May 5, 1981: Adventures and Misadventures

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(Pictured: Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner in a 1981 scene from Hart to Hart.)

May 5, 1981, was a Tuesday. Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands, in the 66th day of a hunger strike protesting conditions at the Maze Prison in Ireland, dies at age 26. During his hunger strike, Sands was elected to a seat in Britain’s House of Commons. In Brooklyn, New York, a power struggle within the Bonnano crime family leaves three high-ranking bosses shot to death; one body will be found later this month, but the other two will remain undiscovered until 2004. In Rome, Pope John Paul II issues a statement on euthanasia, calling it “a crime against life.” Future R&B singer Craig David is born. Mobile, Alabama, suffers widespread flooding after recording 7.96 inches of rain today.

Eleven games are played in the majors today and tonight. The Oakland A’s have the best record in baseball at 21-and-5; tonight, pitcher Mike Norris runs his record to 6-and-0 with a complete-game two-hitter as the A’s beat the Detroit Tigers 6-2. The National League’s best record belongs to St. Louis Cardinals, who are 13-and-4 after beating the Atlanta Braves 4-1. In the National Hockey League, the New York Islanders advance to the Stanley Cup Final, completing a four-game sweep of the New York Rangers with a 5-2 win. They await the winner of the series between the Calgary Flames and Minnesota North Stars, which is even at two games apiece after the North Stars win 7-4 tonight; Dino Ciccarelli has a hat trick for the North Stars. The NBA Finals open tonight in Boston with the Celtics beating the Houston Rockets 98-95. The Rockets are the first NBA team since 1959 to reach the finals after posting a losing record during the regular season. Although CBS has the national TV contract for the NBA, it carries tonight’s opening game of the Finals on tape delay following the late local news. It’s the third straight season that CBS has kept Finals games out of primetime, fearing their impact on the May ratings sweeps. As many as four Finals games could be shown on delay.

Instead of primetime basketball, CBS airs an episode of Palmerstown, USA, a drama created by Norman Lear and Alex Haley, based on Haley’s childhood in the rural South during the Depression. It’s followed by the TV movie Broken Promise, about a family of abandoned children struggling to stay together. ABC’s high-powered Tuesday night lineup features new episodes of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Three’s Company, Too Close for Comfort, and Hart to Hart. NBC starts its night with the final episode of Lobo, starring Claude Akins. The show, originally known as The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, was retitled for its second season. Also on NBC tonight: a repeat episode of Hill Street Blues and the next-to-last original episode of Nero Wolfe, a series based on the mystery novels of Rex Stout, starring William Conrad and Lee Horsley. In today’s Peanuts strip, Snoopy and his brother Spike are on World War I leave in Paris.

The Grateful Dead plays Glens Falls, New York, Bruce Springsteen plays Drammen, Norway, and jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon plays Atlanta. Barry Manilow continues a weeklong run of shows at Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At CKLW in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit, “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes and “Wasn’t That a Party” by the Rovers hold at #1 and #2. “Medley” by Stars on 45 is up to #3. “A Woman Needs Love” by Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio makes a strong move from #10 to #5. The only new song in the Top 10 is “I Missed Again” by Phil Collins, up to #10 from #15. “Sukiyaki” by A Taste of Honey is also up five spots, to #11, but the biggest upward move on the survey is seven spots—Neil Diamond’s “America,” from #29 to #22. “I Love You” by the Climax Blues Band makes the highest chart debut at #26. Phil Collins’ album Face Value is #1; AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is #2. Styx, REO Speedwagon, the Who, Steve Winwood, Rush, and Santana are also in the Top 10 on the album chart.

Perspective From the Present: This was finals week at UW-Platteville, although I wasn’t much concerned; I had largely stopped caring about my studies, not just for my junior year but in general. (I would rack up one A, one B, two C’s and a D for the spring semester.) I was planning to stay in Platteville for the summer to come, where adventures awaited.

6 thoughts on “May 5, 1981: Adventures and Misadventures

  1. Brian L Rostron

    Good move by CBS – who wants to see Larry Bird and Moses Malone in their primes when you can see a show about the Depression-era South followed by one about abandoned kids?

    1. The NBA’s image was terrible in the late 70s/early 80s. There was a perception that the players were all cokeheads and/or thugs. The Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivalry was just underway (80-81 was their second season) and wasn’t yet what it would become, and Michael Jordan was still in college. The ratings for regular season games were terrible in this era. TV was still largely a three-channel universe. It was fine to dump a ratings loser on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, but it was a great risk to throw away primetime nights on something that wouldn’t draw as many viewers, or as desirable a demographic, as the most pedestrian dramatic shows.

      1. Chris Herman

        In addition, the traditional NBA powerhouses like the Lakers and the Celtics were mired in mediocrity during the late 70s while lesser-known smaller-market teams dominated. (Incidentally, I hate to say this because I was a fan of the Sonics who were one of those such teams.) Also, unlike the 60s and early 70s, there was a lack of marquee players like Russell or Chamberlain that casual fans would recognize. Julius Erving was probably the biggest superstar in the NBA during that time but his 76ers were notorious for collapsing in the post-season and not making the finals as often as they should have.

      2. Wesley

        Very true, jb. In fact, when CBS got the rights to telecast the NBA from ABC during the 1970s, the latter network retaliated by counterprogramming against it on the weekends with The Superstars, a contest where star athletes from different fields competed to be named the best overall athlete. Cheesy? Sure. But with ABC Sports’ professional elan in developing compelling storylines and providing top production values on location, The Superstars easily defeated the NBA in the ratings for years. It wasn’t until the 1980s did the NBA become a potent power on TV.

      3. Brian L Rostron

        Nils Lofgren provided the greatest musical tribute to the late ’70s NBA, with pre- and post-championship versions of the DC area’s greatest sports jam, “Bullets Fever.” “You gotta be a fan from old DC / To know what the Bullets mean to be.” It really puts his work with Neil Young and Springsteen to shame.

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