As I’ve remarked once or twice, I’m a sucker for a ‘killer virus’ movie or TV series. There’s a few of them around right now – fewer now that Helix has been cancelled – but these things tend to go in cycles. In the early 70s, there were killer viruses all over the place, thanks in part to Michael Crichton’s career-making book The Andromeda Strain. After taking a break in the 80s – the arrival of AIDS made it all seem a bit close to home – the 90s saw a resurgence in interest in viruses, thanks to Richard Preston’s Ebola-centric The Hot Zone, which quickly led to the Dustin Hoffman movie Outbreak in 1995
But my suckerhood for killer viruses means that I also remember the far less influential – and quite obvious cash-in – The Burning Zone. Airing on the UPN network in 1996-97, it saw a team of US investigators travelling the world to fight outbreaks of disease wherever they found them.
At least that was the idea. Trouble was no one was quite sure the best way of making viruses sexy so in a singularly interesting way, The Burning Zone was actually the very model of science itself that practically every week, there was a great big experiment in formats, as the producers – who themselves changed frequently – tried their best to work out what the audience wanted, whether that meant changing the show from science fiction to science fact, firing the stars, changing the settings, or turning villains into heroes.
Play School was a much-loved UK kids TV show that ran between 1964 and 19778. If you were a kid then, you’ll remember Play School and the names of Brian Cant, Floella Benjamin, Derek Griffiths, Stuart McGugan, Carol Leader, Fred Harris, Chloe Ashcroft, Don Spencer et al will be burnt into your memories. You’ll probably also remember 'the windows', as well as the toys: Humpty, Big Ted and Little Ted, Jemima and Hamble.
Play School was cancelled in 1988 to make room for first Playbus and then Playdays. And if you’re a parochial Brit like me, you probably thought that was the end of Play School.
However, since the 1960s, the show had been franchised out and that there were different versions around the world. Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and Israel all made their own versions; Canada’s Polka Dot Door was an adaptation of Play School; and even Sesame Street was modelled on Play School.
Down under, New Zealand ran its own version between 1975 and 1990. Interestingly, the New Zealand version had toys with virtually the same names as the UK version, with the minor difference that Hamble was replaced by the Maori-esque Manu.
Australia, by contrast, never cancelled its version of Play School, which has run continuously since 1966, making it the second longest running children’s TV show in the world. Over that time, it’s changed considerably. Initially very similar to the UK version – indeed, Don Spencer of the UK version also hosted the Australian version and all the toys’ names were the same – it’s altered the content, style, titles, toys and virtually everything else about it. But it’s still Play School. And it’s still running.
The 1970s was a time of great change for the US. It had fought and lost a war in Vietnam; it had seen one of its presidents forced to resign to avoid impeachment; and its decade-long detente with the Soviet Union was perceived in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to have failed and to have been a ‘long con’ by the opposing superpower.
The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 was a turning moment for the US. Backed by the newly emboldened Christian right, Reagan seemed to bring back the US’s self-esteem. Casting the Soviet Union as ‘the evil empire’, he redefined the US as the ‘leader of the free world’, a beacon of liberty and human rights founded on rugged individualism rather than big government, and backed by a technology-enhanced and financially boosted military. On top of that, the arrival of the microchip in the 1970s began to revolutionise technology and, in particular, computers, touching on more or less every industry, from manufacturing all the way through to music, and it was this ‘white heat of technology’ that helped Reagan to cement this philosophy in practice and demonstrate American superiority.
How the entertainment industry reacted to the new official American outlook varied. Movies, still full of an independent spirit but sensing the shift in perspective, began to embrace technology and the new sentiments. TV shows, however, under attack for the perceived effect of violence on children, retreated more into fantasy rather than face up to the new Cold War and American military might straight on.
But there was one TV show that embraced all these trends whole heartedly, becoming perhaps the epitome of the Reaganite philosophy. It was also one of the best US TV shows of the early 1980s.
Created by a former US marine and Christian Republican, with a central, rugged, individualist Vietnam veteran as hero, full of religious symbolism and military technology, and with the oppressors of the Soviet Union and its allies firmly cast as the enemy, Airwolf was coming.
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A UK media blog focusing on the best scripted TV from around the world, with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover Scandinavian, Canadian, European and Antipodean TV, as well as UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
Add in film, theatre, art, books, events, competitions and even weekly reviews of Wonder Woman comics, and you've (hopefully) got officially the fourth best blog on the web for media lovers. Oh yes, and there's The Barrometer, the ultimate guide to quality TV.
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"For most of us watching the telly of an evening is a way to wind down and relax, but for Rob Buckley it’s his blogging bread and butter. With reviews of cult classics and up and coming US and Brit television shows, The Medium is Not Enough is fast becoming essential reading for TV buffs, with over 50,000 hits a month."
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I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.