7 truly bizarre Seventies TV specials that could only have aired in 1978

What other year could deliver the Carpenters in space, a Flintstones roast, disco Archie, KISS, Wookiees and "Ognir Rrats"?

Network producers put together television specials in the 1970s like they were playing some game of celebrity bingo. "Let's see, we'll get Charles Nelson Reilly, Huckleberry Hound, Merle Haggard, Bea Arthur and The Trammps and put them in… an outer-space casino!"

Okay, that was not a real example, but Seventies TV specials truly put the variety in "variety show." In what other decade would you find Paul Lynde, Witchiepoo, KISS, Florence Henderson, Donny Osmond, Tim Conway and "Pinky Tuscadero" in the same program? That one was real, and it was The Paul Lynde Halloween Special.

The year 1978, in particular, delivered junk-food delicacy after junk-food delicacy. It might be the weirdest year of television specials in history, as disco and Darth Vader loomed over pop culture. 

Some of these are notorious. Some are now forgotten. They all could only exist that particular year.

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1. The Archie Situation Comedy Musical Variety Show

No, that is the actual title of the special, not a bunch of keywords we dumped into Google trying to remember what this thing was called. While The Archies animated series was a hit on the small screen — and the pop charts — the Riverdale gang had a much rockier road to success in live-action. An Archie sitcom pilot (with William Schallert as the dad and former Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge as Veronica) failed to make it to series in the early Sixties. Another attempt was made 15 years later. That failed, too, but it did lead to this clunkily named cheesefest. The ASCMVS opened with a musical number, as the whole gang (including Reggie and Moose) jammed on fake translucent neon instruments. "Smile on your face, smile… for the human race!" they belted out. Gordon Jump from WKRP in Cincinnati played Mr. Andrews!

Image: ABC

2. The Carpenters...Space Encounters

The Star Wars influence was strong in this silly musical shindig. You need only look at the opening credits, with yellow text crawling into a field of stars just like the 1977 George Lucas blockbuster. But give Karen and Richard some credit — the Carpenters were no strangers to UFOs. The sibling duo had recorded its alien-baiting hit "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" before Star Wars was released. (That single went No. 1 in Ireland!) This special was sort of an expanded spin-off of that song, complete with disco numbers, cotton-white afros, John Davidson and Suzanne Somers. Naturally, Space Encounters closes with Karen crooning "Calling Occupants" with an orchestra and spaceship.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Hanna-Barbera's All-Star Comedy Ice Revue

To celebrate Fred Flintstone's 48th birthday (we suppose that made him 30 when The Flintstones started) Hanna-Barbera hosted a celebrity roast… and ice capades. Hee Haw host Roy Clark and Bonnie Franklin of One Day at a Time emceed the event, which featured giant costumed versions of Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi Bear, Jabberjaw and others lovingly leveling insults at Fred. Just because it was 1978, the Sylvers boogied their way through "Disco Showdown," too.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park

October 31 happened to fall on a Tuesday in '78, which meant the real holiday partying went down on Saturday night, October 28. You didn't have to leave the house — or get up from the couch — to celebrate the holiday. The TV lineup was a Halloween shindig in itself. And we're not just talking about Vincent Price sailing aboard The Love Boat in "Ship of Ghouls." That evening NBC premiered KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, a live-action movie complete with roller coasters, cyborg werewolves, vampires and mad scientists. And the members of KISS, of course. If the goofy plot — which centered around an evil genius creating an army of android clones in an amusement park — felt like a cartoon, specifically an episode of Scooby-Doo, it was with good reason. Hanna-Barbera, the animation studio best known for The Flintstones and Yogi Bear, produced the flick.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Olivia

Olivia Newton-John was the biggest woman in entertainment in 1978. She was in Grease and had four Top 10 hits that year. Olivia upped the star-power by adding ABBA and Andy Gibb to the mix. No special had bigger pop stars that year. "Dancing Queen" and "Shadow Dancing" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" in one hour?! Which is not to say Olivia was not weird. Particularly surreal was the performance of "Money, Money, Money," which saw ABBA stuck in a glass booth with dollar bills blowing around, as children played a board game that had disco dancers grinding and grooving atop the game board. In the climax, Olivia sang "Who Are You Now?" in a sort of set of alien ruins littered with mannequins.

Image: ABC

6. Ringo

Former Beatle drummer Ringo Starr saw his career in freefall in '78. His 1977 album Ringo the 4th failed to make the charts in the U.K. — yes, a Beatle failed to chart in Britain — and only managed to scratch to No. 162 in America. Ringo rushed to the Bahamas to record the follow-up Bad Boy. A slow, preposterous TV special, Ringo, was filmed in Hollywood to help promote the record. A retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, Ringo saw the world-famous Starr swap places with his American doppelgänger, Ognir Rrats. (Get it?) Art Carney, no stranger to bonkers 1978 specials, played Ognir's pop. "Anyone over the age of 10 or so may find [it] a bit patronizing," The New York Times television critic wrote. Bad Boy also failed to chart in the U.K., but it did make it to No. 129 in the States. Hey, that's an improvement!

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Star Wars Holiday Special

If a big walking carpet doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, what will? That was sort of the idea behind CBS's ill-fated, infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. The network brought the idea of a holiday variety special to Star Wars director George Lucas. It was a big opportunity to bring a blockbuster film to the more accessible world of home television, and a way to whet the appetite of audiences before the release of sequel The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Lucas was reportedly not stoked about the idea, but offered up some inspiration and allowed the production to go forward. It now ranks No. 1 in the book What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History by David Hofstede, and is practically disowned by Lucas and the cast. But, hey, it did give us Boba Fett?

Image: The Everett Collection

 
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TCKirkham 5 days ago
Sorry, have to nitpick here - "Passage", the album that contained the Carpenters' cover of Klaatu's "Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft), was released in September 1977, four months after "Star Wars" hit theatres, not before as mentioned in the article. The single was released the same day as the album. Klaatu's original version of the song was released BEFORE "Star Wars" however, in 1976.
Hogansucks1 6 days ago
A lot of mind altering drugs that I’m sure influenced some of the Directors and screenwriter’s back then. 🥴. For instance (H.R.puff and stuff). ‘Far out MAN’. Way out———-
hrcopter 7 days ago
Olivia Newton-John is so sweet. 🤗
me 7 days ago
Why don't yawl keep those quizzes coming faster
Jon 8 days ago
I think it was weird for Cheryl Holdridge to be cast as Veronica instead of Betty, since she was a blond, but then this was the same show that had Frank "Lumpy Rutherford" Bank playing red-headed Archie.
Jon Jon 8 days ago
I found the 1964 Archie pilot on YT. Cheryl Holdridge played Betty, which makes more sense as they were both blondes, and John Simpson played Archie. Frank Bank played Archie on another attempt at a pilot for Archie.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA9gesm2bBo
Jon 8 days ago
I remember when the KISS movie was on, but I never watched it. It did start a mild obsession w/ KISS & Gene Simmons though. I remember 2 kids at my school dressing up as Gene Simmons, and a close friend of mine did as well. I wonder if Svengoolie would ever rerun the movie, maybe at Halloween.
rebelIrish 8 days ago
Woweee...I remember I had to talk my parents into watching Kiss meets the Phantom of the Park because I thought Kiss was so cool.
Corey 8 days ago
Let's not forget they did a show with DC superheroes with Adam West and Burt Ward like the Dean Martin roasts.
TheDavBow3 8 days ago
I was 13 in 1978 and I was the hugest Beatles fan (still am). I don't remember the Ringo special. Come to think of it, I don't remember any of them. A few sound pretty good.
SalIanni 8 days ago
The Paul Lynde Halloween show was great until KISS ruined it!
genZmetv 9 days ago
I LOVE Ringo (1978). It's got my favorite Beatle singing a duet with Carrie Fisher, future Clifford the Big Red Dog John Ritter, great songs, Peter Cullen (Eeyore) as a police officer, Vincent Price, and George Harrison looking like Weird Al. Never knew that Ognir's dad was Art Carney, though. (Then again, I didn't know who that was until like December, anyway.)
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MarkSpeck 9 days ago
I saw the Kiss and Ringo Starr ones. I liked both!
jimmyvici 9 days ago
Yikes. I’m glad I was only 4 years old at the time. I didn’t see or hear any of that junk. I probably would have watched the Star Wars one though.
packers1736 9 days ago
I was 17 years old in 1978 and didn't see or even remember hearing about any of them. I apparently had a more discriminating taste than I would give myself credit for.
Rob 9 days ago
I was nine in 1978 and I remember watching the Kiss movie and I probably watched the Star Wars holiday show, but I don’t remember it.
MaryAnn Rob 9 days ago
I was 10 and my mom wouldn’t let me watch the KISS movie!
Stoney 9 days ago
I was only 4 in 1978, but I vaguely remember the KISS movie...I guess as a rerun? Would love to see the Star Wars Christmas special...
Inrodwetrust 9 days ago
I just realized why as a child of the 70’s I am such a messed up non adjusted adult.
lynngdance 9 days ago
OGNIR RRATS!!!! YAY!!!! Thank you so much for mentioning this WONDERFUL Ringo special!
Joe 9 days ago
I remember watching the "Ringo" special. Perhaps, because I'm bias to anything Beatle-related, but I enjoyed it. How can anyone NOT like anything Ringo is in?!
thereal_MarcD Joe 8 days ago
If you haven't yet, go to YT & see Ringo's 80th birthday special! (WOW! Eighty ... Makes me feel older)
cperrynaples 9 days ago
All those were bad, but one great show that was on was All You Need Is Cash, the story of the Rutles [AKA Monty Python Beatles]!
I LOVED the Rutles special!! I have the songs on CD. George's cameo was great! The songs are actually really great.
Yep, and several SNL cast members too!
Eric Idle is the greatest!
Barry22 cperrynaples 7 days ago
I remember that one. It was pretty good. I even had the LP.
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