Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When the ABC Afterschool Special Was a Fact of Life

I made an ABC Afterschool Special joke the other day to a British friend that surprisingly didn't fall flat -- he'd actually heard of them -- but prompted him to ask me for details. At first blush, it seemed the whole phenomenon was what stuck with me more than any specific film. (I remember vivid details about made-for-TV movies from the same era like "Bad Ronald" and "Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway," but neither were part of this series, which were rapid-paced one-hour productions.) 

But then a Gen X coworker of mine also made a joke about ABC Afterschool Specials -- they really were ingrained in us, weren't they? -- and with this little nudge we found ourselves reminiscing about a few that stood out ... "My Mom's Having a Baby" above all. As my colleague Dorene recalls, a whole generation of kids accidentally found our where babies came from without their parents' permission. While I'm sure the network intended it to be watched with adult supervision -- and promoted it as a learning opportunity -- it was 1977 and many of our moms already worked. So many of us were left to navigate these deep topics on our own. 

As it would happen, I wasn't one of these kids. No, not because my parents were hip or progressive. I already knew about the facts of life because our flaky neighbor, Karen Muethel -- who you might recall I dressed as for Halloween one year -- had inexplicably taken it upon herself to TEACH ME about the birds and the bees one afternoon when I was over at her house. I don't have the strongest recollection of the whole event, but my parents sure do. All I remember is that I came home and brought up some detail about sex to my mother, who was horrified and immediately went into damage control. Try as she did, though, she clearly failed: I never wanted anything to do with vagina from that day on. Shortly thereafter, my parents awkwardly presented me with a book about where babies come from -- I remember it was a 8 x 10 hardcover deal with lots of drawings -- then immediately fled the house for several hours and never mentioned it again. I flipped through it and returned to the basement to organize my Olivia Newton-John album collection.

A slightly older colleague brought up "The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip," which followed two kids who are miniaturized and travel through their uncle's body to understand more about his health. This was before my time. But I hear it featured Timer, whose Time for Timer shorts I grew up with.

I also recall "The Boy Who Drank Too Much" because it starred my teen fave Lance Kerwin, of "James at 15" fame, and Chachi. Lance is a goody-goody worry wart and Scott Baio is a sex bomb who likes to have a good time -- so if the moral of the story was that drinking is bad, it was hard for me to see.

In the companion piece, Scott plays a nerd who turns to pot to loosen up. He immediately becomes way more fun and popular -- and suddenly gets the girl -- but we're still supposed to somehow believe that "grass" is bad for you, too.

Probably the last one I watched was "Schoolboy Father." By then my hormones were in top gear -- as were star Rob Lowe's, which is what got him into this mess. In it, Rob's character's life is ruined when he gets his summer-camp girlfriend pregnant, which was just more confirmation that I wanted nothing to do with girls or the outdoors. 

My alcoholic dad lived in a bit of a flophouse after my parents' 1972 divorce, so a downtown hotel sounded pretty glitzy to me!

I wonder if a doobie could turn Scott Baio back into a human being?

Fun video, but a little heavy on the '80s era ...

Would have killed for one of these Trapper Keepers!


Several Facebook friends have brought up this competing CBS Schoolbreak Special called "What If I'm Gay?" It came out in 1987 -- when I had just come out in real life -- so was a tad after my time. But I'm planning to watch it tonight, and I’m excited because I see the protagonist is played by Richard Joseph Paul, who portrayed the newly recovering alcoholic who falls in love with Carrie Bradshaw way too quickly on "Sex and the City," as well as Evan Handler (Harry Goldenblatt on "Sex and the City") and Andrea Zuckerman (aka Gabrielle Carteris)! People are creaming their pants over an appearance by Ed Marinaro, too!


Mark from NYC said...

Two words: Glynnis O'Connor

Unknown said...

The two others that immediately come to mind are "Hear Me Cry" a suicide pact one starring the guy from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and "Please Don't Hit Me, Mom" with Nancy McKeon, Patty Duke, and Patty Duke's son.

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