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The awful television of 1981


This is awful, but still comforting.

The very-early '80s, generally speaking, was an awful time for television. However, being that television was the #1 form of home entertainment then, people were very willing to watch bad television shows.

To put this in perspective, these were the top American television shows of 1981: 60 Minutes, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Jeffersons, M*A*S*H, Three's Company, Too Close For Comfort, The Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas.

Even if you have a passing familiarity with those shows and are thinking, "Wow, that's not exactly a stellar lineup", again, those were the TOP shows of '81. Everything after that was downhill from there.

I was really young in '81, but even I can even remember television just being bad back then. All I really cared about were cartoons, The Dukes of Hazzard and not much else (bear in mind The A-Team and Knight Rider weren't released yet). If I wasn't watching those shows, I would have been playing games on the family's Atari 2600 video game system or playing outside.

A very good example of how bad television was in '81 is Tush, which is pronounced like tuh-sh and not toosh, named after Bill Tush:


I have a full episode of Tush below, but before you watch it, let me explain to you how bad this show was.

Ted Turner wanted a comedy/variety show, so he threw a bunch of money at Bill to do it, who already had working experience at WTCG channel 17 in Georgia, which Turner owned. WTCG would change over to "SuperStation" WTBS.

Bill, not being one to turn down such a generous offer, said yes.

However, there was a problem.

Bill had no clue how to put together such a program (and is quoted as admitting that).

What did Bill do? He got a set together and then he and crew wrote sketches about what they knew. What did they know? Television show production...

...and there is no such thing as funny television show production people. People in that profession are trained to be competent serious professionals and not funny dudes and ladies. Comedy writers are the ones that make the good jokes and not the people that set up the lights or operate the cameras.

I have some knowledge in this as my college degree is in Video & Radio Production, meaning I know very well that production people, broadcasters, journalists and so on are not exactly good at comedy. In fact, most are awful at it.

Not deterred by any of this, Bill soldiered on. He had a pile of Turner's money, hired some actors, had a set with tens of thousands of dollars worth of video equipment ready-to-use and just went for it.

The end result is Tush.

You can watch it now for free right here or read my thoughts on it below (which you probably should) first.

The angle the show took was "We're professional television show production people and we're making fun of ourselves. Ha ha! Funny, right?" No. Not funny. At all.

Have you ever been watching the local television evening television news where one of the anchorpeople cracks a joke, it absolutely doesn't land at all (and never does), and the other anchorperson and the meteorologist do the fake-laugh thing before moving on to the next segment? That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. The entirety of Tush is exactly that.

People only remember this show for one reason, and it wasn't Bill. Jan Hooks was on this show. Yes, that Jan who was on Saturday Night Live later.


It is safe to say Tush has aged like milk. It was a terrible show even in its time and its badness can still be felt now.

To the show's credit, it was very self-aware. Bill and crew who made this knew it was awful, and the show routinely takes jabs at itself as if to say, "Yeah, we know you're watching a big steaming pile of crap. Sorry." That at least gives a sense of honesty. The show knows it's bad and doesn't make any attempt to prove otherwise.

So what did I mean at top when I said watching stuff like this is comforting?

1981, at the time I write this, was 42 years ago. America and the world in general was very different back then. Not only were there no smartphones and no internet, almost nobody even had a home computer.

In addition, this was a time in America where everything more or less coasted. The cars were boring and bland, but kept up the status quo. In music, disco was totally out but rock 'n' roll wasn't exactly in just yet, so a lot of the music was, again, boring and bland, but kept up the status quo.

The first few years of a new decade is an extension of the last one. 1980 and 1981 might as just have well been 1978 and 1979 and you couldn't tell the difference. Nobody at this time knew what The Next Big Thing was going to be.

Tush is a great example of "everything is boring and we've got some money floating around, so throw a dart at the board and see if you hit a bullseye". Obviously, this show was not a bullseye - but - there is a comfort to be had in its unfunny blandness. You don't have to think when watching it. Just sit back, turn off the world for a little while, watch as jokes are trying to be told that don't land at all and immerse yourself in the bland.

How long did Tush last? Production was just one year. After that, reruns ran until '83 and then it was off the air.

Car fans describe the late '70s and early '80s as producing "Malaise Era" cars. Boring, uninspired and slow, but comfy. Tush is Malaise Era television. It's a comedy show that's not funny and hardly entertaining, but it's comfy.

Published 2023 May 11

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