The year was 1979. America had no more heros. 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 heros, 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
anymore, not even for ready money. Any chance the public had at finding some real America sports heros 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
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 we
were the heros. 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 unionized civic employees refuse to fill, 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 heros, you know, were real Americans. Real people.
Well, that's a show!
In 1979 NBC
creator George Schlatter
debuted a show about real people doing real things and being sometimes really funny. It 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?
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 that enjoy getting naked.
- 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 cohosts 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 skirt
s. Despite the racy outfits, Purcell was cast as a feminist foil to Skip Stephenson who was 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
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