It’s a bit soon for another edition of Five Retro TV Commercials, but my brain is being pulled in a thousand directions (join the club, I know), and writing three paragraphs about thirty-second things is all I’m sure I can do reasonably well.
In today’s batch: Ewoks, eggs and Unsolved Mysteries. Pretty solid mix if you’re an aspiring detective who likes Star Wars movies, and it’s early.
Tales from the Darkside! (1988)
I think I’ve seen enough old Tales from the Darkside promos to understand how they worked. Seems like the people behind the show created “skinnable” promos for each episode, which the various networks that carried the series — and TFTD was syndicated, so there were a lot of networks in play — could then “repackage” to better fit their brands.
Tl;dr: I doubt this promo’s producers had PHL17’s Saved by the Bell graphics in mind when they created it, but by that point, it was out of their hands. I love the menacing shot of that phone chilling over the background from my 3rd grade school photo.
This specific promo was for one of the show’s best episodes, Sorry, Right Number, which was written by Stephen King. (Not adapted from a King story; I’m saying he wrote it specifically for Tales from the Darkside.) I don’t want to spoil the twist, so hopefully the fact that it stars the mother from Just the Ten of Us is enough to make you curious.
Snickers Ice Cream Bar! (1993)
If I’ve pieced things together correctly, Snickers Ice Cream Bars had a limited rollout in ‘89 and ‘90, with the big national blitz happening in 1991. That tracks with how I remember it, anyway.
They were wildly popular in the early ‘90s, to the point where I might even classify the bars as a “fad food.” At least within my middle school demo, it was *the* ice cream — the thing we picked 9 times out of 10. Snickers Ice Cream Bars had a figurative cool factor to match their literal one. We ate them because they were delicious, but also because they raised our social stock by a good 5%.
Snickers Ice Cream Bars are still made today, but they’re no longer sold in those swank cream-colored wrappers. Lord knows what sort of contrarian-ass focus group led Snickers to make such a stupid change, but I’m still mad at everyone involved.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor! (1991)
In the early ‘90s, both of the made-for-television Ewoks movies enjoyed a second life on The Disney Channel. The films originally aired on ABC in the mid ‘80s, and in my mind were as good as Star Wars 4 and Star Wars 5. I genuinely loved them, and still do.
It’s hard to imagine major franchises having bouts of dormancy in today’s world, but in the early ‘90s, Star Wars came close. Hell, I remember pleading with my mother to buy me Jedi junk from a special on the Home Shopping Network, because it was just so rare to get anything new back then. I probably shouldn’t have worn the resultant Chewbacca pin to a school full of eagle-eyed bullies, but that’s another story.
My point is, by early ‘90s standards, seeing those Ewoks on The Disney Channel was a way bigger deal than it sounds like. Picture a puddle in the Tatooine desert. This promo was for the second film, Ewoks: The Battle For Endor, which starred Wilford Brimley and was shockingly dark and sad. (Hope you didn’t like the characters from the first film, because 75% of them die horribly in the opening minutes.)
Unsolved Mysteries! (1989)
If you didn’t hear the big news, a new version of Unsolved Mysteries will premiere on Netflix this July. I’m excited! Will it be as good as the original? Probably not, but even the “worst” version of a 2020 Unsolved Mysteries — like, say, a retelling of various internet conspiracy theories that are either broadly known or easily disqualified — would still be pretty good.
I’ll never stop watching the original series, though. This promo highlighted a segment on Bigfoot, which at the time was my #1 draft pick. The ghost segments could be too scary and the UFO segments were hit-or-miss, but whenever Robert Stack opened up that cryptozoo, you knew it was popcorn time.
Ironically, those same segments are often my least favorites on rewatches, since the best stories have since been outed as hoaxes. I hate being cynical. Life was more interesting when I could see a photo of a toy submarine floating in a bathtub and really believe it was Nessie.
This is Your Brain on Drugs! (1987)
Here’s a spot from what must be the most famous series of anti-drug PSAs ever: The one where they compared eggs to brains and drugs to frying pans.
These older anti-drug campaigns were occasionally criticized for oversimplifying things, and through one lens, I get it. I was certainly terrified of spots like this, but then, at that point, I was still too young to even describe what any street drug looked like. By the time people were passing me things, I can’t say that I remembered the lesson of the poor fried egg, y’know?
Variations of this spot aired so often that even to this day, I can’t make eggs without thinking about brains. Which kind of sucks, but it is what it is.
Thanks for reading. Or skimming? Don’t lie.