Back in the day, before the Internet and five million cable channels and YouTube and Netflix, television viewers were pretty much at the mercy of network programmers. Of which there were then three: ABC, NBC, and CBS. In the late 1960s, they were joined by PBS; in the early 1980s, by CNN. CNN, however, being an all-news channel, there was little chance of getting emotionally attached to any of the programming.
Otherwise, every season television viewers ran the risk of becoming deeply involved with a show, only to have it canceled after 13 or 26 weeks. (Yes, dear readers, once upon a time, a season was half a year long.) And canceled meant canceled: shows disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again - until the Web arrived to save the day, as long as the master tapes hadn't been erased. (This almost happened to Monty Python's Flying Circus. The BBC were getting ready to pitch the originals when Terry Gilliam, no fool he, bought them for almost nothing.)
One such show was Our World. Broadcast on ABC during the 1986-1987 season, it was a news magazine hosted by the journalists Linda Ellerbee (right) and Ray Gandolf (below left). Each program featured a short but significant era in American history, and explored the historical, political, artistic, and pop culture context of the time with interviews, film clips, music, and commentary. Ellerbee and Gandolf were wonderful hosts - old-school journalists who eschewed spin, but humorous, warm, and cognizant of their audience's intelligence. It was a terrific show, stylish, smart, fun, and informative. It also had the misfortune of airing opposite one of the most popular programs in television history: The Cosby Show.
It is difficult to know what goes on in the minds of television programmers. Our World got rave reviews from critics, educators, and viewers alike, but it could not compete with the juggernaut that was The Cosby Show's audience. News programs always have smaller audiences than entertainment programs; ABC must have known that and known that Our World would never match Cosby's numbers. In fact, over the course of the season, Our World did not lose any viewers; those who loved it, loved it and stayed loyal. But instead of moving Our World to a different time-slot and maybe building its audience, ABC canceled it after one season.
I've been pissed at them ever since.
I thought Our World was gone forever, until a couple of weeks ago, when I found it on YouTube. The only reason it's there is because a YouTuber uploaded it from old VCR recordings. (God bless you, vistavuelounge.) Below is part 1 of the first episode: "The Summer of '69." You also get the benefit of some vintage '80s commercials (no such thing as DVRs back then), but they're fun, too. Then I've included the links to the rest of the episode - you can find other episodes by following them back to YouTube. (And no laughing at Linda Ellerbee's ginormous glasses. I bet you had a pair just like them.)
I wish ABC would release Our World on DVD. It's the least they could do. I've been waiting almost 30 years.