July 3: The three things that almost ruined Back to the Future

Plus Seinfeld's debut, Book It, a Beavis and Butt-head reboot, and more


The Retro by 11 Points

Modern perspectives on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia

July 3, 2020 • Issue 2


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This week in nostalgic history

July 3rd

35 years ago, on July 3rd, 1985 - Back to the Future hit theaters.

Back to the Future now feels like it was always destined to become an iconic piece of American movie history. (When I was looking for an icon for this newsletter, the DeLorean was the first thing to pop into my mind.) But, much like the thesis of the movies, Back to the Future’s… um… future was anything but pre-ordained.

First, in a story most have heard , Michael J. Fox wasn’t cast as Marty McFly. Instead, the role went to Eric Stoltz, but after a few weeks of filming, director Robert Zemeckis realized Stoltz wasn’t the right fit — so he scrapped all of the work they’d done and replaced Stoltz with Fox. He could only do so around Fox’s Family Ties filming schedule, though.

Second, the movie had to overcome it two horrifying marketing taglines. The long one was: “He was never in time for his classes… he wasn’t in time for his dinner… then one day… he wasn’t in his time at all.” The short one was even worse: “Are you telling me my mother’s got the hots for me?” The movie also received no promotion from Fox, as he was busy — yep — with Family Ties.

And third, the first movie made the controversial decision not to go to the future, instead saving that for the sequel. The first movie was, technically, Back to the Past. (Full disclosure: I recognize the irony of using this newsletter to criticize someone for going all-in on nostalgia.)

But, ultimately, Back to the Future was too inevitable to succumb to any of the aforementioned adversity. It was the top box office hit of 1985 and remains to this day a cornerstone piece of pop culture.

  • Also on July 3rd: Adventures in Babysitting hit theaters (1987)... Terminator 2: Judgment Day hit theaters (1991)... Independence Day hit theaters (1996)... Whitney Houston's single My Love Is Your Love was released (1999)... the '90s NBA expansion team the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis (2001)

July 4th

24 years ago, on July 4th, 1996 - Hotmail debuted.

Since about half of the people who signed up for this email list in week one used their Hotmail throwaway accounts, I now have a special place in my heart for Hotmail.

The service itself came out on July 4th, 1996 — the date symbolic because the service represented “freedom” from getting your email through America Online or another ISP. The founders spelled the name HoTMaiL, capitalizing the letters “HTML,” which was certainly a choice. It was instantly popular, gaining 8.5 million subscribers in one year (a very significant amount based on the internet population at the time), and sold to Microsoft before the end of 1997.

They kept it alive (in so many various different forms) for quite a while, only killing it off for good in 2012 when they officially moved all of their email to Outlook.com.

  • Also on July 4th: Two very different but memorable movies, Big Trouble in Little China and The Great Mouse Detective, hit theaters (1984)... Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (1992)... Pete Sampras won Wimbledon for the first time (1993)... Deep Blue Something's single Breakfast at Tiffany's was released (1995)

July 5th

31 years ago, on July 5th, 1989 - Seinfeld premiered on NBC.

Seinfeld, née The Seinfeld Chronicles, was part of the era where any comedian who hit a certain threshold of popularity received a sitcom. That turnkey formula was shockingly successful, even if many of the comedians with the biggest hits have almost all now turned out to just horrible, horrible people.

The Seinfeld Chronicles wasn’t an instant hit (nor is Jerry Seinfeld one of the “horrible, horrible” sitcom stars). Test audiences hated the show. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David stuck by their creative vision and produced the show they believed in. NBC produced just a five-episode first season — more or less unheard of. The first episode aired in July 1989. The other four aired in May and June of 1990. But somehow, just enough people watched and the right executive(s) at NBC believed in the show, so it got a second season.

The second season, while not massively popular, received quite a bit of critical acclaim. NBC kept on sticking by the show. The third season picked up more momentum. And finally, the fourth season took the show into ratings hit territory.

I was going to say it’s hard to imagine a show getting that type of patience now, but really, it’s almost easier to picture it now than back then. Seinfeld needed to get tens of millions of viewers. A show today can appeal to a hardcore niche of a fraction of that — and as long as it’s one of the primary reasons that hardcore niche is willing to pay a monthly fee to a subscription service, it can last for years and years.

Seinfeld had the DNA of a Hulu original long before Hulu ponied up nine figures to acquire its rights.

  • Also on July 5th: Blossom premiered on NBC (1990)... the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins were officially approved as MLB expansion teams (1991)... Hootie & the Blowfish's album Cracked Rear View was released (1994)... Jeff Bezos founded Amazon (1994)... the movie Phenomenon was released (1996)

July 6th

26 years ago, on July 6th, 1994 - Forrest Gump hit theaters.

Forrest Gump was an undeniable success — it made a ton of money, beat out several all-time classic movies (most of which have held up better) for the Oscar for Best Picture, and even spawned a chain restaurant. In retrospect, it may’ve pushed the treacle button a little too hard, but I remember my teenage brain being blown away when I saw it in a movie theater. (I can even remember which movie theater, at a mall in Richmond Heights, Ohio that somehow still exists but is apparently getting torn down to make room for high-end apartments. I don’t really understand suburban Cleveland anymore.)

Not everyone was enamored of Forrest Gump in its time, though — especially not the author of the novel Forrest Gump. As I once wrote about on my website’s 11 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Books, Gump author Winston Groom even wound up suing the studio after they refused to give him a cut of the profits because Hollywood Math declared the movie a financial loss after making $677 million on a $55 budget.

  • Also on July 6th: Die Hard 2 hit theaters (1990)... Marc Cohn's one hit, Walking in Memphis, peaked at number 13 (1991)

July 7th

39 years ago, on July 7th, 1981 - Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s hard to believe we’re less than four decades into women on the U.S. Supreme Court, especially since today’s female justices are basically the only ones keeping the Court from devolving into an all-out farce. O’Connor was a conservative judge, appointed by Ronald Reagan, who would up taking occasional swing vote positions as time went on — especially once Clarence Thomas got there and it became clear the O’Connor had no interest in being on his side on anything. O’Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009.

  • Also on July 7th: Lethal Weapon 2 and Weekend at Bernie's hit theaters (1989)... Dream On premiered on HBO (1990)... the mp3 format, then called I3enc, was released (1994)... Lauryn Hill's single Doo Wop (That Thing) was released (1998)

July 8th

30 years ago, on July 8th, 1990 - The series finale of Mr. Belvedere aired on ABC.

Mr. Belvedere strikes me as one of those sitcoms that everyone remembers but no one loved (or maybe even watched) — can anyone, off the top of their head, tell me the plot of any single episode?

The show itself lasted for a remarkable six seasons and 117 episodes — the last season of which was almost certainly a stay of execution to push past the 100-episode syndication threshold. In its final season, Mr. Belvedere was relegated to perhaps the worst possible timeslot on network TV: Saturday night at 8:00 P.M. There, it touched ratings lows like 70th place out of 83 shows, and ended for good in July.

Here’s something I had no idea about before I started researching Mr. Belvedere: It was based off a novel and a movie. The novel Belvedere came out in 1947. The next year, a movie version of the novel came out, called Sitting Pretty. The actor who played Mr. Belvedere in that movie (Clifton Webb) was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor. Then there were two more, less award-worthy movies made, Mr. Belvedere Goes to College in 1949 and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell in 1951.

  • Also on July 8th: West Germany won the World Cup (1990)... Melrose Place premiered on FOX (1992)... Better Than Ezra's Good peaked at number 30... Wannabe by the Spice Girls was released (1996)... Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, the final Harry Potter book to get separate U.K. and international release dates, came out in the U.K. (1999)

July 9th

25 years ago, on July 9th, 1995 - The Grateful Dead played their final show with Jerry Garcia.

He would later be reincarnated briefly to help Brian in his battle with Samson Simpson, but would not perform any future shows.

  • Also on July 9th: TRON hit theaters (1982)... Bill Clinton announced Al Gore as his running mate (1992)... Rookie of the Year and Weekend at Bernie's II hit theaters (1993)... Married with Children aired its series finale (1997)... American Pie hit theaters (1999)... The Office (U.K.) premiered (2001)


Everything old is new again

A look at the reboots, revivals, throwbacks, retro insights, and nostalgia in the news.

Throwbacks and recommendations


Thanks for reading!

-Sam