Television, 1981: There was no then then.
Almost none of the really good stuff on the air was entertainment by design; Hollywood's manufactured froth could scarcely compete with real-life frolics like the Abscam tapes, the year's most fun-filled game show.
TV often fits Henry Higgins' description of Liza Doolittle: It's "so deliciously low." When there aren't a lot of highs, as there weren't in 1981, you have to content yourself with savoring the depths. Television is more fun than anything else to kick around -- except maybe Nixon.
In TV, silly season lasts all year long; it's never too late to relish again the foolishness we have tried to leave behind. Now, before the first wave of last fall's new shows is completely wiped out, and before "The Media" try to bully our attentions toward the next New Hampshire primary (ugh!), it is time to stop, take stock, sell stock and ponder the moaners and groaners, inanities and insanities, milestones and millstones from 1981, comforted only by the fact that no one has yet offered substantive evidence to support the adage that "You are what you watch" . . .
* The Next Best Thing to an Iceberg: Health officials found cockroaches living on the cruise ship used to film ABC's "Love Boat" series and ordered it condemned.
* A Kiss Is Just a Kiss-Off: Rona Barrett concluded an interview with Rock Hudson on the first edition of her "Television: Inside and Out" show by leaning forward and planting a smacker on Rock's hand. Four weeks later, the show was canceled.
* Most Succinct Anthropological Observation: "People have become such slobs" -- Katharine Hepburn on a Barbara Walters special.
* Worst "Fantasy Island" Plot Line: "Mephistopheles (Roddy McDowall) returns to Fantasy Island to enslave Mr. Roarke and turn the island paradise into an island of evil."
* Least Hilarious "Happy Days" Plot Line: "When Chachi discovers that the man his mother is dating is a doctor, he makes an appointment using an assumed name to see the doctor, not knowing the man is a gynecologist."
* Fun Feuds: Phyllis George and Jimmy the Greek; Rona Barrett and Tom Snyder; Lynn Redgrave and Universal Studios; Atari and Intellivision.
* A Lou Grant Citation for Excellence in Investigative Journalism to: David Hartman, inflatable host of ABC's "Good Morning America," who surprised a high school football coach he was interviewing with a tape of the coach allegedly slapping players around. However, the tape was 7 years old and featured the wrong coach. ABC sheepishly apologized.
* Relief Is Just a Swallow Away, but so is 1984: A Chicago marketing firm announced a new super ratings device that records "every switch of the dial" in viewers' homes and also traces their purchasing patterns at the supermarket. It is called "Behaviorscan."
* Yes, But Can He Type?: WBAL-TV in Baltimore promoted the city's "strongest anchorman" in an ad that showed him lifting weights.
* Over-Reacher: In "Witness to Power," his book on the Watergate years, John Ehrlichman revealed that Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger harbored hopes of giving a "State of Justice" address to Congress on prime-time television each year.
* Worst Technological Breakthrough: The Diners Club offered its members a clock-radio with a talking alarm; a "unique, natural-sounding voice" announces the time and five minutes later nags, "Please hurry!"
* A David Hartman Citation for Excellence in Investigative Journalism to: NBC News reporter Jack Perkins who, with a camera crew, chased a suspected child molester down a Georgia street, and later took credit for "freeing 10-, 12-, 14-year-old girls from his influence."
* The Year's Best Argument Against Artistic Freedom: Producer Renee Valente praised the CBS decision to expand the air time allotted for "Valley of the Dolls, 1981" from four hours to five.
* Unsafe at Any Speed -- 33 1/3, 45 or 78 rpm: Ralph Nader sang a duet with Dolly Parton on "The Mike Douglas Show."
* Brought Up Short: An agent for 3-foot, 11-inch Herve Villechaize charged that the producers of ABC's "Fantasy Island" asked him to "perform under conditions detrimental to his health and without regard to the health and safety requirement of a person of his size."
* Overstatement of the Year: Merv Griffin said on "The Merv Griffin Show" that Herve Villechaize "literally grew up on the streets of Paris."
* Just Don't Breathe on It, Ed, Please!: The Advertising Club of Indianapolis presented Ed McMahon with its 1981 "Torch of Truth Award."
* Let's Cross Our Fingers and Hope for a Riot: Tom Brokaw, host of NBC's "Today" show, when asked about the possibility of street violence during upcoming coverage of the royal wedding in London, said before leaving New York, "I think it's going to make it a far better assignment for all of us."
Rev. Donald Wildmon, head of the Coalition for Better Television, charged that showing actor John Schneider riding to Lake Tahoe in a Playboy limousine on a CBS Christmas special was "a direct, intentional insult to every Christian."
* Singing evangelist Maude Aimee Humbard took time out on the "Rex Humbard Show" to harangue "unbelievers" among journalists, the "ungodly" Akron Beacon-Journal for its reporting on church finances and "chicken" newspaper columnists.
* CBS scored high ratings -- a 42 national share -- with "Fallen Angel," a movie about a child molester; NBC's "Quincy" got better-than-average ratings with an episode about a child molester; and NBC's wholesome "Little House on the Prairie" scored its best rating of the season with a story about the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
* When Tom Snyder interviewed convicted mass murderer Charles Manson on the "Tomorrow" show, the show's average rating was tripled and set an all-time high.
* Worst TV Movie of the Year: A tie between "A Whale for the Killing" (ABC) and "The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies" (CBS).
* Oh, Shut Up: Barbara Walters twice asked President Ronald Reagan if he suffered from "nightmares" and asked Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree they would like to be.
* More Proof of the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization, as if Any Were Needed: A blondwoman from southern California, asked to "name a famous painter" on the "Family Feud" game show, could not come up with a single one. She told host Richard Dawson, "Art's not my thing."
* Press Releases We Never Finished Reading (from the National Radio Theatre): " 'Scholars often refer to "The Odyssey" of Homer as the first great novel of Western literature,' says Yuri Rasovsky, producer-director of the National Radio Theatre, 'but to my way of thinking Homer's classic was really the original soap opera.' "
* A Foot in the Mouth Is Worth Two on the Floor: Psychiatrist Tom Cottle ended a discussion with two amputees on his public TV series by saying, "I have to cut you off."
* Memories Are Not Made of This: Frank Sinatra sang "Nancy With the Reagan Face" to the new first lady on ABC's telecast of the inaugural gala.
* Made for Each Other: Tom Brokaw said he first decided he wanted to work with Roger Mudd, with whom he'll co-anchor the NBC "Nightly News" starting in March, when Mudd came over to Brokaw's house, put a paper towel on his head and wiggled his ears.
* Wages, or at Least Perks, of Sin: NBC refused congressional liaison Paula Parkinson's demands for a chauffeured limousine and a hotel suite with a Central Park view in return for her appearance on the "Today" show. A week later, Parkinson turned up on ABC's "Good Morning America."
* We Have Seen the Future, and It Will Return After This Message: Video pirates calling themselves the Cable Liberation Front found a way to break into the nightly newscast of Holland's state-owned TV network and scramble the signal received in 250,000 Amsterdam homes.
* Please -- Not One More Word From: Ted Turner, Ed Asner, Alan Alda, Jerry Falwell, Suzanne Somers, Evita, the Elephant Man, Casey Kasem, Brenda Vaccaro, Mike Wallace, Brent Musberger, Brooke Shields, Brooke Shields' mother, John Davidson, Gene Shalit or Richard Simmons.
* Please -- Not One More Word About: Rubik's cube, Dan Rather's ratings, General Hospital, yogurts with French names, Irish Spring deodorant soap, Bo Derek's philosophy of life, John Derek's philosophy of life, Richard Allen, or Richard Simmons.
And finally . . .
* On Dec. 7, UPI reported that in Dallas, Tex., two 15-year-old boys were charged with attempted murder after they shot an elderly gas station attendant because he was "slow in giving them change to play an electronic video game."
* Sic Semper Tyrannis, or One Giant Leap for Mankind: A Tucson, Ariz., man was arrested on charges of "endangerment" after he took a shotgun and blasted his television set 31 times.