ABC Afterschool Special

ABC Afterschool Special

Life can be both complicated and confusing for a kid, but the ABC television network broadcast an enduring series of TV movies in the 70s (and well beyond) to help clear things up and impart a few life lessons on our youth. Love them or hate them, the ABC Afterschool Special delivered messages on everything from proper nutrition to the dangers of drug and alcohol, even what to do when dad lives in a downtown hotel.

Starting in 1972, ABC launched its schooling-away-from-school series with “Last of the Curlews,” a Hanna-Barbera animated feature concerning the plight of the curlews, a fictional bird species. The curlews were slowly dying out, you see, and kiddies got to empathize with the avian race, while surreptitiously learning about ecology and environmental problems. The cartoon went on to win an Emmy award in 1973 for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming.

Here’s a promo for another episode from the early years:

Specials continued to be produced, some times in animated form but mostly as live-action installments, often performed by the network’s young primetime stars. Noteworthy pieces included “The Wave,” in which a high school teacher teaches his students about social conformity using Third Reich propaganda tactics; “Winning and Losing,” about a senate race; and the animated literature classic, “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Later on, the specials turned up the moralizing factor and suffered from an abundance of melodrama in dealing with contemporary issues. It didn’t help that the episodes sported ungainly titles like, “Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom;” “The Boy Who Drank Too Much;” and “My Dad Can’t Be Crazy (Can He?)”. Some specials boasted celebrity involvement such as teen idol Scott Baio going on a drug-fueled binge in “Stoned” and Oprah Winfrey, who hosted an after-afterschool special panel discussion following the airing of “I Hate the Way I Look.”

Here’s a promo from the 80s for an episode dealing with illiteracy:

The series eventually came to signify the corniness achieved by adults who face and often fail miserably to relate to young people’s issues. Regardless, when properly written and executed, these specials were both entertaining and thought-provoking to children and bravely dealt with social concerns that were still considered taboo at the time.

The ABC AFterschool Special series enjoyed a 25-year run, ending in 1997. Today, many of the episodes are preserved for eternity on DVD, although today’s kids today might be too busy giggling at the strange clothing and hairstyles to truly appreciate the important messages they sought to share. For nostalgic adults, on the other hand, they provide a pretty cool trip down memory lane.

Did you have a favorite among the long list of ABC Afterschool Specials? Did any impart a particularly valuable lesson that you have carried through life? Do you remember any so cheesy that you laughed way more than you learned? Share all of your memories of this unforgettable series with us at Retroland. It’s just our little way of reminding you about the importance of sharing.

18 Responses to “ABC Afterschool Special”

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  1. Christine says:

    My Dad Lives in a Downtown hotel has been removed by the user.

    If you want, I can upload it to my account and you can link to it from that

  2. jennifer harris says:

    I remember watching in school,The day My Kid went punk,Supermom’s Daughter,Terrible things my mother told me,Little Miss Perfect,Police Juvi,and taking a Stand.

  3. Veronica says:

    does anyone know where I can find the episode, “My Dad Can’t Be Crazy…Can He? I am dying to see that one :)

  4. Looking for amovie about a little boy abused by alcholic father. Would run away to play with a little girl behind a fence,well at end of movie little boy gets hit by a car and ends up with little girl who was dead the entire movie. Was an angel waiting to take him to heaven. Does anyone know the name . Please help!been looking for this movie since I saw it . Maybe 70s 80s not sure, but its driving me insane.

  5. Does anyone remember a movie about an abused little boy, who is abused. Befreinds a little girl behind a fence. Then latter on at end of movie little boy runs away from father,gets hit by car. Little girl who turns out to be an angel takes him to heaven. Please anyone help. Movie from late 70s early 80s

  6. Karen says:

    Looking for movie about man remembering taking piano lessons, but being lazy about it and not practicing. Teacher lady chain-smoked. She saw the talent he had and tried to encourage him because he had a talent that was not just technical ability. My impression was that he regretted not being more disciplined about it after he grew up. Can anyone tell me who the boy actor was? and maybe what the name of the particular movie was?

    • Karen says:

      I finally found it myself. It was The Wonder Years Season 2 Episode 13 “Coda”. It’s on Youtube to watch – a little over 20 minutes. Fred Savage is the young star.

  7. mandy_Reeves says:

    I used to love watching these! “Psst…Hammerman’s after you!” was the first one I remember. We watched it in school. It was this kid Marv Hammermen who was the school bully, and his buddy was named Peaches. This kid who Hammermen is after, wrote Marv’s name on the schools display of the evolution of man, right by the homo erectus…which ever one looked like the cave man.

    There was also the one where Theo from Cosby show, his best friend killed himself, and there was a kite flown in his honor or something.

    There was also School boy dad. I think it was Rob lowe, or one of them guys…he knocks up Dana Plato at Summer Camp and she doesn’t want the baby, so she hands it off to him and he tries, but ended putting it up for adoption.

    I never got to see the one where one boy shoots another boy in the chest accidentally and kills him.

  8. Gina says:

    These used to annoy me because they would preempt the syndicated sitcoms I liked to watch after school, like Three’s Company. I would turn the TV on, expecting my favorite shows, and–Aack! It’s one of those after school specials!

  9. Jen says:

    OMG! I loved these afterschool specials!!

  10. Jim K says:

    I believe you can find the names and plots here; some even have their own sites:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABC_Afterschool_Special

  11. Darlene says:

    Last of the Curlews was the best! And, it wasn’t about a fictional species, but a real species with real problems. It was assumed to be extinct when the book was written, but some individuals were sighted afterward. By the time the show aired, there may have been only a few curlews left, if any.

    I really wish WB would reissue this one. I would love to buy it just for the songs alone.

  12. Cherilyn says:

    I remember The Boy who Drank too Much starring Scott Baio from 1980 but I thought that was on CBS not ABC I remember cause it was assigned for homework we were given scripts and read along with the movie..Don Murray who was on Knots Landing played his dad

  13. Lillea says:

    My uncle (Jeff Kindley) wrote the teleplays for several of these, including Make Believe Marriage, Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid,
    A Movie Star’s Daughter, A Family of Strangers, My Mother Was Never a Kid, The Great Love Experiment, The Almost Royal Family, and
    Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale. All of them are very good, but my personal favourites are Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid and
    A Movie Star’s Daughter (I’ve seen both several times). I don’t remember watching other shows in the series, only these ones because my grandfather had them on Betamax (remember that? :) ).

  14. I watched a lot of these, including “Please Don’t Hit Me Mom”, “The Color Of Friendship”, “The Wave”, “Me And Dad’s New Wife” (some scripts were included in Scholastic Magazine), and “Blind Sunday”. Would be great to have all of them on DVD, I have a complete list if anyone wants a copy. Other great shows I watched: “Ultraman”, “Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot”, “In The News”, “321 Contact”, and “Villa Alegre”.

    Ah to be a kid again!

  15. Lucia carmel says:

    Looking for a movie about an abused little boy who runs away and plays with a little girl behind a fence. At the end of movie as he is running away, he gets hit a by a car. He then runs away to find the little girl who, it turns out, is an angel waiting to take him to heaven.

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