Campy TV Oddities

Some television specials are so campy, they become instant classics.  Some are so bad, they're actually entertaining to watch.  Some others are so unbelievably terrible they have rarely been seen again.  These are a few that I remember from my childhood days. 

Legends of the Super Heroes was a two-part special that aired on NBC in 1979.  Remember, this was long before the current "golden age" of live-action superhero adaptations.  As a kid, I was thrilled to see characters from DC Comics come to life.  Superman and Wonder Woman were absent, but there was Batman, Robin, Captain Marvel, the Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Hawkman, the Atom, and the Huntress, against villains like Solomon Grundy, Dr. Sivana, the Riddler, Sinestro, and others.  It was the Justice League of America, or more accurately, the cartoon version of the Superfriends, brought to life.  Best of all, Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin reprised their roles from the 1960s Batman television series!  I was prepared to love it, but alas the writing and production values were so atrocious that even my little boyhood mind knew I was watching something cheap and uninspired.  Warner Bros. is now releasing this on DVD, so curious viewers can check it out for themselves, but be warned, not much happens in either episode.

Marvel Comics also had its share of low-budget, poorly scripted superhero TV movies.  Captain America and a sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon (co-starring Connie Sellecca and Christopher Lee), aired on CBS in 1979 and starred Reb Brown as a helmet-wearing, motorcycle-riding crimefighter.  He resembled stuntmaster Evel Knievel more than the legendary Avenger.  Worst of all, his famous adamantium shield was a flimsy-looking, plastic, see-through abomination.

The rock band KISS will probably be better known in posterity for its marketing powers than for its music -- their make-up, costumes, pyrotechnic effects, and long line of merchandise attracted a lot of fans, especially kids.  The original band members -- Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss -- starred in a 1978 TV movie on NBC, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, which turned their stage characters -- the Demon, Starchild, Space Ace, and Catman -- into superpowered heroes battling a mad inventor in an amusement park.  The special effects were laughable, and the acting was terrible, but I always appreciated the band's embracing of science fiction and fantasy mythology. I wish they could have taken the idea of the band as superheroes and created a better production.

One of the most infamous campy programs on television was The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired on CBS in 1978, over a year after Star Wars: A New Hope began breaking records in movie theaters.  Fans of the film were eager to see all the characters in a "new adventure," but the TV special was a hodge-podge mess, centered on a story about Chewbacca returning to his home planet for something called Life Day.  The show featured a singing Princess Leia, Bea Arthur in the famous Mos Eisley Cantina, and bounty hunter Boba Fett's first appearance in cartoon form.  You know the special must have been hidiously unwatchable, because even Lucasfilm hasn't found a way to repackage it and make some money off of it.  It has been unseen (except for rare bootleg copies) since it first aired.

What are your campy childhood favorites?  Let me know.

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