Question: I know how much you love to settle bets, but all that's at stake here are my recollections of childhood science-fiction television. Am I misremembering, or were there two cheesy and short-lived shows in the early to mid-'80s, one called Automan, which was a Tron rip-off of sorts, and one called Manimal, which starred Michael York as a guy who was cursed or something and who could transform into different kinds of animals? I'm sure you can just tell me yes or no, but I'm counting on your joy in sharing your vast store of television trivia to tell me all you can about these shows in an exceedingly entertaining manner: I'm sure these shows were pretty bad, even though I was thrilled to death to watch them as a kid. — Christopher
Televisionary: Pretty bad? Now, Christopher. If you're ever going to make it in Hollywood, you've got to learn one of the golden rules of survival: Never express a negative opinion about anything when there's a chance the person you're talking to (or sitting near) may have been involved with it — or may know someone who was. In this case, I put my knowledge of all things tube-related aside and ran your question by TV producer Larry Brody, who knows a little something about those shows (and throws plenty of his own opinions around on his TVwriter.com site). Here's what he wrote in response:
I produced Automan for its two-hour movie and 13-episode run in '82 and '83, and have always had a warm spot for it in my — ahem — heart. The series was officially created by Glen A. Larson, but in fact he was brought the idea by two other people, Donald Kushner and Peter Locke. Kushner produced the film Tron and wanted to use the same technology for TV. Kushner and Locke became co-line producers of the series and later went on to even greater glory as the producers of Divorce Court.
The show wasn't really a rip-off, but was the opposite of the film. In Tron, a human enters the game world. In Automan, the game character enters the real world — the first time this was ever done on TV. At the time, the Automan pilot was one of — if not the — most expensive TV films ever made because of all the special effects.
The stars were Desi Arnaz Jr. as a police computer geek, Chuck Wagner as Automan, and a black Lamborghini Countach striped with reflective tape as the Autocar. I used to drive the Autocar to lunch with Glen A., and in so doing learned a very important lesson in life: If you're in a sensational looking car checking out ladies, the ladies all check back. Since I was relatively happily married at the time, this lesson was, in fact, a waste, but maybe it'll do some good now that I'm passing it on.
Manimal was produced at the same time by the Larson shop at Fox. It was created by Glen and Don Boyle and the star wasn't Michael York, but another Brit named Simon MacCorkindale, who was cast because he resembled the less affordable Mr. York.
As to whether the shows were 'cheesy' or 'pretty bad,' I don't think they were any worse than anything else on the air at that time. Unfortunately, they probably weren't any better, either. But, frankly, I enjoyed both of them, especially Automan, at least as much as any kid who was watching.
So there you have it, Christopher: one show about a sprite-guy who comes to life and another about a fella who could turn into a variety of beasts at will. I'm tempted to say you can't make this stuff up, but obviously somebody did — and had a heck of a time doing so.