing nightmares are enough to tide you over until his version of Alice in Wonderland debuts next year. Then you'll get a whole slew of new things to fear. Until then, though, just enjoy the Nightmare.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unintentionally Creepy Toys of the 80s and 90s

Creepiness is a pretty vague concept. You can't quite put your finger on it, but for some reason someone or something makes you feel a little bit uneasy. As a child, there were certain toys that I was sure were live and in action when I wasn't looking. Not in a cute, Toy Story way, but rather in a oh-my-God-they're-going-to-kill-me-in-my-sleep sort of way.

Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration. I doubt these toys were actually out for blood, but they did seem potential candidates for ascendance to global domination. Their cuteness only mollified us, pacifying us for their inevitable toy rebellion. You didn't quite know when or where or why, but somehow, at some point, these placid little plushies were going to turn on us.

While none of these toys have actually confirmed my panicky suspicions, I remain on edge whenever I see their glassy little eyes staring at me with what is supposed to be innocence but more closely resembles blind, spare-no-prisoners ambition. I won't be fooled, creepy toys. I'm onto you.

Teddy Ruxpin

Geez, even this commercial is terrifying. At what ad agency are the idea people sitting around, asking each other, "What kid does not love a Frankenstein-style reanimation with the probes and the levers?" I'm guessing these ad people have never even seen a child, or else they would know that this is not the way to their story-loving hearts.

My uncle bought one of these for my sister back when they came out. He was so excited to finally see her reaction when she ripped off the Happy Birthday wrapping paper. Unfortunately, that reaction was irrepressible panic. She screamed, she cried, she hid under a table. Eventually I inherited the thing, and we were pals while it was light outside. As soon as the sun went down though, you can bet Teddy was shackled to a table in the playroom.


We've all heard urban legend-style horror stories of these things developing personalities or talking after their batteries had been removed. Furbies were intelligent toys built to learn and grow each time you interacted with them, meaning they became more and more capable of global domination with each passing play-date. One day they're learning basic words, and the next they're conquering militarily significant regions of Turkey. Scary.

Furbies are, of course, inherently creepy by design. Those giant, blinking eyes and moving mouth are enough to make even the most scare-proof among us a little bit jittery. A friend of mine had a Furby that mysteriously turned itself on in the middle of the night, babbling happily from its secluded location on the shelf. This, of course, marked the end their toy/owner relationship. After an ill-fated attempt to light the thing on fire, we settled for a proper burial in the dumpster behind the mall. I'm pretty sure it still knows where I live.

To read the full post on Furbies, click here

Puppy Surprise

The puppy dolls themselves aren't so inherently creepy as is the action of reaching up inside of them and rifling through their baby-filled innards. These hollow stuffed animals contained an indeterminable number of babies (that was the surprise) that you could extract by unhinging a velcro flap in its nether regions. The toy was cute, yes, but I always felt a little dirty after shoving the babies back in for storage.

To read the full post on Puppy Surprise, click here

Creepy Crawlers

I'll admit it, these gooey insects made the list largely on moniker alone. I mean, the word creepy is right there in the name. How could I exclude them? They were, to their creepy credit, stomach turning in their own way. I wasn't afraid my oozy bugs would come to life, but was more just generally grossed out by their existence. I don't like real centipedes, so why do I delight so much in playing with semi-solid gelatinous ones? It's one of life's little mysteries.

To read the full post on Creepy Crawlers, click here

My Size Barbie

What more could you want from a doll than the chance to share clothes and tiaras? My Size Barbie stood at around three feet tall, so "My Size" is pretty relative. Sure, now I tower over the thing, but back in the day she was like a peer. We could sit around for hours chatting about the latest fashions in ball gowns and whether or not they'd ever make a My Size Ken so she wouldn't have to die plastic and alone. Well, she'd probably be plastic regardless, but you get the idea.

Looking back, this thing scares the crap out of me. It's like a little person.

Glo Worms

Introduced in the 80s, these Glo Worms were supposed to serve a surreptitious nighttime function as a nightlight for wimpy children. The idea was that you put your kid to sleep with the cute little snuggly worm and its internal glow would somehow comfort them in the night. I don't know if you've ever woken up next to a glowing doll, but the effect is pretty eerie. What was cute during the daytime becomes a sort of radioactive alien life force cohabiting in your bed, shining its unnatural light from a mysterious place deep within its plush frame.

My Twinn Doll

This video is more recent than the 90s, but I just couldn't deprive you of the creepiness. Seriously? Are you watching this? Run!

I'm all for self esteem and liking oneself, but to create an actual tangible doll version of yourself to befriend? A little creepy. Created in 1992, the process behind My Twinn is you basically send them a photo, choose your specifications (see more at their website here) and you get a doll that looks exactly like you within 3-4 business weeks. You can even buy matching outfits. I know we're supposed to be teaching kids how special they are, but $150 for an eerily twinned doll is probably overkill. You might as well have just gone for the pony. Sure, there's more cleanup involved, but you won't have to deal with your child's eventual raging narcissism. Sounds like a good deal to me.

No doubt the makers of these toys had the best intentions in mind when formulating these ideas, something just went a little haywire in the implementation. Some frontiers just aren't meant to be explored, or at least not by impressionable young children. It might seem cute at first, but don't be fooled--these toys will probably eat you in your sleep. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Please Welcome the Next Entrant in the Glamour Shots Challenge

Please welcome to the ring our next formidable force in the Glamour Shots Challenge, Emily! Though her parents were obliging enough to let her take some Glamour Shots when she was in just third grade, her mother wisely censored the more suggestive poses. Here's the result of that compromise between Emily's mother and the JonBenet-leaning stylists:

The accompanying description Emily sent in was so funny, I just had to include it:

I got these taken in the third grade around Christmas '93 and I distinctly remember being able to choose from 4 different looks. I could get either the fuchsia sequined blazer "jacket nab", the purple boa "over the shoulder", the studded denim blouse and biker cap "resting on one arm" or this...thing. I call it "I'm going to be a sensible Realtor when I grow up".

Needless to say, it's obvious my mother picked the most conservative image. Too bad because I was really gunnin' for that purple boa look. I was also disappointed in the lack of Xuxa inspired 'fashions' on my visit to the Glamour Shots closet, Xuxa being my idol at the time.

For the record I am now neither a realtor, nor sensible.
While the amount of hairspray in her hair could probably set an entire building aflame if she stepped to close to a flickering candle, the GS staff definitely did give her the toned-down version of their usual suggestive offerings. Emily's description is certainly apt, as her clothing, jewelry, and facial expression give a message that falls somewhere between "Let's go check out the refurbished breakfast nook" and "I'm looking forward to your vote this coming election day." Her hair says, well, it says gravity is simply a suggestion. A suggestion her stylists chose to not only ignore but defy with their scultptural scalp-top piling methods. I'm not even going to mention those mini-mall bangs*.

Thanks to the non-sensible, non-realtor Emily for her fabulous submission. Remember, if you have any old 80s or 90s Glamour Shots laying around the house, scan 'em and send 'em in to for the Glamour Shots Challenge!

*Except right there, when I mentioned it.


No pressure, kids, but we're going to give you this game called Perfection. I'm not trying to drop any hints or anything, but don't mess up. If you do, everything will literally blow up in your face. It's a lesson that will serve you well for life.

This was a harsh reality type of game. It wasn't here to stroke your ego or tell you how special you were. It was here to show you what a colossal dimwit you were. What's that? You don't have the fine motor skills and nimble fingers to place all of the shapes in their corresponding slots in your slated 60 second limit? Well then, too bad. This thing's going off, and your minute's worth of hard work is going with it.

The game Perfection was originally launched in the 70s by Milton Bradley, but was repackaged and marketed anew to children in the 90s. They gussied it up with a catchy jingle and we were all more or less powerless under its time-bomb ticking charms. The jingle went a little something like this:

Put the pieces into the slot
make the right selection
but be QUICK! You're racing the clock
POW! Pop goes Perfection!
This piece here and that piece there
Put those pieces EVERYWHERE!
But be quick, or beware
POW! Pop goes Perfection!

It was a nice touch of them to include those Batman noises, it really adds to the effect. The enthusiasm of this commercial was nearly infectious, if the plethora of exclamation points above are any indicator. The only problem was, once you heard the song, it was stuck with you for life. I'm warning you now out of the kindness of my jingle-conscious heart: if you watch the commercial below, be prepared to hum it all day long. Your cubicle mates better not come after me.

I'll be the first to admit I was a little bit scared the first few times I saw this commercial as a child. Why exactly were the game pieces exploding outwards from that gentleman's chestal cavity? It's all just a little unnerving. I'll tell you one thing, though--it was a great cautionary tale against swallowing the tiny, undoubtedly delicious plastic pieces. Forget choking hazards, I was just afraid that every time that timer went off, the pieces would burst forth from my chest in a starburst formation.

There's nothing quite like seeing a child verging on a level of stress akin to a neurosurgeon before a big experimental procedure. I'm almost certain my heart still beats to the rhythm of that incessant building tick-tock of the Perfection timer. If this game taught us nothing else, it was that sometimes we work better under pressure. Other times, we're just that more terrified when the board inevitably explodes and interrupts our intense concentration. While the game was fun, no doubt, it had a sort of dark side that to this day makes me shy away from kitchen timers. I just don't trust them. It seems as if the second they go off, the inevitable next step is for my entire batch of cupcakes to leap forth from their metal pan prisons. I know I did not use that much PAM.

On the plus side, the game certainly dishes out a fair helping of excitement and healthy competition. At least that's what they call it, healthy competition. "Healthy" is really just a qualifier to justify our actions when we go all WWF on our little siblings when they beat our record. Everyone who's ever been around children for more than a few minutes knows that timing little kids is what makes them tick. You know, like a clock. If you tell a kid, "Clean up your dishes," they'll stare blankly back at you, wondering what exactly is in it for them. If you say to them, "You have ten seconds to clean up your plate," be prepared to see some lightning speed dish-washing.

Unsurprisingly there's something inherently enticing to children about winning, and adding the element of a timer gives kids something to strive for. A little competitive spirit never hurt anyone. Unless, of course, he was in too close a range to the Perfection board during that fateful pop! Then he's pretty much a goner.
The 90s version of the game came with 25 little yellow plastic pieces, each featuring their own miniature "handle" with which to maneuver the shape into its intended slot. If our hand-eye coordination wasn't yet especially well-developed, we would definitely be struggling with this one. As a depth-perceptionally challenged individual who frequently swings her tennis racket at absolutely nothing, this was more than a challenge. It was a serious obstacle, and my time suffered. While some of my classmates were reveling in their under-60 second record performances, I was still trying to shove the little star about an eighth of an inch too far to the left of its slot. It was, in a word, humiliating.

The board was an attraction in itself, featuring a springboard-type foundation that allowed you to depress the board in preparation for gameplay. When the timer went off, the board reasserted it initial upright position through the use of heavy force. I say "heavy" mainly because I was once struck squarely in the forehead with the little S-shaped miscreant. I'm just lucky the mark finally faded.

Perfection was simplicity at its finest. Sure, the game had a few bells and whistles on the updated version, but compared to many of its up-and-coming game rivals in the marketplace it was an incredibly straightforward concept. Discount all of the stress-induced headaches, residual internal ticking, and fear of TV commercial-style perfection pieces exploding from your chest and it was, in a word, perfection.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Ultimate Glamour Shot

Though Shannon's been the only brave soul so far to grace us with her amazing personal photos for the Children of the 90s Glamour Shots challenge, I did just receive a stellar tip from reader Renata. I could not live with myself if I didn't share this with my loyal readers, for fear of depriving you of the most spectacular glamour ever shot by mall studio stylists. Are you ready? I really hope you're ready, because there's nothing I can say that could prepare you for this moment of pure Glamour Shots glory.

I have long been a fan of Awkard Family Photos, but somehow I must have missed this Glamour Shots gem. There's really no excuse for me dropping the ball on this one, because it's far too precious for me to have ignored. Bless me, Awkward Family Photos, for I have sinned. It has been 2 months since my last visit, and in this time I missed the mother (and daughters!) of all Glamour Shots.

Disclaimer: None of these fine jacket-nabbers are my readers, though I wish they were. If you ladies are out there, I implore you to make contact. You are my Glamour Shot posing heroes.

Behold the queen of all 90s Glamour Shots, a look Renata has wisely dubbed the "Quadruple Jacket Nabber." That's right, not one, not two, not three, but four simultaneous signature GS jacket nabs. I think the dead-eyed get-me-out-of-here expression on that girl second from the end says it all.

And look, that girl on the far left has the very same jacket they gave Shannon in her photo shoot. I guess their national wardrobe consultant felt this was an item each store simply could not live without. "Alright guys, it's going to be the studded jean jacket with the lace sleeves for all of our major markets. Let's throw some triple-reinforced collars on those babies while we're at it. These beauties have got to have the strength to withstand the constant nabbing."

If any of you are still harboring Glamour Shots, I urge you to surrender them for the greater good of 90s children everywhere and email them to Many thanks to Renata for the GS tip!

Daytime TV in the 90s

If you believe daytime TV is growing increasingly trashier each year, raise your hand. If this is a toughie, I'll give you all a minute or two to think it over. All right, time's up. You ready? Heads down, hands up. No peeking, I'll take a count.

It's officially unanimous. I know it, you know, the American people know it. Elsewhere across the globe, people are scratching their heads and saying, "Wow, is it just me, or has daytime TV really taken a turn?" That's just a rough translation from Estonian, of course, but you get the point.

Ricki Lake

Slimmed-down Hairspray alum Ricki Lake hosted this eponymous daytime talk rag, tantalizing us with the tawdriest of topics. Ricki's show was trashy, pure and simple. We loved dragging out the alleged perpetrator--be it cheating or, in the above case, cousin marryin'--and hissing and booing them to our hearts' collective content.

The satisfying thing about these shows wasn't so much that they were scandalous, but rather that they made us feel better about our own vanilla Wonderbread mundane lives. Sure, we weren't out there wrestling alligators and winning Nobel Prizes, but we also weren't marrying our cousins. Ricki's show served as a sort of trashiness litmus test, and unless you're gazing at a current photo of you and a close relative locked in a passionate embrace, I'd say you passed.


We all like a good fight now and then, but Geraldo really knew how to drive the point home. Early in his series (1988), he invited a slew of ideologically mismatched hate spewers and social activists to duke it out onscreen. Geraldo put skinheads and neo-Nazis onstage with Jewish and black activists and surprise of surprises, it got ugly. Remember, this was just the beginning, but you've got to admire him laying it all out there so early in the game.

Geraldo started strong, but went soft on us by the mid-to-late 90s. They re-spun his show as the more formally titled Geraldo Rivera Show and attempted to showcase a softer, more serious host. Clearly their hosts had missed the memo that people watched tabloid talk shows for the trashiness factor. I mean, we all got the memo. Also, I heard they forgot to file their TPS reports. For shame.

Jenny Jones

Jenny Jones was a Springer-like daytime offering, with only slightly less skeezy topical content. It was, nonetheless, absolutely ridiculous. I mean, there was a show called You May Shake it for Money, But Leave Those Sexy Clothes at the Club, Honey! I'm not saying I wouldn't watch it, I'm just disparaging the writers' poor rhyming scheme.

The Jenny Jones show is now infamous for its implications in a murder case, the crime committed following an appearance on Jones's show. The Ambush was a popular 90s talk show trope as unsuspecting guests were confronted without warning. Michigan native John Smitz came on the show to learn of a secret admirer only to find that the mysterious source of affection was not a woman as he expected but one of his male acquaintances. Reportedly "humiliated" by the incident, Smitz fatally shot his male admirer just days after the episode was filmed. And you thought those episodes about wayward teens bombed. Talk about putting a damper on things.

The Phil Donahue Show

Yep, that's Donahue getting told by Marilyn Manson. Sorry, pal, he only likes the trashier talk shows. Tough break.

Yes, the snowy-haired Donahue we knew in the 90s had already racked up a good twenty years in the talk show business at that point, but his show was pretty adept at keeping up with the times. Despite his increasing resemblance to that old guy from Up, Donahue kept with it for awhile.

Unfortunately for our boy Phil, the incredibly overstocked marketplace of daytime talk shows eventually squeezed him out. While once he'd reigned over the airwaves, new and more salacious (read: shameless) shows eventually got the better of his once-loyal audience. Once upon a time they may have been shocked to hear about the dangers of reverse vasectomies, it seemed pretty tame in comparison to stories of incorrigible six-year olds hell bent on becoming strippers. Or, you know, whatever other filth his opponents were cooking up and serving to us in our daily dose of daytime dirt.

Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer is perhaps the most notorious of these daytime tabloid talk show hosts, if nothing else than for the sheer volume of fights per episode. You'd think his guest simply spend their lives looking for someone to punch in the face, yearning to be held back by a beefy humorless security guy.

Springer is pure entertainment and pretty much no substance, but it doesn't masquerade itself as much other than a sensationalist freakshow. It's like going to the car races to see a fiery fatal crash. You're horrified, but you also just can't look away. It's like some sort of magnetic force field that tugs your vocal chords and prompts you to chant, "Jerry! Jerry!" till everyone onstage has been sufficiently beaten up.

Sally Jessy Raphael

Sally Jessy didn't just have a fun-to-say name, she also had a fun-to-impersonate look. Inasmuch, her show sometimes paraded males costumed in Sally Jessy drag, each more huge glasses-ed and signaturely crop-topped than the last. Actually, tons of Sally's shows featured all sorts of drag queens, whether in pageants or singing showcases. I have no idea why. At least they had the kind sense to call them "female impersonators". Very professional.

Raphael was even spoofed by the usually benign Sesame Street. Now that's how you know you've made it, when there's a grouch character modeled after you:

Maury Povich

A long long time ago, in a galaxy lightyears from here, Maury Povich's show was not simply the who's-your-baby-daddy parade it is today. Back in the 90s, he also used to cover topics like out-of-control overweight babies and irrational snail phobias. These days, though, he's not quite so classy. I'm pretty sure he has some sort of autopilot mode that intones deeply, "The lie detector test determined that that was a lie. You are not the father!"

The Montel Williams Show

Montel pulled what shall now be referred to as a "reverse-Maury" or a "Geraldo special" depending on your point of view and/or preference for well-groomed mustaches. The show started out trashy and actually moved out of the genre rather into the gaping void of the morally empty abyss. The show's later years were characterized by inspirational tales of overcoming adversity and succeeding in the face of life challenges. In other words? It got boring. Bring back silicone breast implant nightmares!


How can you not love a woman who brings out a big ol' barrel of fat to document her own embarrassing diet struggles? That's just good TV.

No one can deny that Oprah is one of the most powerful and influential women alive. She tells us what our favorite things are and we dutifully go purchase $50 cookie dough and cashmere ponchos. She tells us what to read and we eagerly seek her sanctioned stamp of approval at bookstores everywhere. Everyone wanted to talk to her. Even the often elusive Michael Jackson (video above) opened up to her. She's like a good girlfriend we all just want to spill our guts to. In front of millions of people. To possibly get a free car. Thanks, O.

Love them or hate them, these shows expose a deep inner part of our human nature, one for which we yearn to see the complete and totally ridiculous humiliation of others to make ourselves feel better. Some of these shows have grown more salacious with age while others have tamed their trashtastic inner beasts, but in the 90s, the tabloid talk show ruled. Heck, we grew up with it, and we turned out okay, right? Now excuse me while I go file a slew of paternity suits.

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