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Classic Television of 1978-79

April 8, 2019

A lot of enduring television classics first aired 40 years ago, in the 1978-79 TV season. Here are some weird stories about them.

Fantasy Island

It’s a 1970s trivia overload! The plane that brought guests to the show’s Fantasy Island—the one that made Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) shout “de plane!”—was previously owned by Jonathan Livingston Seagull author Richard Bach.

Mork & Mindy

TV shows shot in front of a live studio audience use three cameras, and a director in a booth chooses which feed to capture. Well, there were three until Mork & Mindy came along. Star Robin Williams improvised so much funny material that the show had to employ a fourth camera that was trained on Williams, just to make sure nothing he did was overlooked.

WKRP in Cincinnati

The closing credits of the show about a rock n’ roll radio station feature a rock song with lyrics that are very hard to make out. That’s because they’re nonsense. Composer Tom Wells recorded the garbled vocals as a placeholder until he could write and lay down some lyrics, but the producers liked the test track the way it was and used it.

The New Tic Tac Dough

This Wink Martindale-hosted revival of an old 1960s TV game show at one point held the record for the most money ever awarded to a contestant on an American game show. A man named Thom McKee won $312,700 worth of cash and prizes, including eight cars.

The White Shadow

Reruns of this comedy-drama about a high school basketball coach (Ken Howard) and his team were phenomenally successful when they aired in Turkey. The enduring popularity of the show has been credited for basketball emerging as a major sport in the country.

Taxi

Jeff Conaway was part of the ensemble of this sitcom as Bobby Wheeler, a wannabe actor who pays the bills by driving a cab. Conaway left the show to pursue a movie career that never materialized, but he was actually fired. One day he passed out on the set (he was a known drug user) and missed a rehearsal. The writers took Bobby out of the episode entirely, assigning his lines to other cast members. Realizing that the show worked just fine without Bobby, producers fired Conaway.

Battlestar Galactica

Rushed to television to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars, this TV sci-fi show didn’t have a huge budget, reflected in how the show put robots on the screen. The pet dog-like robot Muffit Two was portrayed by a trained chimpanzee inside a costume. The villainous Cylons were scary, imposing robots, all over six feet tall, and played by costumed ex-basketball players.

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