Hot City Helped Bring Disco to the Suburbs
In the late seventies, disco was near the height of its power. It was in movies, on the album charts, and even on mainstream television. For those who didn’t have access to a discotheque or were too young to visit one, these were the windows into which we could view this hip craze. America was hungry for more and in 1978, the syndicated TV show Hot City premiered and gave TV viewers a sanitized glimpse of the music, fashion, and dancing that would come to define disco.
It was not the only show to do this, leading up to Hot City, we had a slew of disco dance show hitting the airwaves. Among them were Dick Clark’s Le Disco on NBC, Disco ’77 and Disco Magic on CBS, local TV shows like Discomania, and the syndicated Soap Factory Disco. They all had various levels of success, but they didn’t approach the reaction and level of excitement that Hot City did when it premiered.
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Hot City would only get one season. When it premiered, disco was already at its peak and people were quickly turning to new trends as we moved into the eighties. While it was not as popular as the iconic, Saturday Night Fever, it should be. It might be a tame version of disco culture, but its party atmosphere, emphasis on fun, and appearance of excess capture perfectly what people thought about disco at the time.
So while it doesn’t represent the reality of what was going on at Studio 54, it is instead almost a Disney-esque simulacrum of how the average American viewed the trend as a whole. This was the packaged synthesis of the iconic version of disco and when we looked back on it later, this representation is what we recalled in pop culture. For many people, especially as we get further away from the actual thing, this IS disco.
If you are watching the video above, make sure to pay attention to the opening credits. They were done by Nelvana, but I get early Lisberger Studios (Animalympics) vibes from it. (Thanks to ShadowWing Tronix for spotting the credit!)
Produced and directed by Kip Walton, Hot City premiered on August 7, 1978, and was syndicated nationally by Metromedia. This meant the show didn’t have a consistent time or network between markets.
For those who watched dance shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand, the format would be familiar. Live acts would perform, people would dance, they would have a dance lesson, and they would have a dance contest. A few things made the show stand out though.
To begin with, it didn’t have a permanent host. Instead, it had a rotating guest host or featured performer. With the announcing heavy-lifting being handled by the deep-voiced DJ and eighties mom-crush, Shadoe Stevens.
Most importantly, unlike those other shows that would vary their musical choices, Hot City was dedicated to the music and spectacle of disco. They did allow small variation by folding in other trends like punk or skateboarding, but it was always through the lens of their version of disco.
The Hottest names in the world of disco will be guesting, singing the latest disco hits while the Hot City Dancers move amid a maze of pulsating laser beams, flashing strobes, mirrors, and special effects.
The highlights of the show were the dance lessons and competitions. These segments are hosted by the one recurring on-camera talent of the show, Jeff Kutash. Kutash, who has had a long history of choreography, does a great job on the show. When he took the gig, he was already well-established in the entertainment biz. In fact, it was a member of his dance troupe who taught John Travolta his iconic moves for Saturday Night Fever.
Not only does he manage to stay high-energy while teaching people a completely new dance each episode, but he also needs to herd and control the dancers. Picking which ones will dance, when and where.
If anything about the show is a bit more “adult,” it is the Kutash dance lesson segments. Nothing subtle going on here. Which I am sure made a lot of people blush when they were originally broadcast. At the same time, it also makes them extremely compelling.
Watching episodes of the show, I am fascinated by his segments. Mostly because on other dance shows, they appear to do so much more decision-making behind the scenes and don’t appear as improvisational. So, in this aspect, Hot City and Kutash’s raw energy might come across as more amateurish, but that also makes it much more fascinating.
The Disco Music Awards (Lost Media?)
While Hot City was heating up living rooms, Metromedia was making plans to release the “First International Disco Awards” in the fall of 1978. With a planned 90 minute runtime, it would be shot in the New York, Los Angeles, and other hip locations. Awards would include things Hottest Album, Hottest Single, Hottest Vocal group, etc. They were really relying heavily on “hottest” to describe everything.
Ultimately filmed at the Palladium in Hollywood, The 90-minute show would finally air in the summer of 1979. The description in TV Guide states that it will feature the “latest in disco music, fashion, dancing, and Roller Disco.”
Sadly, the full version of this is not available online, but I imagine someone out there has a copy of it. If Hot City can make it online, I hope this will one day as well.
It is hard to full appreciate the show outside the context of the late seventies. While we see glitz and glamour on display here, it did not line up with what was going on in America at the time. President Carter was a year away from his A Crisis of Confidence speech, which might have been peak malaise in this tumultuous decade. But for an hour each week, people danced.
They danced, and when you dance, it is very difficult to be unhappy. That happiness on screen is infectious, and the show was an optimistic over-the-top respite when it was on.
Sadly, the disco trend was changing. 1977 & 1978 might have been its peak years, but the country and the music was changing. Hot City was dedicated to disco in a pop culture landscape that was quickly losing interest in disco. As 1979 drew to a close, Hot City, was still being broadcast in some markets, but that would be the end of it.
1980 wouldn’t get a single broadcast of the show, and it would quickly disappear from people’s memories. Only remembered by people as one of those disco shows that came and went.
It would probably be completely forgotten if it weren’t for another amazing invention that invaded homes around the same time, the VCR. Fans of the show would record the show and those tapes have somehow survived, been digitized and posted online for all of us to enjoy. You can find a few episodes over on YouTube and a handful posted on the Internet Archive.
Hot City didn’t last long, and it was not a true peek into the world of disco. But if you lived in the suburbs or a small town, it might have been the closest you got. So while we can be dazzled by the history of Studio 54 and clubs like it, the survival of pop culture versions of these trends, like Hot City, are just as important. So check out a few episodes, learn a few new dance moves, and boogie down like it 1978 all over again.