Bookshelf: TV 81

Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.

TV 81
By Lisa Freeman
First Published in 1980
Published by Scholastic Book Services
121 Pages

I honestly don’t remember where I got this book. Maybe I stumbled upon it in a used book store. Or perhaps it was part of a huge collection of TV tie-in novels and books I purchased on eBay over a decade ago. It’s small, the perfect size for the grade school students who purchased it through Scholastic Book Clubs.

The book contains information on more than two TV celebrities: Shaun Cassidy, Jim Stafford, Shawn Stevens, Michael Young, Stoney Jackson, Dean Butler, Philip McKeon, Gregory Harrison, Willie Aames, Tom Wopat, John Schneider, Scott Baio, Felice Schachter, Lisa Whelchel, Robin Williams, Larry Wilcox, Jimmy Baio, Alison Arngrim, Robert Guillaume, Melissa Gold, Lorenzo Lamas, Charlene Tilton, Gary Coleman, Loni Anderson, Greg Evigan, Cindy Williams, Cheryl Ladd, Gil Gerard, Tony Danza, Boomer the Dog, Polly Holliday, and the cast of My Three Sons.

Some get a few pages devoted to them while others are given just two or three paragraphs. Most of the chapters consist of trivia and factoids mixed with interview quotes. A few are little more than basic overviews of TV shows and their casts. An eight-page question and answer section offers readers “answers to the questions you’ve been asking the most.” Among the hard-hitting questions are the following:

Q: Why don’t they cancel Charlie’s Angels instead of trying out all these actresses?

A: Charlie’s Angels is still one of the top ten shows on television. The ratings continue to be favorable regardless of all the actresses coming and going. People still tune in to watch the three pretty angels!

Q: Does Joyce DeWitt have any ambition to do TV movies and films, or is she content with Three’s Company?

A: Like most actresses, Joyce has a strong desire to branch out and do other things with her career. Although she’s extremely happy with her hit show, she has been looking around for other projects, especially a Broadway show. Along with her boyfriend/manager Stuart Ehrlich, her efforts have been in vain so far, but they’re not giving up and know the right script will come along soon.

Q: Do actors and actresses appearing on talk shows rehearse their lines ahead of time?

A: No, but they’re usually briefed before the show on the various topics the host will ask them about. There is usually a practice runthrough so everyone will know when to come onstage, where to sit, etc.

The author, Lisa Freeman, presumably interviewed all of these actors and actresses but she just as easily could’ve relied on network biographies. There’s no substance within these pages. It’s all fluff, aimed at young television watchers eager to learn more about their favorite TV stars.

Some of the fun facts revealed in TV 81: Shawn Stevens is best friends with his grandmother; Philip McKeon is an animal lover; Willie Aames is a spokesperson for the Right Track Organization; John Schneider once performed in front of 12,000 people for a charity until 1AM, then stuck around signing autographs until 4AM; and Gary Coleman loved The Empire Strikes Back and got to see it at a press screening before it was released.

Also included in the book is TV crossword puzzle and a lengthy TV test.

Scan of the front cover of TV 81
Front Cover to TV 81 – Copyright 1980 Scholastic Magazines, Inc.

Although the title of the book is TV 81, the copyright date is 1980. It was likely published in December 1980 or January 1981. There’s no mention of the actors strike that lasted from June to October 1980, delaying the start of the 1981-1982 season. Scholastic probably didn’t want to discuss a strike in a book aimed at children.

The strike did impact the book, however. In a chapter about nighttime soaps, the famous “Who Done It” episode of Dallas is said to have aired at the start of the 1980 season–in September. Due to the strike, the episode didn’t air until November 1980.

A handful of TV shows discussed in the book were flops that quickly disappeared. The chapter on Shaun Cassidy, for example, is all about his new show Breaking Away which ran for eight episodes on ABC from November 1980 to January 1981. Likewise, the chapter about Lorenzo Lamas mentions his new show The Secret of Midland Heights, which ran for just eight episodes on CBS from December 1980 to January 1981. It’s entirely possible both shows were off the air by the time TV 81 was published.

Scan of the back cover of TV 81
Back Cover to TV 81 – Copyright 1980 Scholastic Magazines, Inc.

TV 81 wasn’t the first Scholastic book about TV. The earliest I’ve come across is called TV Today, which was published in 1969. At least one additional TV book, TV 82, was published in 1981.

Also, Scholastic Book Clubs are still around. They’ve just been renamed Scholastic Reading Clubs. I doubt Scholastic publishes books about TV stars anymore, though. YouTube stars, maybe.

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