NBC was on top of the television universe in the late '80s, with an arsenal of TV's most-watched shows, including The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties and The Golden Girls. So the network had plenty of big guns to bring out each year as it put together its colossal promo for the new fall season.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we're looking at those fall promos from NBC’s dominant ’80s run, which centered around the theme that viewers should "come home" to the National Broadcasting Company, and spend lots of quality time with all of its favorite stars: Michael J. Fox, Harry Hamlin, Betty White and (sigh) Bill Cosby.
I'm a sucker for these "intermingling casts" promos, much like the 1987 one that Fox aired with Johnny Depp and Matthew Perry. The same year, NBC released this one, which was even more entertaining:
There’s so much to unpack here. Should we start with the decision to depict John Larroquette as the network’s resident Peeping Tom, gleefully using his telescope to get up close and personal with an unsuspecting Deidre Hall, followed by a very willing Estelle Getty? Or Harry Hamlin ending up in a spa with The Golden Girls Betty White, Bea Arthur and Rue McLanahan? How about the fact that so many NBC shows at the time included scenes of characters playing air guitar that the network was able to include an air guitar montage? Justine Bateman’s red gloves? Michael J. Fox’s wind machine? Ed Begley Jr.’s glasses that seem to get bigger in every shot? The bizarre, deepening relationship between Bob Hope and ALF? Jason Bateman (starring in what was then called Valerie’s Family) and Dennis Franz (Beverly Hills Buntz) relegated to the briefest of cameos?
Nope. For me, all discussion has to begin with the fact that the network put Tom Brokaw—its flagship newsman—in Bright. Yellow. Pants. People used to give Barbara Walters grief for sullying her hard-news reputation by frolicking with celebs, but Brokaw gets a pass for that outfit? It’s also interesting to note that the cast of Cheers somehow managed to wiggle out of promo duty (the actors appear in show footage only). Who knew Ted Danson had more pull than Fox and Johnny Carson? (Cosby, too, is MIA from this one, but he appears in both the 1988 and 1989 versions.)
This promo also includes one of my favorite random montages of all time. During the lyric, “home is where you see the faces that you’ve loved forever/Home is where you meet the people that you want to be with,” we see George Burns, followed by Darth Vader, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, ALF and the Smurfs. Sure, why not?
And much like everyone else who was partying hard in the ‘80s, NBC saw no end to its good fortune: “Where the magic never seems to end! Where the good times keep you coming back again.” (Well, at least until Jeff Zucker took over…)
NBC urged viewers to “come home” for several years. In 1988, its “Come Home to the Best” promo kicked off with a shot of Cosby inviting you into his abode, an unfortunate choice in retrospect. (One awkward line from the accompanying song: “Only on NBC, Bill Cosby always brings you Cheers.”)
In this one, poor Betty White is nearly electrocuted. And NBC’s programming is apparently so potent that it turned Highway to Heaven’s Michael Landon into a professional dancer! It also allowed Sandy Duncan to relive her Peter Pan days by “flying” into the air with the help of some balloons. NBC succeeded in creating a big, raucous party that indeed made viewers wish they were there.
That was a big improvement from 1986, when NBC kicked off the “come home” theme with a promo that gave its stars the short-shrift in favor of endless shots of average Americans rushing home to their sets. Especially given that this promo runs three minutes, it quickly becomes redundant.
By the time 1989 rolled around, the “come home” theme was feeling played out, but NBC returned to the same well again with one final, overly-caffeinated promo. Between the busy animation and multiple shots of Unsolved Mysteries host Robert Stack recreating his sunglasses comedy bit from Airplane, this promo feels desperate:
Though I’m intrigued to see Jason Bateman and his Hogan Family castmates play factory workers—who did they tick off to get stuck doing manual labor while everyone else is having fun?—I'm getting wary of “coming home” to the same antics by now. Still, the network’s 1987 and 1988 promos remain delightful artifacts. Instead of visiting friends and family this holiday season, “come home to NBC!”