Growing up in deep Southeast Texas we didn’t have cable or satellite. Looking back through things these past few weeks put me to thinking about the things that we watched. We weren’t exactly a sit and watch television together as a family type with my father working shift-work. There are a few things I do remember though, mostly any National Geographic special, and I remember seeing more than a few made for tv movies through the years. Maybe it was just the time I was coming up, but it seemed like there were options than you’d expect for people limited to the big three network tv.
We had channels, 4, 6, 12, 29 which were NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Later we could pick up channel 55 out of Houston if the weather was right. It had an evening slot of Are You Being Served, Fawlty Towers, and Keeping Up Appearances, and a Sunday western roll that included The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and sometimes Wild, Wild, West. I suppose it was the Nick at Night or MeTv of the 90s Networks. We could not pick up PBS at all. All that said, I started listing the ones I remembered and then began to look through them for the dates and networks and decided a nice little collection of the made for tv movie trailers would be fun.
Lonesome Dove (1989) CBS February 5-8, 1989
I remember more of the hype around this one than actually watching all of it. I remember parts–the snakes in the river–vividly. I had just turned six a couple months before, but things like that stay with you. Part of the memory comes from all the making sure the tapes were ready to record. Our VCR had the pop-up kind loading area and a remote. It was a corded remote but it was a remote. I remember watching the tapes again and my dad pausing and slow motioning parts of it to see stuff better.
Then it was released on 4 VHS tapes slipcased together in a collectable set. “All 6 hours.” Almost everyone I knew when I was a kid had this set.
The Old Man and the Sea (1990) NBC March 25, 1990
I don’t remember much about this one except the big marlin battle and I can still see the lines cutting his hands and the fish dragging his boat. It would be years before I put this in any sort of context reading Hemingway.
The Langoliers (1995) ABC May 14-15, 1995
There’s a big jump here. We didn’t read or watch horror, hardly anyone in my family did or does I suppose. Looking back through there was a glut of Stephen King stuff in the early 90s, from It in November 1990 , The Golden Years in 1991 (7 episodes between July and August), The Tommyknockers in May 1993, and The Stand in May 1994. The Shining came around in April/May 1997, and those are just the names I recognized. I do remember kids at school talking about all these but the only one I saw on TV was The Langoliers and I didn’t see enough of it to understand the out of time slip and the langoliers as the cleanup crew, repairing the continuum. For years I had this weird notion that they ate the past, that they were responsible for things becoming past. I wasn’t yet 13 that year, but it did put my mind through figuring out if each day was a new version of yourself or the same, and honestly when I got to graduate school some people were arguing over that. I never brought up the langoliers.
Gulliver’s Travels (1996) NBC, February 4-5, 1996.
Featuring the bartender from Cheers as Dr. Lemuel Gulliver, this version was a great collections of all the fantastical aspects of the novel. Some of the first of the flying island and such as I had ever seen on television. I enjoyed this one. I may be in the minority that I liked pretty much all these on this list. Ted Danson was an excellent narrator, and parts of this have stayed in my mind since I first say it. Particularly the exchange with the horses, the mirror of time, the immortals, and how they proved his story to be true. I consider this to be the definitive adaption, and didn’t realize until I was pulling the trailer that Jim Henson Studios had done the effects work. I have also discovered that I love the old TV spots promoting these movies, and I love the people who post them, and the internet for keeping them available.
This one is for the double VHS set. I’d say it is worth having on DVD.
The Beast (1996) NBC, April 28-29, 1996.
Peter Benchley’s The Beast was one I distinctly remember making time for watching. you didn’t just DVR it, but you did VCR it. I don’t know when exactly Jaws ran on television, I know it did because I watched it and it terrified me. I remembered the severed leg sinking to the bottom of the sea, and I immediately took down the really amazing four feet long inflatable shark I had in my room. I had been enthralled with sharks until then. That was a hard stop for me. Whatever else Benchley did for ocean conservation, he and Spielberg put me out of the marine biology business. I enjoyed The Beast and it was the first thing I thought about when I saw William Petersen as Gil Grissom in CSI four and a half years later.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997) ABC May 11-12, 1997.
I would say that 1997 was a hallmark year for Hallmark movies, but they weren’t all Hallmark. It was a banner year for TV movies though. ABC’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea featured Michael Caine as titular Captain Nemo, I like it, but then I like Michael Caine. There isn’t a trailer or TV spot for it, and every time I mention it people think I am making it up, but there is a DVD
and as of today there are some clips on youtube.
Turns out CBS had a Sunday movie version of this very same book. This version was a Hallmark Channel version, and aired just two months before this one (March 23, 1997). It seems to be the one everyone remembers. I watched it some time ago when I was back searching to prove to someone that Michael Caine had been Captain Nemo. It’s okay, and another fun period piece of “costume drama” I believe is the phrase. They did replace the professor’s manservant with his daughter because the 90s? Even when they put the cover on the other DVD they left out Mr. Attucks. But, being Hallmark, they do have a proper trailer.
The Odyssey (1997) NBC May 18-19, 1997.
Just a week after ABC’s Michael Caine Nemo, NBC gave us Armand Assante as Odysseus. I remembered much about this one for a long time as well, especially the revelation scene with the bow and axe heads. The effects were TV standard but they were good for what and when they were. It’s a fantastic version, and every time I think about it I hear my old homeroom teacher laugh about Armand Assante being Odysseus so there is a double benefit there or me. I remember talking to Mrs Conway about this movie just before school let out. I liked this one too. I had carefully recorded both the Michael Cain 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Odyssey on to the same VHS, cutting the commercials. I brought it to school to watch in Freshman Honors English after we finished reading it, and I never got it back. It’s a Hallmark Entertainment feature so it can be found on DVD, and it’s worth it.
There is also a really neat making of documentary of sorts on youtube. At one point it claims that “on a per hour basis The Odyssey was the most expensive drama ever created for television.”
Merlin (1998) NBC April 26-27, 1998.
NBC seemed to be the one bringing the best TV movies to use network viewers. Merlin was another Hallmark Media (maybe this was the place to work back in the late 90s?) adventure. This one brought in Alan Grant–I mean Sam Neill–to star as the wizard Merlin. I loved this one, in spite of the weird editing and camera fisheyes throughout. The framing of the story was great, and it was a wonderful story. I’d say second only to the blue robed Merlin with Archimedes.
and a bonus a UK trailer, looks to be BBC 4:
I didn’t realize until pulling some research for this post that three books had been written as novelizations of this film by James Mallory. They are Merlin: The Old Magic, Merlin: The King’s Wizard, and Merlin: The End of Magic.
Hallmark also produced a sequel to this in 2006 entitled Merlin’s Apprentice.
Creature (1998) NBC May 17-18, 1998
Benchley’s back (there is an Elton John song that could be tweaked for this). Another water ocean terror type, this one based on his 1994 book White Shark which was rereleased to coincide with this production as Creature. The one thing that stood out to me in this was the creature, obviously, as it was a live action Street Shark. The other was that Coach was in it. For some reason, seeing Craig T. Nelson in this was something that always set how I remembered it. I’m not sure what all the differences are from the book, I haven’t read it.
and this one makes note that the man who brought the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to life helped.
They are talking about Stan Winton Studios
Alice in Wonderland (1999) NBC February 28, 1999.
Hallmark is at it again with this insanely SFX loaded made for TV version of Alice in Wonderland. There is far, far more wonderland in this production than the Disney animated classic, even if the Walrus and the Carpenter don’t have a comparable part. After getting the clips and trailers for this I want to watch it again. I liked it more than the Johnny Depp version. But, each of these has their place. What I really enjoy about the trailer is that it is “from the “creators” of Gulliver’s Travels and Merlin…” I use the “” here because they may have made the TV films, but they didn’t create the characters or the stories.
Of course that is for the VHS home editions, the TV promo is much better. I really do love these.
Oh, and here is a really cool, making of doc for it as well
Noah’s Ark (1999) NBC May 2-3, 1999.
This one is funny to me. When I made the list the fist thing I remembered was James Coburn’s character, and the second was the preacher’s kid in my biology class going off on this film the day after it aired. And, if the few comments I let myself check for comparison are any indication, it’s still the same arguments. But, then again, I imagine they always will be. This was one of the better made for TV biblical stories I have seen, they combine stories, and add some things, which apparently some sects see as blasphemy. Because they know what it is supposed to be given their hardline literal interpretation of their translated English copy.
All that aside, I remember watching this one too, so it’s on the list. Reading about it, it was critically panned, compared to Waterworld at one point, but the second night set a NBC ratings peak that they did not reach again until 2004 with the earthquake disaster movie 10.5.
This one was available on video AND DVD this time from the “producers of Merlin and Alice in Wonderland”
and there is a 90 second promo that has some behind the scenes stuff with it as well:
The Spring (2000) NBC? January 16, 2000.
IMDB says this one is from NBC studios. It’s nothing super stellar, but an interesting story and premise. I remember watching this one with my grandfather, so there is that. And then it disappeared. No one I ever talked had seen it, or heard of it, or heard of the premise of it. It was up in the 2010s before I found someone else who had memory of it. Finally as the internet matured (matured? expanded maybe) it finally reemerged and proved I wasn’t suffering from the Mandela Effect.
In the 21st century I went to college, moved out, got satellite,–they still don’t have cable where I grew up. My parent’s got satellite after I moved out, I guess I was a limiting factor. Anyway, even in that post network restricted world, I still watched made for TV movies more than theatrical releases. Most of the time it was better stories, if not better acting. Mysterious Island and King Solomon’s Mines come quickly to mind. Rough Riders was hours long I watched one night when I couldn’t sleep, and Marco Polo had Brian Dennehey as Kublai Kahn. Then there is a whole series of post that could be made on the SciFi Originals. I’m not talking about the Sharknado nonsense, I mean thing like The Tin Man, Mongolian Death Worm, Aztec Rex, Mammoth, Manticore, etc. I’d have to check the dates on those, but off the top of my head here they feel like 2000-2010.