During the Super Bowl last night, a trailer for Monsters vs. Aliens was shown in 3-D, using a process called Intru3D. A commercial for SoBe Lifewater and a promotional spot for NBC’s comedy-drama Chuck were also shown in 3-D. And NBC will be broadcasting some or all of tonight’s episode of Chuck in 3-D. Some 125 million pairs of 3-D glasses have been distributed by PepsiCo.
Chuck is the latest example of a network television show doing a special “gimmick” episode utilizing stereoscopy. But the very first planned network use of 3-D was never produced due to the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike. Read on.
In January 1988, ABC announced that the season finale of its popular Moonlighting would include roughly ten minutes of 3-D footage as well as a sixty-second commercial for Coca Cola . It would be the first use of 3-D on network television. Thanks to Nuoptix 3D, developed by Terry Beard, viewers watching the episode without 3-D glasses (Coca Cola announced it would distribute 40 million pairs) wouldn’t notice any difference and certainly not the bizarre double image produced by earlier 3-D efforts . It was explained that viewers would somehow be told when to put on their glasses .
On March 7th, 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike. Only fourteen episodes of Moonlighting were produced, the last of which aired on March 22nd, 1988. The day before, John Carmody of The Washington Post reported that the script for the proposed 3-D season finale was “partially finished” and could still be completed if the strike ended soon .
On March 28th, ABC’s vice president of prime time programs, Ted Harbert, explained that he was attempting to find a solution to the problem of how to proceed with the 3-D episode: “I am spending the lion’s share of my day working on this problem. So far, there’s been a lot of phone calls between me and Coke trying to figure something out” . But on Friday, April 15th, he announced that the episode had been cancelled: “”After exhausting all of our options, we have concluded that to go forward without an original script would not be in the best interests of ‘Moonlighting,’ our viewers or Coca-Cola” .
Rob Baskins, public relations manager for Coca Cola, rationalized the company’s decision to work with ABC: “We discovered someone had invented a new 3-D process where a regular television image would not be blurred without the glasses. We thought ‘Moonlighting’ would be a good vehicle for a 3-D commercial. As good as our commercials are, no one would rush out and get glasses just to watch one” . But Coca Cola didn’t have to wait long to find a use for those millions of pairs of 3-D glasses.
In early November, Coca Cola revealed it was discussing with NBC the possibility of using 3-D- during the Super Bowl half-time show . In December, plans had been finalized: twelve minutes of 3-D during the half-time show and a 45 second 3-D commercial for Coca Cola. Only 20 million pairs of glasses had been produced by Coca Cola . Super Bowl XXIII and its half time show aired on Sunday, January 22nd, 1989.
Critics were left unimpressed by the 3-D portion of the half-time show. Rudy Martzke of USA Today:
Except for extreme closeups, the 3-D effect was less than expected in the BeBop Bamboozled magic show. In fact, it was more disappointing than the much-hyped Silent Minute of NBC’s Super Bowl XX. The Diet Coke commercial had about the only 3-D shots worth the hassle of obtaining a pair of the 3-D glasses. It was saved somewhat by host Costas’ mocking humor: “This is the single proudest moment of my life” .
Ted Shaw of The Windsor Star:
The half-time show at Sunday’s Super Bowl game, which featured a new three-dimensional TV process called Nuoptix, demonstrated that a one-dimensional concept in faulty 3-D is a three-time loser. Even in two dimensions, Bebop Bamboozled was a bust. But Nuoptix, a process many TV critics (including me) had seen and praised last year in a more controlled situation, was a bigger loser than Cincinnati. In game conditions, the process just didn’t deliver. The 3-D only really worked when computer-generated graphics were shown; the live sequence, featuring a feeble-minded Elvis stage show, was usually too blurry to tell if the 3-D was working .
Dan Witkowski, who produced the half time show, thought the version broadcast on television was disappointing:
NBC was not familiar with the parameters of 3-D. I’m not saying that to pass the buck; my name is on the project and I’ll take full responsibility for it. But the technology was so new, so full of unknowns, that no one really knew how to use it. It was all highly experimental. We were doing something we never should have tried doing on live national TV. […] They introduced the 3-D element in mid-October after we’d spent months blocking and planning the show. In retrospect, I can see now that the mistake we made was that we either should have completely reblocked the show or gone to them and said, ‘We’ve got to forget about the 3-D.’ We should have started over, or not done it at all .
FOX may have been the first network to actually air an episode of one of its shows in 3-D. During the network’s interactive “Fox-O-Rama” event, the Sunday, May 8th, 1994 episode of Married with Children included 3-D footage. The network distributed some six million “viewer kits” that included 3-D glasses and scratch-and-sniff cards (for an episode of Living Single) .
During the first week of May sweeps in 1997, ABC had a “3-D Week” in which nine of its shows (eight sitcoms — including Home Improvement and The Drew Carey Show — along with America’s Funniest Home Videos) were partially in 3-D. And on May 18th of that year portions of the hour-long season finale of NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun were in 3-D.
On November 21st, 2006, NBC broadcast an episode of Medium with 3-D segments. Medium was created by Glenn Gordon Caron, the man responsible for Moonlighting. The 3-D episode of Medium came about after Caron ran into Paul Reubens at a party thrown by Medium star Patricia Arquette. Reubens told Caron about the test footage he owned, shot in 3-D and featuring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis (for the never produced 3-D episode of Moonlighting) . One thing led to another and 3-D television was back.
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 Update
Given the continued popularity of Moonlighting, it should come as no surprise that the series has a big following on the Internet. DaveandMaddie.com has put together a wonderful look at the “lost” 3-D episode of Moonlighting, complete with unaired promotional spots/Coca Coca advertisements and an ABC/Coca Cola press kit.
1 Froelich, Janis D. “A New Dimension of Lunacy: ‘Moonlighting’ to End Season with 3-D Action. St. Petersburg Times. 8 Jan. 1988: 1.A.
3 Stevens, Gus. “3-D process for ‘Moonlighting’ is Costly But Works Well. The Tribune. 13 Jan. 1988: C.7.
4 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 21 Mar. 1988: c.08.
5 Roush, Matt. “It’s a ‘Different World’ after ‘Fame’ for Allen.” USA Today. 28 Mar. 1988: 03.D.
6 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 18 Apr. 1988: b.08.
7 “Writers’ Strike Leaves Series Short.” Sun Sentinel. 18 Apr. 1988: 3.A.
8 Sarni, Jim. “Advertisers Have a Vision (Albiet 3-D) for Super Bowl.” Sun Sentinel. 8 Nov. 1988: 7.C.
9 Hamlin, Jesse. “3-D TV Splash at Super Bowl.” San Francisco Chronicle. 20 Dec. 1988: E.1.
10 Martzke, Rudy. “NBC Telecast Not Quite as Super as the Game.” USA Today. 23 Jan. 1989: 03.C.
11 Shaw, Ted. “Any Way You Look at It 3-D Halftime was Flat.” Windsor Star. 23 Jan. 1989: B.4.
12 Strickler, Jeff. “Producer Unhappy with TV Version of Super Bowl Show.” Star Tribune. 27 Jan. 1989: 01.E.
13 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 5 May 1994: d.06.
14 Squires, Chase. “‘Medium’ Episode Channels Another Dimension.” St. Petersburg Times. 21 Nov. 2005: 2.B.