30 big things that happened in pop culture 40 years ago
1978 gave us Lego people, Van Halen, the LaserDisc, Garfield, Reese's Pieces and so much more.
1978 was a massive year for pop culture. From the superhero movies to disco hits, entertainment delivered. There were new candies and cool new school supplies at every turn.
Let's take a look back. What was your favorite thing about 1978?
1. 'Grease' was the word. And the hottest movie in the world.
John Travolta was suddenly Hollywood's leading leading-man thanks to the smash movie musical. His duets with Olivia Newton-John dominated pop radio, too. The biggest numbers from the soundtrack — "You're the One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" — were written specifically for the film.
2. Garfield the cat made his debut in newspaper comic strips.
Made his debut in 41 papers around the country on June 19, 1978.
Image: Paws, Inc. / Universal Press Syndicate
3. The Star Wars Holiday Special nearly ruined a pop culture phenomenon.
The infamous stinker introduced Jefferson Starship, Art Carney, Bea Arthur and a Wookie named Itchy to the Star Wars universe.
4. Reese's Pieces first popped into candy aisles.
The peanut-butter bites did not fully take off until E.T. nibbled on them in 1982.
Image: The Hershey Company
5. The Speak & Spell made learning fun.
Speaking of E.T., the alien's favorite toy made its debut in 1978. That computerized voice was essentially the Siri of our youth.
6. 'WKRP in Cincinnati,' 'Diff'rent Strokes,' 'Taxi' and 'Battlestar Galactica' all made their debuts.
You can watch them all today on MeTV or MeTV.com. These TV classics first hit screens that year. Happy 40th!
7. 'The Incredible Hulk,' 'Dallas' and 'Fantasy Island' kicked off, too.
Yeah, it was a pretty great year for TV. Despite all these debuts, Laverne & Shirley remained the top show on television.
8. The Blues Brothers made their debut on SNL.
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi put on their sharp suits for the first time in a Saturday Night Live sketch that aired on January 17, 1976. Hit albums and blockbuster movies followed.
Image: Atlantic Records
9. Audiences said goodbye to 'The Carol Burnett Show.'
After 11 side-splitting seasons, the sketch comedy institution ended its run with episode No. 279 on March 29, 1978.
10. Atari's Breakout was the peak of video gaming.
The cartridge sold more than one million units, making it the first hit for the Atari 2600 system. It would go on to rank as the 11th best-selling game for the console overall.
11. The little yellow Lego man was born.
The iconic Lego minifigure brought some personality to the toy bricks in 1978. That same year, Lego launched its incredible castle set for the first time, too.
12. Stephen King published his 823-page opus 'The Stand.'
When it was first published, the post-apocalyptic tale took place in 1980. When it was reprinted a few years later, the setting shifted to 1985. The timeline jumped yet again in a later edition, to 1990. Weird!
13. Superman ushered in the era of the superhero movie.
Comic book movies are nothing new. The trend truly kicked off four decades ago, when Christopher Reeve first slipped into his red trunks for Superman. The movie hit theaters during the holiday season and raked in an insane $300 million dollars. That's $1.1 billion in today's cash. One could argue it's still the greatest superhero movie.
14. The first primetime Super Bowl was played.
Speaking of "Super," the Super Bowl played its first evening game when the championship hit New Orleans for the XII edition. That same year, the NFL also expanded its season from 14 games to 16 games.
Image: Writing as a Profession
15. J.R.R. Tolkein was hot back then, too.
Fantasy geeks and prog-music lovers snatched up newly published The Silmarillion in early 1978. The sort-of prequel to The Lord of the Rings was the best-selling novel in the land from January to March. Amazon recently plopped down a billion bucks to turn some of this material into a TV show.
16. Elton John introduced his shocking new "No Glasses" look.
The pop pianist was hard to recognize without flamboyant spectacles. He took off his glasses for the cover of a January issue of People, and tried to rock the look for a while.
Image: People Magazine
17. Van Halen released its debut.
Air guitaring was never the same again.
18. Earth Kitt narrated a strange TV commercial for Steely Dan.
"Welcome to the land of Steely Dan," the former Catwoman purred. It was a place she called "a continent of the mind." The band itself had no involvement in the ad. Check it out on YouTube.
19. Students stuffed notes into the very first Trapper Keepers.
Mead's designer binder quickly became the must-have school supply when it first hit stores in 1978.
20. Kenny Rogers taught us when to fold 'em.
The country king dropped his classic album The Gambler. Kenny would go on to star in five TV movies based on the album, song and character between 1980 and 1994. Five! After that, he knew when to walk away.
21. Andy Gibb had the No. 1 song in the land.
"Shadow Dancing" was Billboard's top tune of the year. The Gibbs dominated pop music that year, as the Bee Gees scored hit after hit, too.
22. But the Bee Gees had a bomb, too.
Not everything the Bee Gees touched turned to gold. Their movie version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band became the turkey of the year when it hit theaters on July 21.
23. The Sex Pistols ripped through an America tour — and broke up.
The punks came to the States for an American tour in January 1978, starting, intentionally, with belligerent crowds in the South. After making headlines, causing fights and getting ill, the band split after its gig in San Francisco.
Image: AP Photo
24. 'Annie Hall' cleaned up at the 50th Annual Oscars.
The 1977 release was the big winner on April 3, 1978, when it took home Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Star Wars fared better in the technical awards, of course.
25. Cinnamon Life poured into our bowls.
After being told for a few years that "Mickey likes it," we cereal lovers finally got a new lease on Life when Quaker launched its Cinnamon Life in 1978.
26. The Whatchamacallit candy bar came out.
It was the most fun to ask for at the counter.
27. Cabbage Patch Kids dolls first sprouted.
Xavier Roberts made his first batch of the Patch Kids in 1978, though back then they were called "The Little People." The name change came four years later, when Roberts licensed the doll to Coleco.
Image: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
28. Ben & Jerry's opened its first ice cream shop.
The hippie dessert duo opened the door to their first ice cream parlor in downtown Burlington, Vermont, in a refurbished gas station.
Image: AP Photo/Toby Talbot
29. Nike redefined the running shoe.
It was a big year for joggers. The Nike Tailwind hit sneaker shops in 1978, introducing air pockets. The blossoming shoe giant also launched its LDV long-distance running shoe that year. They're still in style.
30. LaserDisc players hit stores.
Of course, the first commercial LaserDisc player was called the MCA DiscoVision. It was 1978, after all.