August 28: Netflix, Vanilla Ice, Boyz II Men

Plus Atari's handheld, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and more

The Retro by 11 Points

Modern perspectives on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia

August 28, 2020 • Issue 10

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This week in nostalgic history

August 28th

27 years ago, on August 28th, 1993 - Mighty Morphin Power Rangers premiered on FOX Kids.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was, if nothing else, a hall-of-fame example of making magic with a low budget . The episodes took all of their fight footage and monster battles from a Japanese show, cast some American actors who physically matched up with the head-to-toe suited-up rangers, and shot scenes with them to build plots around the imported footage. (Unfortunately, the shoestring production budget also extended to the show hiring non-union actors and underpaying them greatly, so much so that half the cast bailed midway through the second season.)

While I was too old for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers when it came out — wouldn’t be caught dead watching FOX Kids programming as I was entering high school — I still knew all about it, as it easily wound up on the broader cultural radar. The show has had numerous spinoffs, at least one of which still appears to be going today.

  • Also on August 28th: Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced (1996)… Tal Bachman’s one hit, She’s So High, peaked at number 14 (1999)

August 29th

23 years ago, on August 29th, 1997 - A company called Kibble — that would soon be renamed Netflix — was founded.

The story of Netflix’s success generally revolves around a series of very, very good bets the company made:

  • Betting people would want mail-in DVD rentals with no return deadline

  • Betting people would rather stream movies and TV shows rather than rent DVDs

  • Betting people would enjoy watching entire seasons of a TV show in short binges

  • Betting the streaming market would get over-saturated and rights would get convoluted, so the best long-term content bet would be producing originals

  • Betting a bunch of niche-targeted, data-driven series would be more lucrative than aiming for four-quadrant universal hits

  • Betting if they paid above-market salaries to big-time movie stars, directors, writers, and producers, streaming shows would hit the same prestige water level as traditional TV shows and films

It seems that in its 23-year history, Netflix has made a ton of correct bets and very few wrong ones. (Of course, it’s impossible to say in a vacuum, since their bets aren’t just a product of market trends, they also drive market trends.) But at least we can still make fun of them for Qwikster.

  • Also on August 29th: TurboGrafx 16 was released in North America (1989)… Living Single premiered on FOX (1993)… Blues Traveler’s single Hook was released (1995)

August 30th

26 years ago, on August 30, 1994 - Boyz II Men’s second album, II, was released.

There weren’t many albums more anticipated in the early ‘90s than Boyz II Men’s follow-up to Cooleyhighharmony, and II didn’t disappoint. The lead track was I’ll Make Love to You, still an enduring hit, and also featured all-time classics in On Bended Knee and Water Runs Dry. Other singles from the album, including Thank You and Vibin’, were less enduring but still make you go, “Oh yeah, that song” on the rare occasions you hear them.

II was unquestionably a runaway success and a fantastic second album. It would’ve been ridiculous at the time to think that would be the peak of Boyz II Men — but it more or less was. They would hit it big with their single with Mariah Carey, One Sweet Day, the following year, but never really ascend to the top of the music world again.

Their third studio album, Evolution, came out in 1997 and received much less critical or commercial success. (They leaned much less on Babyface for songwriting on that album and took on the role themselves, perhaps aiming to prove they didn’t need him.) The group started having trouble after that and their fourth album, 2000’s Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, marked the start of a long stretch of Boyz II Men unable to recapture the magic that propelled them to their early ‘90s success.

I’m happy to say the guys (well, three of them) still tour today. My wife and I went to see them perform in Las Vegas back before we had kids and back when people could go on trips, and she cried tears of joy through he entire concert.

  • Also on August 30th: The term “email” was copyrighted by a 16-year-old (1982)… David Letterman made his late night debut on CBS (1993)… The Crow: City of Angels hit theaters (1996)… Sister Hazel’s one hit, All For You, peaked at number 11 (1997)… the series finale of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper aired on ABC (1997)

August 31st

23 years ago, on August 31st, 1997 - Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris.

There’s something a bit morbid about ranking the impact of deaths, however it’s hard to imagine there was any death in the ‘90s that made waves quite like Princess Diana’s. The unexpected nature of the death, her status as more or less the only British royal in history to maintain high and widespread popularity, the tragic outcome of increasingly invasive paparazzi culture (and the public’s embarrassing thirst for what paparazzi culture provided) — it all coalesced here to become a major story and event.

I can still remember I was watching TV on the night of August 30th when all of the networks cut in to report the news. Princess Diana had never made an impact on me one way or another — I knew the name but not the back story — but the outpouring of support is still memorable to this day.

  • Also on August 31st: Michael Jackson’s album Bad was released (1987)… Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. became the first father-son pair to play on the same MLB team (1990)… 3rd Bass’s one hit, Pop Goes the Weasel, peaked at number 29 (1991)… Mariah Carey’s album Music Box was released (1993)… Milk Money hit theaters (1994)

September 1st

31 years ago, on September 1st, 1989 - The Atari Lynx handheld was released.

The Nintendo Game Boy came out in North America on July 31st, 1989. So just a tick over a month later, the Atari Lynx came out, positioning itself as the Game Boy’s chief competitor. The Lynx’s killer differentiator was its color LCD screen — which was so very easy to present as a contrast to the Game Boy’s infamous monochrome display.

What the Lynx didn’t have was the game library of Game Boy — which, as it turned out, were coveted in monochrome green than any of Lynx’s titles in full color. Still, the Lynx was not a flop. It sold quite well (approximately 500,000 systems in the U.S. in 1990). However, it just couldn’t battle Nintendo’s intellectual property and game design, marketing budget, or library size. It was also hurt by Sega’s Game Gear, which came out in 1991 and grabbed its own piece of the “color handheld that’s not from Nintendo” market — a market that wasn’t huge to begin with.

Atari eventually shifted its resources away from the handheld and toward its home console, the Jaguar, and the Lynx puttered to end-of-life in 1995 with around three million units sold and still fewer than 100 games in its library.

  • Also on September 1st: Hudson’s Adventure Island was released for NES (1988)… Luther Vandross’s single Here and Now was released (1990)… E! News premiered (1991)… The Head premiered on MTV (1994)… Apple’s video game system Pippin was released (1996)… Outside Providence hit theaters (1999)

September 2nd

27 years ago, on September 2nd, 1993 - The first search engine, W3Catalog, was launched.

There were two approaches to early search engines, before Google came in as the eight million pound gorilla to thwomp them all. One approach was the “crawl the web” approach, where search engine robots would index pages by finding them and automatically cataloging them. The other approach was the “curate the web” one, where search engines attempted to cut through the growing (ah, if they only knew) clutter to manually find the best websites on every topic. The latter was the approach that vaulted Yahoo to the top of the search engine game through the end of the ‘90s — and was the approach its predecessor, W3Catalog, took upon launch.

W3Catalog served as a curated repository of websites, used by the scant number of people on the internet in the early ‘90s, but was ultimately retired in 1996 as many more sophisticated alternatives took its spot. After all, you had to wake up pretty in the morning to battle with Hotbot.

  • Also on September 2nd: Paula Abdul’s Cold Hearted hit number one on the Billboard charts (1989)… Parker Lewis Can’t Lose premiered on FOX (1990)

September 3rd

30 years ago, on September 3rd, 1990 - Vanilla Ice’s album To the Extreme was released.

To the Extreme was an insane success, one that both cemented hip-hop’s place in mainstream culture and simultaneously made lots of people realize they needed to go track down better, non-culturally-appropriated hip-hop that hadn’t yet found its way into mainstream culture.

I, sadly, was not part of that latter group; as a kid, Vanilla Ice was the thing. I, like every kid in my school, owned this album. I saw Vanilla Ice in concert when his tour worked its way through Cleveland. I even defended Vanilla Ice when the rumors began that he didn’t have the street life he purported to have in his music. I probably would’ve been better arguing for the street cred of The Simpsons Sing the Blues.

The success of this album has kept Vanilla Ice around for decades to follow, mainly doing the D-list reality TV circuit. And To the Extreme certainly holds a place in history — even if that place is not what us kids thought it was when we were riding hard with Vanilla Ice in 1990.

  • Also on September 3rd: Naughty By Nature’s debut album was released (1991)… Infogear trademarked a product called the iPhone (1993)… eBay launched as AuctionWeb (1995)

Everything old is new again

A look at the reboots, revivals, throwbacks, retro insights, and nostalgia in the news.
  • Macaulay Culkin turned 40 on Wednesday and celebrated by tweeting, “Hey guys, wanna feel old? I’m 40. You’re welcome.”

  • A cooking competition show based on Candy Land is coming to Food Network.

  • Brandy and Monica are reuniting for a new song battle. (I once broke down The Boy Is Mine and declared a winner on my website based on the quality of the arguments presented for The Boy.)

  • The Fast Times at Ridgemont High table read for charity has been indefinitely postponed after “technical issues.”

  • Tupac’s love letters and Biggie’s famous crown are both going up for auction next month.

  • There’s a Bill & Ted’s board game coming out next month.

  • Paul Rudd cleared up a rumor that he was considered for the starring role in Titanic — he says he wasn’t, but did help convince Leonardo DiCaprio to take the part.

Throwbacks and recommendations

Thanks for reading!