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Real People



The year was 1979. America had no more heroes. Jimmy Carter was in the White House. The "anti-hero" reigned supreme in movies. We worshiped, as a nation, screen idols like Michael Corleone, Howard Beale (Who? Sheesh, dude, Peter Finch's character in Network), and Randle Patrick McMurphy (Who? Oh for the love of Christ, that's Jack's character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

America's traditional heroes, men at arms, were proven by the Vietnam war to be nothing more than ugly killers who would not think twice about herding women and children into a grass hut and then tossing in a few frag grenades. You couldn't even buy a G.I. Joe at Kresges anymore, not even for ready money. Any chance the public had at finding some real America sports heroes in the upcoming 1980 Moscow Olympics were quashed when the Commies over ran Afghanistan and civilized people everywhere boycotted the Red Games.

So, sing, with me. Sing with me people,

All the children say / We don't need another hero / We don't need to know the way home / All we want is life beyond / Thunderdome

But baby, you couldn't be more wrong. We do, or did, need another hero. But where to find such a hero? Where to find a hero in America circa 1979?

It occurred to NBC that Americans themselves were the heroes. The every day schmuck that buys American, curses Saudi oil princes every time it costs him an extra two bucks to fill up the Dodge Charger, drives to his honest day job at US Steel on pot-holed Allentown streets, votes Democrats into the House and Republicans into the Senate, and brings his family to Ponderosa for a family dinner every Saturday night. Oh yeah he drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. The real heroes, you know, were real Americans. Real people.

Well, that's a show!

In 1979 NBC and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter debuted a show about real people doing real things and being sometimes really funny. They called it Real People. It got Skip Stephenson, the most unreal human being on the planet at that time, to host. Apparently they passed over a young David Letterman for Skip. Imagine what the world would be like today?

Real People ran from 1979 until 1984. They dressed Skip Stephenson in a lot of bright crew-necked sweaters.

So, basically, Real People was a bit like 60 Minutes but about people who offered the world nothing. Hence their heroism, facing their blight-filled daily life with such stoic resolve. There were a number of video segments, designed to be amusing and heartwarming. Segments included things like:

  • A man in Des Moines, Iowa who can walk backwards.
  • An American martial art called Belly Bucking, which is basically fat men bashing their beer bellies into each other.
  • A grandfather and his middle aged son who spend their day on their porch and wave at traffic passing along I40 East.
  • Various subcultures in America where getting naked is a primary focus.
  • And more Mark "I can sing anything political to the same rag-time piano tune" Russell than you could ever stomach.

Along side golden boy Skip Stephenson were co-hosts Sarah Purcell, Bill Rafferty, Fred Willard, and Byron Allen. In spite of Skip Stephenson's best efforts, the show had some great success for a couple years, likely due to the presence of the beautiful Sarah Purcell who shamelessly paraded about the Real People stage in high heels and slit skirts. Despite the racy outfits, Purcell was cast as a feminist foil to Skip Stephenson's role as the resident male chauvinist pig.

The show proved so popular in its initial couple years that it spawned imitators like That's Incredible. It was Reality TV in a nebulous form. However, after a couple years the format began to get a bit old. Trying the "Cousin Oliver" gambit, Real People added A Christmas Story demi-god child Peter Billingsley (who apparently is an adult porn star now).

Alas, Peter Billingsley's cute, sassy self could not save the show. It was cancelled after his sophomore season. Real People briefly tried to make a post-NBC go of it in syndication as More Real People.




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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer

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