Of course, if you’ve watched HBO’s recent (and, it has to be said, much better than Beyond Westworld) reboot of Westworld as a high-profile series, you already know that the things you thought were happening concurrently are not happening concurrently; the chronological sequence of events is not what you thought it was going in.
What if TV history was like that, too? What if HBO’s Westworld series had been made in the 1980s? While the mind boggles at the wildly different standards of what levels of language (“this is the new world, and you can do whatever the heck you want!”) and nudity would’ve been permissible, YouTube user MessyPandas can already show you what the opening titles would’ve looked like, complete with a drum-machine-drenched synth-pop rendition of Ramin Djawadi’s pleasant but slightly unnerving theme music…
The authenticity of it is such that you can easily imagine having changed channels during the end credits of Automan to catch Westworld.
In this alternate timeline, I’d imagine that HBO’s Westworld still gets a huge audience, and reruns are still on the schedule when Game Of Thrones debuts in the 1990s…
…which, if it wasn’t on HBO, seems like it’d be in syndication on your local indie station (or maybe your UPN station – you do still have one of those in your timeline, right?), wedged in between Highlander: The Series and Renegade.
Alas, we now deposit you back into reality…but the good news is, you can still rewatch Westworld until the second season lands in 2018.
October brings us many TV delights this year, not least of which is the reinvention of Westworld as a lavish HBO series with a star-studded cast. But what many have forgotten is that this isn’t Westworld’s first visit to the small screen.
In 1973, the movie Westworld made a splash on the big screen, the first feature film both written and directed by Michael Crichton, who had gotten his first behind-the-camera experience on a TV movie in 1972. With MGM offering Crichton considerable creative freedom, he wove the story of Delos, a desert vacation paradise of an unspecified future, reachable only by hovercraft, where customers could shell out a thousand bucks a day to live out their fantasies in one of Delos’ three robot-populated environments: Roman World, Medieval World, and Western World. Naturally, the movie’s two male leads – square-jawed James Brolin and future Quark star Richard Benjamin in an unusual dramatic role – choose to spend time in the lawless old west. All non-vacationers in all of Delos’ fantasylands are robots which can be interacted with, seduced, abused, or even killed; the robots are then taken underground for repairs and redeployed for the next round of paying customers…until they mysteriously begin revolting.
Westworld was a wonderfully self-contained story which didn’t exactly demand a follow-up, and yet it got not one, but two. Languishing in development hell at MGM for years, the movie sequel Futureworld eventually saw the light of day – with a completely different cast and from a completely different studio – in 1976, with its only real connecting tissue being Delos (which now had a fourth attraction, Future World) and an utterly bizarre cameo appearance by Yul Brynner’s robot gunslinger. Despite starring Peter Fonda, Futureworld was a slow-paced movie about the makers of Delos’ robots “cloning” existing humans and replacing them.
And insult wasn’t done being added to injury: MGM decided to adapt Westworld into a television series, and successfully pitched it at CBS as a mid-season replacement to air in the spring 1980 TV season. The plot involved characters never before mentioned in the Westworld movies: Delos’ security chief, John Moore (Jim McMullan), is called into action…
when it is discovered that Quaid, the unhinged reclusive genius who created the Westworld robots, intends to use those robots to take over the world.
The series visited Westworld just once, in its pilot episode, and then proceeded to live up to the “Beyond Westworld” name by never going back there again. (The TV series also turns Delos into a powerful but secretive corporation with nearly-infinite government security clearance; the movie Delos, the vacation paradise, is mentioned no further. Guess they diversified.)
The trouble with Beyond Westworld, recently released on manufacture-on-demand DVD from the MGM vaults, is that it tried to trade on the name and concept and reputation of a movie that was nearly seven years in the past, and managed to fluff even that task. The series’ leads are wooden – the only standout is a pre-Greatest-American-Hero Connie Sellecca, added to the cast after the pilot – and the plots make little sense. In the pilot, Quaid’s plan for world domination is to have a robot infiltrate a Navy nuclear submarine to gain control of its nuclear missiles. Within a couple of weeks, Quaid’s using his robots to con oil tycoons and try to win the Daytona 500…a strange way to go about holding the world hostage to his every whim.
The show’s male lead is frequently so lifeless that you can instantly tell which guest actor is playing a robot, because that’s the one showing personality in the scene. There are a handful of interesting guest starring roles – Cassandra Petersen before she was Elvira, a glum-looking, post-Gilligan’s-Island Russell Johnson, Rene Auberjonois (before Benson) as a long-haired rock star, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it George Takei cameo.
No amount of star power could put Beyond Westworld beyond the reach of cancellation, however: after airing the pilot and two hour-long episodes, CBS pulled the plug on Delos’ robots, and even Quaid couldn’t stop them. And thus ended any attempt to bring Westworld to TV – until now. The TV series simply couldn’t distinguish itself from other superhero/action fare on network TV; other CBS shows such as The Incredible Hulk were superior offerings, and spot-the-robot stories had been done better by The Bionic Woman’s numerous run-ins with fembots. Two episodes remained unaired, so the DVD features a total of five hour-long episodes.
Come to think of it, even Crichton’s original formulation of the story raised questions it seemed unprepared to answer. Did the robots rise up and claim independence from their human masters, or were they hit by a computer virus? What did the Delos vacationers’ treatment of their robot servants/playthings say about society? Even the movie that started it all skipped around these big questions…or intended to leave them lingering, unanswered, in the audience’s mind.
HBO’s reboot of the property has an opportunity to explore these issues in more depth, along with issues that didn’t even exist at the time that Crichton’s original was first threaded through a movie projector.
And if nothing else, 1980’s Beyond Westworld is a pretty good blueprint of what the new show should avoid doing: endless find-the-robot-among-the-guest-stars plots with no bearing whatsoever on the visit-the-old-west premise that originally intrigued the audience.
Earl Green has been the head writer and podcast host at the Log Book.Com since 1989, when the Earth’s crust was still cooling and dinosaurs could be heard plaintively baying for the blood of small mammals in the distant background of the pre-internet age. He has worked in his fair share of TV newsrooms (for real), and has since gone on to write two gigantic Doctor Who guidebooks, VWORP!1 and VWORP!2, and a more recent book about being geeky and daddy at the same time, Fatherhood, Fandom, and Fading Out. He’s also written for The Retroist, All Game Guide, and Classic Gamer Magazine, and hosts three podcasts: theLogBook.com’s Escape Pod (a daily dose of geeky history), Select Game (covering the Odyssey2 video game system), and In The Grand Theme Of Things (grouping movie, TV and game soundtracks together by topic). He is writing this bio from underneath a pile of cats. Please. Send help.
Welcome back friends to the Saturday Frights Podcast! Each podcast my co-host, the Projectionist and I will discuss a particular horror movie or horror themed TV episode from the Retroist Vault. This week we discuss our friends from Scream Factory’s upcoming Blu-Ray release for 1995’s Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight. Also on the show my co-host worries about my level of attachment to actor Billy Zane and of course he has provided you with some vintage Drive-In ads!
The NEW ending music for the show is entitled “Twisted Toys” which of course is quite suitable for working with the Projectionist and was provided by Tony Longworth, you can visit his site by clicking that link provided or hopping over to his Soundcloud Page!
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My parents often let the VCR record past the end of a movie or television show. I think everyone’s parents did . Heck, I’m guilty of it, and I’ve passed the bad habit on to how I set my DVR to record. Because let’s face it, you just never know what is going to show up at the end of a recording. And since this is a nostalgia website, there is always the distinct possibility that a gem is always hiding at the end of a program/movie that we recorded onto those big plastic boxes that hold so much film.
In 2007, I was home by myself on a regular day off from my job at a golf course – my brother and both of my parents were working, and it was raining, so there wasn’t much else to do. And I had (at the time) a one-year-old DVD recorder that was so much fun to use. So I figured, why not put it to work for me, and go through the videos in my parents’ VHS collection?
The result was so many gems of recordings…well, ok, gems to me. People see commercials and things they like to skip. I see memories. Lots and lots of memories.
One such tape my parents had in their collection was Bill Cosby: Himself (I know, that sounds a little timely, given the circumstances surrounding The Cos these days), and it was a recording they had made off of HBO in 1986. And since they were, well, my parents, they let the tape run about 90 seconds beyond the end of the comedy special.
And there were a magical ninety seconds.
Take my hand, and allow me to show you.
Coming up next on HBO…
Comic Relief! Well, actually, it was a highlights reel of the first Comic Relief event, which aired on HBO on March 29, 1986. The once-yearly special boasted an impressive trio of hosts (Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams), and a lineup of headlining comedians, all to do one thing and one thing only – help the homeless. You knew it was a simpler time (in our perspective) when homelessness was the hot-button issue of the day. And this was during the Cold War.
But still, the best of Comic Relief, and my parents only taped this as proof of its very existence. What were they thinking?!
And this “Coming Up Next…” Segues itself into…
Oh, wow. Does anyone else remember this show? Not Necessarily the News was initially a comedy special that aired on HBO in September 1982, was seen as a concept, and became a series that ran from August 1983 until August 1990. It featured sketches, parody news items, commercial parodies, and humor via overdubbing or editing actual news footage. Think Saturday Night Live, but uncensored.
Oh, and Sniglets. The unexplained kind. Of the Universe.
This commercial is not promoting a specific episode, but the actual premiere of the upcoming season.
And that’s fine with me, the footage alone is nostalgic.
And we go from “news” to sports with…
HBO World Champion Boxing, and the Spinks versus Holmes rematch that was set to air on April 19, 1986. It was one fight in a series of fights being dubbed…
But don’t take our word for it, let The Man With the Hair (aka Don King) tell you all about it!
Seven games, seven fights, just like the World Series. Except without baseball bats. Oh, and it’s all about fighting.
Oh, and Holmes lost the fight. Sorry.
And then we get an actual commercial for HBO that’s not promoting a movie, comedy special, or series. Just a regular commercial. In it, a guy is holding a party in his apartment, and is talking with the woman who was responsible for calling the cops on his last party…all because she couldn’t hear the movie she was watching on HBO. So she informed him that she no longer has this problem, ever since she bought…A VCR! Now she can start watching a movie (and tape it), and then she can finish it after she calls the cops.
HBO reminds viewers that if social commitments cause you to miss HBO programming, then to put them on your schedule.
And really, are we keeping these people anonymous by not showing their faces? I feel like Nanny from the Muppet Babies wrote this commercial!
And finally, right before my parents realized they were still taping…
“Henry Winkler for Comic Relief.”
He has a book in his hands, but the tape had other plans…it cut off.
And there you have it, the gems of parents leaving the VCR running.
But don’t take my carefully crafted words for it, just watch.
And there you have it, the best part about taping something off of television. Here’s to the parents before us who forgot to turn off the VCR.
And to items like this for keeping those memories alive…until it decides not to do the one and only job it was given.
Allison’s Old DVD Recorder – Panasonic DMR-ES15 (2006-2014, when I finally junked it)
Allison loves nostalgia. You love nostalgia. It’s win-win, really. Come visit her at her blog, Allison’s Written Words to see what she has to say, both of the nostalgic sense, and the not-so-nostalgic sense.
She loved that DVD Recorder. She feels sad for two reasons – the DVD Recorder’s painful ending…and the fact that it can be seen in pictures.
He denies none of this. And even freely admits to Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but questions my use of the words “over and over” on the others. (Yes, I fact-checked this list with my brother.)
For years, my brother and I shared a room; as did my sisters, but this is not about them. In the years before that, our humbler, younger selves even shared a bed—that poor kid. He’s fine; he’s got a freaking PhD. Don’t worry about him.
Living with a younger brother was fine and fun enough—even if he was “the baby.” We certainly heard enough of THAT when we were kids. I do give him credit for actually getting out alive. Youngest of four! The poor kid.
Of the many memories I have of my lil’ bro, I recall often his tendency to watch and re-watch a movie ad nauseam. We’re talking the VHS tapes (from whenever he recorded them on HBO) would start warping. Stopping only when he found another movie to watch on loop like he was studying it for a dissertation. (His dissertation for his PhD, by the way, made no mention of these cinematic gems.)
In any case, his proclivity for films were not the typical masterpieces you’d find on any “Greatest Works on Celluloid” lists. I’d be surprised if you find a version of some of them that’s not still on VHS. (I’d almost pay for a laserdisc of any of them. No. No I won’t.)
• Girls Just Want to Have Fun—The Sarah Jessica Parker-Helen Hunt romp featuring the titular Cyndi Lauper hit. (If I heard the “Dancing in Heaven” lyric “Slow. Slow. Quick-quick slow.” again, I could very well die.)
• Fast Forward—Continuing the dance theme, a group of dancers who try to “make it” in New York. (Lyric worm: “Forward! Forward! Moving fast-forward!”)
• The Legend of Billie Jean—Okay, I’ll admit, this was a pretty badass movie. Helen and Christian Slater (who are not brother and sister play brother and sister) while Pat Benatar rocks on the theme song “Invincible.”
• My Chauffeur—I am fairly certain NO ONE knows this movie about a young woman who (dare I say it?) becomes a limo driver. (::Gasp::)
• Mannequin—“Roxie, you look foxy!” You know this Andrew McCarthy-Kim Cattrall crazily-plotted comedy also featuring Meshach Taylor as “Hollywood!”
• Who’s That Girl—Madonna. Madonna is that girl. “What’s your husband’s name? Louden. And his last name? Clear.”
• Can’t Buy Me Love—Patrick Dempsey in that old nerd-pays-popular girl-to-act-like-his-girlfriend shtick you know too well.
• Teen Witch (*brother himself offered up this entry—which I can’t believe I forgot)—“Top That!” I think I’ve said it all.
• Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead—I certainly did not mind him watching this Christina Applegate movie?&emdash;?“The dishes are done, man.”
• The Cutting Edge—The hockey player-turned-ice skater movie with D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly (she’s also in another fave of his: With Honors).
• Buffy the Vampire Slayer—Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry starred in the movie that would later spawn the TV series. Paul Reubens’ death scene always got me.
• Hackers—By this point, I was already out of the house most of the time, but I do recall this Angelina Jolie-Jonny Lee Miller flick. As you should.
Freeze frame: My “little” brother went on to grow into quite a man whom I’m proud to share a name with and occasional meal. If these above had any lasting effect on making him who he is today, so be it. We all have our Weird Sciences. And… I may have mentioned his PhD, right? Okay.