Among the anticipated buzz about upcoming comic book blockbusters that emerged from San Diego Comic Con was the announcement from Shout! Factory that two of the biggest WTF TV shows from the ’80s were coming out as complete sets on DVD this year. Manimal and Automan were two amazingly messed up TV dramas that aired in 1983. They often say that certain shows would never get on TV today. Both of these shows would be greeted with crickets at network pitch sessions in 2015. But over three decades ago, studio executives must have been snorting something as they told Glen Larson (BJ and the Bear & Battlestar Galactica) to bring them a duo of science fiction superheroes. While neither series lasted a full season, they’ve lasted to viewers who can’t forget the high weirdness.
Manimal seems like a normal detective series from Larson with Dr. Jonathan Chase (Falcon Crest‘s Simon MacCorkindale) solving crimes. But he’s no average sleuth. Chase has the ability to turn into a panther, hawk or snake to gather up his clues and expose the guilty bastards. Stan Winston (Aliens) handles the transformation effects. The show lasted only a pilot movie and seven episodes which will be featured on the boxset. Oddly enough, the song “Manimal” by the L.A. punk band The Germs was recorded four years before the TV series aired. Supposedly Will Ferrell wants to turn the series into a movie. But it’s hard to imagine him out doing the weirdness that aired on NBC all those years ago.
Automan should be the normal buddy cop show with a nerdy vet and a plucky recruit busting up the bad guys. Except in this case the nerdy guy is a computer programmer (Here’s Lucy‘s Desi Arnaz Jr.) and the plucky guy (Broadway star Chuck Wagner) is the hologram created by a computer program. The program can take human form If Miami Vice was sold to NBC as MTV Cops, than ABC must have bought this concept with the phrase “Tron cops. The geek and badge series lasted 12 episodes before the program was shut down. The good news for fans is that the boxset is rumored to include the originally unaired 13th episode.
No news of release dates have come out. There should be plenty of bonus features that explain how such glorious weirdness made it onto network TV. Hopefully this is a sign that someday we’ll finally see Super Train: The Complete Series on DVD.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.