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13 attention grabbing titles of 1970s and '80s after school specials

Nobody did teen drama and educational films better than '70s and '80s after school specials.

Top image: ABC

After the big yellow bus dropped us off, we would head in the house, pour a big bowl of cereal, and click on the television. We would watch cartoons, of course, but sometimes we wanted something a little meatier, something with a lesson.

Thankfully, ABC dreamt up one of the staples of 1970s and 1980s childhood — the after school special. The network coined the term and its afternoon showcase of moral-teaching movies, ABC Afterschool Specials, ran from 1972 to 1997. NBC countered with its Special Treat from 1975 to 1986. CBS had its Schoolbreak Special from 1980 to 1996. 

These dozens of movies gave budding young actors the spotlight, names like Jodi Foster and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Some beloved TV vets turned up, too.

The after school special was often only as good as its sensational title. Here are 12 that jumped right off the page of the TV Guide.


My Dad Lives in a Downtown Hotel


Little Joseph Grant, Jr. deals with his parents' divorce. Beau Bridges plays Joe, Sr. The actor who played the kid, Ike Eisenmann, would show up in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Image: ABC


The Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red's Head


Early on, ABC's Afterschool Specials would jump from educational animation to non-fiction to scripted drama. This cartoon shrinks two kids who journey inside the brain of a teenage girl. Ike Eisenmann provides a voice!

Image: ABC


Pssst! Hammerman's After You!


Keep your eyes peeled for Willie Aames in this tale of bullying.

Image: ABC


It Must Be Love, 'Cause I Feel So Dumb


A 13-year-old develops a deep crush on a cheerleader. The lead, Alfred Lutter, would later star in The Bad News Bears.

Image: ABC


Dinky Hocker


Based on M.E. Kerr's great 1972 teen novel Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, which was not as dark as it sounds.

Image: ABC


New York City Too Far From Tampa Blues


A Puerto Rican boy from Florida moves to the Big Apple, befriends Patrick, forms a band, and plays "Danny Bar" in an Irish restaurant.

Image: NBC


Reading, Writing and Reefer


Some of these were documentaries, like this NBC News probe into the habits of American teens.

Image: NBC


Have You Ever Been Ashamed of Your Parents?


Recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh stars alongside Marion Ross of Happy Days!

Image: ABC


The Day the Senior Class Got Married


Young lovers spur a school to pair up its seniors to demonstrate how financial issues can wreck a marriage.

Image: CBS


High School Narc


Viggo Mortensen is the big name honing his skills in this drama about a cop who goes undercover as a high school student to bust a drug… Hey, wait, this is basically 21 Jump Street.

Image: ABC


The Day My Kid Went Punk


A little late to the game, five years after the famous Quincy episode "Next Stop Nowhere," this movie focuses on an overlooked, classically trained teen musician who gets a red Mohawk haircut for attention. Bernie Kopell of The Love Boat plays the dad.

Image: ABC


My Dissident Mom


Frankly, no other film on this list features a more impressive cast. Martin Sheen and Annie Potts are the leads, who argue about nuclear weapons, while son Lucas Haas looks on.

Image: CBS


Daddy Can't Read


Joey Travolta, the older brother of John, appears in a surprising loaded cast that included Michael Jackson (as himself), gymnast Cathy Rigby and Richard "Shaft" Roundtree.

Image: ABC

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