In 1979, a lighthearted primetime talk show, featuring a herd of perpetually happy hosts, offered American audiences glimpses of the regular folks scattered all around the country who had an interesting or comical tale to tell. That show, Real People, became a quick hit for NBC and it wasn’t long before other networks wanted to hitch a ride on the popularity wave. The biggest competition would come from ABC, who upped the ante a bit, and rather than show ordinary folks in the everyday lives, chose to focus on the remarkable and extraordinary among us, in the 1980 series, That’s Incredible!
Hosting by its own amiable trio consisting of entertainer/game show emcee John Davidson, Football legend Fran Tarkenton and actress Cathy Lee Crosby, That’s Incredible! enthralled audiences with an amazing array of achievers, inspirations, and fearless stunt performers that left the audiences, and often the hosts, stunned into disbelief. Whether it was the guy who caught bullets fired from a gun with his teeth, or the man who chowed down on a ten-speed bike, there was always something, well, incredible to witness.
Of course, ever cautious television executives realized quickly that they better be careful to warn audiences not to try any of this stuff at home. And if that warning didn’t suffice, the list of performers injured during some of these attempts should have given any rational person pause. Bones were occasionally broken, flesh singed (a logical occupational hazard when one opts to run through a tunnel of fire), and an impressive catalog of other injuries sustained that would lead to the occasional emergency room visit.
But death-defying stunts weren’t the only way to get on That’s Incredible. The show also focused on such things as medical breakthroughs, the triumphs of handicapped individuals and community heroes, and anyone else who did something remarkable enough to drop a few jaws. Golfing prodigy Tiger Woods was a guest as a young child and, yes, he was pretty darn incredible.
Of course, much of what gets broadcast on television isn’t always as it appears. And That’s Incredible!, it turns out, wasn’t always entirely on the up-and-up. A TV Guide expose revealed that more than a few of the amazing feats witnessed on the series were rigged, and not all of the stories stood up to the strictest journalistic integrity. But who cares about that stuff when you are being entertained? Certainly not a population that refuses to believe that professional wrestling is fake. Audiences ate it all up and asked for seconds.
That’s Incredible! enjoyed a four year run on ABC before audiences stopped finding it all that incredible. Perhaps they had just been desensitized over the years to all of the amazing wonder. Regardless, the show was cancelled in 1984, although it would re-emerge four years later as Incredible Sunday, featuring John Davidson alongside two new co-hosts, Cristina Ferrare and Tracy Gold (Carol Seaver on Growing Pains.) But the welcome mat had worn thin by this point and the show was dropped after a single season. Fans who still yearned for something on television that would collectively make their jaws drop would have to wait until Jerry Springer arrived on the scene.
If you sat mesmerized watching That’s Incredible! as a kid, we welcome your memories in our comments sections. Was there a particularly incredible segment that you still vividly remember? Tell us all about it as we tip our hats to this unforgettable series.