Remember those Thanksgivings of the mid-zeroes when our old friend Matt used to review Macy's parades? That was really something, wasn't it? Wasn't it just a pip and a half? And didn't it smell when Matt got a real job and let his expansive site decay into an ordinary blog, and never did another Macy's review again?
Looks like it's up to me.
I found a disc containing the entire 1980 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, which is four whole years before Matt's earliest review of 1984's version. Well....most of the parade is there. The last half-hour is missing, but I'm assuming it ended with Santa Claus. I'll never understand why NBC's coverage airs an hour of the newest Broadway numbers before the parade even starts. Nobody watches that part; it's stupefyingly boring. (Though this may be the year that could change, assuming they take material from The Book of Mormon.)
Whoever taped this over thirty years ago made the mistake of capturing 30 minutes of Outdoor Broadway, resulting in an equally-sized half-hour of the actual parade getting cut off by the tape's end. So when the tape started, I was greeted by THIS thing:
I know. That's the kind of picture they've been spamming on Facebook lately. My apologies for the traumatized ones out there.
Check out the year's host....Ed McMahon. Given his mostly charmed life as Johnny Carson's guffawing sidekick, and his face on all those sweepstakes envelopes, I never would have guessed such an institution could have ended the way he did -- broke as a joke, with a dead career. His final appearance was in a cheap "Cash 4 Gold" ad. Ed was once one of the most recognizable faces in the country. How'd it all evaporate?
If you didn't know, every musical number in the Macy's Parade is pre-recorded and lip-synched. And if anybody in 1980 didn't know, this lady (Marilyn Michaels) gave the whole sham away pretty badly. Her cue was a little off, so she stood there awkwardly smiling for about seven seconds. Eventually she started making a pucker face in anticipation of the first word she had to "sing," which was "Parade," and she accidentally mouthed it about two times before it finally kicked in. I don't think these are done exactly live (otherwise we'd miss a lot to commercials), so this is one of those cases where they just didn't care.
The boring performances go on and on, and just when you spot the first balloon in the distance and think it can't go on any longer...that's when, believe it or not, ED starts singing:
BLAAAARRGGGHHH KILL ME NOW
Ah! Wait, wait, don't kill me yet! It's Mickey Mouse! Let's focus on him.........no? No; you know the drill; we have to get through a marching band or two first. And in 1980, they were given a LOT more time onscreen. Now, to make space for all the advertising, they rush them through, but most of these guys were allowed to play a whole 2-minute symphony before exiting Herald Square.
After them came what was described on New Girl as "the robot turkey" (and it actually wasn't Zooey that said that). The turkey is always there, rolling at the front of the line. He's there simply because he's always been there. No one is allowed to question the turkey.
Usually, there is some kind of musician sitting on top of the turkey, and this year it was one-hit wonder Sister Sledge singing their one hit, "We Are Family."
Mickey was promoted with a 70's remix of the Mickey Mouse Club theme. I've said it before and I'll say it again: no one is more terrible at handling and preserving their history in television than Disney is. Plenty of baby boomers would have paid through the nose (whatever that means) for a Mickey Mouse Club DVD set. They seemed to care more under Ron Miller's control, because they aired the whole original series on the Disney Channel, then produced a revamped new version with an 80's flourescent attitude. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Keri Russell all made their TV debuts on that show.....so it's not worth trying again because it's not like they could get anybody profitable out of it.
As promised, I won't be stingy with the ads. The first one we get is some stuffed shirt looking like he's ready to discuss stocks and bongs or something, but then he --- haha! "Bongs"! I meant to type "Bonds" but then -- ha ha! Let's keep the take!
So anyway, he says.......ah forget it, the mood's broken.
After that is a promo glorifying GE that takes up the rest of the break (GE owned NBC at this point, remember). GE not only states that they light homes and conjure microwaves, they claim to make you pretty and smart. Without GE, you'd be ugly and dumb! Like this guy!
Wait.....Mark Linn-Baker? Cousin Larry??
Every Macy's parade has at least one sponsor that overdoes it on the ad repetition. This is the rare case where I didn't mind. Half these ads are for a chain of toy stores in New York called "Child World," which I doubt exists anymore. I think the crackling excitement of Thanksgiving morning, especially for children, has its essence bottled in this ad. It's really hard for the 7-year-old inside you to not feel enthusiastic about the way the store is depicted. I've never been to a Child World and I probably never will be inside one, but as the music rises with a triumphant "EVERYTHING A TOY STORE SHOULD BEEEEEEE!!!" ....I believe it.
Gift cards are a very common and accepted present these days. Gift certificates, the precursor to gift cards, were less so. Especially a lousy 50-cent-off gift certificate to McDonalds. These random people sure love getting chump change for Christmas, but that's the sad life make-believe ad people live.
Following that is a much sappier ad from later in the parade, involving a country yokel (complete with cowboy hat, so you know where he's from) having to move from his rural home to Chicago. He'll never see his old friends again. But everything turns out okay, because his new friends will let him eat at McDonalds! Forget those hicks!
They captioned this as "McDonalds High School," which made me think "They had their own high school? Like....yellow paint everywhere, Ronald on video screens indoctrinating the students, Grimace dancing on the football field, cheerleaders singing whatever theme song they had at the time, and chemistry experiments with the acidity of their sodas?" No, not really.
Then, there was the enigma of Mr. Chuck. He came in riding a giant plastic centipede, waved to the camera, disappeared down the street, and that was all anybody saw of him. Who is -- or was -- Mr. Chuck? McMahon revealed no answers.
|Most parade balloons are of company
mascots, because they're all paid for by corporations. So
a rendition of the Loch Ness Monster made me scratch my
head. What kind of product is associated with that
The answer: It was a Broadway play called "Brigadoon," that I'm guessing involved Nessie in some way and had its own float preceding the balloon. They have an entire hour of screen time to themselves as it is; why do they need a balloon too?
After the next ad break Ed explained the balloon was actually Puff the Magic Dragon. My bad.
Those who are only familiar with the glossy, high-definition, uncanny-valley-dwelling video games of today are going to drop their jaws at what people accepted as electronic entertainment in 1980. None of these are as perfect as the Bank Shot ad in my opinion, but they still feature spokespeople hyping up blinking red lights on an LED display as if it couldn't possibly get more cutting-edge than that. I really don't buy into the third ad in this collection. That amount of gaming depth was possible with a bunch of dots? How'd anybody believe that back then?
"Now," begins Ed, "here comes one of the most enduring and belovable (his word, not mine) comic strip characters anyone ever laughed at." I thought of a Snoopy balloon, but Ed was thinking of a Popeye float. And the Popeye float wasn't about Popeye per se, but the Robin Williams live-action film that was about to come out. A second Popeye movie is now in production, this one a CGI cartoon; let's hope for somewhat better results. Otherwise the Sailor Man should just stick to old cartoons and fried chicken.
"And now here's LINUS!" said Ed. Oh, well, there's no Snoopy, but at least there's........."Linus the Lionhearted Lion"?
The microwave was still a fairly new thing. Some of them were actually built without turntables, so you had to purchase them separately if you wanted your mac and cheese zapped evenly. Also, the kitchens of the time were built under the assumption no one would need extra space for giant counter appliances. Presenting the microwave oven you DON'T have to make space for! You just spend thousands for a private contractor to remodel your kitchen to fit it into part of the cabinet space! Much better!
Here comes another giant bug,
and.....looks like the kid from the McDonalds ad is riding on top
And he's got a gun to his chin! DON'T DO IT!
You may have lost your friends but you have BIG MACS! AND FRIES! DON'T FORGET THE FRIES!!
Bryant Gumbel appears alongside Ed McMahon to point out that last year, NBC's Macy's coverage won an Emmy, but doesn't get specific as to what category. "Now, we took a vote here at NBC to decide which of our thousands of workers deserved the award, and I'm proud to say, for your years of service, I have an Emmy for you!" Bryant hands Ed, who's never seen an Emmy in his life, a rolled-up piece of paper.
"Wow, that's great! My own
Emmy! Say, Bryant, I also have an Emmy for YOU! And THIS one has
a RIBBON!" Indeed it does.
Someone should tell these nitwits the truth, but....they're so happy, why spoil it?
AMERICA! **** YEAH!
This next one is truly worth its weight in silicon. A Bell Laboratories spokesman explains the science of the microchip (in brief terms) then explains its potential. We're then shown a glimpse of the future, in which a woman hits some keys on a giant computer board and two monitors display simple data graphs. In her own home??? It'll never happen. I mean, it still hasn't....
1984 was the last year that Macy's mainstay Underdog made a balloon appearance. Ed announced his 1980 appearance this way: "If you should walk into the living room, and see your dog outfitted in a cape and tights, stretched with his arms in front of him, he's only living out his fantasies of becoming the one, the only Underdog. And though many may be called, only one has been chosen. Into each generation, an Underdog is born. One dog in all the world, a chosen one."
McMahon says Lacy J. Dalton was voted the best new female country singer of 1979, and I admit my knowledge of country is zip, but this parade has a bad habit of picking almost completely unknown singers and pretending they're worldwide superstars, so forgive me for being a tad skeptical. She sings "Where are all the cowboys in the USA," covering the exact same ground that "Where have all the cowboys gone" would later.
The parade opening promised us The Lone Ranger, and we got him -- complete with Tonto, and a float promoting a new Lone Ranger movie. "HI-YOOOO SILVER, AWAY!" yelled McMahon, with much-loved emphasis on the "Hi-yo."
Ideal had a lot of ads for toys, but this was the only one to become so overhyped that in three years' time, an entire cartoon would be based around the product.
Here's an eerie ten-second promo for....something. It's just this screen, and these voices:
"Have you heard about
this hot new NBC show, Number 96? It's SO HOT, I
All I can find out about "Number 96" was that it was an Australian soap opera. An American version must have been in production, but I doubt it was quite as nude.
Ed took the appearance of a Casper costume as time to tell the audience that on December 5th, a Christmas special called "Casper's First Christmas" would be airing on NBC. And before you ask, I don't have it, so I can't review it yet.
If there's one tradition even more ironclad than the Robot Turkey, it's the Sesame Street float. "Sesame Street" has always been filmed in NYC, allowing the cast to join the Macy's Parade easily every year and sing a song, not worrying if it's not good enough for anybody else to hear. They're gonna hear it anyway. Big Bird was at the center -- remember when Big Bird mattered? I miss those days. The original Kermit balloon followed the float.
American Tourister provided this spot that explains a lot about the US airline system. It was an exaggeration then, but it's probably exactly like this now. Here's a bit of trivia: most ads goose their product to make it appear indestructible, but there was no cheating in the Tourister ad. The briefcase that appears at the end is the same one that was slung around throughout.
The authenticity of the "gorilla," though, is up for debate.
Another float from Broadway....how much space in this parade do they need? This one is advertising a new production of "The Pirates of Penzance" starring that Linda Ronstadt, whom I didn't know could act. Maybe she actually can't, but I can't judge anything based on this one float appearance.
There were people in Smurf costumes seen marching in the parade. This is unusual because the Smurf cartoon series didn't start until 1981....were they famous beforehand? (I'm talking about famous in America, not Europe.) The Smurfs themselves wouldn't get a balloon until 2010.
1980 was also the year the largest balloon in Macy's history (at least up to that time), the Superman balloon, made its debut. It was created by Goodyear and made out of tire rubber.
How did it play out? What did Ed say about it? You'll never know, because the tape ended before the parade got to his spot. Unless Superman flew around the world really fast, turned back time, and positioned himself into the parade earlier, that's all we got. (I just checked; he still hasn't.)
Thanksgiving is the best out of all the holidays, I think. And I know I'm a minority with that thought, but I have my reasons. With Thanksgiving you get a huge weekend, lots of food, family and friends, network debuts of major movies, and the true beginning of the Christmas season. Christmas is nice and all, but once it's over, it's ALL over. Thanksgiving is where the REAL fun is at.
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