Tuesday, May 18, 2021

This day in TV History: What a night it was in 1981

May 18, 1981 was a magical night for network television, or as magical as it could be without a Doug Hennig special. Let's go through the evening.

CBS kicks off with Failed Pilot Theatre, a presentation of The Wonderful World of Phillip Malley. Lee Goldberg's essential guide to TV pilots describes it thus:

The age-old story of an absent-minded professor (Stephen Nathan) whose experiments often go awry, causing chaos at the small university where he works--and who romances the dean's (William Daniels) daughter (Lori Lethin). 

Other notables in the cast include Stuart Pankin, Alvy Moore, and Stubby Kaye!

At 9:00 it's a pair of reruns of MASH  and House Calls, followed by a new special at 10:00: Grammy Hall of Fame. This program honors not artists, but recordings selected for induction. Did anyone even know this was a thing? Andy Williams hosts the celebration of recordings like Judy garland's Over the Rainbow and the Budapest String Quartet's 1952 version of Beethoven's Quarter for Strings. I wonder if Budapest String Quartet was still a draw in 1981.  Was there ever a Stars on 45's Tribute to Budapest String Quartet?

ABC, not to be outdone, started the night with That's Incredible! Featured on tonight's show, according to, "A Mayan "crystal skull" used by the Indians during religious rites--" I gotta stop right here because I am having flashbacks to the last Indiana Jones movie.

After that, Mare Winningham stars in Monday night made-for-TV movie Freedom, a tale of a teenager who runs away from a troubled home life and joins a carnival! I have to say, the first descriptions of this film didn't mention the carny part, and now I am more interested.

NBC's Monday begins with "Oleson vs, Oleson," a repeat of a season 7 Little House on the Prairie  episode. Then movie night on the Peacock network brings Bitter Harvest, a based-on-true-events depiction of a dairy farmer (Ron Howard) fighting against chemical contamination harming his cattle and his family. 

Also in the cast of the movie are the icon Art Carney, Richard Dysart, and Barry Corbin. If that's not enough, how about Dwight Schultz and the great G.W. Bailey?

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