October 8: The Nightmare Before Christmas, MadTV, Pac-Man
Plus Shaq does a Nuthin' But a G Thang duet with Snoop
by 11 Points
Modern perspectives on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia
October 8, 2021 • Issue 68
This week in nostalgic history
28 years ago, on October 8th, 1993 - Ted Danson appeared in blackface at a Friars Club roast of Whoopi Goldberg.
Roasts have, historically, been a forum with different comedic rules of engagement than anywhere else. At a roast, anything goes; the majority if not entirety of the appeal of the roast is the irreverent shock value of comedians making jokes you just can’t make.
Ted Danson was one of a handful of people who learned no, anything doesn’t really go at roasts. In 1993, he appeared at the Friars Club roast of his then-girlfriend Whoopi Goldberg. Danson came out in blackface and performed a series of racial jokes which included dropping racial slurs.
People walked out during his set, Danson received a deluge of bad press, and Whoopi wound up publicly defending his performance as satire she hasn’t just signed off on, she’d helped write.
Was that all true? It’s possible, although their relationship ended less than a month after the roast.
The situation feels similar to the Michael Richards comedy club racial slur incident in 2006 — when a non-comedian tries to compete in the world of shock value comedy, they don’t have the delicate touch to know exactly how to push the line as far as possible but not cross it.
In the past few years, as more of a lens has turned to, and re-litigated, the insensitive comedy of the past, the Danson incident pops up on the occasional list or Twitter thread. However, his consequences have been less than those of others, perhaps due to his likability and non-malicious career outside of that ill-advised decision in 1993.
Also on October 8th: The Color of Money hit theaters (1986)… Empty Nest premiered (1988)… Def Leppard’s single Love Bites hit number one (1988)… the video game Mortal Kombat was released (1992)… Demolition Man and Mr. Nanny hit theaters (1993)… Howard Stern’s book Private Parts was released (1993)… Matchbox 20’s single Long Day was released (1996)… Seven Years in Tibet hit theaters (1997)… Superstar and Boys Don’t Cry both hit theaters (1999)… the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was established (2001)
25 years ago, on October 9th, 1996 - A young New York Yankees fan reached over the fence to catch a ball — and turn a Yankees out into a Yankees home run — during a playoff game.
And now, a look at the difference in fan interference helping versus hurting the home team.
On this day in 1996, a 12-year-old kid named Jeffrey Maier reached over the right field wall at Yankees Stadium to catch an eighth inning Derek Jeter fly ball that probably would’ve been caught or hit the wall — either way, it wasn’t destined to be a home run. This was the pre-replay era and, after discussion, the umpires ruled the ball a home run and not fan interference. The Yankees would win that playoff game (Maker’s catch and home run assistance tied the score) and the Yankees would go on to ultimately win the World Series.
Maier briefly became a local hero, getting all sorts of press attention for weeks to come. He also made an attempt at a baseball career once he got older, which drew more attention thanks to his notoriety.
Later in this week’s Retro we’ll mention of the other notable fan interference moment in recent baseball history. That’s when Cubs fan Steve Bartman’s interference cost the Cubs a game (and the series). He has received far more press than Maier ever did — but has also essentially spent the past two decades in hiding.
So if you’re going to stick your glove out at a baseball playoff game, definitely make sure you’re helping, not hindering, the home team. I’m not sure that’s a great lesson, but it’s a lesson.
Also on October 9th: An unknown Prince opened for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles (1981)… the FOX network debuted with The Late Show with Joan Rivers (1986)… Phantom of the Opera premiered for the first time (1986)… Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in North America (1988)… Under Siege hit theaters (1992)… Mariah Carey’s single Heartbreaker hit number one (1999)
41 years ago, on October 10th, 1980 - Pac-Man hit arcades.
Pac-Man, which technically should’ve been Puck-Man when translated from the native Japanese but received a name change due to the ease of vandals changing a P to an F, presented a new frontier for video games. This was a game with fun, colorful visuals that would appeal to kids — while still being challenging and addictive for adults.
That combo drove Pac-Man’s nearly unparalleled success as an arcade game, a home console game, and then in spin-offs on virtually every video game system ever made since. Beyond the success of this specific game, though, was the success of its formula. Nintendo, in particular, has always embraced the Pac-Man ethos of “colorful but challenging,” a wave that company continues to ride to billions of dollars today.
Also on October 10th: Adam, the TV movie about the kidnapping of Adam Walsh, premiered on NBC (1983)… Whitesnake’s single Here I Go Again hit number one (1987)… Bruce Springsteen’s album Tunnel of Love was released (1987)… House of Pain’s one hit Jump Around peaked at number three (1992)… No Doubt’s album Tragic Kingdom was released (1995)… Boogie Nights premiered in theaters (1997)
38 years ago, on October 11th, 1983 - The final hand crank phones in the U.S. went inoperational.
Sure, 1983 was 38 years ago and that’s a good chunk of time, but it doesn’t feel like 1983 was that long ago. Stories like this are a reminder that yeah, it was a long time ago.
Up until this day in 1983, there was still at least one town in the U.S. using hand crank telephones. Not rotary phones, but the hand crank phones Most of us only know hand crank phones from movies. They’re the phones where you hold up a tube-shaped receiver, spin a crank, and connect to an operator who then maneuvers your cord around a switchboard to connect you to the person you’re calling.
Bryant Pond, Maine, was the final holdout, a tiny town still using a room of local operators to connect its crank calls. (Though, due to the complexity of the process, only literal crank calls and not those of the “Prince Albert in a can” variety.)
The final hand cranks ceased to work on this day as the town joined not-even-that-modern times.
In Morissette-worthy coincidental timing, just two days later, the first commercial cell phone call ever was made.
Also on October 11th: Saturday Night Live premiered (1975)… the Dallas Mavericks played their first game (1980)… Lionel Richie’s album Can’t Slow Down was released (1983)… the first woman walked in space (1984)… Mario Lemieux made his NHL debut (1984)… Janet Jackson’s single When I Think of You hit number one (1986)… Surface’s single The First Time was released (1990)… the highest-rated Simpsons episode in the show’s history, Bart Gets an F, aired on FOX (1990)… Little Man Tate hit theaters (1991)… Jimmy Swaggert was caught with a prostitute (1991)… Deion Sanders played for the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves on the same day (1992)… the U.S. had its first three-way presidential debate (1992)… Animaniacs featured Wakko’s America, a song with all 50 state capitals (1993)… Elton John’s Candle in the Wind ‘97 hit number one (1997)… Polaroid filed for bankruptcy (2001)
34 years ago, on October 12th, 1987 - George Harrison’s single Got My Mind Set on You was released, the final solo number one hit by a Beatle.
All four members of The Beatles had musical success outside of the band. The four members (yes, even Ringo) had a collective 31 non-Beatles number one Billboard hits. But it’s been quite a while since the last one, which was George Harrison’s Got My Mind Set On You. That song came out this day in 1987 and would hit number one in January 1988.
The song itself is not, perhaps, a master work — it elicited one of Weird Al’s more biting parodies in This Song Is Just Six Words Long — but was poppy and ‘80s bubbly enough to top the charts.
While no post-Beatles song from the group has hit number one since, Paul McCartney had an album reach number one just three years ago.
Also on October 12th: The NBA saw the debuts of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the three-point line (1979)… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published (1979)… Ready for the World’s single Oh Sheila hit number one (1985)… Steve Jobs’s NeXT computer debuted (1988)… Poison’s single Every Rose Has Its Thorn was released (1988)… Herschel Walker was traded for 11 players (1989)… Mariah Carey’s single Emotions hit number one (1991)… Bret “Hitman” Hart won the WWF Heavyweight Championship for the first time (1992)… Salt N Pepa’s album Very Necessary was released (1993)… John Denver was killed in a plane crash (1997)… the six billionth person on Earth was born (1999)… Wilt Chamberlain passed away (1999)
28 years ago, on October 13th, 1993 - The Nightmare Before Christmas hit theaters.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has, very gradually, worked its way into being a holiday staple because it (seemingly accidentally) did one brilliant thing: It bridged the gap between a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie. The debate still continues today: Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?
(My take: After my kids became addicted to the movie last year and played it and/or its music on repeat for two months straight, I unequivocally say it’s a Christmas movie.)
Bridging that gap made it a “spooky” Halloween movie that still retained all of the emotional and holiday nostalgia catnip of a Christmas movie. So as the years passed, the movie just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It got so big Disney could brand Halloween season at its parks around the movie (and not worry about the decoration bleeding longer into the fall because, again, it’s both a Halloween and a Christmas movie).
Also on October 13th: The first commercial cell phone call was made (1983)… Stevie Wonder’s single I Just Called to Say I Love You hit number one (1984)… Look Who’s Talking and The Fabulous Baker Boys both his theaters (1989)… George Michael’s single Praying for Time hit number one (1990)… Jennifer Lopez debuted as a Fly Girl on In Living Color (1991)… Boyz II Men’s single In the Still of the Night was released (1992)… Demi Moore’s movie The Scarlet Letter hit theaters (1995)… the Spice Girls single Spice Up Your Life was released (1997)… Puff Daddy’s single Satisfy You was released (1999)… The Ladies Man hit theaters (2000)… Derek Jeter made a famous flip throw to get an unlikely out in a playoff game (2001)
26 years ago, on October 14th, 1995 - MadTV premiered as a Saturday Night Live competitor.
MadTV launched as FOX’s sketch show after In Living Color went under due to an endless stream of creative differences between the creators and the network.
The goal was to create a competitor to Saturday Night Love, which was going through one of its worst creative periods at the time and seemed as vulnerable as it’d ever be. MadTV got the 11:00 P.M. Saturday time slot, an attempt to grab an audience that was conditioned to (I guess) crave its sketch variety programming at that hour and keep them from flipping to SNL at 11:35.
It was a low-risk, high-reward experiment and one that sort of worked. MadTV lasted a very long time (14 seasons!) but never dethroned SNL — or even escaped its shadow.
What went wrong? For one, SNL’s slump ended at the same time as MadTV’s debut, with Will Ferrell among other new cast members reinvigorating the show. Two, FOX took the opposite approach with MadTV as it did with In Living Color — the network didn’t own a piece of the show and was probably too hands off. FOX never fully got behind MadTV, rarely ever promoting it. Ever.
Three, and perhaps biggest, were SNL’s legacy and institutional advantages in the areas that grew to move the needle for sketch shows. Not every sketch is a hit, not on either show. But SNL was live, unlike MadTV, adding an air of unpredictability and spontaneity. SNL could also lean on its brand as surprise celebrity cameos became increasingly important to buoy sketches and create must-see moments. And when it came to political sketches in election years, SNL blew away MadTV.
The result was MadTV was always the Pepsi to SNL’s Coke (and during times when other sketch shows like Chappelle’s Show emerged, MadTV was demoted to RC Cola).
The MadTV brand does still have some equity, though — 14 years on the air isn’t an accident. Plus, MadTV launched quite a few huge names today including Key and Peele and Patton Oswald. A 2016 reboot on the CW lasted one season; and it sure feels like we’ll see another one at some point in the near future.
Also on October 14th: Atari released the first home video game console (1977)… Wayne Gretzky scored his first NHL goal (1979)… Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs (1982)… the International Olympic Committee decided to start staggering the winter and summer Olympics instead of holding both in the same year (1986)… Baby Jessica fell down a well (1987)… The Accused hit theaters (1988)… Michael Bolton’s single How Am I Supposed to Live Without You? was released (1989)… Pulp Fiction hit theaters, as did Little Giants, Exit to Eden, and Hoop Dreams (1994)… Spice Girls’ single Say You’ll Be There was released (1996)… Paula Cole’s single I Don’t Want to Wait, Ma$e’s single Feel So Good, and Lisa Loeb’s single I Do were released (1997)… Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball at a Cubs playoff game and became public enemy number one in Chicago (2003)
Everything old is new again
A look at the reboots, revivals, throwbacks, retro insights, and nostalgia in the news.
Tiffani Amber Theissen celebrated Zack and Kelly’s 27th wedding anniversary on Instagram this week. It was the anniversary of Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas.
New Kids on the Block announced a nationwide tour next summer which also includes Rick Astley, Salt-N-Pepa, and En Vogue.
The people who bought the house from Edward Scissorhands in Tampa, Fla., have turned it into a museum. In a related but opposite story, a couple in Cottage City, Md., unknowingly bought the house that inspired The Exorcist.
Netflix got its hands on Seinfeld but is airing the episodes with a 16:9 ratio — which is cutting off details on the screen. People aren’t thrilled. People are never thrilled about anything.
The Spice Girls introduced a new line of merchandise in honor of the 25th anniversary of their debut.
Car thieves in the U.K. stole five cars by jamming $27,000 worth of tech to crack the cars’ security systems into a Game Boy case.
Throwbacks and recommendations
Shaquille O’Neal held a charity event in Las Vegas last weekend and performed a duet of Nuthin’ But a G Thang with Snoop. It’s way better than it has any right to be. Shaq also jumped in on Kelly Clarkson’s performance of Since U Been Gone at the event. He’s literally, yes literally, 200 feet taller than her.
Vanity Fair had a casino security expert analyze the viability of the blackjack cheating scene from Austin Powers.
Here is Uproxx’s list of the top 10 video games of the ‘90s, based on reviews from Metacritic.
The 11 most popular TV episodes people watch on Halloween include 10 classic Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes and the Friends Halloween party episode.
Thanks for reading!