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ABC Afterschool Specials
June 9, 2011 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Anyone who grew up in the pre-Internet age is bound to remember the 4 p.m. showings of After School Specials on ABC. The melodramatic teen cautionary tales always contained an awesomely literal title—"She Drinks a Little" (alcoholic mom), "My Other Mother" (foster parents), and "Schoolboy Father" (teen pregnancy)—and a Life Lesson by the 44-minute mark.

... there are ample theories about why After School Specials didn't last. Some surmise that Oprah Winfrey's success changed the afternoon TV landscape; she was always crying, anyway, and her real-life stories had more dramatic fizz. Some figure the amoral culture of ''Beverly Hills, 90210" -- where actions lacked real consequences and everything was pretty -- ended the teenage capacity to take serious lessons to heart.
posted by Trurl (76 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The 90210 theory would imply that teens took that show seriously. If you believe they did, I've got some great beachfront property I can sell you on Mercury, cheap.
posted by oddman at 11:03 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't realize there was need of a special theory. Isn't it enough that Afterschool Specials completely sucked? I would literally rather work on my homework than watch those stupid things.
posted by DU at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


Oh man, I definitely need to find a torrent of Stoned starring Scott Baio. They showed it in my middle school Health Ed class and I had tears streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard. Not sure why the teacher didn't kick me out, maybe she thought I was the one in the class who most needed to watch it.
posted by naju at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Helen Hunt's PCP episode was nothing short of complete awesomeness.
posted by NoMich at 11:06 AM on June 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Helen Hunt's PCP episode was nothing short of complete awesomeness.

Still a YouTube party staple around here.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2011


I'd submit that 90210 gave kids the human trainwreck that drew us to Afterschool Specials in the first place, but without the tedious moralizing. Remember that Capt. Crunch Crunchberries cereal spinoff that was all crunchberries? 90210.
posted by Pants McCracky at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


didn't need to watch that show, was living it.
posted by stbalbach at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


After School Specials were usually so over-the-top serious they were worth watching for a good laugh, but I still remembered being absolutely floored hearing (for the first time) TSOL's "Flowers By the Door" on an After School Special about teen suicide. That afternoon I went to the record store to buy the album and the clerk told me that someone else just came in looking for the same record.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


The Day My Kid Went Punk
posted by entropicamericana at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Helen Hunt's PCP episode was nothing short of complete awesomeness.

"I'm invincible!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:17 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The very special episode of Different Strokes about the pedophile was actually pretty upsetting to me as a kid although I don't know if it had any practical impact. It seemed self-evident not to agree to naked photographs with people I hardly know.
posted by GuyZero at 11:17 AM on June 9, 2011


As I recall, this one was was all kinds of awesome.
posted by Mittenz at 11:17 AM on June 9, 2011




Ok I can't get my link to work - but it was to the imdb page for this one: The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip
posted by Mittenz at 11:19 AM on June 9, 2011


The specials were bad enough, but it was even worse that they always preempted Little House on the Prairie for it. Cutting into my time with Karen Grassle? NO.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I definitely need to find a torrent of Stoned starring Scott Baio.

Yes! Stoned! When he hit his brother with the oar! I thank that's the moment I decided I wanted to try smoking pot.

Boating while high is the best thing ever. Thanks, ABC!
posted by bondcliff at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Some figure the amoral culture of ''Beverly Hills, 90210" -- where actions lacked real consequences and everything was pretty -- ended the teenage capacity to take serious lessons to heart.

Huh? Old-school 90210 wasn't Skins, for Christ's sake...it was just as corny and preachy as any afterschool special, and existed in a moral universe only slightly more complex than Saved By The Bell.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, in the area I lived in (Los Angeles) while going to school, the After School Specials started at 3pm. And school let out at 3pm. How could anyone have a chance to watch them? (I still remember being annoyed by that). That would be a good reason why they didn't last.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip

That one was the inspiration for the post, as it happens - for I too remember it as awesome. Not watching it again seems like the safest method of keeping things that way.

However, I do hanker for a hunk of cheese.
posted by Trurl at 11:23 AM on June 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


The specials were bad enough, but it was even worse that they always preempted Little House on the Prairie for it. Cutting into my time with Karen Grassle?

Seriously. I can't remember ever watching one of these on purpose. I thought they were cheesy then.

And, by the time I overcame my Little House addiction we had cable (my dad, the couch potato extraordinaire, was an early adopter), so from about 1983 on ALL I watched after school was MTV.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, "I could eat a wagon wheel" sold sooo many Ritz crackers at my house. Still, I was always cheesed off when "Time for Timer" (is that what he says there? ...why?) came on instead of Schoolhouse Rock.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2011


I would prefer a slab, a slice, or chunk-a
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Cheesed off. I didn't even mean to make that pun.

I need some cheese. And Ritz crackers.
posted by DU at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2011


Tonight, on a very special episode of Clone High...

Gandhi has ADD!
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


They shot part of one of these in my basement because we had a pool table. Pretty fun day!

Also there is a fun song about this.
posted by mikepop at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2011


is that what he says there? ...why
---
The animated spots featured Timer, a tiny (often ranging on microscopic) cartoon character who represented the sense of "time" in the human body. Timer was in charge of when a person felt it was time to eat, time to sleep, etc. He carried a large pocket watch inside of him, which would often set off an alarm whenever something was about to happen.

Usually wearing a bow tie and top hat, Timer looked somewhat like a little yellow blob with long arms and legs, and a face. Timer also had limited magical powers, such as instant transportation, which he often used to exit his host body from time to time if things got too exhausting. A wise-cracker as well as a song-and-dance man, Timer promoted healthy eating and personal hygiene for children, using clever songs and animation.
posted by Trurl at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why aren't these on DVD? They have all kinds of appeal...
posted by CarlRossi at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2011


Why aren't these on DVD?

They were.

Also, more "Time for Timer" here.
posted by Trurl at 11:34 AM on June 9, 2011


Strangers With Candy
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:35 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


How come it sounds like there were several Time for Timer cartoons but I only ever remember the cheese ones?
posted by bondcliff at 11:35 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip


I remember watching part of this recently and thinking "Wow, not only is Time for Timer kind of a gross little .. fat...blob... on weird skinny legs, he's kind of a jerk as well."


I have a love/hate thing with Time for Timer. Well, more of a love/ gross-out thing.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:37 AM on June 9, 2011


How come it sounds like there were several Time for Timer cartoons but I only ever remember the cheese ones?

Okay, you're a banana!
posted by usonian at 11:40 AM on June 9, 2011


My last band did a song about 'Stoned' with Scott Baio. I'll post it when I get home tonight.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2011


Meh, you 90210 people

The Death of Richie
.

I was this kid, at the exact same time. Except I didnt have the cool little stoner room in my closet.
posted by timsteil at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2011


The thing that I love most about Strangers With Candy is that it doesn't just parody the Afterschool Special tropes, it really captures the weird aggressively unrealistic vibe that those shows had. It's an odd feeling being a kid and watching something clearly targeted at you about issues that could theoretically affect you, but are so far off from anything resembling reality that they seem like they were written by martians.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


Which is your 19th favorite after school special?
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:56 AM on June 9, 2011


I never realized his name was "Timer" (WTH?) or that he came from a show. He was just this weird thing on TV that told me to eat cheese (usually) or "healthy snacks" (once in a while).

They shot part of one of these in my basement because we had a pool table. Pretty fun day!

There was only one basement pool table on Earth in the 70s.
posted by DU at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I met a girl who hosted my school group once whose claim to fame was that she'd been a major character in one of those. I never did figure out which one. (Her name was Summer. I do not remember her last name.)
posted by wending my way at 12:08 PM on June 9, 2011


There was only one basement pool table on Earth in the 70s.

Doubtful, but we were the one the location scout came across and liked I guess. The special in question was High School Narc.
posted by mikepop at 12:12 PM on June 9, 2011


Ah ha ha serious nostalgia flashbacks on the Timer guy (yeah was that supposed to be his name or something?)
It's all flooding back now . . .
"Exercise those choppers!"
"Reading is a Trip!"
posted by chaff at 12:19 PM on June 9, 2011


Some of us are old enough that we were too old for such shows.
posted by mareli at 12:21 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


More and more I realize that life is an afterschool special
posted by pianomover at 12:21 PM on June 9, 2011


My favorite was the Health Class staple, Benny and The 'Roids. No luck finding a video.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will always love Roseanne for the scene in which Sara Gilbert's character was offered a joint, and she groaned, "Oh maaaan, I feel like I'm in a really baaaad After School Special."
posted by orange swan at 12:31 PM on June 9, 2011


The special in question was High School Narc.

From the article:

Published: December 4, 1985
...
But, in fact, Andy's game is deception and his goal is entrapment, neither of which is yet considered entirely acceptable in the American way of doing things.


Oh you sweet innocent 80s! Don't worry ABC! It will be acceptable soon.
posted by formless at 12:39 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and a link to the CHiPS episode Cops vs Punks:

CHiPs Battle Of The Bands. Cops vs Punks Part 1 of 4
posted by formless at 12:42 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: the legendary punk rock episode of Quincy.
posted by Trurl at 12:45 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel weird saying it this way, but my favorite that the forced on us in high school was the one where Zach from Saved By The Bell raped the older daughter from Full House. Obviously not because of the raping but because holy shit you guys like, know how famous these two actors are right? As if they didn't realize that the unofficial title of the special was going to be, ah, "the one where Zach from Saved By The Bell raped the older daughter from Full House."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:53 PM on June 9, 2011


I remember one of these was a cautionary tale about a high school boy who got a girl pregnant, with the result that he had to work at an ice cream shop. I was somewhat younger than the target audience, and at the time I recall thinking, I wish this podunk small town even had an ice cream shop, and if it did I'd love to work there...because, ya know, ice cream. Also, I figured I could feed the kid endless amounts of ice cream. Made sense at the time.
posted by aerotive at 12:56 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think "My Dad Lives in a Downtown Hotel" is the best name of all.
posted by fyrebelley at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine why these weren't a big hit that didn't last. Surely the total fake-y unrealism of them all wasn't noticeable in the slightest!

Also, give teens some credit for not being as dumb as you think. And they'd see through this shit even in the 80's.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:26 PM on June 9, 2011


I can't find any evidence on the internet that it existed, but I have very clear memories of a Jaleel White-featuring afterschool special called "Don't Dis My Heart".

I remember it in particular because they had a brief introduction where they explained what "dis" meant. I love the idea of an exec pushing that one down the line.
posted by frankdrebin at 1:27 PM on June 9, 2011



However, I do hanker for a hunk of cheese


I don't know how many times I saw that back in the day, but I knew every word and every note of the melody, and if I closed my eyes, I knew exactly what was going in onscreen. And that despite not seeing it since the Carter Administration.

Conversely I have friends I have not seen in five years whose faces are blurred and fuzzy in my memory...
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:32 PM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think "My Dad Lives in a Downtown Hotel" is the best name of all.
posted by fyrebelley at 1:22 PM on June 9 [+] [!]


I beg to differ. That goes to "Daddy, I'm Their Mama Now".
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:38 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I now want to stitch together a pastiche of every single OH NO PUNKS scene from the 80s.
posted by cortex at 1:38 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Timer taught me how to make popsicles out of juice, plastic wrap, and toothpicks. He told me to use orange juice or pomegranate juice "or whatever turns you on." I didn't quite understand the slang at age 6.

The only afterschool special I remember seeing was "Have You Tried Talking to Patty?" It was about a deaf girl who wanted to fit in, so she poofed her hair up, 80s-style, and started running with the bad-girl crowd. I forget what made her stop.

Oh, and they showed us the bulimia one in class. Some of the girls got awfully upset at me when I laughed.
posted by cereselle at 1:41 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


To this day I can't stand gravy, have never liked catsup, and didn't try mayo until I was twenties. I believe this was due to Louis the Lifeguard telling me not to drown my food.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:13 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe what killed these specials is that when they used current teen stars, who were actually trying to act rather than smirk through a sitcom episode, the kids watching started to realize that, for example, Scott Baio was still cute but now seemed more than a little bit stupid and not talented at all.

Total fantasy-killer.
posted by emjaybee at 2:15 PM on June 9, 2011


I remember getting really wasted watching Not My Kid in college but I don't think that we were the intended audience. Wikipedia says it was broadcast on CBS so I guess that it wasn't actually an afterschool special but same genre.
posted by octothorpe at 3:08 PM on June 9, 2011


The Wave, which originally aired in 1981 and was based on an actual social experiment, was remade into a feature film this year; for the sake of timeliness, and possibly to shake off the After School Special vibe, everything in the retread seems to have been amped up a notch, causing the many critics to turn it down.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:41 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, poor edit: The "Third Wave" was the social experiment behind the small and big-screen adaptations.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:45 PM on June 9, 2011


This could've been a thread of its own: The Wave remake was produced in 2008, but was released this year in the States; a documentary, Lesson Plan, was released last year, featuring interviews with the actual teacher and students who inspired the dramatizations.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:53 PM on June 9, 2011


This is as good a place as any to ask this question:

There was an Afterschool Special-ish movie about a girl who wanted to appear in a production of Oliver, but was turned away because she was a girl. She auditioned disguised as a boy and got a leading role, only to reveal her true gender...at some later point (possibly during a performance?). Is this ringing any bells? I vividly remember parts of it, and have always been curious about the whole episode.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:03 PM on June 9, 2011


I just watched the CHiPs episode. Holy shit, the end.

Fuck.
posted by Put the kettle on at 6:56 PM on June 9, 2011


I remember that one very clearly, pxe2000. The main character was blond and had a name that could be shortened to a boy's name - something like Christine/Chris. At the end, just before opening night, when they found out she was a girl they changed her name on the marquee. And she had a best friend who was black and who was aiding and abetting her by cutting her hair and bringing her changes of clothing and the like. Only I think it wasn't an Afterschool Special, it was a Weekend Special.
posted by orange swan at 7:28 PM on June 9, 2011


pxe2000 and orange swan, that wasn't actually an Afterschool Special -- though they may have aired it in that slot, I suppose -- but an ABC Weekend Special -- which aired where I grew up on Saturday right after the ABC cartoons.

It was called "A Different Twist" and I'm only able to look it up because I remembered it starred Alison Smith, who was Jane Curtain's daughter on Kate and Allie (she was probably best known as the longest running lead in Annie on Broadway); I remember "A Different Twist" mostly because of the Kate and Allie connection but also because the boy she was crushing on was the always dreamy Brian Bloom.

Fun fact that I never realized until just now: Alison Smith also played Mallory, Leo McGarry's elementary school teaching daughter on The West Wing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:53 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


sorry to ignore what you wrote about it being a Weekend Special, orange swan. I guess I was just so excited to be able to answer a pop culture question before anyone else, I couldn't read the whole thing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:06 PM on June 9, 2011


"After School Specials" is the first chapter in "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?" the new book co-authored by MeFire GaelFC (MetaTalk thread here), and I MUST quote it:
"As preachy as Sunday school and as subtle as Gallagher, After School Specials tackled the juicy social issues, from divorce to date rape, that public schools in the '70s and '80s couldn't talk about.* Watching these shows was like peeking at those books the people you babysat for kept hidden high on a bedroom shelf. But because they were dubbed "educational," you could watch completely guilt-free.

Hilariously, the scripts could have been written by a nun who didn't get out much. Every social issue was treated with the same amount of gravitas, be it shoplifting or satanism.
*are we any better off now, with the 'Social Conservatives' shouting down all but the most judgmental (and bigoted) arguments in public school?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:10 PM on June 9, 2011


The after school specials were great, but the PSA's are what's really stuck with me. One of the best was "I learned it from watching you, dad!", but the one that sticks with me is the one at the house party where the kid sees a girl across the room, and is all excited to talk to her, and right before he gets within talking distance, she takes a drag from her (hidden until now) cigarette. Our hero turns away, disappointed, saying "She's cute, but she smokes."

To this day, smoking is a pretty solid turnoff for me, to the point that I'll see an attractive woman, but then lose interest when I see her smoking. My friends mock me for this, as they can see (say, at the beach) the moment where I lose interest, and I hear choruses of "but she smokes" in sad, dejected teenager voices from all of my friends.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:50 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lifetime Original Movies are a great substitute for ABC's Afterschool specials. Cyberseduction: His secret life is probably my current favorite.
posted by the_artificer at 10:29 PM on June 9, 2011


The one that always stuck with me was The Horrible Honchos where the kids scam old people for spare change & fuck with the new kid in town by covering his front door with worms (he's hella worm-phobic).

But in the end, after I think newjack saves someone from drowning and all is happy in ABCburbia, the youngster who's been the hanger-on all along says "Hey, do I get to be a Horrible Honcho now?"

And Kim "I Was In Everything In The 70s" Richards turns to him and says "No. We're not gonna be Horroble Honchos anymore. We're all gonna be friends".

Stoned made me think "Why is that guy keeping his stash box on the underside of his skateboard? He doesn't even have to be doing tricks, just hit a curb between @ the wrong angle, and all his shit is wrecked. This guy was an idiot before he lit up."

As far as Timer, I have this memory of the boy on the Mystery Trip getting swept away by some bowel gas or something, and the 3-piece band telling Timer and the girl what happened to their partner. I think I also remember him urging a fat kid to get up from the TV, go skateboard and bike play basketball and lose weight in one of his "Time For" segments.

And what the fuck was Timer anyway? I always thought of him as some kind of spleen with a stopwatch who jacked up Mr. Peanut for his gear.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:10 AM on June 10, 2011


My Mom's Having A Baby
posted by vitabellosi at 6:33 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"She's cute, but she smokes."

I remember a commercial with Brooke Shields talking about some hot guy she was talking to at a party but then he lit up a cigarette and it blew her whole image of him.

If you smoke, kids, Brooke won't have sex with you.
posted by bondcliff at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2011


I think the only one of these I actually saw in its entirety was a "CBS Schoolbreak Special" called Abby, My Love about sexual abuse. I remember Anthony Heald being even slimier than he was as Dr. Chilton in Silence of the Lambs.

I'll be damned if I can remember why I watched it.
posted by usonian at 10:12 AM on June 10, 2011


Not an Afterschool Special, but in that same vein, I present to you: Brotherhood of Justice. (Keanu Reeves! Kiefer Sutherland! Billy Zane!)
posted by epersonae at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2011


Wow. I sometimes say, "Time for Timer!" as an enthusiastic way to say, "Time to go!" or "Time to eat!" or whatever. I have never had any idea why this phrase pops into my head and out of my mouth. Until I watched that cartoon again.
posted by not that girl at 6:41 PM on June 10, 2011


"You can do it Duffy Moon...You can do it!"
posted by republican at 8:54 AM on June 11, 2011


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