In this edition of Five Retro TV Commercials, you’ll see everything from Simpsons dolls to candy bars to exactly eight seconds’ worth of a vampire cinephile. Just another Tuesday on Dino Drac.
The Tortellis on NBC! (1987)
Count me among the eight people who actually watched The Tortellis, the much lesser-known of the two Cheers spin-offs. While Frasier hung around for 11 seasons, The Tortellis lasted for just five months.
No longer limited to Carla-related subplots, this was a whole show about Nick and Loretta Tortelli, now living in Las Vegas. I remember little about the stories, but I do recall the Tortelli abode looking like a weird amalgam of every sitcom set ever. It was like the Brady house mixed with Blanche’s living room mixed with the apartment from The Jeffersons. I loved that place.
The Tortellis could not have been a show that I deliberately sought out. As I recall, it spent most of its short run airing right after Night Court, which I did watch. I guess I was just basking in so much Rich Moll tomfoolery that I couldn’t be arsed to change the channel?
Whatchamacallit Candy Bars! (1994)
Truly among the best candy commercials of all time, this Whatchamacallit spot was so good that Hershey’s ran it for a full ten years, if not more. (While I pulled it from a 1994 recording, the spot aired as early as 1987!)
What’s interesting about Whatchamacallit bars is that Hershey’s completely stopped advertising them but never stopped making them, albeit with a few formula changes. With its barely-changed packaging and avant-garde new wave vibe, Whatchamacallit feels like some relict candy species that shouldn’t still exist, but does.
If you’ve never had a Whatchamacallit, I’d describe it as a four-star restaurant’s attempt to create a gourmet Kit Kat. Picture a giant-sized Kudos granola bar, but replace anything remotely healthy with more sugar and fat. They’re really good!
Fruit String Thing! (1997)
Those who are wildly nostalgic about Fruit String Thing are way younger than me, but I’m certainly no stranger to the flavors, thanks to the many times I babysat my now-adult nieces and nephews.
One nephew in particular was a String Thing junkie. I think he spent two full years subsisting on String Things, Dunkaroos and literally nothing else. Babysitting meant free access to his snack cabinet, and I must’ve put on five pounds every time I took the gig.
In terms of taste and tang, these were right up there with the best fruit snack brands that *I* grew up with, like Fruit Wrinkles. You remember that sad day when you found out that strawberry saltwater taffy didn’t taste anything like what you expected it to? Fruit String Thing was what you wanted that taffy to taste like.
Simpsons Dolls at Burger King! (1990)
Back in 1990, you HAD to get these. The Simpsons was white-hot, and virtually every piece of merchandise associated with the show — whether it was a t-shirt, a pack of stickers or a “Great Big Button” from Spencer’s — was an auto-buy.
The shocking thing about these dolls is that, pound for pound, they were the best Simpsons merch available at the time. Even at $3.49 a pop, they were an embarrassment of riches. Hell, at that point, most of those characters *only* had dolls in Burger King form. It was a thousand miles ahead of what we’d come to expect from “fast food toys.”
With soft plush bodies and hard plastic heads, each came tagged with a cardboard accessory. Between the dolls’ high quality and the show’s absurd popularity, it wasn’t even a given that these would get lost in kids’ bedrooms. Many families set them out on the couch like esteemed collectibles, WHICH THEY WERE, and that’s why so many of us remember how it felt to accidentally sit on Lisa’s pointy head.
Dracula at Palmer Video! (Early ’90s)
Hunting old TV commercials is one of my most enduring and beloved hobbies, but it isn’t always smooth sailing. Very rarely do I buy a tape with any real confidence about its contents. Sometimes the ads will suck, or more often there will be no ads at all.
Worse yet, I might get a tape with the commercials only partially left in, so I can see exactly what I missed out on. Take this spot, for example — a Dracula-themed commercial for Palmer Video, one of my favorite childhood video stores. When it abruptly cuts to Star Trek at the eight-second mark, my heart sinks. This is the kind of spot people like me dream about finding, and it’s so rare that my chances of locating another copy are nonexistent.
I usually toss such tapes and try to forget about them, but in this case, even eight seconds of Dracula browsing a video store was too good not to share.
Thanks for reading! You never know when the next edition of Five Retro TV Commercials will hit the site. Could be tomorrow, could be a month from now. Just picture me behind the scenes, color-correcting old deodorant ads and waiting for the right moment.