Flashback to Rubik’s cubes, “The Cosby Show’ (pictured), Jane Fonda workout videos, Pac Man, Ronald Reagan and “Back to the Future’ and what do you get? Besides the musical headache (“Another One Bites the Dust’?), you get a kinda fun, kinda icky dose of the 1980s. Dig a little deeper and you can see the beginnings of the social/cultural/techno revolutions that shaped today’s world.
National Geographic Channel’s three-part easy-listening history, “The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us,’ premiering Sunday-Monday-Tuesday at 6 p.m., purports to be more than nostalgia. Narrated by former brat pack member Rob Lowe, it aims to be “the defining biography of a decade,’ as told through interviews with Fonda, Larry Hagman, DMC, Danny DeVito, Oliver Stone, Calvin Klein, David Hasselhoff, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Michael J. Fox, Nina Blackwood, Linda Evans and Denver author David Sirota. Parts are based on Sirota’s book “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now,’ which similarly described the profound effects of the seemingly silly, flashy, big-hair era. For starters, Sirota observes how TV’s “Family Ties’ was the perfect example of the 1980s making fun of the 1960s ethos.
The story opens in Lake Placid, 1980, pre-Internet, when portable phones were the size of shoeboxes, with runaway inflation and a deep malaise, with the Olympic US-USSR ice hockey game singled out as a turning point. Suddenly, there was hope. And suddenly, there was Reagan. The new America takes hold, the film chronicles. It was a time of big new ideas, big new money, and the result some 30 years later is a visually and musically rich recap of a decade. If there’s too much focus on some footnotes (the Reagan surgery after the assassination attempt), and not enough on others (a global perspective is missing), it’s still worth revisiting.
by Mandi Bierly
For its upcoming miniseries The 80s: The Decade that Made Us, Nat Geo Channel commissioned a pop culture survey asking participants important questions like, “Which of the following songs would you have made out to in the ’80s?” and “Which of the following ’80s TV family would you most want to be adopted by?” EW.com has an exclusive sneak peek at those results…
The Cosby Show‘s Huxtables are the family of choice, with 38 percent of the vote. Family Ties‘ Keatons and Dallas‘s Ewings tied for second, with 17 percent each. Growing Pains‘ Seavers finished next with 16 percent, and Diff’rent Strokes‘ Drummonds came in last, with 7 percent.
The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is the top makeout song (36 percent), followed by Lionel Richie’s “Hello” (26 percent), LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” (16 percent), Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” (13 percent), and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (9 percent).
Other notable results in the survey:
• Back to the Future is the movie that defines the decade (21 percent), followed by The Breakfast Club (18 percent), E.T. (16 percent), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (15 percent), Top Gunand Ghostbusters (tied with 8 percent), Wall Street (7 percent), Do the Right Thing (4 percent), and Say Anything (2 percent).
• Michael Jackson scored a landslide 61 percent of the vote for his influence on today’s musicians, followed by Madonna (17 percent), U2 (12 percent), and Run DMC (7 percent).
• Demi Moore is America’s favorite member of the Brat Pack (28 percent), followed by Molly Ringwald (19 percent), Emilio Estevez (16 percent), Rob Lowe (15 percent), Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson (tied 6 percent), and Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy (5 percent apiece). Recount?
The 80s: The Decade That Made Us — narrated by Rob Lowe, naturally — premieres April 14 at 8 p.m. ET.
Like a lot of cable networks, National Geographic Channel often appears to struggle when it comes to getting noticed. Its particular challenges also include maintaining a well-respected brand, which somewhat curbs just how TLC it can become in its quest to attract viewers. So credit the network with two appealing programs that lead its spring charge: “Brain Games,” a breezy half-hour series that makes science entertaining; and “The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us,” a six-hour documentary that resembles some of VH1’s better efforts in a nostalgic vein — and a show that has demo bull’s-eye written all over it.
Although the subtitle “The Decade That Made Us” initially sounds like an overreach, it’s difficult to argue with some of the jaw-dropping technology, at the very least, birthed during the Reagan years, including cellphones, videogames, the Sony Walkman and the maturation of cable from a mere delivery system into an alternative programming conduit, to name just a few. Throw in rap/hip-hop, Jane Fonda popularizing aerobics and the birth of the modern Super Bowl ad with Apple’s “1984″ spot, and the legacy of the decade certainly casts an oversized shadow.
Narrated by Rob Lowe (another clever stroke), the doc inevitably flits around, allocating time in a sometimes questionable fashion: For instance, it devotes nearly as much coverage to skateboarder Tony Hawk — during a second hour that looks at the advent of “hippie capitalists” — as it does to the assassination attempt on President Reagan.
Still, the opening chapters do a nifty job of setting the stage for how ’80s innovations continue to echo through our hectic, heavily wired lives, while interviewing a vast assortment of sources accompanied by a soundtrack that almost instantly propels you back to the days when Madonna first became a household name.
It’s both commercial and thought-provoking — a description that also applies to “Brain Games,” which explores the fascinating way the mind processes information through visual trickery that deftly exploits TV as a medium.
Hosted with just enough wonky enthusiasm by Jason Silva and featuring magician Apollo Robbins, each installment races through “games” meant to illustrate a particular aspect of brain processing: perception, time, fear and how our focal and peripheral vision pick up (and block out) information. Encouraging viewers to play along at home, the project cleverly compels viewers to contemplate the brain’s limits, shortcomings and defenses when it comes to consuming and assembling data.
Taken together, the two give NatGeo a solid one-two punch, and (with any success, naturally) could point the way toward a programming niche, built around playful curiosity, that could make the channel a more formidable competitor to Discovery in that space. Notably, Discovery has an upcoming cranial competition, “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius,” so gray matter is apparently the new black.
At least, it’s nice to think so. But as any critic knows, when it comes to anticipating whether a sizable-enough audience will respond to promising programs, the mind has a way of playing tricks.
The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us
(Documentary; National Geographic, Sun.-Tues. April 14-16, 9 p.m.)
Produced by Nutopia. Executive producers, Jane Root, Peter Lovering, Brooke Runnette; series producer, Fred Hepburn. 6 HOURS
Narrator: Rob Lowe.
(Series; National Geographic, Mon. April 22, 9 p.m.)
Produced by National Geographic Television. Executive producers, Jerry Kolber, Allan Butler. 30 MIN.
With: Jason Silva, Apollo Robbins.
DMC, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Nina Blackwood and our very own Jane Root join HuffPost Live to discuss National Geographic Channel’s new documentary, “The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us”. Check out the interview here:
Rob Lowe narrates “The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us,” the six-hour April miniseries on National Geographic Channel.
Rubik’s cube, leg warmers, and “Alf” — those are but a few things we love about the 1980s, and National Geographic Channel has gathered some of the biggest stars of the ’80s to talk about them, and other pop culture and historical highlights of the decade, in the network’s upcoming miniseries “The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us.”
A highlight of the three-night, six-hour series, which premieres on NGC on April 14, is the last in-depth interview with “Dallas” icon Larry Hagman, who died in November. Hagman’s run on “Dallas,” especially the “Who Shot J.R.?” story line, was one of the most memorable TV stories of the decade.
Among the other ’80s faves who filmed interviews for “The ’80s”: beloved “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future” star Michael J. Fox; movie star, activist, and workout queen Jane Fonda; Fonda’s ex-husband and founder of CNN, Ted Turner; “Cosby Show” kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner; “Taxi” star Danny DeVito; Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone; legendary singer Dionne Warwick; fashion designers Calvin Klein and Donna Karan; Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler; hip-hop pioneersGrandmaster Flash and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels; “Knight Rider” star David Hasselhoff; comedienne Sandra Bernhard, skateboard pro Tony Hawk; supermodel Naomi Campbell; “Dynasty” divas Joan Collins andLinda Evans; music mogul Quincy Jones; Hagman’s “Dallas” co-star Linda Gray; fashion photographer Bruce Weber; activist and “We Are the World” mastermind Henry Belafonte; newsmen Larry King, Tom Brokaw, Sam Donaldson; Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig, members of the gold-medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympics “Miracle on Ice” hockey team; and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
The special, which will be narrated by an actor whose career began in the 1980s, “Parks and Recreation” star Rob Lowe, will feature interviews with more than four dozen celebrities, journalists, opinion leaders, and newsmakers, including former Time magazine managing editor and Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, original MTV veejay Nina Blackwood, CNBC’s “Mad Money” host and former hedge fund manager Jim Cramer, Spy magazine founder Kurt Andersen, author Barbara Ehrenreich, sportscaster Al Michaels, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, film critics Elvis Mitchell and Owen Gleiberman, historian Jay Winik, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz.
Episode titles and network descriptions for “The ’80s”:
“Lift Off” (April 14, 8 PM) — Go back in time to see how the ’80s created our modern world. Explore the revolution in personal entertainment brought on by Pac-Man and Sony Walkmans. The assassination of John Lennon heralded the end of one music era, while a bratty new kid on the block defined a new one spelled MTV. Sharing their stories are Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Steven Tyler, Jane Fonda, Steve Wozniak, and “Dallas” star Larry Hagman, in one of his last televised interviews.
“The Revolutionaries” (April 14, 9 PM) — In 1981, Ronald Reagan is propelled into the U.S. presidency, but his much-scrutinized administration is shaken to its core a mere 70 days in when an assassin’s bullet pierces his lung. After a full recovery and an ensuing upswing in popularity, Reagan’s business mandate leads to a new breed of entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs, whose “1984″ commercial helped launch the Super Bowl commercial phenomenon and Ted Turner, who reinvented the news business with the creation of 24-hour news.
“Shop ’til You Drop” (April 15, 9 PM) — Nonstop glamour and excess find a new poster girl in the 1980s, when a hot young singer is catapulted to superstardom with a shocking performance of “Like a Virgin” at the first MTV Music Video Awards. Madonna inspires countless girls across the globe to hit the nearest shopping mall to match her distinctive style. But, it’s not just teen girls, successful young men are buying into the yuppie lifestyle and scooping up the latest expensive gadget: the cell phone.
“Masters of the Universe” (April 15, 10 PM) — With the motto “greed is good,” Gordon Gekko captures the 1980s drive for excess and ambition in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” while big traders mirror his notoriously bad behavior in real life. Cocaine has become the drug of choice for those celebrating success; Miami’s status as a drug-dealing haven inspires the launch of one of the decade’s most famous television series: “Miami Vice.” In the ’80s, CEOs see their salaries skyrocket while women struggle to overcome office boys’ clubs.
“Tear Down These Walls” (April 16, 9 PM) — Though the 1980s were known for its “greed is good” mantra, the decade also saw its fair share of literal and cultural walls brought down, as Americans united on political, racial, and health issues.
“Super Power” (April 16, 10 PM) — At the end of the 1980s American pop culture goes global and helps bring down the Iron Curtain, leaving America as the world’s sole superpower.
The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us” airs April 14 (8 PM), 15 (9 PM) and 16 (9 PM) on National Geographic Channel.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: National Geographic Channel’s new mini-series The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us will feature exclusive interviews with more than 40 pop-culture figures who shaped the decade.
Among the icons, entertainers and innovators to be featured in the special are Harry Belafonte, Naomi Campbell, Joan Collins, Danny DeVito, Jane Fonda, Michael J. Fox, Grandmaster Flash, Calvin Klein, Robin Leach and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. There will also be interviews with Oliver Stone, Ted Turner, Steven Tyler, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Sam Donaldson, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Quincy Jones, among others. The special is narrated by Rob Lowe.
The six-parter will roll out over three nights starting on April 14. It will debut first in the U.S. and follow with broadcasts on National Geographic Channel throughout the spring in 171 countries.
“The participating celebrities, revolutionaries, innovators and experts in The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us represent a wide range of experience, talent, opinions and beliefs, but there’s one thing everyone can agree on—the 1980s had an unmistakable influence on our lives today,” said Michael Cascio, the executive VP of programming at National Geographic Channel. “We’ve assembled the biggest names in entertainment, music, fashion, sports and technology to tell the story of the decade they helped define.”
Aerosmith‘s Steven Tyler is among the many celebrities who will appear in a new documentary miniseries that takes a look at the influential events and innovations that occurred during the 1980s. The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us will feature six episodes that will premiere on the National Geographic Channel over the course of three days — April 14, 15 and 16.
The series, which is narrated by actor Rob Lowe, will delve into the social, political, cultural and technological changes that emerged during the so-called Me Decade. The program will feature conversations with dozens of notable personalities, including Tyler, Dionne Warwick, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Grandmaster Flash, Quincy Jones, Michael J. Fox, David Hasselhoff and original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood. In addition, The ’80s will offer the final in-depth interview with late Dallas star Larry Hagman.
The National Geographic Channel will air The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us at 8 p.m. ET/PT on April 14, and at 9 p.m. ET/PT on April 15 and 16.
In other Tyler news, the singer celebrated his 65th birthday on Tuesday in a lofty way. The rocker tweeted a photo of himself apparently taken near the top of Haleakala, a 10,000-foot volcano located on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Along with the image, Steven posted a message that reads, “HAPPY F***ING BIRTHDAY TO ME!!! I can see your house from here! I’m on top of the world!”
In honor of Tyler’s birthday, Aerosmith’s official website has launched a contest offering fans the chance to win a signed photo of the demon of screamin’, plus a “mystery bundle” of goodies from the band. Visit AeroForceOne.com to enter. Entries will be accepted until next Wednesday, April 3.