Part VIII: Afterschool Specials!
Some people still ask why television doesn't teach people more valuable lessons than how to win a bar fight or how to torture a suspected terrorist. The problem is, education and entertainment are two different things, and TV is more skilled at one than the other. Being a positive influence is a nice notion, but whenever TV tries to do that, THIS is what it looks like.
Afterschool Specials were created to fill a hole. At the time they debuted in 1972, someone within the ABC Machine noticed the network had shows aimed at children, and shows aimed at adults, but none specifically aimed at teenagers. I assumed these things stayed in production through sheer ignorance of ratings, because no self-respecting teenager, no matter what era he or she grew up in, would be able to sit through an Afterschool Special. But I was wrong -- in their heyday they did well. This was mostly because, like the executive thought, there was nothing else on. No cable, no Betamax, no Atari, no nothing. Just the Big Three and PBS. Teens had no choice. Now those kids have inherited control of Earth, and "Afterschool Special" has become a derogatory term for anything sappy, treacly and preachy.
Even as the choices for afternoon entertainment grew, Afterschool Specials stayed on. They were not officially cancelled until 1996, or more specifically, right at the point Disney bought ABC and started cleaning house. While The Mice did stop these specials for good, they also banished ReBoot back to Canada, and Cartoon Network had to rescue it. It was a win-lose.
Today, in this very special episode of TV Guide Advertising, I present to you every single Afterschool Special ad I could find, in all their cheesy glory. An event like this requires special treatment, so it's being presented in Slideshow Format, as opposed to the heavy scrolling you usually have to do. There are also over thirty of them, and that's just counting part ONE.
Bear with me....they'll start out slow and somewhat normal, but things get scary quickly.
This is the first Afterschool Special, which looks nothing like any of the others. It's an animated cartoon about a bird who flies around looking for a mate, not realizing it is the very last of its species alive. It's clearly aimed at kids rather than teens; even the ad admits as much. It fills none of what an Afterschool Special came to be known for, except for being sad, but I guess that's what counted. Afterschool specials would soon focus on human beans, and completely drown the viewer in divorces, wifebeatings and alcoholism. This bird actually had it easy.
Follow the North Star -- November 1, 1972