Search

The superspy Search engine of the ’70s

It’s 1972. Missions to the moon are still being launched. A space station is about to go into orbit. Live television broadcasts and telephone communications via satellite are becoming commonplace, as are computers capable of handling and sorting immense amounts of information. In this context, the idea of one man, an Aston Martin, and a martini (shaken, but not stirred) standing between the free nations of the world and domination by evildoers seems quaint.
Search

At least that’s the idea in NBC’s Search, a short-lived “spy-fi” series dreamed up by Leslie Stevens, the producer who had brought us The Outer Limits in its original 1960s incarnation. Search involves the top-secret World Security Corporation, evidently a commercial entity with connections in all the right (high) places. Deep inside World Security’s office building lies PROBE Control, a kind of “mission control” guiding the activities of an elite handful of special agents around the globe.

[Via] Warner Archive

Sitting in the big chair at the center of PROBE Control is V.C.R. Cameron (the simply amazing Burgess Meredith), a veteran at the spy game who now turns his expertise toward guiding younger agents in the field. Surrounding “Cam” is a circle of specialists in data retrieval and analysis who, together with PROBE’s amazing computer power, can piece together information on the fly to help agents in the field.
Search - Burgess Meredith

Those agents are themselves called Probes. Each agent has been fitted with an implant that allows them to hear and speak to PROBE Control via satellite, and each agent has a tiny camera, worn either as a pendant or as a ring, allowing PROBE Control to see what they say, analyze things or even people at the spectroscopic level, and monitors and records the agent’s vital signs.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s more than one agent, and an acknowledgement that each Probe needs time off to recover from each taxing adventure. One of three agents leads the charge in each episode: Hugh O’Brian as Lockwood, a.k.a. “Probe One”, the best and brightest of the agents; Anthony Franciosa as Nick Bianco, a.k.a. “Omega Probe”, a former cop with deep knowledge of the criminal underworld; and Doug McClure as the carefree C.R. Grover, the Backup Probe, who gets the assignments no one else wants – or inherits hazardous assignments from Probes who die in the line of duty. (On a purely logistical level, this arrangement would allow for multiple filming crews to be filming multiple scripts at multiple locations, and future-proofs the show against such real-world incidents as a star being hurt…or demanding a larger salary.)


The action starts with the pilot movie PROBE, which aired early in 1972, starring Hugh O’Brian and no less a guest star than Sir John Gielgud. Introducing the show’s jetsetting international scope, flashy stunt work, and the seemingly vast PROBE Control set, the movie can’t have been cheap, but it sets up the concept and some of the characters – and hooked enough viewers to get a go-ahead as a series.

There’s just one problem: PBS was airing a documentary/news series called Probe at the same time, and the producers were asked to change the name of the series when it returned in the fall, hence its rebirth as Search. O’Brian and Burgess Meredith were still aboard, along with many of the same actors who played the PROBE Control computer operators, but O’Brian began rotating episodes more or less evenly with Franciosa and McClure, and the settings changed drastically from week to week.

Search is fun in that early ’70s gotta-have-a-car-chase-if-it’s-on-TV kind of way. Each of the leading men have their own quirks and charms (though Franciosa, as Nick Bianco, emerges as an early favorite just for his character’s Rat-Pack-worthy swagger), and Burgess Meredith anchors each episode, providing his trademark good-natured crankiness.

And that awesome spy tech? The funny thing is, in this world of the internet and cell phones (and, yes, cell phones that can get on the internet), Search’s technology is just now landing this side of the “plausible” line. In 1972, the technology depicted, and its abilities, were pure science fiction, an attempt to transplant the NASA technology that everybody had seen get men to the moon into a spy thriller setting.

After decades of obscurity and being forgotten, Search is back, with the full series available on DVD. PROBE is available on its own disc. It may not be worthy of binge watching as we now know it, but it’s fun to watch an episode now and again. And how did Search fans enjoy the show after it played on their local NBC stations? Believe it or not…there was an official set of Search ViewMaster reels…because nothing is more fun for kids than reliving Hugh O’Brian stoically putting down a terrorist plot!

As cool as that is, however, Search – and its whistle-able theme song and neat spy tech – signed off after a single season. Over the course of its months on the air, the expense of mounting weekly international spy capers (even if “international” meant “Hollywood backlot”) was evidently getting to be a bit much, as PROBE Control shrinks noticeably as the show wears on.

Had the show stayed on for a second year, it would seem like getting the three leading men together, either for a one-off mission to save the world, or as part of an all-hands PROBE effort to stop some global scheme, would’ve been a no-brainer for a sweeps month – kind of like doing Doctor Who’s celebrated Five Doctors episode in year two instead of year 20.

Is this one of those underground classics that needs a modern reboot? Should the Search continue? Seek out the original and judge for yourself.

Working Stiffs

Do You Recall 1979’s Working Stiffs Starring Michael Keaton?!

Well, to be completely honest, Working Stiffs didn’t just star Michael Keaton. No, this CBS comedy series also co-starred Jim Belushi.
Working Stiffs

The two portrayed Mike and Ernie O’Rourke – two men who have yet to find their true purpose in life. So naturally they do what they can to make ends meet, becoming your typical Working Stiffs of course.

For the O’Rourke brothers it turns out they do have some aces up their sleeves. For one thing – the apartment where the two can hang their hat is situated above a cafe. In addition Mike and Ernie are able to become friends with the owner of the eatery, Mitch Hannigan as well as the cafe’s waitress, Nikki Evashevsky.

Hannigan by the way is played by M.A.S.H.‘s Allan Arbus with Nikki portrayed by Lorna Patterson. I bet some of you might recognize Patterson from her starring role in the early 80’s TV version of Private Benjamin.

[Via] Jamie Gee

The other bit of good fortune for our Working Stiffs is they are able to secure employment with a relative. Their rich Uncle Harry who owns the building reluctantly agrees to put them on the payroll. However not as the businessman as the duo hope but as janitors in fact.

While I can certainly say in all honesty that I hadn’t seen Working Stiffs before today. I have to say that the short video below – from the pilot episode showed a lot of promise.

[Via] Greg Stanina

When Working Stiffs debuted on CBS back in 1979 it rather unwisely decided to compete against NBC’s CHiPs. It was also attempting to compete against ABC’s Three’s Company spin-off The Ropers. The series itself was created by Bob Brunner, who had a hand in the popular TV series Happy Days as well as Laverne and Shirley. In addition, the pilot episode was directed by none other than Penny Marshall. As well as having a rather catchy theme song in my honest opinion.

Sadly Working Stiffs just couldn’t stand up to the likes of Ponch and Jon nor even Stanley and Helen Roper. After a mere four episodes the comedy series was cancelled. However, once both Keaton and Belushi found success in films, the show was released on VHS. Having said that though, friends, in total there were nine episodes filmed – but only six present on the VHS release. I found that the show has been seen here and there since 1979. I’ve read that it’s appeared on the likes of retro-themed TV channels such as TV Land, Comedy Central, and the A&E Network. Although I haven’t found an actual DVD release as of yet.

Like I mentioned up above, I wasn’t aware of this TV series until today. I have fellow Retroist author, Phillip Cary, to thank for the heads up. For my birthday earlier this week he brought me a 1979’s TV Guide. A Fall preview issue that had this to say about the then upcoming television series.

Now that you’ve learned a bit about Working Stiffs why not check a stand-up comedy routine by Michael Keaton?


I am pretty positive this is actually from the TV show An Evening at the Improv.

[Via] A Blast from the Past

Check Out This 1984 Kidd Video Interview!

When the pilot episode of NBC’s Saturday morning animated series Kidd Video debuted on September 8, 1984. I was hooked. The premise of a garage band getting sucked into an animated universe was right in my wheelhouse.
Kidd Video

Kidd Video scratched that itch I was beginning to develop, which was obviously a desire for music. Music videos in fact. Please keep in mind that music wasn’t a big thing in my household when growing up. It wasn’t banned or anything like that – we just didn’t listen frequently.

Having said that, Kidd Video came out at the perfect time. While it would be a couple of years before I would get access to the likes of MTV. I had already been introduced to the music video by way of Nick Rocks!

[Via] AnnainCA

Now as I just mentioned, I really dug Kidd Video. I apparently wasn’t the only child of the 80s who took to it either. As the show was the most popular new children’s show of 1984 as well as coming in third in the Nielsen ratings for all Saturday morning cartoons.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that the cast who played the members of the band. Also lent their voices to the series as well as the original songs they sang. Kidd Video was portrayed by Bryan Scott, Carla was played by Gabrielle Bennett. The band’s resident tech head, Whiz, was Robbie Rist. Yes, none other than Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch.

Last but not least was Ash, the keyboardist for the band, played by Steve Alterman.

Furthermore with the exception of Bennett, they could actually play their instruments. So this made Kidd Video something of a powerhouse for both DIC and Saban entertainment. Which is how the band members and even Haim Saban were interviewed on the program, 2 on the Town.

[Via] Toolbot

Now Kidd Video were also popular enough to appear on Dance Fever!

[Via] toolbot

While the animated series was quite popular, they didn’t have much of a marketing impact in the USA. Although this wasn’t the case in Israel where the group in fact toured. Kidd Video spawned a record album, coloring books, a card game, and even candy bars and yogurt. So why not treat yourself and listen to a track from said album. The song from the intro of the cartoon – Video To My Radio!

[Via] Gen. DeverauX

Lords Of Light! A Thundarr The Barbarian Lunchbox!

Thundarr the Barbarian was a show that was ahead of it’s time. Perhaps some kids just weren’t ready for the shattered Earth of 3994 AD. As a matter of fact I doubt that the parents were happy with the sword and sorcery violence either. I’m not truly sure why it didn’t survive past two seasons…or why it took 24 years to finally get some action figures!
Thundarr The Barbarian

On the other hand I can tell you in all honesty that I ate up Thundarr The Barbarian with a spoon. A spoon covered in stuck on Boo Berry marshmallows mind you but a spoon nonetheless. Furthermore I beg you to answer the question how anyone couldn’t love this show. You had character designs by the likes of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. Then the whole series was dreamed up by Man-Thing and Howard the Duck creator, Steve Gerber!
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On the other hand my love of the show may have had a little something to do with seeing 1982’s Conan the Barbarian in theaters. I will admit I was probably too young for it at the time…or maybe I was actually at just at the right age?

Now Thundarr The Barbarian was produced by Ruby-Spears and aired on the ABC television network from 1980 to 1982. In all the series had 21 episodes. However that isn’t where I saw the show. I actually watched it in 1983 when it made the jump as a rerun on Saturday Morning on NBC.
nbc-saturday-morning

If you frequent The Retroist I’m sure when you think of Thundarr the first thing that pops into your mind is that stunning intro!

Jedi Juggernaut

Now check out this Thundarr The Barbarian lunchbox!


Thanks to the generosity of none other than RetroArtBlog we can totally drool over this vintage Aladdin produced lunchbox. I believe that RetroArtBlog picked it up on an online auction. A thing of beauty I bet you will agree – even it it was manufactured after the age of metal lunch boxes!
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Thundarr the Barbarian - Thermos
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I want to point out something odd about this 1981 lunchbox and thermos. The folks at Aladdin decided to forego the villainous Gemini. Instead as is evident they went with the King of the Groundlings! Not complaining, just addressing an interesting design choice.
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A super thanks to RetroArtBlog once again. Not just for granting me permission to share his recent acquisition with you but for also taking the photographs!

Want to know more about Thundarr The Barbarian?


You are totally in luck as The Retroist Podcast #48 is totally all about that classic cartoon series!

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