Poor old Orwell. He didn't know the half of it. He thought all we had to worry about were Big Brothers and Ministries of Love and Thought Police. He knew nothing of anchormen, television networks, Cabbage Patch dolls, or MTV. Hey, gimme a break -- this guy never even heard anybody say, "Gimme a break"!
Actually, and most people don't know this, "1984" was marked down from "1985." Orwell really meant this would be the year we all turned into soulless, mindless, cabbage-patch stiffs sitting moon-faced and slack-jawed in front of our tele-screens. So all those TV reporters can dust off their stories about 1984 not being at all like "1984" (because, haw haw haw, we don't have a totalitarian dictatorship), and just change them to say 1985 isn't at all like "1985." Except, of course, it is -- they're just too moon-jawed and slack-faced to know it.
1984. That was a year. That was? Well, sort of. It was the year after "The Day After," but not one devoid of video crisis. At the top of that heap was shattering news: K-Tel International filed for bankruptcy. Sliced, diced, minced and blintzed. Kaput-o-matic. Phil Donahue left Chicago, "The Edge of Night" left the air, Gary Coleman got another kidney, and Ronald Reagan was elected to another term as National Gramps.
This was the year we finally just sat back and let TV news pick our leaders for us. (Oh, wouldn't Orwell have a shudder!) Roger Mudd eliminated Gary Hart from the Democratic race by making him seem ridiculous on TV and thereby threw the nomination to Mondale. Then, when it looked like even Mondale might have a wisp of a chance, in two or three states anyway, Edwin Newman came to Ronald Reagan's rescue by interrupting the president's loopy time-capsule soliloquy in the very nick of time. If Reagan had continued down the California coast, Nancy Reagan might be packing china today.
And speaking of capsules, and time's varied nicks, we were pulling out of our driveway the other day and found ourselves lost in a reverie about 1984. What would we tell our grandchildren? That we were there when ABC showed Carl Lewis winning his fourth gold medal at the Olympics on "live" TV -- 15 minutes late? That we were there when Ronald Reagan announced into a microphone he was about to start bombing the Russians -- but was just kidding?
Or that we were there when Larry "Bud" Melman became, yes, Kenny the Gardener on the David Letterman show? It's all coming back to us now, as if in a fog, which is where it belongs. A world in tele-torment rises up and cries out as if in a single anguished voice, "Give us liberty, or give us a break!"
You remember 1984. It went something like, just a little bit like, well actually quite a lot like, this . . .
* Truth in Commentary -- Jim McKay to Peter Jennings during ABC's Olympics coverage: "If I said, Peter, that I felt like an objective reporter sitting here, I'd be lying in my teeth."
* This Looks Like a Job for Magnum, P.I. -- Thieves in Los Angeles made off with a five-ton truck full of special effects bombs and explosives that belonged to "The A-Team."
* Stakeout of the Year -- ABC News dispatched a correspondent and camera crew to spend the night with a little girl who had a bed-wetting problem for a special report on "20/20." Asked the correspondent in dramatic hushed tones, as he and the crew waited outside the little girl's bedroom door, "Would Dawn be able to stay dry after drinking all that water?"
* Over-Reaching -- ABCintroduced a new "kidvid" jingle based on a theme from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
* Over-Stating -- When Phyllis George asked Howard Cosell if he might return to "Monday Night Football," Cosell told her it would be "the scoop of the century" if he revealed that he was.
* Over-Killing -- The American Cancer Society prepared an anticigarette commercial for pregnant women that showed a fetus smoking. CBS and NBC rejected the spots.
* Uniquely Qualified to Bring You the Hype -- ABC News introduced the first singing network news jingle in modern TV history.
* Peace Through Television -- In Richmond, Calif., one man died and another was injured during a brawl that broke out while a family watched a "60 Minutes" report on police brutality in Richmond, Calif.
* And Could You Dye It to Match My Eyes? -- Interviewing a surgeon about artificial hearts on "The CBS Morning News," guest host Jane Wallace asked him how soon artificial brains would be available.
* No Editorial Comment, Please -- Ed McMahon introduced sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer as "Dr. Ruth Wisenheimer."
* We Call It an Act of God -- The Pacific Princess, one of the three ships used on "The Love Boat," hit a submerged object and had to limp back to port in Acapulco.
* And God Will Get You for That, Too -- Producer Aaron Spelling told an assemblage of TV critics that "We try to say something important" with programs like "The Love Boat" and "Hotel."
* You Can't Fool All the People All of the Time, But, Thanks to Television, You Can Now Fool More of the People More of the Time Than Ever Before -- Commercials for "Dream Away," a new diet pill, promised viewers they could lose weight while they slept, then "wake up feeling slimmer and looking better."
* I Am Not a Couch Potato -- Actor Buddy Ebsen told the New York Post that Richard Nixon is a devoted viewer of "Barnaby Jones" reruns each afternoon on a New York TV station. Ebsen, who starred in the series, nominated the former president for membership in the "Barnaby Jones" fan club and said Nixon told him he had seen every episode "at least" three times and memorized much of the dialogue. Network Minds at Work -- On May 3rd, NBC announced that the title of the May 8th episode of "The A-Team" had been changed from "Not-So-Friendly Persuasion" to "Semi-Friendly Persuasion."
* Network Minds at Work II -- NBC Sports revealed its plan for sneaking commercials into 1985 World Cup pro soccer games that don't have breaks and timeouts like football. While the game continues in one-third of a split screen, NBC will show commercials in the other two-thirds.
* The Song Is Ended but the Malady Lingers On -- In late October, Turner Broadcasting System declared, "Cable Music Channel in Full Swing." One month later, it announced, "Cable Music Channel to Discontinue Operations."
* Oh, Shut Up -- From an ABC press release headlined "Brooke Shields is a Treasure, a Golden Girl Superstar, but Most Important, This Star of 'Wet Gold' is an Intelligent, Enthusiastic and Loving Teenager": "Nothing about Brooke Shields has been exaggerated. Nothing has to be. The girl is gorgeous. She not only stops traffic, she converts boulevards into parking lots. Seeing her in person for the first time, people sometimes forget to breathe . . ."
* Oh Yes, They're the Ones Who Wrote 'H.M.S. Himmelfarb' -- A contestant on "Tic Tac Dough," asked to complete the name of a famous composing team, ventured the guess, "Gilbert and . . . Hamlisch?"
* Counter-Programming to "The Brain" -- The syndicated game show "Anything for Money" promised viewers treats like these: "Meet a woman asked to take a public mud bath," "Watch a woman asked to gobble like a turkey," "Watch a woman asked to catch a fish in her mouth," "Meet a man asked to put on a dress and then sit on a fire hydrant," "Find out if a man will sell his pants to another man who ripped his," "Find out if a man will sell his pants to another man who needs a tail for a kite," and "Find out if a man will submit to a water-proofing test in which five gallons of liquid are poured down his pants."
* Crybabies of the Year -- Caspar Weinberger, Gen. William Westmoreland, The Central Intelligence Agency, Mary Decker.
* Annals of Politics I -- Outtakes featuring Bozo the Clown were removed from the ABC program "Foul Ups, Bleeps and Blunders" because Bozo had declared for the presidency, and the network feared other candidates would ask for equal time.
* Records We Never Finished Playing -- "A Knightrider Christmas," performed by "Kitt, the Amazing Car of Tomorrow."
* Records We Never Started Playing Because the Lyrics Were Printed on the Sleeve -- Wendy's released "Where's the Beef?" on the Awesome label. From the verse: "Old lady walking in the midday sun/ She stops for lunch at the House of Buns/ She orders a hamburger (Well of course)/ They brought her a bun that would choke a small horse/ (Big buns, big buns) . . ."
* Enough, Already -- Cyndi Lauper, the home video revolution, TV trivia, Weird Al Yankovich, Mr. T, Hodding Carter, Sgt. Slaughter, Joan Collins, Vanessa Williams, The Beaver, "Star Trek" movies, all Jacksons but Michael, Miller Lite commercials, complaints about exit polls, Ted Turner, Robin Leach, George Michael, TV movies about sexual abuse of any kind, and funny old ladies (one in particular).
* Of Course, Walter Cronkite Was Down Below in a Greyhound Bus -- Dan Rather flew coach to Des Moines for the Iowa caucuses while Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw sat up in first class.
* There's an Oh Such a Hungry Yearning Burning Inside Some of Our Sports Commentators -- Watching gymnast Tim Daggett at the Summer Olympics, ABC's Gordon Maddux remarked on the air, "He climbs all over the horse like it was a naked lady."
* Annals of Politics II -- After ABC pre-empted Republican convention coverage to show 20 minutes of a "Hart to Hart" rerun, then abruptly went back to the convention, NBC ended its own coverage by explaining, in the closing credits, what happened on the rest of "Hart to Hart."
* One Small Step for WCVB, One Giant Leap for Personkind -- WCVB-TV in Boston abandoned plans to stage a re-enactment of the infamous New Bedford barroom rape as part of a TV movie.
* Dialogue We'll Treasure Always -- From "Mystic Warrior": "Someone who waits is someone others perhaps call slow." From "Ellis Island": "I'm not some piece of meat you buy in the butcher shop!" From "Mistral's Daughter": "The Germans will never attack us; Hitler is not mad!" And from "Lace": "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"
* Annals of Politics III -- In a survey, a majority of respondents said they did not realize that "The Bear" in the Reagan political commercial was supposed to be the Soviet Union but that they liked the commercial anyway, so it was kept on the air.
* Bad Career Moves -- Ron Hendren, dropped from "Entertainment Tonight" when he asked for an increase in his reported $700,000 annual salary; Stacy "Mike Hammer" Keach, arrested at Heathrow Airport for cocaine possession; Lyndon LaRouche, the right-wing presidential hopeful and star of several low-rated half-hour campaign shows, who not only lost his $150 million libel suit against NBC but was directed by the jury to pay NBC $3 million for its trouble; and Ron Hendren, dropped from the "Today" show because he'd been dropped from "Entertainment Tonight."
And, finally . . .
* There's Nothing Wrong With Lighting a Candle And Cursing the Darkness at the Same Time -- A Superior Court judge in Tucson, Ariz., charging that a teen-age boy found guilty of theft was also guilty of watching too much television, sentenced him to a probation that requires him to read books and report on those he has read to his probation officer. Judge Jack T. Arnold said, "Most of these kids aren't criminals. They're just brain dead" because they "go home and watch TV and sit around." Judge Arnold, you deserve a series of your own.