ABC channels the 80s in promos during ‘Live’ version of classic sitcoms

The good old days of TV graphics came flashing back in all its Paintbox, gradient, laser line and garish color glory Dec. 7, 2021, during ABC’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.”

The network aired another installment of the live recreations of classic Norman Lear shows with episodes of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” which aired in that order despite “Facts” being a spinoff of “Strokes.”

Like with the 2019 iteration of the one night special, ABC opted to run promos for modern day shows with a vintage theme.

Since “Facts” and “Strokes” primarily aired in the 1980s, the promos that aired during the special echoed the retro designs of that era.

Back in 2019, ABC aired 70s themed promos during the telecast of “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” reenactments. The special aired in July and December 2019, but did not air in December 2020.

ABC also used references to its 1981 branding campaigns “Now is the Time, ABC is the Place!” and “We’re the one” in some of the spots.

The promos appeared to combine newly shot footage that were run through filters to make them appear lower quality and with the distinct color tone of tube TV sets made in the 80s.

Typography also included nods to the 1980s and included many fonts decorated with special effects that were popular at the time (think WordArt but often even more garish).

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They were also “artificially” pillar boxed with black bars on either side, since the promos at that time would have aired in the 4:3 aspect ratio and not 16:9.

Designs varied from promo to promo and some anarchisms popped up, including the newly redesigned ABC globe appearing in some promos but not others and references to the Hulu streaming service, which obviously wasn’t around back then — though it’s easy to see why these elements had to be added.

Most of the promos also featured the modern day content advisory system labels in the upper corners, something that wasn’t implemented until 1994.

While ABC could have left them off since it’s technically a voluntary system, they were inserted into the promos without any of the “filter” effects and looks that match the current ones the network uses (they were also typically in the left hand side pillar box).

ABC hired voice actor Steve French, who was able to channel the sound of a classic announcer, to narrate many of the spots. 

“The Bachelor” was promoted by “renaming” the show “Thirty’s Company” in reference to the classic ABC show “Three’s Company.” It included a remixed version of the show’s theme.

“Station 19” had a steamy promo that could have been for an 80s soap opera.

“The Rookie” took on the feel of a vintage cop drama, complete with the ubiquitous shot of a black and white flying through air as it speeds over a hill.

For a promo for the upcoming edition of “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve,” the network was able to go back and use actual footage from the 1980s since the show has been on the air that long, including shots of the late Dick Clark. The 2021 hosts were mixed in with decidedly 80s looking identifier graphics appearing on screen.

“Blackish,” which is set to debut its final season, also took part in the 80s fun.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live” included a clip of the “We’re the one” tagline at the very end of his promo.

“Big Sky” also got the 80s look and announcer, but was notably produced in the 16:9 aspect ratio but noted, at the end of the promo, as being in “full color.”

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ABC promoted the “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” broadcast itself using a series of promos featuring the various stars of the show. These spots were done in full 16:9 and did not have the 80s video effect applied either.

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