In this edition of Five Retro TV Commercials, you’ll see everything from old ghosts to old cereal to old cheese. I know how to build excitement.
Real Ghostbusters Toys! (1986)
Here’s an early Real Ghostbusters toy commercial — possibly the first, but at least one of the first. Kenner came out swinging with this line, combining some of the best-ever action figures with some of the best-ever toy commercials.
That isn’t the nostalgia talking, either. Real Ghostbusters figures struck an impossible balance of simplicity and complexity, advanced enough even by today’s standards, but with an almost “green army man” sort of charm.
And the commercials? So good! Even this one, which lacked the awesome scale model sets seen in later RGB ads, just made the toys look like so much fun. (Course, when it comes to TV commercials featuring cans of Ecto-Plazm and the Stay Puft action figure, I’m the easiest sell on the fucking planet.)
USA Cartoon Express Intro! (1993)
I can’t accurately call this a commercial, but I don’t think you’ll mind. This was the intro to the USA Cartoon Express block, which was around since the early ‘80s but got a major renovation in ’93.
The lineup included everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to G.I. Joe to The Real Ghostbusters. Some of the shows were past their glory days, but that was part of the appeal. On the USA Network in general, nothing ever died.
The best thing about USA Cartoon Express was its packaging. Intros and bumpers often mixed characters from different shows, so you’d end up on train rides with Donatello, Janine Melnitz and the kid from goddamned Problem Child. It was like Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue without the life lessons.
Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins Cereal! (1986)
More alluring than the cereal is that super-idealized ‘80s kitchen, which borrowed its sense of fashion from Sonny Crockett and Blanche Devereaux. It looks like a cross between a doctor’s office and Scarface’s mansion. I love it!
I couldn’t name another cereal commercial that “feels” this ‘80s. It almost comes off as a parody of ‘80s ads, what with its sugary jingle, cheesy close-ups and Michael Mann-flavored set dressings.
I was a little kid in 1986. Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins had no stroke in an aisle otherwise stuffed with vampires and leprechauns and talking tigers. Still, for what it’s worth, the cereal sounds pretty good!
Polly-O String Cheese! (1991)
I’m old enough to remember a world without string cheese, and what a big deal it was when Polly-O finally unveiled it.
For the first few years, every kid everywhere was totally obsessed with the stuff. We ate it in school, we ate it at home and we ate it in every imaginable way. We’d bite it, peel it, stretch it, quarter it… half the fun of string cheese was treating it like reverse origami.
This Polly-O String Cheese commercial isn’t nearly as famous as the first one, but it maintains the original pitch: String cheese was “the best part of the pizza,” and eating it was no less of an event than ordering Domino’s.
It was effective messaging, too. When I look at string cheese now, I just see string cheese, but back then, you really did feel like Shang Tsung stealing the soul of a pizza pie.
Staten Island Cable Video Billboard! (1992)
Most of you won’t have any personal connection to this video, but it should spark memories of things you do have personal connections to.
This isn’t a commercial, but rather a snippet of Staten Island Cable’s old “Video Billboard” channel. That was one of our many “nonsense” channels, which mixed notices from the cable company with ads from local businesses.
The Mario Paint graphics seemed low-fi even in 1992, but that only added to the channel’s charm. The audio you hear was simply pilfered from a local radio station, doubtlessly without formal permission.
It didn’t serve the same purpose as a screensaver, but it had the same side effect: This channel was the best thing to leave on in the background while you were just putzing around.
(That was one of my big things back then. I’d put the television on as a mutant form of companionship, but I didn’t always want it to distract me from whatever else I was doing. At my table, boring programming had a seat.)
When I watch this video, I don’t see words on a screen. I see me on a couch, wrapped in that old tiger-print blanket, reading some bullshit about Adam Warlock. Glass of hastily-made iced tea in one hand, a bag of Wise Crazy Calypso Chips in the other.
Life was good, and gross, and like granite.