All Episodes

December 13, 2023 43 mins

If you were a kid watching TV in the 1980s and 1990s, you probably saw a fair number of “Very Special Episodes,” when the usual blissful bubble of the sitcom world was punctured by real-world issues for a half-hour. Drugs, drinking and driving, stranger danger, even AIDS. But never fear, all would be resolved by episode’s end. (Sometimes the material was so heavy, it required a two-parter.) So why did such a mainstay for a generation of families disappear? And how much was Seinfeld to blame? Mo talks with entertainment writer Jessica Shaw and the late great Norman Lear about the birth, life and death of a cultural phenomenon.

See for privacy information.

Mark as Played

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
You know, I've spent many hours with children who've gotten
involved with drugs. They start your age even younger.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
In March of nineteen eighty three, at the behest of
a sixth grader named Arnold Jackson, First Lady Nancy Reagan
visited a classroom at New York City's PS four h
six to talk about drugs.

Speaker 1 (00:25):
And they're all tragic stories of kids with great potential
whose lives were ruined.

Speaker 2 (00:31):
But this New York City classroom was actually on a
Los Angeles soundstage, and Arnold Jackson was a character played
by actor Gary Coleman.

Speaker 3 (00:41):
Who children about Missus Rady's.

Speaker 1 (00:46):
Well, I happened to be here in New York and
I saw that story about you in the paper, Arnold.
You know I'm very concerned about drug abuse, especially among
the young.

Speaker 2 (00:56):
Missus Reagan was taping an episode of the popular NBC
sitcom Different Strokes to promote her Just Say No anti
drug campaign.

Speaker 4 (01:05):
In the plot the series, regular Arnold actor Gary Coleman
gets some help from Missus Reagan in his own effort
to curb drug abuse among students.

Speaker 2 (01:14):
Do you remember when the Nancy Reagan Different Strokes episode aired?

Speaker 5 (01:18):
Yes, absolutely, because it was a big deal.

Speaker 6 (01:20):
I mean, it was definitely like, this is something that
we have to talk about.

Speaker 2 (01:25):
This is Jessica Shawl. She hosts the pop Culture Spotlight
on Serious Exam Radio, and it's written about television for decades.

Speaker 5 (01:35):
I mean, I'm gen X.

Speaker 6 (01:36):
The fact that my parents even knew I existed was
like a minor miracle, you know. So the fact that
adults were going on our shows, they weren't going on
the news, they were going on our shows to reach
us felt different and kind of.

Speaker 2 (01:50):
Special, very special. Over thirty two million people watched The
First Lady that night. Do you remember what your reaction
to it was.

Speaker 6 (01:59):
I'm sure that I took it kind of earnestly as
a child, because we weren't cynical like children are now.
Let's say, in like the twenty twenties. I think in
the eighties there was a little bit more of like, oh,
I need to listen to the First Lady and what
she has to say.

Speaker 2 (02:16):
This is Reagan.

Speaker 3 (02:18):
I guess there's something I should say. I've tried drugs
a few times.

Speaker 5 (02:25):
Thank you.

Speaker 1 (02:27):
That took as much courage as it did for Arnold
to write a story.

Speaker 2 (02:30):
This feels like the prototypical very special episode.

Speaker 5 (02:36):
Yes, I mean absolutely.

Speaker 2 (02:39):
The very special episode a mainstay of nineteen eighties and
early nineteen nineties television. It often came with a warning
to parents that the ordinarily hermetically sealed off world of
your favorite family friendly series was about to get injected
with a dose of the real world. Tuesday, Very Special.

Speaker 7 (03:00):
Fullhouse, We're starting a special two part show on a
very sensitive and important subject.

Speaker 2 (03:06):
You figured we'd talk to.

Speaker 8 (03:07):
You kids and your parents two about smits kind of
hard to talk about.

Speaker 2 (03:11):
The laughs would still be there, just more muted. It
could get awkward.

Speaker 5 (03:16):
Well, I get eight present that I'm doing pretty good.

Speaker 2 (03:21):
This was the sitcom itself in an in between state,
experiencing its own well growing pains.

Speaker 5 (03:28):
What happened to his second chance?

Speaker 2 (03:32):
But never fear. The main characters would remain safe and unchanged,
and in the end, all would be back to normal.
It just might take more than one episode.

Speaker 6 (03:42):
The resolution is a big part of it, and it
might not be resolved in twenty two minutes because it's
a big issue. It's a big issue, so it might
take two whole episodes, which is really enough to unpack.
Let's see AIDS molestation drug use, drug use.

Speaker 2 (03:58):
They made headlines and big ratings until they were no
longer special, just cliched. And then the very special episode
was dropped from the schedule. I mean, who needs lessons
when you have Seinfeld.

Speaker 6 (04:11):
And just saying basically, there are going to be no
very special episodes. That is the very thing that we
will never do. I mean, what was the quote, no
hugging nor.

Speaker 2 (04:20):
Learning, No hugging nor learning from CBS Sunday Morning and
iHeart I'm Morocca and this is a very special episode
of mobituaries. This moment, the death of the very special episode.

Can you speculate on what was the very first very
special episode? I would speculate that it is a Norman
Lear show. That's Jessica Shaw again. I also would have
guessed that the very special episode began with the late
Norman Lear. But we found something even earlier than the

Norman Lear era. It is the February thirteenth, nineteen sixty
season three episode of Leave It to Beaver, Yes, Leave
It to Beaver, and the episode was described as follows. Andy,
a neighborhood drunk, is hired to paint the house and
Beaver unwittingly gives him some brandy, which you know I
had to say at the time must have been like,

WHOA what is this?

Speaker 9 (05:39):
Let me ask you something. Beaver is your father? Would
he have a little bit of whiskey?

Speaker 2 (05:49):
Hero? I'd never seen this before.

Speaker 5 (05:52):
First of all, A plus research.

Speaker 2 (05:54):
And it's it's so kind of surprising to see Jerry
Mathers as the Beaver or kind of interacting with this
alcoholic house painter.

Speaker 10 (06:04):
Once Michael Billy set my father bottle, it was all
that buttonhead brandiant.

Speaker 9 (06:10):
Well, that's about what I'm talking about Beaver.

Speaker 2 (06:12):
Of course, Beaver's parents find out and reprimand him, But
big brother Wally makes the point that Beaver didn't know
Andy had a problem. After all, Ward and June Cleaver
hadn't told the boys.

Speaker 7 (06:25):
You and Mom shouldn't be scared to tell us things.
Somebody's got to tell a guy about all the bad.

Speaker 2 (06:30):
Junk in the world. He's somehow like the writer's kind
of saying, please, please, let us tell stories that have
a little bit more grit, that are a little bit
more complex.

Speaker 6 (06:40):
It also feels like the entire premise of a very
special episode is built on that one line.

Speaker 2 (06:45):
Yes, as Wally Cleaver put it. Somebody's got to tell
a guy about all the bad junk in the world.
Ten years later, another family sitcom dared to do just that.

Speaker 10 (06:56):
Bhy This is Elizabeth Montgomery Welcome to be Witch Next
on ABC. Tonight's show was created in the true spirit
of Christmas.

Speaker 2 (07:05):
On Christmas Eve nineteen seventy, with silent night playing underneath.
Elizabeth Montgomery, who played good Witch Samantha Stevens on Bewitched,
spoke directly to viewers ahead of an episode entitled Sisters
at Heart.

Speaker 10 (07:21):
My friends at Oscar Meyern Company, and I feel it
is a very special Bewitched, conceived in the image of
innocence and filled with truth.

Speaker 2 (07:31):
That's right. She even called the episode very special. That's
because the usual bad things that happened on Bewitched involved
spells gone awry, but in this instance, magic was used
to shine a light on racism.

Speaker 3 (07:46):
You've grown the part he said that we shall be colors,
so we couldn't be sisters.

Speaker 2 (07:52):
She's a big jump. That's daughter Tabitha, who is white
and also a witch. Her new friend, Lisa is black.
Tabitha ends up using witchcraft so she and Lisa can
look more alike. She first turns Lisa white, then turns
herself black, then turns the both of them polka dot. Additionally,

Samantha puts a spell on her husband's racist client. He
starts to see everyone, including himself, as black, and by
the end of the episode, he's learned his lesson. I
discovered something about myself. I found out I'm a racist.
A racist.

Speaker 11 (08:33):
Oh not the obvious, out in the open type of racist.

Speaker 4 (08:37):
Not me.

Speaker 11 (08:38):
No, I was a sneaky racist. I was so sneaky
I didn't even know it myself.

Speaker 2 (08:45):
Quick side note this episode was co written by a
classroom of black students at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles,
making it even more special. But the Beaver and Bewitched
episodes were very much exceptions to the rule. The sitcoms
of the nineteen sixties were happily stuck in their own

fantasy world, completely divorced from the reality of the times.
Did divorce even come up? In our season two episode
on Television's Rural Purge, we talked about the country themed
shows that dominated the airwaves that decade, especially at CBS
on the Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. There were no

anti war protests, no racism, since there were rarely black
characters or political assassinations. And how's this for a metaphor.
Petticoat Junction was a show centered around the spur of
a railroad that basically went nowhere.

Speaker 9 (09:46):
Come ride the little train that is rolling down the
tracks to the junk show.

Speaker 6 (09:53):
Yeah, where's Norman? Lare was like, Oh, we're going somewhere right.

Speaker 2 (09:56):
Right, This train is actually going to a real place.
My name is Norman Lear.

Speaker 4 (10:03):
Norman Lear has changed the face of television. Until nineteen
seventy one, he was a very successful, if largely unheralded
producer writer in Hollywood, but then he burst upon the
public consciousness when he took on bigotry with his All
in the Family.

Speaker 2 (10:19):
All in the Family starred Carol O'Connor as Archie Bunker,
a man who longed for yesteryear, pigheaded and yes, bigoted,
but also surprisingly likable. Every episode was special. The series
regularly addressed racism, sexism, anti semitism. It featured one of
the very first gay characters on television, and don't matter

the topic, Archie Bunker didn't hold back.

Speaker 7 (10:46):
His proud Roger is as queer as a four dollar
bill and he knows.

Speaker 3 (10:49):
It's not only cruel, Daddy.

Speaker 5 (10:52):
That's an outright line.

Speaker 4 (10:53):
Hello, something, Archie.

Speaker 12 (10:54):
Just because a guy is sensitive and he's an intellectual
and he wears glasses, you make him out of I.

Speaker 13 (11:00):
Never said a guy who wears glasses as a quia.

Speaker 7 (11:03):
A guy who wears glasses is a four eyes.

Speaker 9 (11:05):
A guy who was a fag is a quia.

Speaker 2 (11:08):
So I have to say, and it might be a
super unpopular opinion. I'm glad they use that word that
they use that slur, because that's part of what made
the show so real.

Speaker 5 (11:17):
Yeah, they didn't shy away from anything.

Speaker 6 (11:19):
Isn't it so interesting that that scene could not air
in twenty twenty three?

Speaker 2 (11:23):
Right right? The big reveal near the end of that
episode is that the person Archie thought was gay is
in fact straight, while a pal he had assumed to
be straight is actually gay. Huge numbers of people were
being introduced to things they were not familiar with. Maybe
they didn't even think they knew a gay person.

Speaker 6 (11:44):
Yeah, absolutely, I imagine that was eye opening to them.

Speaker 2 (11:49):
Another Milestone episode from nineteen seventy seven was about Archie's
wife Edith, fending off a rapist. It was a two
parter called Edith's fiftieth birthday, and I remember being talked
about in hushed tones. I didn't have to be told
that it wasn't for kids. What are you going to do?

You ain't taken off?

Speaker 5 (12:10):
You're close, are you? Yeah?

Speaker 9 (12:14):
Then I'm going to take yours off.

Speaker 5 (12:15):
Wouldn't you like a cup of coffeees?

Speaker 2 (12:21):
Norman Lear became the biggest TV producer of the decade,
helping to create an entire universe of sitcoms and.

Speaker 7 (12:30):
Then there's mod.

Speaker 2 (12:33):
On the most famous episode of Maud, the title character,
a feminist plate by b Arthur, became unexpectedly pregnant and
had to decide whether she'd carried the child's term.

Speaker 11 (12:44):

Speaker 14 (12:45):
Listen to me, it's a simple operation now, But when
you were growing up, it was illegal and it was
dangerous and it was sinister, and you've never gotten over that.

Speaker 5 (12:56):
Now you tell me that's not true.

Speaker 11 (12:58):
It's not true, and you're right, I've never gotten note.

Speaker 2 (13:04):
Maud had the abortion. Lear was also the force behind
some of the first sitcoms centered around black characters, including
Good Times.

Speaker 3 (13:14):
You Couldn't help but notice all those bruises on Penny's.

Speaker 2 (13:16):
Back, a nineteen seventy seven episode featured a young Janet
Jackson playing the victim of child's abuse.

Speaker 5 (13:24):
Oh those pennies at the awkward age. She's always falling down?

Speaker 9 (13:29):
Isn't that true?

Speaker 14 (13:29):

Speaker 5 (13:30):
Didn't you fall down?

Speaker 3 (13:31):
Ah? One time I fell out of the tree and
I landed on my pussy cat and a squished them.

Speaker 11 (13:38):
And Pussycat sure leads a tough life.

Speaker 13 (13:41):
What TV shows are certainly a good way to talk
about these issues and call people's attention to them in
a way that they may not be considering it.

Speaker 2 (13:50):
That's Norman lear from a conversation I had with him
back in twenty fifteen for CBS Sunday Morning.

Speaker 13 (13:56):
Most people in their own emotionally crowded lives hear about
these things, visit it in a short conversation, but their
minds are not really there. So I think speaking about
it in a comedy where they were even getting laughs
about it can only be a good thing.

Speaker 2 (14:15):
If you control them in with a story. At least
you can maybe get them to then talk about it at.

Speaker 13 (14:20):
Home in the next conversation they're familiar with it and
perhaps a little bit more ready to embrace.

Speaker 2 (14:28):
Norman told me that even decades later, he heard from
viewers about the impact of his shows.

Speaker 13 (14:35):
It's so touching. And we watched it as a family.
We don't watch anything as a family now, and we
talked about Archie and we talked about the subject matter.
And the one thing that I think the show accomplished
that I can count on because I've heard it through
all the years, was that there are big words to me.

We talked to the show and we.

Speaker 6 (15:01):
Talked think about the things that Norman Lear was able
to get away with, quote unquote, get away with talking about.
And he was so powerful at that point that I
have to imagine that there were I mean, there was
that whole standards and practices department at every network that
there must have been people who pushed back against certain things,
lines that he wanted to do, or maybe maybe topics.

Speaker 2 (15:21):
There was indeed pushback to many viewers shows like Norman
Lear's were too candid. Additionally, there was outrage over the
nineteen seventy four Linda Blair made for TV movie Born Innocent,
which included graphic sexual violence and aired at eight PM
when many children were watching TV. The networks went on defense.

Speaker 15 (15:44):
The period from seven to nine PM is known in
television as the family viewing period.

Speaker 4 (15:49):
A period during which parents and children are supposed to
be able to sit together and watch television without being
made to feel uncomfortable or so the networks to find
the family owner.

Speaker 2 (15:59):
Which meant that in nineteen seventy five, shows like All
in the Family, which had been airing at eight pm Eastern,
had to move to later in the evening. Let's All Sing,
the nineteen seventy five version of those were the day
the cast recorded a parody of their opening number, mocking

the Family Hour concept and celebrating what their later time
slot would allow them to talk about.

Speaker 9 (16:28):
Seeing Congers.

Speaker 15 (16:33):
Robert Can Propose to Build.

Speaker 2 (16:37):
In court, Lear and other writers and producers challenged the
Family Hour. The court ruled that the Family Hour concept
was a violation of the First Amendment, but it also
said it had no authority to dictate how the network's
programmed We Can Show.

Speaker 15 (16:54):
My Pregnancy and John Boy Can Have b D.

Speaker 7 (17:02):
Plus a quick ves sent.

Speaker 2 (17:07):
After nine o'clock. The Family Hour wasn't going away anytime soon.
On the other side of the break the nineteen eighties
and the heyday of the Very Special Episode.

Speaker 6 (17:27):
It was one of those things like can we just
farm out parenting to this show. Yes, cool, We're super
happy with that.

Speaker 7 (17:41):
Hello, I'm Conrad Vain Tonight on Different Strokes, we're starting
a special two part show on a very sensitive and
important subject.

Speaker 2 (17:51):
Different Strokes was one of the biggest hit sitcoms of
the early nineteen eighties, airing at eight pm Eastern on Saturdays,
prying family time. So in February nineteen eighty three, when
Conrad Bain, who played the wealthy adoptive father of Arnold
and Willis Jackson, spoke directly to viewers before the episode,

you knew it was serious.

Speaker 7 (18:15):
Now we urge families, children and parents alike to watch
both of these informative episodes and then to discuss the
problem presented, which is of deep concern to all of us.

Speaker 5 (18:25):
He's saying, this is what we're going to show you. Parents, children,
sit down and discuss.

Speaker 2 (18:31):
This is how America we do very special episodes. Okay,
So this episode was about stranger danger and pedophiles. It's
Arnold and his friend Dudley, and they become friends with
the owner of a local bicycle shop, mister Wharton.

Speaker 11 (18:45):
You know, guys, you can just have an awful lot
of fun with your close office.

Speaker 10 (18:51):
Les's of course you live at the North Pole, going
to freeze your tush off?

Speaker 6 (18:57):
What kind of fun?

Speaker 2 (18:59):
Well, for instance, as Skinny Dippit, mister Hohrton gives the
kids wine, which is later discovered by Conrad Bain's character.
Here Arnold explains what happened.

Speaker 3 (19:11):
Well, while I was there with Dudley, he gave us
some pizza and wine.

Speaker 7 (19:15):
What else went on there?

Speaker 5 (19:17):
He showed us some pictures.

Speaker 3 (19:19):
Everybody was naked naked, and he showed us some kinky cartoons.

Speaker 2 (19:28):
What do you mean by kinky?

Speaker 5 (19:30):
Well, you told.

Speaker 3 (19:31):
Me about the birds and bees, but that's nothing compared
to what those mice were doing.

Speaker 5 (19:41):
Who was laughing? Who is laughing?

Speaker 7 (19:44):

Speaker 2 (19:44):
I know? I think part of the awkwardness is that
Carrie Coleman was such a star and they couldn't resist
having him show his comedic chops, and here it is jarring.

Speaker 5 (19:56):
I wonder if.

Speaker 6 (19:57):
Maybe it's more jarring, and if they fell more compelled
to make sure the laughs were there. Because the audience
of Different Strokes was a younger audience as opposed to
the leer shows. Those were smart, smart shows, and those
were smart enough that adults were watching they weren't sort
of here I'm going to spoonfeed us had come to
a child.

Speaker 2 (20:17):
That's Jessica Shaw again, and she's right. This was a
younger audience, and this episode did have an impact. Newspapers
reported the arrest of at least one suspected child molester
in Indiana after a young boy recognized and reported predatory
behavior in an adult. Now it's important to note that

the term very special episode was never actually used by programmers.
It just sort of became a joke later, so there's
no strict definition. I think of it as any episode
of a family show where quote unquote sensitive subject matter
was discussed, whether or not there was an actual warning
from Conrad Bain and probably no show had more very

special episodes than different strokes. They covered kidnapping, bulimia, drinking,
and just one month after that Stranger Danger episode came
the Nancy Reagan Just Say No episode. The Reagan era
became the golden age of very special episodes, and sometimes

at the direction of Washington itself. In the case of drugs,
the White House wanted to get the just say no
message out to as many kids as possible. Congress was
also applying pressure Chuck Schumer, than a New York House
Rep co wrote a letter asking networks to devise an
intensified campaign of public service announcements and instructive programs. Author

Philip Sepanski makes the case that the networks were eager
to comply. This was a period of deregulation when the
networks stood to get even richer. They wanted to show
that they could be responsible programmers without the old rules
that forced them to be. So it was a win
win for the government and the networks. Plus, kids learned

something while their parents theoretically received guidance on how to explain,
as Wally Cleefer put it, all the bad junk in
the world. Here's an elegant transition AIDS. It's the eighties,
so this is right when AIDS emerges, obviously as a
major crisis, and there were very special episodes about it.

Speaker 5 (22:30):
Now but Nancy Reagan, I can tell you that much.

Speaker 2 (22:32):
Let's go into Mister Belvidere, a show that I must
confess I never saw until now.

Speaker 11 (22:38):
That's Belvidere, Lynn Belvidere, Queen.

Speaker 2 (22:41):
That's a girl's name. Mister Belvidere is a British butler
who works for the Owens family in suburban Pittsburgh. Here
he is greeting a friend of youngest child, Wesley.

Speaker 6 (22:54):
Everyone you remember, where's his friend? Danny?

Speaker 14 (22:56):

Speaker 6 (22:57):
Oh, Danny?

Speaker 9 (23:00):
Hi a champ? How's it going well?

Speaker 5 (23:02):
I get eight.

Speaker 2 (23:03):
President that I'm doing pretty good? Okay. So it's very direct.

Speaker 6 (23:09):
And I also think at that point, look at what
was going on in the White House. No one was
talking about AIDS, so you can bet that families weren't
talking about it either.

Speaker 2 (23:20):
It's true President Reagan didn't even mention AIDS in public
until nineteen eighty five, four years into the epidemic.

Speaker 6 (23:28):
Just having a conversation about this is usually when you
think about what was going on in real life with
Ryan White.

Speaker 2 (23:35):
Ryan White was a hemophiliac teenager from Kocomo, Indiana, who
contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion and was banned from
attending school.

Speaker 15 (23:45):
It's a story we're hearing more and more often, a
story marked by school boycotts and lawsuits and students like
Ryan White manned from school because they have AIDS. Now,
I think that such a serious issue is not the
stuff of which situation comedies are made. Were but don't
tell them, folks, who work on Mister Belvidere.

Speaker 2 (24:02):
This episode aired in January of nineteen eighty six, and
for a network television family show, it was pretty radical.
For the writers, it was personal. They were inspired not
only by the case of Ryan White, but also by
their very own talent manager's loss. Her three year old
son had died from AIDS after a blood transfusion. In

the episode's final scene, Wesley stands up for Danny, who
was not allowed to participate in a school pageant.

Speaker 3 (24:33):
Is Daniel and Neion. He was supposed to play linkon
but he couldn't because he's got AIDS.

Speaker 2 (24:38):
Hey, oh, what are you doing out here?

Speaker 4 (24:41):

Speaker 2 (24:41):
Get away from him?

Speaker 10 (24:43):
Hey, what's now with you people?

Speaker 2 (24:45):
He's not going to hurt you.

Speaker 3 (24:47):
I'm sorry. He feels bad enough forgot everybody trying to
make him feel worse.

Speaker 6 (24:50):
I have to say, like I was getting a little emotional.
I felt a little burd in my nose watching that
scene because adults were horrible, and you hear them in
the audience saying get away from him, and then you
hear this next generation saying no, you're being a nightmare
and you're being a bigot.

Speaker 5 (25:10):
And there's something powerful about that.

Speaker 2 (25:14):
And I should point out that the actor who played
the boy with aids is today a trans woman journalist
at Axios and is very very proud of that episode
and great that episode did.

Speaker 6 (25:26):
Yeah, I think it is powerful and also not to
be underestimated how much parenting was farmed out to network television.

Speaker 2 (25:35):
The drama of very special episodes went done right required
more nuanced performances. The best example maybe the nineteen eighty
four Uncle Ned episode of Family Ties. In this scene,
the lead character of Alex P. Keaton played by Michael J. Fox,
encounters his alcoholic uncle Ned in the kitchen in the

middle of the night. You'll probably recognize the voice, so
the actor playing Uncle Ned.

Speaker 9 (26:02):
Oh oh, oh oh, here we go.

Speaker 2 (26:04):
Now it may not be million time, but it is
vanilla time. Looking at you, kid. Now, remember, don't drive
and bake.

Speaker 5 (26:23):
I don't believe this. You'd just strike a whole bottle
of vanilla extract.

Speaker 2 (26:27):
And so who is it? Very famous actor.

Speaker 6 (26:30):
Tom Hanks as Uncle Ned in like, by the way,
the tightest jeans ever.

Speaker 2 (26:36):
Wow, those are tight. Well, first of all, maybe I
should know this does vanilla extract have alcohol?

Speaker 5 (26:42):
I think it does?

Speaker 2 (26:43):
Oh it does? Okay, you know, when I first saw
this a couple of years ago, many years after it aired,
I thought, oh, I'm going to watch something really, really laughable.
But of course Tom Hanks is so good that he
pulls it off.

Speaker 6 (26:56):
Yes, absolutely, I mean that line, don't drive in bake.

Speaker 5 (26:59):
It's a good come line.

Speaker 6 (27:00):
But yeah, he's so good, and he's so funny, and
he's so charming.

Speaker 5 (27:06):
This storyline feels organic.

Speaker 2 (27:09):
Towards the end of the episode, a drunk uncle Ned
blows a job interview and Alex tries to remind him
of his successful past. Then, in a pretty shocking scene,
Ned backhands his nephew across the face. Hey give me,
leave me alone.

Speaker 5 (27:26):
Give me lave me alone. What the hell are you, Joyce?

Speaker 2 (27:31):
I don't know, I don't know.

Speaker 9 (27:35):
I'm sorry.

Speaker 11 (27:36):

Speaker 2 (27:38):
The Keaton family gives Ned an ultimatum, call AA or
get out. Ned calls AA, and we never see him again.
Like all Very Special episodes, everything is resolved five years later.
A nineteen eighty nine episode of Growing Pains addressed drinking
and driving, younger sister Carol finds out her boyfriend Sandy

was in a car accident. Sandy is played by another
soon to be famous actor.

Speaker 5 (28:07):
What happened last night?

Speaker 8 (28:09):
Well, this big tree ran right out in front of me,
and I'm gonna be charged with drunk driving.

Speaker 14 (28:19):
I don't understand.

Speaker 5 (28:19):
I mean, it's not like we had that much to drink.

Speaker 9 (28:21):
I know.

Speaker 8 (28:22):
I mean there's been plenty of times I put away
a lot more than that.

Speaker 5 (28:25):
Nothing happened.

Speaker 9 (28:26):
I guess I just ran out of luck last.

Speaker 5 (28:29):
Night, Are you kidding?

Speaker 10 (28:33):
I mean, when you think of what could have happened,
you were really lucky.

Speaker 2 (28:38):
And so that is Chacy Gold who plays the daughter Carol,
who's an honor student, so she's usually you know, goody
two shoes, I guess. And that's her boyfriend, played by
Matthew Perry. Right, so it takes on a whole other
layer of sadness. Let's see how it resolves.

Speaker 9 (28:54):
Carol Sandy just died. Oh my god, he said just
a few minutes.

Speaker 6 (29:01):
Michael Seer, that is the second joke that I have
ever heard.

Speaker 5 (29:04):
I'm never gonna forgive you.

Speaker 2 (29:06):
Now. I went earlier and I looked this is obviously
on scientific but I looked at comments on YouTube. There's
no snark. There are all these comments about how powerful
this episode was and what a difference.

Speaker 9 (29:19):
It made what happened to his second chance, what I
happened to his second chance?

Speaker 6 (29:28):
Yeah, and this is one of the episodes that people
look to and they say, oh, this stopped me, or
this allowed me to talk to my kid about drunk driving,
or this stopped me from having a drink before getting
behind a wheel.

Speaker 5 (29:39):
And I have to say, just the very idea of.

Speaker 6 (29:42):
What happened to his second chance is so profound, and
it's so simple.

Speaker 5 (29:48):
It's nothing.

Speaker 6 (29:49):
It's one line, you know, and it says everything you
want to say, as opposed to some of these other
very special episodes that are like, well, you know, there's
so much verbiage there.

Speaker 2 (29:58):
Jeez. That's such a great point because this seems to
me like the kind of thing a parent tries to
impress on a child, and it's really hard to get
a child to accept that there's not always a second chance.

Speaker 6 (30:11):
Yes, because kids think they're invincible. And so when you
hear another kid almost being like I don't understand, it
goes right there and it's so understandable and relatable.

Speaker 2 (30:23):
You were saying a lot of these very special episodes
were doing parenting for parents, but here something that a
parent would say to a child is actually dramatized pretty effectively.

Speaker 6 (30:35):
And better in some ways. I think there were conversations
that parents should have had with children. I have two kids,
two teenagers now, and there are things that they will
learn in a way that they will listen to more.
Their ears will open more if they hear it from
someone their age, if they hear it, you know, coming
from culture rather than from their mother.

Speaker 5 (30:56):
And this is one of those examples.

Speaker 2 (30:59):
By the way, you interviewed Matthew Perry, right.

Speaker 6 (31:01):
I did for his memoir, and then watching this watching
him play someone who's using alcohol and then who dies,
I don't know, it kind.

Speaker 2 (31:12):
Of takes your breath away a little, and you know,
people keep saying it. But in that earlier scene he
is really good.

Speaker 5 (31:18):
I mean, he was a good actor.

Speaker 6 (31:20):
He could deliver a line, he had great timing, and
in that moment you can see that he had the
potential to play a little bit of drama too.

Speaker 2 (31:28):
Now, a lot of the shows we've been talking about
featured suburban white families, but in the eighties and nineties,
many millions of viewers were watching black families on the
Cosby show, Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of bel Air.

Speaker 12 (31:44):
Now this is the story all about him. Well, I'd
got twins ferns upside down and I'd like to take
a manager said, right then, I'll tell you how it
became the prince of a town called bell Air.

Speaker 2 (31:55):
Okay, so this is a very special episode from The
Fresh Prince of bel Air. It aired in nineteen ninety. Okay,
so over thirty years ago. Will Smith's character and his
cousin Carlton the wonderful Alfonso Rovero driving in a fancy
car to Palm Springs and getting stopped by a cop
vehicle registration. Please just a second, But the thing is, officer,

this isn't my car.

Speaker 8 (32:23):
Get out of the car, Carlon what he's gonna tell
us to get out of the car?

Speaker 5 (32:27):
You watch too much TV?

Speaker 2 (32:28):
Will get out of the car, officer.

Speaker 3 (32:33):
Honestly, I don't see the need to get.

Speaker 2 (32:35):
Out of the car now. Okay. So then they're basically
booked into a precinct and then they're released, and then
there's this discussion which is really interesting between the Will
and Carlton characters. Were attained for a few hours.

Speaker 8 (32:52):
Dad planned things up, and we were released.

Speaker 9 (32:54):
The system works.

Speaker 8 (32:57):
I hope you like that system because you want to
be seeing a whole lot of during your lifetime, not if.

Speaker 2 (33:01):
I bring a map.

Speaker 8 (33:07):
You just don't get it, do you. No map is
going to save you. Neither's your glee club or your
fancy bel air address or who your daddy is, because
when you're driving in a nice car in a strange neighborhood,
none of that matters.

Speaker 9 (33:20):
They only see one thing.

Speaker 6 (33:22):
Just the fact that this is still happening. And you know,
could have beared last week and people would have said, oh,
this is so timely, is its own tragedy. But it's
so fascinating that scene and how the writers go right there.

Speaker 5 (33:37):
It really is.

Speaker 2 (33:38):
And part of what's also interesting, And look, there's a
kind of subtlety of sophistication happening between those two characters.
Right they don't introduce a white bagot character who has
the conversation with Will. Will and his cousin who's also black,
are having this disagreement over it, and somehow it seems
to have more impact that way.

Speaker 5 (33:56):
Yeah, no, I agree. I think it's a really interesting scene.

Speaker 2 (34:00):
A conversation between two black characters about racism. The Very
Special episode had come a long way since the groundbreaking
Bewitched episode of twenty years before. But by the end
of the nineteen nineties, the very special episode was dead.
What killed it?

Speaker 6 (34:19):
I think audiences became kind of too hip to what
was going on.

Speaker 2 (34:25):
That's next, Jesse.

Speaker 9 (34:31):
Those pills are dangerous.

Speaker 5 (34:32):
Yeah, it was, sois geometry.

Speaker 2 (34:33):
You told me you were going to stop taking them.

Speaker 9 (34:35):
I need them to stay awake and study.

Speaker 2 (34:37):
Okay, this is saved by the Bell. This is an
episode about caffeine pills. It's sort of like when people
don't want to say Kleenex, they say facial tissue. They
didn't want to use the brand name Nodos here, right,
so instead they're talking about caffeine pills.

Speaker 5 (34:53):
Anything would be okay. I just need one of these pills.

Speaker 2 (34:58):
And so this is Elizabeth Berkeley's carearacter Jesse, and she's
turned to caffeine pills to keep up with her studies
and her new singing group, which is called Hot Sunday.
I mean, you really are taking drugs.

Speaker 3 (35:09):
You need them, say, Jessee, you can't sing the night
you cat.

Speaker 5 (35:16):
I'm so excited.

Speaker 2 (35:18):
I'm so excited scared. Well, first of all, do you
think they had to pay for the rights? Did she
sing enough of the Pointer Sister song that they had
to pay for it.

Speaker 6 (35:30):
I hope, so they should be paying for something. It's
super subtle. I love when she's like digging around.

Speaker 5 (35:35):
She's like pails pills.

Speaker 6 (35:38):
It's no one ever acted that way about nosing their
lives exactly.

Speaker 2 (35:43):
I was a Jolt Cola person if I needed to
finish a paper, but I don't remember getting that excited.
To be fair, producers had originally wanted the substance Jesse
was taking to be speed, but the network wouldn't allow it.
The nineteen ninety caffeine pills episode of Saved by the
Bell was so memorable it was parodied twenty five years

later on Family Guy.

Speaker 12 (36:07):
You actually are taking drugs, Stuet, give me those the contact.

Speaker 5 (36:11):
I need them to sing.

Speaker 6 (36:13):
I'm so excited, I'm so excited, so scared.

Speaker 5 (36:25):
Screech is going to stab someone on Christmas.

Speaker 2 (36:28):
But even by nineteen ninety four, when the movie Reality
Bites came out, the very notion that a sitcom bore
any meaningful resemblance to real life was sadly by gone.

Speaker 9 (36:40):
I just don't.

Speaker 2 (36:44):
Understand why things just can't go back to normal.

Speaker 9 (36:47):
At the end of the half hour, like on The
Brady Bunch or something.

Speaker 2 (36:54):
Well, because mister Brady died of aides and for most
kids growing up in the late nineties and early two
thousand's family, our TV seemed alien.

Speaker 6 (37:05):
First of all, the idea that your parents would sanction
your TV watching was donzo, forget about it. I'm watching
the show I want to watch for me. You don't
need to know what I'm watching. And so that stamp
of parental approval of like, we're going to have a
conversation that adults are going to spoon feed to you
kind of in your language, but kind of not, there

was a generation of kids who are like, no, we
don't do that anymore.

Speaker 2 (37:32):
Right, I don't need to be introduced to this topic
on my favorite sitcom?

Speaker 6 (37:37):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and just the entire tone of sitcoms changed.

Speaker 2 (37:43):
If there was any one sitcom that marked the death
knell for the very special episode.

Speaker 6 (37:52):
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld would come along saying basically,
there are going to be no very special episodes.

Speaker 5 (37:58):
That is the very thing that we will never do.

Speaker 2 (38:00):
I mean, what was the quote, no hugging, no learning,
No hugging no learning, right, So Seinfeld is a series
was a stand against everything that the very Special episode
stood for.

Speaker 6 (38:08):
Yeah, there will be zero issues, and even in the
show within the show, that show was also about nothing.

Speaker 5 (38:17):
Well, what's the show about?

Speaker 9 (38:19):
It's about nothing?

Speaker 2 (38:22):
No story?

Speaker 9 (38:23):
Forget the story.

Speaker 2 (38:25):
You gotta have a story?

Speaker 9 (38:26):
Who says you gotta have a story. Remember when we
were waiting for that table in that Chinese restaurant that time?
That could be a TV show?

Speaker 2 (38:35):
How many levels of smart?

Speaker 6 (38:36):
I mean, it's just it's so so great and thank god,
I mean truly, can you imagine if they tried to
tackle an issue.

Speaker 2 (38:45):
Of course, plenty of new series did take on topics
that were new to sitcoms, but instead of these being
handled by ancillary characters in one off episodes, they became
part of the fabric of the series itself. Take Will
and Grace, what decades earlier might have been a very
special episode about an out gay man living with his

straight female best friend, became an entire series. On the show,
Blackish creator Kennya Barris wove into the comedy issues as
serious as police brutality and the use of the N word.
Not surprisingly, he cited Norman Lear as a major influence.

Speaker 6 (39:26):
Yeah or even a show like My Crazy Ex Girlfriend,
I mean talking about mental health.

Speaker 5 (39:30):
Forget it.

Speaker 6 (39:31):
I mean, can you imagine it's sitcom in the eighties
talking about mental health.

Speaker 2 (39:35):
No, that wouldn't happen today. The term very special episode
is so by gone. It's quaint, used almost endearingly here
on the ABC sitcom Abbot Elementary.

Speaker 14 (39:47):
Okay, if you guys are finished with this very special episode.

Speaker 2 (39:52):
The very special episode could be pretty corny. And let's
face it, there's only so much any kind of sitcom
can do to a us some real world problems. When
Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of Abbott Elementary, was
asked by fans to consider a school shooting storyline, she
suggested they use that energy to demand more from lawmakers.

And yet there's also something to be said about a
time when families were more likely to watch together and
maybe even learned together. As Norman Lear told me about
that time, we talked. We looked at the show and
we talked. He's right. We may have laughed, we may
have disagreed, we may have cringed, but at least we talked.

With the exception of the Jesse Saved by the Bell,
Caffeine pil freak out. I found myself looking at a
lot of these scenes and I don't know, being kind
of moved by them, Like the good times that mister
Belvidere grows hands.

Speaker 6 (40:53):
I mean, yeah, and Tracy Gold is really good in
that scene. I agree with you there intense and they're
dealing with complex and profound feeling.

Speaker 2 (41:05):
In the best way that they can in the format.

Speaker 5 (41:08):
Yes, and in a way that somehow works.

Speaker 2 (41:12):
And of course not almost it comes had very special episodes.
There was never a very special episode of Three's Company, right, yeah,
I mean what would that have been about? Like about
rent Control?

Speaker 6 (41:20):
I feel like something could have happened with the roper.
That was a very special episode waiting to happen.

Speaker 2 (41:24):
A Mumoo accident, for sure.

Speaker 6 (41:27):
It was flammable and the house burned down. Right, let's
explore homelesses.

Speaker 2 (41:35):
I certainly hope you enjoyed this Mobituary. May I ask
you to please rate and review our podcast. You can
also follow Mobituaries on Facebook and Instagram, and you can
follow me on the social media platform formerly known as
Twitter at Morocca. Here are all new episodes of Mobituaries
every Wednesday. Wherever you get your podcasts and check out

Mobituaries Eight Lives Worth Reliving, the New York Times best
selling book, now available in paperback and audiobook. It includes
plenty of stories not in the podcast. This episode of
Mobituaries was produced by Liz Sanchez. Our team of producers
also includes Zoe Culkin and me Moroka, with engineering by

Josh Han. Our theme music is written by Daniel Hart.
Our archival producer is Jamie Benson. Mobituary's production company is
neon Hammedia. Indispensable support from Alan Pang and everyone at
CBS News Radio Special thanks to Steve Razis, Rand Morrison,

and Alberto Romina, as well as the authors of the book,
Very special episodes televising industrial and social change. Executive producers
for Mobituaries include Megan Marcus, Jonathan Hirsch, and Morocca. The
series is created by Yours Truly
Advertise With Us

Popular Podcasts

Dateline NBC
Who Killed JFK?

Who Killed JFK?

Who Killed JFK? For 60 years, we are still asking that question. In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's tragic assassination, legendary filmmaker Rob Reiner teams up with award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien to tell the history of America’s greatest murder mystery. They interview CIA officials, medical experts, Pulitzer-prize winning journalists, eyewitnesses and a former Secret Service agent who, in 2023, came forward with groundbreaking new evidence. They dig deep into the layers of the 60-year-old question ‘Who Killed JFK?’, how that question has shaped America, and why it matters that we’re still asking it today.

Las Culturistas with Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang

Las Culturistas with Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang

Ding dong! Join your culture consultants, Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang, on an unforgettable journey into the beating heart of CULTURE. Alongside sizzling special guests, they GET INTO the hottest pop-culture moments of the day and the formative cultural experiences that turned them into Culturistas. Produced by the Big Money Players Network and iHeartRadio.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.