Short-Lived and Easily Forgotten 1980s TV Series
Easily Forgotten 1980s TV Series
This is a brief look at 28 short-lived and easily forgotten television series from the 1980s with brief plot, cast list, photos, trivia and more.
Some of these shows actually had potential and why they never found their core audience is a bit of a mystery. Others, after watching an episode or two, it makes a viewer wonder how these shows ever made it into production to begin with, but be they good or bad, they are all short lived TV series from the 1980s'.
How many do you remember?
Ace Crawford: Private Eye
This short-lived series last for a total of five episodes and it aired on CBS from March 15, 1982 to April 12, 1982.
Tim was Ace Crawford a private detective who was an "ace" when it came to the business of "detecting", or it appears. But, in reality, he had no skills at all with all of his successes brought about by dumb luck and fortuitous accidents. Assisting Ace on his adventures was bumbling Toomey (Joe Regalbuto), an accountant by trade who idolized Ace.
His favorite hangout was The Shanty, a wharf side bar owned by Inch (Billy Barty). Rounding out the cast was Ace's girlfriend, Luana (Shera Danesand) and Lt. Fanning (Dick Christie), a police officer who is just awestruck by Ace's luck.
This Sam Spade take-off did little to impress critics and some felt he was more of a Maxwell Smart kind of character.
Even Conway admitted that the show probably needed canned laughter to help audiences know when to laugh.
This 13 episode series starred Desi Arnaz, Jr. as Walter Nebicher, a computer expert who worked for the police department as a programmer. But, his real dream was to be a street cop. Since his superiors felt he wasn't suited for such work, he instead developed Automan (Chuck Wagner), a computer generated crime fighter who is able to come off the computer screen and into the real world. Automan was in a sense, Walter's alter-ego.
Every superhero has their limits and weaknesses and since Automan was computer generated, he would fade out during the day when the cities electrical usage would rise.
The series also starred Robert Lansing, Heather McNair and Gerald McLaughlin.
Critics compared the show to Disney's film, Tron.
The show was produced by Glen A. Larson who never seemed to get a lot of respect from critics.
Nick Donovan (Asher Brauner) and Ocee James (Steve Hanks) are former race car drivers who are hired by the LAPD, because of their superior driving skills. They are to become members of the newly formed B.A.D. Cats division which stands for Burglary Auto Detail Commercial Auto Thefts. Joining them in their fight to stop car thieves is Officer Samantha Jensen (a young Michelle Pfeiffer).
The series ran for 10 episodes on ABC in 1980 and was a mid season series.
Asher Brauner originated the role of Roy DiLucca on the soap General Hospital from 1978-79.
James McMullan in Beyond Westworld
Beyond Westworld began it's run on CBS on March 5, 1980 and lasted until March 19, 1980 with five episodes shown.
The Delos Corporation manufactured robots that ran amuck in the feature films West World and Future World. The plot of this small screen series had mad scientist, Simon Quaid (James Wainwwright) taking control of the robots and planning to use them in a plot to rule the world. So, in steps John Moore (Jim McMullan) Security Chief for Delos, it's his job to stop Quaid.
Also starred the lovely Connie Selleca who did not appear in the pilot episode.
Notable guest stars: Denny Miller, Christopher Connelly, George Takei, Rene Auberjonoi.
Was released on DVD in 2014.
Hal Linden and Harry Morgan in Blacke's Magic
Alexander Blacke (Hal Linden) was a magician who liked to solve crimes with the help of his con artist father, played by Harry Morgan. The show ran from January 5, 1986 to May 7, 1986 with a grand total of 13 episodes and was reminiscent of the old 70s series, The Magician that starred the late Bill Bixby.
The series was meant to be a mid-season replacement but NBC had shows that were doing so well in the ratings that finding a place for the series was difficult.
Jim Steinmyer who created many of Doug Henning's illusions came up with the illusions for the series.
After Barney Miller ended, Linden didn't want to do another series as most of the things offered to him were very similar to that series. He took the role of Alexander Blacke because it was different, Blacke was outgoing and the story lines were exciting. After Morgan's series AfterMASH was cancelled he intended on doing very little acting and certainly had no desire to work on a series again, but when he was sent the script for the show, he loved it citing it was different than anything he had ever worked on before.
Shaun Cassidy in Breaking Away
Shaun Cassidy, who gained teen idol status as Joe Hardy on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, took on the role of Dave Stohler, a guy who loved bicycle racing in the series Breaking Away inspired by the 1979 feature film of the same name.
The series may have done a little better than it did, if it hadn't been caught up in the 1980 Screen Actors Guild strike which prevented it from going into production until late in the fall. While ABC had publicized it heavily, audiences didn't seem to notice it once it came on the air and it was pulled from the schedule after filming only eight episodes, seven of which were shown. It ran from November 29, 1980 to January 10, 1981.
Cassidy didn't see the film before beginning to work on the series as he didn't want to allow his take on Dave Stohler to be influenced by the way Dennis Christopher portrayed the character in the film. Cassidy was proud of the show and how it dealt with real human issues and relationships and had no gimmicks at all and was a welcome departure from The Hardy Boys.
By this time, Cassidy had given up touring in his musical career, although he had released the album WASP, and speculated he should tour somewhat to promote it.
Barbara Barrie, Jackie Earle Haley and John Ashton reprised their roles from the feature film.
Jerry Reed and Tom Selleck (before his Magnum days) starred in the TV movie Concrete Cowboys back in 1979. It was popular enough to inspire a short lived TV series that starred Jerry Reed as J.D. Reed and Geoffry Scott (who took over Selleck's role) as Will Eubanks.
The series was about two cowboys who, instead of riding horses on the open range, roamed across the country side in their beat up camper looking for adventure and finding it. They made most of their money gambling, but when having a run of bad luck, they would pick an occasional job, which is usually where all the fun took place.
Critics said the series was merely an attempt to update the old Route 66 series for the 1960s.
The series first aired on February 7, 1981 and lasted until March 21, 1981 with a total of six episodes airing. Jerry Reed, a country music legend, wrote and performed the theme song, "Breakin' Loose".
The series has yet to be released onto DVD, but you can find the television movie that inspired the series.
The Devlin Connection
Hollywood legend Rock Hudson starred with handsome Jack Scalia in this private detective series. That aired on NBC for thirteen episodes lasting from October 2 – December 25, 1982.
Brian Devlin (Rock) is a retired military intelligence officer who learns that he has a 28 year old son he never knew he had in the guise of Nick Corsello, a struggling private detective, who begrudgingly accepts the help of his father when it comes to solving cases he is hired to investigate.
The plot of the series wasn't anything spectacular, as a man finding out his is a father years after the big event happens isn't all that uncommon in the real world or in the movies. The series got off to a slow start, it was to begin production in June of 1981, but postponed because of a screen writers strike and then because of Hudson's heart surgery.
Hudson was disappointed that the relationship between his character and his son was never developed fully. and admitted that he was actually thrilled that the show was cancelled because he said it lacked any real spark and had no comedy to it.
Merlin Olsen in Fathers and Sons
Former football player, Merlin Olsen, starred as Buddy Landau just an ordinary guy who loved sports and who ended up coaching his son, Lanny's, baseball team. Lanny has no real talent for the sport and was only involved in it to please his dad.
The show, a sitcom, aired for only four episodes on NBC starting on April 6, 1986 to May 4, 1986. The series tried to find its comedy by the interactions between Buddy and the player's on his son's team.
This is the first time his acting career centered around a role connected with sports. He had wanted to keep those two aspects separate and wanted to give acting a serious try.
Costarring Jason Late,Kelly Sanders, and Andre Gower
Scott Bakula in Gung Ho
Based on the film of the same name, Gung Ho starred Scott Bakula as Hunt Stevenson in this short-lived series that first aired on ABC December 5, 1986 and lasted until June 27, 1987.
The setting was an auto plant in Hadleyville, Pennsylvania that had been reopened as part of Assan Motors, a Japanese owned company. The comedy of the show was the clash of cultures faced by the American workers and the Japanese management.
The series co starred Gedde Watanabe (who reprises his role from the movie), Stephen Lee and Clint Howard.
Veteran cop Charlie "C.B." Battles (John Ashton) gets a brand new partner, young and brash Joe "Kaz" Kaczierowski (Richard Tyson). Of course, Kaz is a rebel, he plays be his own rules. This causes friction between Charlie and Kaz as each has their own way of enforcing the law.
The series lasted for 18 episodes and aired on NBC from September 21, 1989 to June 29, 1990. bBefore the series was cancelled, there was an attempt to revamp it and make it more issue oriented.
The two actors were never tested together before being cast in their roles.
Brandon Tartikoff, then President of Entertainment at NBC, personally sent Tyson the script for the series which was unusual but NBC was banking on Tyson becoming a TV superstar much like Don Johnson had. It didn't work, sadly. The series was fun to watch, even if it wasn't anything special.
Has yet to be released onto DVD.
Robert Blake in Helltown
Robert Blake was Father Noah "Hardstep" Rivers a priest at St. Dominic's parish is a tough east LA neighborhood. This NBC series ran for 15 episodes starting on September 4, 1985 to December 25, 1985.
The character was often thought of as Baretta (Blake's famous cop role from the 70's) in a priest's collar. Sadly the show was pitted against ABC's Dynasty and didn't stand much of a chance.
Blake began working on the concept for Helltown when he was working on Blood Feud in 1983. He took the idea for the series to ABC because he had done Baretta for them, but they weren't interested, much to his disappointment.
Also starred Whitman Mayo, Natalie Core, Jeff Cory and Tony Longo.
The Highwayman was an adventure series that aired on NBC beginning March 4, 1988 and lasted until May 6, 1988.
Sam Jones (Flash Gordon fame) was the Highwayman, a US Marshal in this futuristic series that critics said was a cross between Mad Max and Knight Rider.
Partnered with Jones was Jetto, played by an Aussie actor, Jacko, whose main claim to fame here in the US was a series of commercials for Energizer batteries, you remember those, right, he would stick the battery on his shoulder and dare you to knock it off.
The series co starred Tim Russ and Jane Badler and was produced by Glen A. Larson who said he envisioned it as being a cross between Gunsmoke and The Road Warrior.
The Last Precinct
This series lasted from April 11, 1986 to May 30, 1986 and was viewed by some as merely a way for NBC to cash in on the popularity of the Police Academy movies of the big screen. The 56th Precinct, known as The Last Precinct was a dumping ground of sorts for various LAPD police officers who really didn't seem cut out for a career in law enforcement.
Jonathan Perpich was Price Pascall , a handsome police officer who was the only one to have any kind of real detective skills. Ernie Hudson was Sgt. "Night Train" Lane, Rick Duncommun was Officer William Raider an over weight and bumbling motor cycle cop. Randi Brooks was Mel Brubaker who used to be a man. Peter Willcox was King an Elvis impersonator, Keenen Wynn was Butch and Hank Rolike was Sundance, two over the hill cops just waiting for retirement. Heading up the Last Precinct was Adam West as Capt. Robert Wright.
The show never found an audience because it was pitted against Dallas on CBS.
The was West's first series in 20 years and he said that the show was really an attempt to modernize the Keystone Kops with lots of slapstick comed, a sort of "upside down Hillstreet Blues."
Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs
This short-lived series was co created by Pleshette and aired on CBS from March 4, 1984 to April 15, 1984.
Maggie Briggs (Suzanne Pleshette) worked for the financially troubled New York Examiner and in order to try to turn around their finances, the paper wanted a new look and they figured adding a new feature called Modern Living would just what they needed. They, of course, wanted Maggie to write the column, but she was used to writing the hard hitting human interest stories and wasn't the least bit pleased about having to write fluff about puppy dogs and nuns.
John Getz played Geoff Bennett, her editor who was a handsome playboy, a fact that Maggie tried to ignore. Her mentor at the paper was Walter Holden (Kenneth McMillian) and her best friend Connie (Shera Danese).
Simon MacCorkindale in Manimal
The show lasted for eight episodes beginning on September 30, 1983 and ending on December 31, 1983. It starred handsome Simon MacCorkindale as Jonathan Chase, a professor at New York University who taught animal behavioral sciences. This fit well with the special power that Chase had, the ability to transform into any animal at will. Chase used his special ability to fight crime and only a few people knew about his talent, Ty Earle (Michael D. Roberts) a friend with whom Chase served in Vietnam and pretty police detective, Brooke McKenzie (Melody Anderson), who often teamed up with Chase to solve crimes.
Sadly, Simon would pass away, October 14, 2010 at age 58 from colorectal cancer.
Was released on DVD in 2015.
The Misfits of Science
This 1985 show was a mixture of comedy, fantasy and science fiction. The show's plot was that a group of "misfits" who ended up getting together because they all shared one thing in common, they had super powers.
Dean Paul Martin (that's right, Dean Martin's son) was Dr. Billy Hayes, the leader of the group and the only member who had no super powers to speak of. He was a research scientist who specialized in studying those who were considered to be human anomalies.
Mark Thomas Miller was Johnny Johnny B" Bukowski a rock musician who had been electrocuted on stage, but instead of being killed he ended up having the ability to charge full of electricity. He could hurl lightning bolts and run super fast. He always wore sunglasses which hid his eyes, which, when he was fully charged with electric, would glow.
Courteney Cox was Gloria Dinallo, a teenage girl who had the power of telekinesis and whose mother was locked away in a mental hospital. Gloria had a major crush on Johnny.
Kevin Peter Hall was Dr. Elvin "El" Lincoln a towering giant who had the ability to shrink to small sizes.
In the pilot episode only, was Mickey Jones as Arnold "Ice Man" Beifneiter who had the power to freeze anything he touched. His character was missing from the weekly series because Marvel comics had a similarly named super hero.
Executive producer and writer James D. Parriott didn't expect anyone to take these characters seriously as they weren't meant to be, they were written for fun, for laughs as the humor was very campy and tongue in cheek.
This was a really fun series that was cancelled due to low ratings, because it was going up against Dallas on CBS.
It has only been released on DVD in Germany and France and has yet to see a US release.
Airing on NBC from January 16, 1981 to August 25, 1981, William Conrad brought to life Rex Strout's reclusive, orchid loving detective, Nero Wolf. Lee Horsely, in his first television role, was his able bodied assistant, Archie Goodwin. Conrad took the role because he liked the idea of playing a detective who let someone else do all the legwork, jokingly saying that "I don't have to run any more. My poor feet are still aching from all the running I had to do in Cannon." referring to his previous five year stint on ABC as private detective Frank Cannon.
Orson Welles had originally been asked to play the role, but creative differences with Paramount, the production company, prompted him to bow out of the project.
Sadly, the series debuted against CBS's very popular series The Dukes of Hazzard. The network did like the show enough to try to find a better night and time slot, by moving it from its original Friday night position to Tuesday, but the viewers still never showed up.
This really was a great show and should be released on DVD! Ya hear that Paramount!!
The Nutt House
The Nutt House was a comedy series from the minds of Mel Brooks and Alan Spencer and it aired on NBC from September 20, 1989 and lasted until October 25, 1989.
The setting was a once elegant hotel known as The Nutt House that had fallen on hard times and of course it didn't help that it was staffed by a bunch of "loonies" which included owner Edwina Nutt (Cloris Leachman) who relied on her right hand manager, Reginald T. Turkington (Harvey Korman), who in turn had to deal with head housekeeper Ms Frick (also played by Leachman).
Rounding out the cast was Mark Blankenfield as Freddy, the nearly blind elevator operator, Brian McNamara as Charles Nutt III, Molly Hagen as Sally Lonnaneck and Gregory Itzin as Dennis.
The humor was silly, absurd and ridiculous and certainly lived up to Brooks comedy philosophy "be savage to those in authority, but be kind to those underneath it, that suffer from it."
For the most part it received good reviews, but just couldn't find its audience.
Judson Scott in The Phoenix
The Phoenix its run on ABC on March 19, 1982 and ended on April 16, 1982.
Blond haired, blue eyed Judson Scott was Bennu of the Golden Light, an ancient extraterrestrial who was awakened from his sleeping place in Peru. Bennu was an enlightened being who was socially responsible, kind, non violent and environmentally aware. He had special abilities like telekinesis, the power to levitate and to do astral projection, etc. His strength and powers were given to him or made stronger by the special Phoenix amulet he wore which got its powers from the sun. His main purpose was to find his mate, Mira, who came from the planet Eldebran, some 40,000 years earlier. Without her, he had no clue as to what his mission on earth was to be about. Richard Lynch played Justin Preminger a man who wishes to capture Bennu.
Nine episodes were planned, but only four were ever filmed, those and the 90 minute pilot movie. I think this series was just a little bit too ahead of it's time. It does have a bit of a cult following and I think it had the potential to be a decent series if it would have been given more of a chance.
Producer Mark Carliner described the series as what you get if you , "Season a pot of Robert A. Heinlein's "A Stranger in a Strange Land", with a pinch of Gore Vidal's "Kalki", fold in a cup of Eric Van Danniken's "Chariots of the Gods" and you've got it."
Private Eye Theme
This 1987 series was set in Hollywood during the 1950s; Jack Cleary (Michael Woods) was a good cop who lost his job because of a frame up by those on the force who were the bad guys. Sounds kind of familiar, right? Now, to make ends meet he worked as a private detective. Working with him was Johnny Betts (Josh Brolin) a young man who worked with Cleary's deceased brother, who happened to be a private detective but was killed while working on a case.
Bill Sadler played Lieutenant Charlie Fontana, Cleary's only friend left on the force and who helped him with his cases whenever possible. Lisa Jane Persky was Dottie, the ever faithful secretary.
The pilot for the series cost 6.5 million dollars to film. Having to use cars, clothes and sets that fit the 1950's feel of the series and the budget for the remaining 11 episodes was set at $18 million dollars.
The series lasted from September 13, 1987 until January 8, 1988 with 12 episodes. It has yet to be released on DVD and I don't think it has ever been seen in rerurns, sad really because it was good show.
Sam Waterston in Q.E.D.
Sam Waterston stared as Quentin E. Deverille, a brilliant American professor who found himself laughed out of a job at Harvard because he dared speculate that it was possible to transmit picture and sound through the air.
He then took off for England, which he hoped would be more receptive to his brilliance, but instead he found himself fighting crime using all the cool gadgets that he invented.
Set in 1912 England, our hero is helped in his adventures by his trusty butler/chauffeur, Phipps (George Innes) and Jenny (Caroline Langrishe) his beautiful and very resourceful secretary. Of course, every brilliant hero has to have an arch villain as an enemy and in this case, it's Dr. Stefan Kilkiss (Julian Glover).
The series aired aired on CBS from March 23, 1982 to April 27. 1982 and was created by John Hawkesworth who gave us such classics as Upstairs Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street.
The crime drama series starred the late Patrick Swayze Bandit in an early television role. It aired on ABC from March 4, 1983 to April 1983.
The plot involved a gang of street toughs who were given a choice, work for the police as undercover agents infiltrating street gangs in order to prevent gang related crimes or go to jail.
The cast included with Swayze as Bandit, Tracy Scoggins as Tracy, Kurtwood Smith as Captain Scanlon, Paul Mones as J.T., Randy Brooks as Eagle, Robert Thale as Dancer, James Luisi as Lt. Marciano, Brain Tochi as Dragon and Fausto Bara as Gaucho.
Critics dismissed it charging it was just a Mod Squad update. The series did have a very catchy theme.
Street Hawk aired on ABC from January 4, 1985 to May 16, 1985. Teen idol Rex Smith starred as Jess Mach, an amateur dirt-bike racer and ex police officer who was chosen to test an all-terrain attack motorcycle. His skills as a dirt bike racer came in handy since this motorcycle could travel at speeds up to 300 miles per hour.
During the day, Mach worked as a trouble shooter for the police department, but by night he was a crime fighter known as The Street Hawk. He was considered by many to be nothing more than a lawless vigilante no much better in ethics than those he helped to catch and send to prison.
Released onto DVD in 2010.
A fun premise for a TV series was Tucker's Witch that began its run on CBS October 6, 1982 and lasted until August 8, 1983.
Catherine Hicks and Tim Matheson played Amanda and Rick Tucker, a husband and wife team who run a detective agency. But, this was no run of the mile detective agency as Amanda was a witch who used her powers to solve cases which sounded easy but lets just say that her powers were sometimes a little unreliable. .
The title of the pilot was The Good Witch of Laurel Canyon and it aired in May of 1982 and starred Art Hindle and Kim Cattrell. It was picked up as a series, but during the summer of 1982, the movie Porky's, in which Kim had a role became a huge hit at the box office. CBS took exception to some of her scenes in the film and decided that they needed to replace her, so the series was totally revamped and given the new name of Tucker's Witch.
This short-lived series that aired on NBC from February 3, 1989 to April 14, 1989, brought David Soul back to prime-time as Westley Grayson, an agent with the Behavioral Science Unit of the U.S. Justice Department. He along with his crew investigated crimes committed by serial killers.
This was very similar in plot to the present day series, Criminal Minds and co starred Kent McCord and Richard Kind.
The series has never been released onto DVD, but you can find an episode or two on Prime Time Crime: The Stephen J. Cannell Collection released onto DVD in 2010.
Walking Tall Theme
This short-lived series aired on NBC from January 17, 1981 to June 6, 1981, and was the small screen's continuation of the story of legendary lawman Buford Pusser.
Bo Svenson took over the role created on film by Joe Don Baker. Pusser, a real life sheriff in McNeal County, Tennessee gained fame as a no nonsense tough and rowdy lawman who didn't hesitate to use force to arrest criminals. He carried four foot long club to mete out justice to wrong doers.
In real life, Pusser died in a car crash that left some thinking that it wasn't accidental, that his enemies finally had gotten rid of this thorn in their sides.
The complete series was released onto DVD in 2006.
Wizards and Warriors
The late Jeff Conaway (of Taxi fame) starred in this very short lived 80's show that lasted from February 26, 1983 to May 14, 1983. Set during the time of King Arthur's Court, Conway played Prince Erik Greystone, a knight who was the defender of the Kingdom of Camarand which was ruled by kindly King Baaldorf (Tom Hill) and his wife, Queen Lattinia (Julie Payne). Their daughter, Princess Ariel (Julia Duffy) was betrothed to handsome Prince Erik. Of course, every good guy needs a bad guy as a rival and that came in the form of Prince Dirk Blackpook (Duncan Regehr) who wanted to take over Camarand and tried every dirty trick in the book, including black magic to do so.
Rounding out the cast was lovely Randi Brooks, Tim Dunigan, Clive Revill and Walter Olkewicz.
Sadly, Conaway passed away May 27, 2011.
The series was released on DVD on July 29, 2014.
Whew! You made it through the list. I hope you had fun and that maybe it sparked a few memories for you. Below is a guest book that you can use to share your thoughts about the shows, or share with us other 80s shows that would fit on this list.
I ask that you keep the comments on topic and I also want you to be aware that they are moderated in order to keep this page reader friendly. Thanks for understanding.
Also of note, this page went through a bit of a cleaning and was updated on May 15, 2020.
© 2009 Glory Miller