Dec 3: Good Will Hunting, Edward Scissorhands, WWF Tries Tuesday
Plus The Weird Al Show, Ninja Gaiden, and more
by 11 Points
Modern perspectives on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia
December 3rd, 2021 • Issue 76
This week in nostalgic history
30 years ago, on December 3rd, 1991 - WWF ran its “This Tuesday in Texas” event in an experiment to see if it could double pay-per-view revenue.
For most of the WWF/WWE’s past four decades, the company’s major pay-per-view events drove a massive portion of their revenue. (Today, cable rights fees are number one.)
And for every pay-per-view, the WWF would grab two timeslots on providers like Viewer’s Choice: A timeslot on Sunday nights to air their pay-per-view event, and a timeslot on Tuesday to air a replay.
In late 1991, Vince McMahon decided to see if he could change that up — and try to wring twice the revenue out of loyal fans by airing original content in that Tuesday slot rather than a replay.
To set up the Tuesday experiment, the WWF filled its Sunday night Survivor Series pay-per-view with major cliffhangers. The biggest: Hulk Hogan lost the WWF championship to The Undertaker in controversial fashion. The rematch would happen Tuesday, on a pay-per-view they called This Tuesday in Texas. That event aired 30 years ago today.
The event was purchased by about 400,000 people; worse than the standard WWF pay-per-view but definitely better than the normal Tuesday replays.
Even though the experiment worked, the WWF would abandon the Tuesday gimmick — in large part because their popularity was about to take a pretty sharp downturn.
But they definitely retained the lesson that fans would be willing to pay for more than the four pay-per-views they were offering each year. In the mid ‘90s they would begin expanding their PPV lineup and by wrestling’s late ‘90s boom, they were selling monthly pay-per-views. In the 2000s, they’d even push further and get close to 20 pay-per-views per year — at which point they discovered the harsh reality of diminishing returns.
Also on December 3rd: The Band Aid single Do They Know It’s Christmas was released (1984)… Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy (1988)… Will to Power’s single Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird Medley hit number one (1988)… Nightline aired Madonna’s Justify My Love video (1990)… Phillips launched the CD-i (1991)… the Simpsons episode Lisa’s First Word aired (1992)… Boyz II Men’s On Bended Knee hit number one (1994)… the Sony PlayStation was released (1991)… the Mars Polar Lander crashed into Mars (1999)… the Segway was released (2001)… Christina Aguilera’s album Stripped was released (2002)
30 years ago, on December 4th, 1991 - Pan Am ceased operations.
Plenty of airlines have come and gone but few have the cachet of Pan Am — even for those of us who never flew on it and weren’t alive for its glory days.
The end of Pan Am on this day in 1991 also, unofficially, ended the era where air travel was a classy endeavor. As the Pan Ams of the world shuttered, airlines began implementing the measures we know far too well today that degrade the flying experience — the packed planes, uncomfortable seats, minimal service, and overall hate-hate relationship between provider and passenger.
And passengers have taken that lead; pictures of old Pan Am airlines with passengers wearing sharp clothing sitting in seats with ample leg room look like science fiction, not history.
Also on December 4th: Led Zeppelin broke up (1980)… Falcon Crest premiered on CBS (1981)… Warren Beatty’s movie Reds hit theaters (1981)… Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy (1982)… Madonna filed for divorce from Sean Penn (1987)… The Simpsons Sing the Blues was released (1990)… You Can’t Do That on Television premiered on Nickelodeon… The Distinguished Gentleman hit theaters (1992)… the NBA suspended Latrell Sprewell for choking his coach (1997)
24 years ago, on December 5th, 1997 - Good Will Hunting hit theaters.
Could Good Will Hunting have served as a semi-prequel to Matt Damon’s Bourne movies?
In the original draft of the Good Will Hunting script, the movie was about a group of young Boston ruffians, one of whom was a genius and had to fend off heavy recruitment from government intelligence agencies.
Then the script evolved — some say Damon and Ben Affleck did the evolving, others say high-end, pricey screenwriters were brought in to do an uncredited rewrite — and the movie was a huge critical and commercial success. It launched both guys’ careers and also got Robin Williams an Oscar — even without having any of the spy thriller elements it once contained.
Also on December 5th: NFL Football, the first NFL-licensed video game, hit arcades (1983)… Beverly Hills Cop hit theaters (1984)… Heartbreak Ridge hit theaters (1986)… Belinda Carlisle’s single Heaven Is a Place on Earth hit number one (1987)… Alabama beat Florida in the first SEC championship game (1992)… a collaboration I have no memory of and can’t believe existed, a duet between Celine Dion and R. Kelly called I’m Your Angel, hit number one (1998)… James P. Hoffa, Jimmy Hoffa’s son, became head of the Teamsters’ union 23 years after his father’s disappearance (1998)… the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack was released (2000)
24 years ago, on December 6th, 1997 - The series finale aired of The Weird Al Show.
Weird Al is goofy and loves polka and sings parodies about pizza and never uses swear words, so it’s easy to miss a common thread through his multi-decade career: He’s very dark. His original songs — often parodies of styles of music but not parodies of specific songs — regularly deal with antisocial behaviors, stalking, paranoia, and things today that are under the purview of 4chan and its ilk.
CBS sure didn’t realize that when they signed Weird Al to make an educational children’s Saturday morning TV show, explicitly as a successor to Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
But Weird Al was a different kind of subversive than Paul Reubens. Al was a little darker (e.g., a sketch where two characters were driven crazy by a song and committed comedic suicide). He was more combative with the network (e.g., they told him every episode needed to start by introducing a moral/lesson, so he had a character scream it at the audience). He focused a little less about parodying the children’s shows of the past and a little more about creating his madhouse vision for a TV show that just so happened to shoehorn in kids stuff because the network made him.
Weird Al and CBS battled every step of the way, leading to a lot of compromise — so the resulting TV show probably didn’t quite meet anyone’s vision. The Weird Al Show was canceled on this day after just 13 episodes. And no major network would try to mine the “subversive children’s show made for children” gimmick again.
Also on December 6th: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuted on NBC (1964)… Peter Cetera and Amy Grant’s single The Next Time I Fall hit number one (1986)… the NHL approved two new franchises: Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators (1990)… Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country hit theaters (1991)… Aaliyah’s single Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number was released (1994)… Warner Bros. announced The WB, the first new U.S. broadcast network in nearly a decade (1994)… Michael Jackson was hospitalized after collapsing at a HBO special rehearsal (1995)… As Good As It Gets hit theaters (1997)… Tonic’s only hit, If You Could Only See, peaked at number 11 (1997)… Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela, six years after staging a coup and 22 years before he would tamper with U.S. voting machines from beyond the grave (1998)… Newfoundland was renamed Newfoundland and Labrador (2001)
31 years ago, on December 7th, 1990 - Edward Scissorhands hit theaters.
Edward Scissorshands was Tim Burton’s “you get to make one — one” movie. Burton had success with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, which got him close to the opportunity to make the movie of his choice. But when he proved himself to be an A-list director with the success of Batman, he ascended to that gilded place where he finally got carte blanche to make his passion project.
He went with Edward Scissorhands, an allegorical autobiography that encapsulated Burton’s teenage feelings of being isolated and misunderstood — embodied, of course, in a guy with scissors for hands.
Edward Scissorshands would, however, do something that not many directors’ “you get to make one” do — it was a commercial success. And that’s why Tim Burton has been able to make plenty more passion projects over the following three decades with arguably as much creative control as any other director.
Also on December 7th: John Lennon’s single (Just Like) Starting Over hit number one (1980)… City Heat hit theaters (1984)… Mr. Mister’s single Broken Wings hit number one (1985)… Bo Jackson won the Heisman Trophy (1985)… Remote Control premiered on MTV (1987)… Ted Turner and Jane Fonda announced their engagement (1990)… Howard Stern talked a caller out of committing suicide (1994)… the Galileo spacecraft arrived at Jupiter (1995)… Celebrity Jeopardy debuted on Saturday Night Live (1996)… Toni Braxton’s Un-break My Heart hit number one (1996)… the RIAA filed a lawsuit against Napster (1999)… Blue Man Group’s debut album Audio was released (1999)… Ocean’s Eleven hit theaters (2001)
31 years ago, on December 8th, 1990 - Stevie B’s single Because I Love You (The Postman Song) hit number one.
Stevie B (full name: Steven Bernard Hill) is one of the many artists of the ‘80s and ‘90s whose biggest hit was a different style of music than their normal oeuvre. (Like, for instance, anarchic-punk band Chumbawamba.)
Stevie B was a dance music artist who, in 1990, had his only two hit songs. Love & Emotion, a dance song fitting his usual style, peaked at number 15. Because I Love You (The Postman Song) was a crooning ballad of a breakup song that spent nearly an entire month as the top song in the U.S. In 2018, Billboard even ranked it in the top 75 songs of all time.
Yet… I feel like it’s not a ‘90s hit that made it to subsequent generations. If I talked to younger people I would ask them if they knew the song, and I’m guessing they’d say no. Again, I can’t say that for sure because I refuse to do the empirical research… I just have a feeling.
And that could be because everything about it was by the numbers. Stevie B made it, even though it wasn’t part of his normal style, because it was a style that was commercially viable. The public responded in kind and dutifully bought it. But there was no passion anywhere across the board, so the song, despite its commercial success, has faded into essential obscurity.
Also on December 8th: The Deer Hunter hit theaters (1978)… John Lennon was shot and killed (1980)… Bravo debuted on cable (1980)… Sophie’s Choice hit theaters (1982)… the series finale aired of Captain Kangaroo (1984)… the series finale of He-Man aired (1984)… Larry Flynt was found innocent of libel against Jerry Falwell (1984)… Hall and Oates’s single Out of Touch hit number one (1984)… NAFTA was signed into law in the U.S. (1993)… the 111th element on the Periodic Table was given the fantastic name Unununium with the symbol Uuu (1994)… the Grateful Dead announced they were breaking up (1995)… Celine Dion’s single My Heart Will Go On was released (1997)… Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon hit theaters (2000)
33 years ago, on December 9th, 1988 - Ninja Gaiden was released for the NES.
Ninja Gaiden is the dictionary definition of a classic NES game: mass appeal, surprisingly good controls and graphics considering what the developers had to work with, and damn near impossible to beat.
Ninja Gaiden also holds the distinction of being the first video game that used cinematic cut scenes to fill in its story, which means it was the first video game where I ever hammered on buttons to try to skip past boring cinematic cut scenes to get back to playing.
The franchise has managed to endure to this day in a true mid-major way, with more than a dozen games on most platforms. It’s like the Seton Hall or University of Central Florida of video games. Earlier this year, sales estimates put the series in total at nearly eight million. While that pales in comparison to some of the big boys, it outpaces so many of the other NES-borne franchises that didn’t have the staying power.
Also on December 9th: Scarface hit theaters, as did Sudden Impact and Christine (1983)… The Jacksons played their final show (1984)… Windows 2.0 was released (1987)… Twins, Mississippi Burning, and My Stepmother Is an Alien hit theaters (1988)… King of the Hill, the pilot of Saved by the Bell, aired as the 15th episode of the first season (1989)… Billy Joel’s single We Didn’t Start the Fire hit number one (1989)… Prince Charles and Princess Diana announced their separation (1992)… Disclosure hit theaters (1994)… The Beatles’ single Free As a Bird was released as their first new song in 25 years (1995)… Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s single Deja Vu (Uptown Baby) was released (1997)
Everything old is new again
A look at the reboots, revivals, throwbacks, retro insights, and nostalgia in the news.
George Jetson’s birthday on The Jetsons was August 22nd, 2022 — so there was a meme this week about how he would be conceived right about now.
Toys R Us is coming back once again, this time at a mall in New Jersey for the holiday season — and possibly beyond.
Microsoft’s annual ugly Christmas sweater this year was inspired by Minesweeper; unfortunately, the sweaters sold out almost immediately.
Throwbacks and recommendations
Dave Grohl and producer Greg Kurstin are doing their annual Hanukkah sessions where they cover songs by Jewish artists. This year’s have included a death metal cover of Lisa Loeb’s Stay, the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop, and David Lee Roth-era Van Halen’s Jump.
Jason Alexander spoke on a podcast about how he beat out Chris Rock, Danny DeVito, Paul Shaffer, Larry Miller, and more for the role of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Also, Variety ranked the 20 best Seinfeld episodes.
The debate about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie has entered the land of cliche — but here are nine other movies that may or may not be Christmas movies.
On the 25th anniversary of the Tickle Me Elmo craze, here’s a great story about how the FBI suspected its inventor was the Unabomber.
Spotify’s most-streamed “throwback albums” of 2021 — defined as albums more than 20 years old — include Nirvana’s Nevermind and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. They also list the most streamed “throwback songs.”
Thanks for reading!