Memory Bank: TV Guide

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, TV Guide was not just a fact of life, it was an absolute necessity.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s in particular, TV Guide was not merely a magazine about program schedules, it was actually a huge and valuable research database for the developing film buff.  Before home video media really exploded to life (VHS and Betamax, at first), the only way to find movies you hoped or desired to see was to scour the pages of TV Guide every week for signs that a local or national station planned to air it. 

And miserable were the times when you indeed found the movie you were seeking, but your local area did not carry the particular station/channel planning to air it.  This happened to me on several occasions.  I remember one time when a TV station not in my area (but featured in TV Guide) aired the Gerry Anderson compilation movie “Alien Attack,” and I couldn’t see it.  All I had was that delicious, tantalizing TV Guide synopsis, which I promptly cut out and kept in a scrapbook.  

Yes, I’m crazy.

Seriously though, by scouring the pages of TV Guide on a regular basis, I discovered for the first time (through reruns) TV-films such as Gargoyles, Satan’s School for Girls and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.  

By searching, religiously — marker in hand — the pages of TV Guide, I first discovered films such as The Green Slime, Soylent Green and The Omega Man.  

It was an amazing time, especially because I was reading about classic and newer movies in the pages of Starlog, Fantastic Films, and movie reference books.   So I was grateful to see such films as Konga, Gorgo, Mighty Joe Young, Day of the Triffids and the like, even cut-up and hacked to bits with commercials.

Today, with Netflix, Roku, cable television, satellite TV and the like, this sort of advance planning for your viewing week isn’t really necessary, I suppose.  Any title you read about, you can usually be watching within a week or two, with a few notable exceptions.  

But back in the day, TV Guide promised a constantly renewing world of wonders every damned week. Of course, you had to stay up till all hours of the night, sometimes, to catch the movies you hoped to see, but this fact just added to the fun of the experience.

TV Guide began its run in 1953 and today is known as TV Guide Magazine.  Is it still fun to read?  I don’t know, because I don’t read it anymore.  But I remember being a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s and waiting with tremendous anticipation every year for the new “fall season preview” edition, which would reveal the nature of new programs coming on, and which old favorites were returning.  I remember reading about (and being baffled by…) the changes in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, for example, during the second season.  I remember reading about Galactica 1980, and thinking – Wow! This is going to be great!

TV Guide was definitely good to the cult-tv fan in other ways too.  Over the years, the magazine has featured a number of incredible covers of science fiction and horror series.  Battlestar Galactica (9/16/78), Cosmos(9/27/80) Mork and Mindy (11/22/80), and Alf (8/15/87) all graced covers of TV Guide over the years.  In the 1990s, Star Trek dominated the magazine with covers featuring Kirk vs. Picard (8/31/91) and Deep Space Nine(01/02/93).

Again, I don’t read TV Guide today – I don’t need to. But I have these great, happy memories of stretching out on my sofa in the 1980s, and highlighting the programs and films I hoped to tape on my VCR.  

I was thrilled, for instance, when WPIX began, in 1987-1988, airing reruns ofSpace: 1999 on at 2:00 am each weeknight.  I never would have known about it without TV Guide.  Another station, I think, aired Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond at the wee hours, and believe me, watching those creepy programs at that hour of half-consciousness was a marvelous, surreal experience.  And, yep, I had TV Guide to thank for pointing out, where, in the universe, I should be “tuned in.”

Every Friday was an exciting day as well, growing up, because the mail would bring next week’s edition of TV Guide, and open up to me a new universe of wonders.  Look, it’s Planet of the Apes week on the 4:30 Movie!


5 responses to “Memory Bank: TV Guide

  1. Great piece on some TV Americana that was TV Guide. I miss those days, alright. There's nothing like it today given the web and the state of publishing. Thanks for this, John.

  2. John you captured exactly what TV Guide meant to me as a boy in the '70s. I still remember seeing the black&white advertisements inside for everything from the Saturday morning shows to prime-time series and the never forgettable television movies-of-the-week. As you stated, the Fall Tv Preview issue was brilliant with a cast color photo and description for each new series of ABC,CBS and NBC. The children of today will never know of this simple pleasure of our childhoods that TV GUIDE was.SGB

  3. Many kids of that era checked out TV Guide (and their local newspaper's weekly tv booklet) to see the films featured in Starlog. Apparently, many (including me) clipped and saved stories and ads for sci-fi films and tv. I remember how NBC advertised BUCK ROGERS each week with a colorful bit of artwork for each ep (clipped and saved every one of them). Beyond TV Guide, magazines such as TIME featured cover stories on the original STAR WARS films. Those were just about the only issues of TIME I ever bought. It's funny that you mention the "ALIEN ATTACK" film. Back in the 80's, I checked my local tv guide only to discover that "ALIEN ATTACK" and "DESTINATION MOONBASE ALPHA" were going to air when I was in school. Fortunately, I was sick those couple of days …so I got to see them both. Back in the analog days of tv, during rare times, one could pick up remote tv stations occasionally due to certain atmospheric conditions. Got as remote as a Philidephia station. Never did get New York when a station was running SPACE:1999 daily. The things kids had to do before the internet!

  4. I remember as a little nerd boy when seeing the BSG cover and saying to myself that ship is the Discovery from 2001 not the Galactica

  5. Hello, my friends,Le0pard13: I agree with you. TV Guide — and what it meant in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — is a thing we won't see again in our lifetimes. But it's good to remember the weekly "research" that went into planning out your tv/film watching…SGB: Thank you! I remember the black-and-white advertisements as well, and boy did I look forward to those fall preview issues. I couldn't wait to get home and check my mail box…Anonymous: I clipped stories from TV Guide as well. I needed a reference point so I could draw characters, spaceships and weapons, you know? Will: That's crazy isn't it, how inaccurate the picture is? Still, I love that cover for the nostalgia, if not the fidelity to the source material…best to all,John

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