September 11: Apple, Smurfs, Rounders, Tiny Toons

Plus the Toy Hall of Fame, Princess Bride, and more

The Retro by 11 Points

Modern perspectives on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia

September 11, 2020 • Issue 12

This week in nostalgic history

September 11th

22 years ago, on September 11th, 1998 - Rounders hit theaters.

Rounders has a certain chicken-egg dilemma related to the massive poker boom roughly five years after its release. Did Rounders become a cult classic, now considered unappreciated in its time, because people discovered it when they were insatiably hoovering up any and all poker-related content they could find? Or was Rounders a spark that helped push the poker boom; a peak into a growing poker subculture that inspired a non-insignificant number of players to take up the sport (game?) in earnest.

I would lean more toward… the former. The pie chart of reasons why poker had an early 2000s boom is mostly populated by: ESPN deciding to repeatedly televise the World Series of Poker, the amateur-inspiring victory of a shlubby everyman over all the pros in 2003, and the rising (at the time) accessibility of online poker. Rounders makes it onto the pie chart, but as more of a sliver. It’s the equivalent of the B.J. Armstrong slice in the “why the 1991 Chicago Bulls won the NBA title” pie chart.

  • Also on September 11th: Pete Rose collected his record 4,192nd hit (1985)… Jesus Jones’s single Right Here, Right Now was released (1990)… Sneakers hit theaters (1992)… Legends of the Hidden Temple and Saved by the Bell: The New Class both premiered (1993)… Andre Agassi won his first U.S. Open (1994)

September 12th

39 years ago, on September 12th, 1981 - The Smurfs premiered.

The Smurfs vaulted to international fame and popularity with the premiere of their Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning animated series on this day in 1981, but that was far from the Smurfs’ debut. They first appeared in 1958 in a Belgian comic strip as Les Schtroumpfs, merging seamlessly into western Europe’s perpetual fascination with the concept of tiny magical creatures.

They would have an animated movie in Belgium in 1965, a number of other animated shorts throughout the ‘60s, and another movie in 1976 before finally migrating to the U.S.

The U.S. series lasted for nine seasons and 256 episodes, which is just an absurd run for a Saturday morning kids show — at nine seasons, it cycled through two, maybe three entire generations of little kids during its first run alone.

By law, The Smurfs TV series is currently being rebooted and is scheduled to premiere on Nickelodeon next year.

  • Also on September 12th: G.I. Joe premiered (1983)… Linda Rondstadt and Aaron Neville’s duet Don’t Know Much was released (1989)… Life Goes On premiered (1989)… Lois and Clark premiered (1993)… Party of Five premiered (1994)… Netscape Navigator launched (1994)… Mariah Carey’s single Fantasy was released (1995)… The Game hit theaters (1997)

September 13th

26 years ago, on September 13th, 1994 - Blues Traveler’s album four was released.

Blues Traveler existed before four and after four, but their mainstream success peaked with four. Blues Traveler was a timely fit for the post-grunge mid ‘90s where jam-ish type bands found a real foothold in the “alternative is now mainstream” landscape. They didn’t just get in on the Dave Matthews Band/Phish circuit — they helped grow it by creating the H.O.R.D.E. tour and making music on four that was pop-friendly enough to garner significant radio play and a broader fan base.

Of course, there’s an irony to that. Both of their massive hit singles on four were critical of pop and mainstream music culture. The music video for Run-Around showed the band playing the song behind a curtain while a more photogenic group lip synced; Hook is written using the pop staple of the Canon in D chord progression and the lyrics focus entirely on the vapid nature of top 40 music.

  • Also on September 13th: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse premiered (1986)… Law & Order premiered (1990)… Animaniacs, the Ricki Lake Show, and Conan O’Brien’s Late Night show all premiered (1993)… Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die was released (1994)… The Drew Carey Show premiered (1995)… Tupac died less than one week after being shot (1996)… Everybody Loves Raymond premiered (1996)… Elton John’s Candle in the Wind tribute to Princess Diana was released (1997)… The Weird Al Show premiered (1997)… Blind Date premiered (1999)

September 14th

30 years ago, on September 14th, 1990 - Tiny Toon Adventures premiered.

Tiny Toon Adventures came and went pretty quickly — just three seasons — because it was created to serve an important, if un-glamorous, role. Its job was to bridge the gap between the past and future of Looney Tunes. By 1990, the Bugs/Daffy/Porky/et. al. material had grown stale and was at risk of completely losing future generations of fans. Tiny Toon Adventures could introduce similar, but younger and somewhat Poochie-fied versions, of the classic characters to kids to bring them back under the fold.

Unfortunately for Tiny Toon Adventures, the “caretaker president” role wasn’t needed. Looney Tunes characters became popular again on their own accord in the early ‘90s thanks to Space Jam and an inexplicably popular clothing line.

Now an offensive lineman without a quarterback to block for, Tiny Toon Adventures was canceled by Warner Bros. animation in favor of Animaniacs.

And while Animaniacs is fantastic, if anything, Tiny Toon Adventures was canceled too quickly; its popularity outpaced its job and probably could’ve lasted for at least another few seasons. (Which, in retrospect, would’ve made it more valuable in our modern “reboot everything” world; but due to its minimized impact on the zeitgeist from a truncated run, Tiny Toon Adventures is rarely mentioned as a candidate for another wave.)

  • Also on September 14th: MTV held the first VMAs (1984)… The Golden Girls premiered (1985)… the famous Duck Tails NES game was released (1989)… LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out was released (1990)… Bud Selig canceled the World Series in the strike-shortened baseball season (1994)… TRL premiered (1998)

September 15th

38 years ago, on September 15th, 1982 - The first issue of USA Today was published.

It’s hard to imagine there was a time when hotels weren’t sliding copies of USA Today under people’s doors, but that time was (I guess), September 14th, 1982 and every day before that.

USA Today was a clever gambit in the era when newspapers were still the end-all, be-all. A national newspaper designed to be easily consumable (it uses color! and illustrated graphs!) and unchallenging (no big words here!); essentially, it was looking to be the newspaper equivalent of fast food.

The plan, obviously, worked. Within five years, it had the highest syndication of any newspaper in the country. Of course, like all newspapers, its success has waned in recent times as it has attempted a number of different strategies to adapt and survive — attempts that are still ongoing today.

  • Also on September 15th: The final Apple II computer, the IIGS, was released (1986)… Captain Planet and the Planeteers premiered (1990)… Meat Loaf’s single I’d Do Anything for Love was released (1993)… American Beauty hit theaters (1999)

September 16th

23 years ago, on September 16th, 1997 - Twelve years to the day he resigned from Apple, Steve Jobs was rehired and named CEO.

There’s a joke in an episode of The Simpsons from 1996 where Homer mentions “Apple computers” to a young, too-cool record store employee and the guy responds, “What computers?” That was a pretty fair summation of Apple’s station at the time — a far cry from today, where they’re a trillion-dollar company who can get away with selling laptops for $2,500 even though the keyboards don’t work.

On September 16, 1985, Jobs resigned from Apple after the company couldn’t figure out how to stay competitive with the rising IBM PC market and the new CEO sidelined him. The subsequent decade was quite bad on Apple — as per that Simpsons joke, the company was on the path to being a Tandy-esque footnote.

In 1996, Apple announced it was acquiring NeXT, the company Jobs founded during his time away, and brought him back as CEO on September 16, 1997 — 12 years to the day he’d resigned which, knowing what we now know about Jobs, was the perfect recipe of three parts poetry, one part pettiness he craved.

  • Also on September 16th: Rappers Delight by Sugarhill Gang went on sale, becoming the first rap song on vinyl (1979)… Webster premiered (1983)… Punky Brewster premiered (1984)… Frasier premiered (1993)… Timecop and Quiz Show both hit theaters (1994)… the Jackpot wedge debuted on Wheel of Fortune (1996)… Judge Judy premiered (1996)

September 17th

32 years ago, on September 17th, 1988 - The Summer Olympics began in Seoul, South Korea.

Three big developments to come out of the Summer Olympics:

  1. It’s a good thing that the Cold War was ending, because no one stood a chance against the USSR and East Germany at the Olympics. They both won a ton of medals in Seoul; both countries were gone by the 1992 Olympics.

  2. Table tennis took its rightful place as an Olympic sport for the first time. Bowling was held as a demonstration sport and is yet to claim its rightful place as an Olympic sport.

  3. The U.S. took the bronze in basketball using only “amateur” college players (although that included David Robinson, among other big names). Other countries were using their pros. FIBA and the U.S. decided it was time to bring in the ringers after this, paving the way for the 1992 Dream Team, which I’ll be covering more in next week’s email.

  • Also on September 17th: Transformers premiered (1984)… Head of the Class premiered (1986)… Guns N Roses’ albums Use Your Illusion I & II were released (1991)… Home Improvement premiered (1991)… The Simpsons revealed Who Shot Mr. Burns? in their season premiere (1995)… Spin City premiered (1996)… the Goo Goo Dolls single Slide was released (1998)… Blue Streak and For Love of the Game both his theaters (1999)

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!