Screencaps by Joe MacLeod.
Screencaps by Joe MacLeod.
Meet the California Bulls. They may not be the #1 football team in the league, but nobody does it better when it comes to outrageous exploits and sexy escapades. Join seductive owner Diane Barrow (Delta Burke) as she leads her team through a minefield of hilarious hijinks on and off the gridiron. And remember, whether the quarterback is getting sacked - or getting caught in the sack with a pair of cheerleaders, the object of the game is always the same: To Score!
—From the back of the box for the DVDs of 1st & Ten, Complete Collection
This show ran on HBO for six seasons, starting in 1984. Since the whole collection only cost $5.99 on Amazon, I figured I would take a look and maybe there would be something there, you know? Not something as in "secretly changed television forever"—to reiterate, this is a show about a Pro Football team called the California Bulls starring Delta Burke and O.J. Simpson and a pre-Crypt Keeper John Kassir and pre-Law and Order: Sex Creeps Christopher Meloni—but maybe something like how Patton Oswalt recommended this show with the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond that ran on FOX for a few years, ‘Til Death, because it got entertainingly weird in later years, possibly because the writers knew the show was doomed.
1st & Ten, if you are unfamiliar with it, was a semi-comedy in the manner of that 1979 movie North Dallas Forty, where Nick Nolte played a grizzled-vet football player who needed to get drugs shot into him to be able to play every week on account of how his body was getting destroyed because Football is a Brutal Sport and it feeds on the bodies of the players, turning them into Entertainment, and Money. As opposed to teevee shows about this stuff, where you just feed on the Dignity of Actors and turn that into Entertainment and Money.
Here’s one thing that happens when you watch a lot of the same show on DVD: you get the Theme Song music stuck in your head, because it’s at the beginning of every episode, and in this case it’s also on the “Top Menu” where you select the episodes, and at the end of an episode it goes back to that menu and the song plays, again, over and over. When you are force-feeding episodes into yourself, no matter how fast you are with the remote to skip over the music, a lot of it still gets through into your mind, which is vulnerable because it is fully open, accepting Television.
I have the Theme Song Music to 1st & Ten jammed in my head real bad. Here are the lyrics, transcribed by me. They change a little in some seasons, but this is the version papering my brainpan for the foreseeable future:
A voice is calling but those who can hear it are few
It dares us do the very best that we can do
Some will heed the challenge and some are gonna stay the same
Some are gonna play to win and some won't even play the game
The vict'rys yours for the taking Hist'try yours for the making
Let your courage lead you and it will see you through
Success is sweet
Come taste it
Life is short
Don't waste it
Let your courage lead you and your dreams come true
It’s totally full-on '80s, man: saxophone and synth-horns and hi-NRG guitar licks. I’m not putting a link to it because that’s on you, I’m not doing that.
I didn’t do that.
The intro to the show has what was probably referred to as a “computer-generated” graphic of a football stadium. I’m not sure how this “computer graphic” rates compared to other circa-1984 graphics, but unless they changed it for the DVD collection, it looks like they kept that computer graphic the whole run of the series, so I’m gonna say it was a cheesy-looking graphic by at least 1989. I have no idea why they would have wanted to keep later, better-looking computer-generated graphics from us.
The first season stars Delta Burke as “Diane Barrow,” the wife of a guy who owns the Bulls. He fucks around on her (with a dude, which must have been some edgy shock-stuff in 1984), so she divorces his football team away from him, and so now she is Lady Owner of a football team. This was before Delta Burke was on the super-hit CBS show Designing Women, and she was cute here, circa 1984; she was, weirdly, throwing off a sort of Zooey Deschanel vibe at times.
Along with the music and the graphics and Delta Burke's hair, <em>1st & Ten</em> is of course totally Nineteen Hundred and Eighties in terms of the clothes and the cuts of men's suits and ladies underpants and swimsuits. I became inordinately concerned with the permutations of Delta Burke’s Big 80’s hairdos over her three seasons on the show, though. I became inordinately concerned because there was not a lot else to be Concerned by on this show over the course of 80 episodes. I took pictures of Delta Burke’s hairdos on the HBO show 1st & Ten with my iPodphone and my iPodpad right off the screen of my Sony KDF-E42A10 big screen rear-projection teevee. I got the set off my friend who didn't want it after the projector light bulb exploded, and he didn’t want to gamble any money on a new bulb only to find out there was something else broken, so he gave it to me. I bought a bulb, but I went cheap and bought a generic projector-bulb, not a “brand name” or “recommended” or whatever bulb that would match it exactly, like a “Factory” bulb, because those were like $125, jeez. Anyway, I now got a perfectly servicable eight-year old projector HDTV in my Rumpus Room. What? Oh.
Burke left the show in the third season for the Designing Women gig, and after that she became really famous and married the guy from Major Dad who used to be the guy from Simon & Simon and eventually became a guy on Deadwood. She was replaced in the last three seasons by different Females in Charge, culminating with Shannon Tweed, who ended up in a kabillion softcore Erotic Suspense movies and married that tool Gene Simmons from KISS. Look, there are lots of 1st & Ten connections to people and other programs, but they're mostly meaningless, I think. I mean, I don’t see 1st & Ten as being any kind of Incubator for Talent, it was just a show on teevee where performers like Ruta Lee, LaWanda Page, Tiny Lister, Larry Holmes, Roy Thinnes, John Matuszak, Roxie Roker, O.J. Simpson, Monte Markham, Larry Csonka, Michael Michelle, Samantha Eggar, Calvin Lockhart, Brian Bosworth, Chazz Palminteri, Christopher Meloni, Joe Namath, Morton Downey Jr., Ron O’Neal, Rebecca Ferratti, Robin Leach, Morey Amsterdam, Norman Fell, and a whole bunch more found some work, and also that guy who was "Joe Isuzu."
One notable recurring cast member is John Kassir, who played “Zagreb Shkenusky", a wacky foreign field-goal kicker, heavily accented in the Balki style that was so popular in the ‘80s, but really more of a rip off of Andy Kaufman’s “Latka” character from Taxi or deeper still, Garo Yepremian, who kicked for the Detroit Lions and got a few appearances on The Odd Couple where I think he would say shit like “Futbol, keeck,” and then kick something. Most of the many actual athletes who appear on the show are terrible, and not good-terrible like Bubba Smith used to be terrible in those Miller Lite commercials.
I paid attention for some super-weird O.J. stuff in the episodes, but aside from him standing next to blond chicks, a daydream where he’s in court, a scene where he’s getting flipped by chicks in Jello-Wrestling, and one where he is choked by a ‘roid-raging John Matuszak, “The Juice,” as they used to call him, mostly comes off as a successful ex-jock finding work in the Entertainment Industry. To the extent that you can believe that there is a thing called the NAFL, and that its final game is called the Championship Bowl, you can believe that O.J. would be able to lead a team there. The real football action filmed is sufficient to serve the stories, but it’s not shot beyond the cinematography level of an episode of King of Queens or whatever.
Maybe the reason 1st & Ten was on for six seasons is that it was before HBO figured out how to see if people were watching specific shows on their channel? Because this program seems mostly like an example of writers feeding the Television Machine with Content, and Situation Comedy materials to play out under a Laugh Track. And then later, when they realized they were on HBO, topless females were added to the mix, which turned into a successful formula with HBO’s Dream On in 1990, and the sports-related Arliss, which was spelled ARLI$$ to underscore he was about The Money, in 1996, and then after that in every other HBO show.
In season 4, in an episode entitled “The Dark Side,” a player gets a concussion and hallucinates a totally fucked-up Deerhunter/Full Metal Jacket/Rambo/Missing in Action adventure, and O.J. gets to suit up like Rambo. This is when I started to think about what Patton Oswalt said about ‘Til Death, and I wonder if the people involved must have realized there were no consequences for 1st & Ten on HBO? There was also an episode that season called “Team Picture” about a reunion of the 1988 California Bulls, set in the year 2013, that plays weirdly like a goof on that movie Strange Days. In this episode one of the aging California Bulls is broke and desperate, a failure, and he straps a live bomb onto himself inside a building he wants to destroy. They had some fun with that episode, and if that bizarre tone had continued, maybe they would've got cancelled quicker, but they would have left a pretty corpse, you know?
In conclusion: Blergh. There is nothing. I saw no Thing on 1st & Ten for me to say “Hey, look, here: This! There! That! It’s all because of this old show 1st & Ten!” It's just kind of sloppy, crappy television, with a dramatic/comedic tone that is all over the place. They have stuff about giving the Italian bad guys (the leader is played by Frank Pentangeli from Godfather II) tickets they can scalp and shooting players up with drugs to “get a few more touchdowns” out of ‘em, and there’s a Laugh Track. There are episodes featuring washed-up players struggling to keep playing, Neglected Children, Drug Addiction, and they all have the canned yuk-yuk-yuks in ‘em, and then there are other installments that are generally sitcom inane and there’s no laugh track.
1st & Ten is not the Worst Thing ever on teevee. I’m not better than the TV show 1st & Ten. A lot of people found work, advanced their careers, made friends, and probably had good times being a part of 1st & Ten. I just probably shouldn’t have watched it all and can't believe I did. I’m not looking for sympathy, but Total Immersion in a show like 1st & Ten makes me enjoy Television less. It’s not Television’s fault that 1st & Ten was on it, it’s my fault for watching 80 episodes of it on DVD. It’s my fault. I'm sorry.