Behind-The-Scenes Stories About The Stars Of 1980s TV Dramas

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Vote up the stories that make you nostalgic for '80s TV action and fashion.

Television drama series in the 1980s were very diverse in genre, style, and subject matter, ranging from nighttime soap operas involving families fighting over control of an oil empire (Dallas) to comedy-dramas set on a cruise ship where the passengers - and crew - were all searching for romance (The Love Boat). Several series featured scientists as lead characters - whether they were involuntarily traveling through time (Quantum Leap), trying to avoid turning into a green-skinned monster (The Incredible Hulk), or using their brains and ingenuity to devise contraptions that could help them escape even the worst jams (MacGyver)If a viewer wanted to see a nostalgic coming-of-age show set in the 1960s, ABC had them covered (The Wonder Years). Fans of detective and police shows were especially lucky in the 1980s, as crimes were being investigated and solved by everyone from cops who looked young enough to pose as teens (21 Jump Street) to widowed, middle-aged novelists (Murder, She Wrote).

Like the shows they appeared in, the stars ranged in age and experience. There were child actors and former child actors. Respected stage actors and struggling actors just looking for a break. Even Oscar and Tony Award winners. But no matter their age or background, they have unique stories about how they got cast and/or about their time on the show that made them a TV star in the 1980s.

  • Lou Ferrigno Once Drove Home In His 'Incredible Hulk' Makeup - With Disastrous Results
    Photo: CBS

    The Incredible Hulk was a drama series that aired on NBC from 1977 to 1982. Based on the Marvel Comics' character the Hulk, the show starred Bill Bixby as renowned scientist Dr. David Banner, who, due to an accident that destroyed his cells, turns into a huge, green-skinned humanoid with extraordinary strength in times of extreme anger or stress. Actor Lou Ferrigno played Bixby's alter ego.

    A professional bodybuilder, Ferrigno had been training to compete for the 1977 Mr. Olympia contest when he was called in to audition for the role of the Hulk. In an interview with Saratoga Living, the actor spoke about how it took more than three hours to apply the makeup and costume for his character. One night, he decided to leave the set still in full makeup. Of course, even in Los Angeles, it isn't common to see green-bodied humanoids driving around the city. As the actor explained:

    I was on the freeway at 2 a.m., and a guy driving next to me looked at me, and said, "Holy s**t!" And he crashed his SUV into a bus. I ended up driving home. I was so embarrassed. That was the last time I did that. I felt so bad for that guy.

    143 votes
  • Because Dean Stockwell Had Been A Child Actor Himself, He Was Very Protective Of The Young Kids On The 'Quantum Leap' Set
    Photo: NBC

    Quantum Leap was a science fiction series that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993. It starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist who involuntarily traveled through time, temporarily inhabiting other people's bodies in order to try and correct historical errors. Dean Stockwell co-starred as Admiral Al Calavicci, Beckett's best friend who appears to him as a hologram.

    Stockwell was a well-respected actor who, shortly after being cast on Quantum Leap, received an Oscar nomination for his work on the film Married to the Mob. He had begun his career as a child actor in the 1940s, appearing in films such as Anchors Aweigh, The Green Years, and Gentlemen's Agreement. As Bakula remembered in an interview with Cinema Blend shortly after his co-star's passing in 2021, Stockwell's background as a child actor made him very concerned about the welfare of the young actors he worked with on Quantum Leap:

    Having been a famous child actor, he had a soft spot for every young actor who came on our set. He was very protective of their rights and safety and always checked in with them to make sure that they were okay. His big-hearted response to the kids made all of us take notice and be better guardians ourselves.

    110 votes
  • Angela Lansbury Took On 'Murder, She Wrote' Against The Advice Of Her Agents, Who Wanted Her To Do A Sitcom
    Photo: CBS

    The producers of Murder, She Wrote believed that Jean Stapleton would be the perfect person to play the lead role of Jessica Fletcher, the widowed, middle-aged substitute school teacher, mystery novelist, and amateur sleuth. But Stapleton didn't like the script. 

    Angela Lansbury's name was then brought up as a possibility, although it was considered a long shot that the Oscar and Tony winner - who by the early 1980s was thought of primarily as a Broadway actor - would be interested in doing television. As she explained in a 1985 interview with The New York Times:

    I had been propositioned by a television executive five or six years ago, taken to dinner at 21 and told if I ever wanted to... I was in Sweeney Todd. I couldn't imagine I would ever want to do television. But the year 1983 rolled around and Broadway was not forthcoming, so I took a part in a mini-series, Little Gloria, Happy at Last. And then a slew of roles in mini-series, and I began to sense that the television audience was very receptive to me, and I decided I should stop flirting and shut the door or say to my agents, "I'm ready to think Series."

    Lansbury ended up being sent two television scripts - one for a sitcom and the other for Murder, She Wrote. Her agents advised her to take the sitcom, but she ended up choosing the murder mystery drama.

    I fell in love with the character of Jessica. What appealed to me [about the role] is that I could do what I do best and have little chance to play - a sincere, down-to-earth woman. Mostly, I've played very spectacular b**ches. Jessica has extreme sincerity, compassion, extraordinary intuition. I'm not like her. My imagination runs riot. I'm not a pragmatist. Jessica is.

    Murder, She Wrote quickly became a huge success for CBS. Airing from 1984 to 1996.

    87 votes
  • Tom Selleck Didn't Want To Play The Lead Role On 'Magnum P.I.' Because He Didn't Think The Character Was Complex Enough
    Photo: CBS

    Magnum P.I. was a crime drama series that aired on CBS from 1980 to 1988. It starred Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private detective living in Oahu, HI. He has a laidback lifestyle, residing in the guest house of a huge beachfront estate and only taking on cases that interest him.

    At the time that Selleck was offered this role, he was a struggling actor who had been the star of six unsold pilots and gotten some work in shows like The Rockford Files. James Garner, the star of that show, was a kind of mentor to Selleck, so it was to Garner who the younger actor looked to for advice on whether to do Magnum P.I.

    As the actor told, his hesitation came from the fact that he didn't like the way the lead role had originally been written:

    [He was conceived as] this perfect James Bond guy with air hostesses on each arm.

    Selleck wanted to play complex characters more along the lines of Garner's Jim Rockford. The actor recalled the advice his friend gave him:

    "I’m not gonna tell you what to do," he said, "but I can tell you this: If they want you, you’ll never have more power than you do right now. If you feel like making a stand, this is your chance. If the show succeeds, your power will grow."

    Selleck took that advice and went to the production company with his ideas about how he saw the role of the private detective. The part was re-written and the series went on to become a hit, making Selleck a television star.

    100 votes
  • Patrick Stewart's Friend Ian McKellen Told Him Not To Take The Role Of Captain Picard, But He Did Anyway Assuming The Show Would Quickly Be Canceled
    Photo: Star Trek: The Next Generation / First-run Syndication

    Star Trek: The Next Generation ran in first-run syndication from 1987 to 1994. The third in the Star Trek series, the science fiction show was set in the 24th century and starred Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the commanding officer of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise.

    In an interview for Variety, Stewart explained that his one ambition as an actor was to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. He considered himself purely a stage actor, claiming his ensuing film and television career came along almost by accident. Still, he admitted that a highlight of his career was getting cast in Star Trek: The New Generation - a role he accepted despite another highly respected British actor advising him against it.

    Everything was different from that moment that I was cast in that, to today. It [his casting] happened so fast that nobody knew that it had happened. The only person that knew, because he and I were in Los Angeles at the same time, was my then-acquaintance, now my dear friend, Ian McKellen, he said, "I don't think you should take this job. I don't think that this would be right for you." ... and because I respected Ian so much, I took him very seriously.

    Stewart added that one reason why he decided to take the role of Capt. Picard was because he'd get paid more than he usually did, and he didn't really expect the series to last very long:

    Everyone in Hollywood assured me that it was impossible to reprise or revive an iconic series such as Star Trek ...."Can't be done," they said. "So, don't worry. You've signed a six-year contract. You'll never make it to six years. You'll be lucky to make it through the first season." That's what I was told. "Sign your contract. Make some money for the first time in your life. Get a sun-tan and go home." Fourteen years later, we finally wrapped the franchise that was [Star Trek:]The Next Generation.

    110 votes
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    64 VOTES

    Office Workers Showered Don Johnson And Philip Michael Thomas With Panties During A Chase Scene Shot In NYC

    Office Workers Showered Don Johnson And Philip Michael Thomas With Panties During A Chase Scene Shot In NYC
    Photo: Miami Vice / NBC

    Miami Vice was a crime drama series that aired on NBC from 1984 to 1989. In the series, which drew heavily on the "New Wave" culture of the 1980s, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas portrayed two undercover detectives.

    With its stylized visuals, use of modern pop and rock music, and trend-setting clothing, the series eventually found an audience, finishing in the Top 10 of the ratings in its second season. The charismatic Thomas and Johnson, meanwhile, became sex symbols. In 2014, Johnson told Rolling Stone about how he and his co-star got showered with underwear while filming a chase scene in the Wall Street area of New York City:

    The buildings were filled with all these secretaries, and office workers. When Philip and I took off running, the windows flew open on those office buildings…and then the sky started raining panties. Not 100 -  I’m talking thousands of panties raining down on the street. To this day, I can’t believe I saw what I saw. And what was really hilarious was watching the crew having to pick up all the panties so we could shoot again.

    64 votes