Vintage Cable Box: Kiss Me Goodbye, 1982

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“In a healthy marriage, fear should be equal.”

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Kiss Me Goodbye, 1982 (Sally Field), 20th Century Fox

I’ve developed a theory that movies (of all kinds) made at a certain time were just plain better than anything being made today. My advanced years create a cloud of media-oriented snobbery; so much that even something as light-hearted and innocent as 1982’s Kiss Me Goodbye plays so much fresher and spirited than romantic comedy fare being produced these days. Even Dusty Springfield’s corny theme song evokes a pleasant mood in me. Sally Field and Jeff Bridges are reunited (from Bob Rafelson’s brilliant 1976 Stay Hungry) as a soon-to-be-married couple returning to the house Sally shared with her deceased dancing-star husband, Jolly (an atypically vibrant James Caan) to start a new life. It isn’t long before Sally starts to remember the adventure of being married to such a ridiculously talented man she still obviously loves.

Jeff Bridges’ Rupert is a stuck-up yuppie type (a “nerd” as her mother and Jolly describe him) who pushes Sally’s Kay to get on with her life. If only she could. She sees Jolly everywhere she goes. The house she claims Jolly didn’t much care for is imbued with his presence and his personality, and soon enough Jolly appears to her in the form of a ghost. Is this simply a charming romantic comedy of errors in which a woman has to negotiate the spirit of her dead husband, or is it a deep-seated cry for psychological help? I know, I know! We’re not supposed to ask questions like that. Kay appeals to Rupert to move into the house. He seems more interested in selling it. This is a gorgeous New York City townhouse, and probably worth a ton, but it has sentimental value for Kay.

Rupert is obviously telegraphed to be the heavy, though we can’t blame him his jealousy. He has his own life he wants to share with Kay, and is bored with stories of the famous (and much loved) Jolly. As with most (if not all) of her movies, I find myself falling in love with Sally Field. She’s an extraordinary actress who can give us a character completely with a single expression on her face. Would she have a career starting out today? Most actresses working today that would play a similar role to this are too devastatingly gorgeous to be taken seriously, but here we believe her innocence, her vulnerability, and her intelligence. Bridges proves (as he did with 1978’s Somebody Killed Her Husband) that he can handle comedy with cynical aplomb. James Caan, in later interviews and citing friction with director Robert Mulligan, would claim making this film was one of the more miserable experiences of his life and he stopped acting for five years.

Even in fantasy, there can be logical pitfalls, but we have to get back to the psychological question:  Is Kay out of her mind?  Is this is a Jungian riddle?  I have to wonder if Kay doesn’t want to let this part of her life be erased, and she suffers from identity crisis personified by the ghost of her dead husband.  I know there are people in my life who seemed to have disappeared, who won’t come back no matter how much I wish it, and then I begin to understand that those people (in a rare bit of constructive solipsism) were what represented me in a certain time and place.  I can tell you about my best friends from thirty years ago by telling you about what kind of a person I was at that time.  They disappear like the last page of a chapter you were reading in a book, and then you turn the page and begin a new chapter in your life.  Wow.  This review of Kiss Me Goodbye suddenly got deep, didn’t it?

While Jolly appears to goad Kay into telling him she still loves him (which seems foolish – why would a g-g-ghost care?) as well as interrupting intimate moments between the lovers, Rupert with Kay’s loved ones begin to suspect she is losing her mind, so Rupert plans a half-assed exorcism.  The movie goes off the rails for a time before we come to the conclusion this was actually a very sad love story.  Once Jolly gets it into his non-corporeal head Kay will be happy, he moves on to the next life to take up residence with Patrick Swayze, Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin, Casper, and any other number of friendly ghosts.  Kiss Me Goodbye is a dumb, romantically spiritual comedy, but it is great fun with loads of charm to spare that makes me realize how much I hate to say goodbye.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Vintage Cable Box: Rhinestone, 1984

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“All right, we’ll go to your place and you can show me your organ. But I’m warning you, it’d best be having music coming out of it.”

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Rhinestone, 1984 (Dolly Parton), 20th Century Fox

Sylvester Stallone is a smart guy.  Betraying his brutish looks, muscular physique, and propensity for violence, Stallone understands his incredible history, and his ability to re-invent his image.  He’s played rogue cops, underdog boxers, and disillusioned soldiers.  He’s gone down the road of pristine drama (Cop Land), and screwball comedy (Oscar), but pairing him head-to-head with Dolly Parton proved to be such a misfire from inception that it isn’t hard to see why he stayed away from this kind of culture-clash comedy for the better part of his career.  Given the opportunity to rewrite Phil Alden Robinson’s (Field of Dreams) screenplay, and then turning down Beverly Hills Cop to appear in this movie, Stallone shows he’s not afraid to take ill-advised chances in film.

Like every decent screwball comedy, this one begins with a bet.  Dolly’s Jake Farris is contracted to perform nightly at an admittedly popular tourist trap country bar smack dab in the middle of New York City run by Ron Leibman.  She makes a deal with Leibman to turn the first person he spots into a country music star.  If she succeeds, she can get out of the slave contract with Liebman (who can’t help but be sleazy about the whole thing).  They go out to the street and Liebman picks a dizzy cab driver named Nick for this Pygmalion-like transformation.  Of course, given the multi-cultural climate of New York City, Nick would be the very last person Dolly would agree to tutor in the ways of country music, but Leibman wants to make this as difficult as possible for her.

For a moment there, Nick thinks she’s coming on to him.  He takes her back to his home, where his Mama (playing it to the hilt, constantly circling the table to babble in a foreign language and deposit more food) makes spaghettis and gravy.  See, Dolly’s all skin and bone as we know.  So it’s unusual that in addition to a clash of cultures, we also have a clash of stereotypes.  Stallone is a good-natured meathead and Dolly’s a sassy redneck chick (and hot, to boot!).  Dolly decides to take Nick down to her ancestral home in Tennessee.  It’s funny that I was living in Tennessee at the time this movie premiered on cable television.  There didn’t seem to be much hootin’ and hollerin’ going on when I was living down there.  She teaches him to walk and to talk like a redneck (or “rhinestone”) cowboy-type; chewing tobacco, and developing a John Wayne swagger.

Dolly makes for a charmingly baroque figure in her dusters, cowboy hats, and leather boots, but Stallone, I think, tries too hard to be funny here when playing it straight would have benefited the humorous idea.  The rolling of his eyes and mugging for the camera, along with Travolta-hair style make him more menacing than endearing to me.  You can tell Dolly is really trying to teach him, not only about country music, but the unspoken language of dependency with which actors must relate.  In fact, Dolly is the saving grace of this movie.  Nevermind her looks – this broad is insanely talented; as an actor, as a singer, as an entertainer!  The only time the story doesn’t feel genuine is when the screenplay forces them to be closer.  The way I see it, the movie’s not a love story.  It’s a dare.  A dare to turn a cab driver into a star.  A dare to cast Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton in a movie together.

One of these things is not like the other.

It’s here that we get into what makes a bad movie (although I disagree with that notion).  Watching or reviewing and evaluating a movie is, was, and always has been a subjective experience.  For example, you might consider Rhinestone to be a seminal work of art, a masterpiece; it did it’s job, for you.  You come across an imposing cluster of terrible reviews.  You talk to people who say the movie is “terrible”, or worse.  Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 15% “tomatometer” rating.  In those days, before the advent of blanket advertising to guarantee good opening weekend numbers, box office was the only indication of a movie’s failure.  This doesn’t mean you’re wrong for loving the movie.  It only means fewer people agree with your opinion, and it doesn’t mean you have bad taste in film.  If, in your view, the movie does it’s job (the outlandish prospect of pairing Parton with Stallone, and the silly screwball narrative), then it succeeds.  Rhinestone succeeds.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: Q: The Winged Serpent, 1982

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“New York is famous for good eating.”

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Q: The Winged Serpent, 1982 (David Carradine), United Film Distribution Company

You can almost hear the surge of John Williams’ famous two-note tone poem, except that instead of swimming the murky depths of the North Atlantic, we’re soaring across the magnificence that is the New York City skyline. We start with a peeping-tom window washer, and his quarry: a temperamental fashion designer, annoyed at the screeching sound of his implements. Before he has an opportunity to get a date with the girl, he loses his head! Literally! Something flies toward him, and we hear a lovely chomping sound effect, and then a scream. This is “Q”, short for Quetzalcoatl, a dragon-like reptilian god, whose soul purpose is to make life interesting for beleaguered New Yorkers already faced with the day-to-day challenges of living in this dilapidated metropolis.

Recovering junkie and small-time criminal Jimmy Quinn (a spirited Michael Moriarty) runs off after a botched jewel store heist, and hides in the rafters of the Chrysler Building. He stumbles upon the nest of this creature, as well as an enormous egg, from which will, no doubt, emerge a baby “Q”. He puts two and two together; reading newspaper accounts of gruesome roof-top attacks, and quickly figures out who (or what) is responsible. No-nonsense cops, David Carradine and Richard Roundtree, are investigating a series of ritual slayings (or skinnings, as the case may be). The skinnings are being executed in service to the Quetzalcoatl. In a scene worthy of Hitchcock, Quinn leads a couple of mobbed-up goons to the rafters (to get their non-existent money), where they are then torn apart by this winged bitch.

While Carradine does his homework, chatting up anthropologists and figuring out how to pronounce Quetzalcoatl: (English pronunciation: /ˌkɛtsɑːlˈkoʊɑːtəl/; Spanish pronunciation: [ketsalˈkoatɬ]), Moriarty, somewhat cleverly, extorts the cops, claiming to know the location of the nest.  He wants a few things in return; a million bucks (tax-free), and an expunged criminal record.  In a brilliant scene in a diner, Carradine and Moriarty face off, with Carradine trying to get Moriarty to spill the location so the cops can keep their money, but Moriarty isn’t falling for it.  What follows is a spectacular shoot-out with the winged creature from the heights of the Chrysler Building.  If only the atrocious visual effects matched writer-director Larry Cohen’s vision.

Cohen’s script (rushed into production with only a day’s notice) is a colorful mosaic of eccentric characterizations (particularly the performance of Moriarty), and lively New York City locales.  Three stories intertwine in haphazard fashion; the junkie, the serpent, and the cult.  In 1982 (and perhaps even now), you would never see a script or a finished movie with such finely drawn characters, such quirky dialogue, Moriarty’s (sometimes annoying) Method approach to Jimmy Quinn, and the high production value of shooting in New York City all in service of what is essentially a modern-day King Kong, a b-movie, or a monster movie.  Q is truly exciting film-making from a master of the genre.

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An incredibly prolific writer and director, Larry Cohen would make Special Effects and Perfect Strangers before producing what many would regard as his masterpiece in The Stuff (1985) also starring Moriarty (kind of an alter-ego for Cohen, appearing in four of his movies).  Before Q, he had written for television (notably Columbo, Branded – which he created, and The Rat Patrol), directed a pair of black exploitation movies, as well as the classic horror movies, It’s Alive and God Told Me To.  Be sure to give my podcast, “Extreme Cinema” a listen as Andrew and I review Cohen’s Q and The Stuff.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Extreme Cinema! “Enough Is Never Enough”

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Tonight, we discuss two certified Larry Cohen horror classics, Q: The Winged Serpent from 1982, and The Stuff, released in 1985.  An incredibly prolific writer and director, Larry Cohen would make Special Effects and Perfect Strangers before producing what many would regard as his masterpiece in The Stuff  also starring Moriarty (kind of an alter-ego for Cohen, appearing in four of his movies).  Before Q, he had written for television (notably Columbo, Branded – which he created, and The Rat Patrol), directed a pair of black exploitation movies, as well as the classic horror movies, It’s Alive and God Told Me To.  

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs

Between Light And Shadow (A Twilight Zone podcast with Craig Beam)

Running Time: 1:26:37

Physical Impossibility Interview with Larry Cohen

Misantropey Interview with Larry Cohen

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

This podcast is dedicated to the memory of David A. Prior (1955-2015)

NEW EPISODE! “Corporate Whores … and Press-titutes”

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Recorded March 12, 19, April 17-28, 2016.

With David Lawler, Andrew La Ganke, Eve Kerrigan, Denny Spangler, Bronwyn Knox.

“My Computer” (Prince) by Prince (from the 1996 album, “Emancipation”), “Yo Bill” (David Lawler) by David Lawler with vocals by Alex Saltz, The Dylan Ratigan Show (an American television program on MSNBC hosted by Dylan Ratigan), “Hail To The Chief” (James Sanderson), Fatman On Batman” (a web series hosted by Kevin Smith), “Pope” (Prince) by Prince (from the 1993 album, “The Hits/The B-Sides”), “Purple Rain” (Prince) by Prince and The Revolution, “The Beautiful Ones (Prince) by Prince and The Revolution, “Diamonds and Pearls” (Prince) by Prince and The New Power Generation.

The Vampire Economy

Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

Vintage Cable Box: “Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978”

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“When I was a kid, my father had one word of advice he gave me, I’ll never forget it.  You know what he said?  ‘Jerome, if ever you are in seriously desperate trouble, remember … that … God, in his infinite wisdom has ordained that I’ll be playing pinochle and you’ll handle the whole thing yourself’!”

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Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

There’s a special place in the bottomless bin of lost cinema for a movie like Somebody Killed Her Husband, Reginald Rose’s Edgar®-nominated screenplay directed by Lamont Johnson and starring two bonafide stars of their time, a heavily-bearded Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. They meet-cute in the toy department at Macy’s, where Bridges works. He’s a frustrated writer concocting a bizarre children’s story about a caterpillar that saves the world. Like me, he tends to talk to himself, spouting ideas in public, and not caring whether people think he’s crazy. He falls in love (so to speak) at first sight with Farrah, chats her up and has lunch with her and her child in the park.

Bridges and Fawcett-Majors are trapped in relationships with boring, selfish nitwits so it’s only natural they start to enjoy each other’s company. They fall in love almost immediately, and I wish I could say this was strictly and exclusively a film’s narrative device in order to advance the plot, but I’ve had those feelings, and witnessed them in others. Here, it seems completely normal, and ignites some memories for me. Seriously, there’s nothing like falling in love. It’s almost like a glorious drug.

One night during their tryst, Farrah’s husband arrives home early with an unseen guest. As Bridges and Fawcett-Majors prepare to deliver the news of their love to her husband, they see that he has been stabbed to death in her kitchen. This is a well-executed scene, which effortlessly glides from romantic comedy to sheer terror. While Farrah wants to call the police, Bridges (being a typical New York City paranoid personality) believes they’ll be framed for his murder, so he resolves to solve the crime himself. They stuff the body in the refrigerator and get to work. With his fully-functioning writer’s mind, he tries to break down the events leading up to the murder, or any possible suspects.

Complicating matters are Farrah’s housekeeper (Mary McCarty) and her husband’s new secretary (John Glover), as well as nosy neighbors and acquaintances. While Farrah searches for her dead husband’s personal papers, Bridges must play babysitter to her son. He bounces ideas off the child as to who would possibly kill the man. Suspiciously, a plainclothes detective shows up to check the apartment because of a broken window. This has never happened in my experience living in the big city. Bridges discovers the apartment is being bugged, and this is where matters get tense. The people secretly recording Farrah are her bizarre neighbors (John Wood and Tammy Grimes).

Bridges connects the dots and figures the neighbors had the fake cop bug the apartment. While attempting a switcheroo and bugging the neighbors with their own recording equipment, he finds that they’ve been killed! They find jewelry and listings for insurance payments based on a scam to “steal” jewelry and divide the proceeds from the cash value while keeping the jewelry. Yes, it all sounds convoluted, but it is a movie, after all. It shouldn’t work at all, but it does for me, and Bridges and Fawcett-Majors make for an engaging, amiable pair. The movie has a refreshingly old-fashioned feel to it, as though it could’ve been made in the 50s or 60s.

Based on some of the reviews I read, critics were not particularly kind to Somebody Killed Her Husband, mostly because of Fawcett-Majors, as she recently departed the popular television series Charlie’s Angels to start a movie career. Others cited parallels to Charade, and in fact, the movie was re-titled Charade ’79 for release in Japan. As in the case of Get Crazy, the movie was pre-sold with an inflated budget by it’s investors expecting it to flop so they could earn a quick profit. I’ve always enjoyed this movie. There is a wonderful conversation between Bridges and the killer at the film’s climax which is well worth the experience. Bridges outlines the killer’s plan and the killer is impressed with Bridges’ acumen. That this movie remains in the bottomless bin of lost cinema is tragic, although I could’ve done without the Neil Sedaka song!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Romantic Comedy, 1983”

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“A few years ago, I owned a delicate china teapot.  One day, I dropped it and it split right down the middle.  Well, I glued it together, and it looked as if it had never been broken.  And several months later, for no apparent reason, it suddenly exploded into a thousand pieces.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that despite all appearances, it’s better to keep your teapot intact.”

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Romantic Comedy, 1983 (Dudley Moore), MGM/UA

Phoebe Craddock (Mary Steenburgen) excuses herself to use the restroom at a high-end restaurant packed with back-slappers during the premiere party of her first collaborative work with Jason Carmichael (Dudley Moore). She returns not a moment later, and the joint has cleared out – a ghost town. When she asks a waiter where everybody went, he simply answers, “the reviews came in.” This is the life of the writer; anticipation and happiness and enthusiasm all destroyed within minutes by bad reviews, dirty looks, and marginalization.

The result of a communications snafu, Steenburgen has arrived to work with stage-writing partner Dudley Moore two weeks early on his wedding day. Mistaking her for a masseuse, he strips down naked. When she comes clean, he is embarrassed, slips on a pair of shorts, and goes into a temper tantrum. What we have is a “romantic comedy”, not the title, but the concept – a Neil Simon pastiche written by Bernard Slade. Imagine Anthony Perkins and Mia Farrow in the lead roles they created in the original stage run. If you can, you’re one-up on me. It’s an interesting combination.

The story is told as a series of vignettes (or even acts). Phoebe and Jason meet-cute and begin to collaborate. Their first play is a flop. They bond. He starts a family with his beautiful, politically-ambitious but innately sweet wife (Janet Eilber). A montage showcases the duo’s resulting success with several stage plays. They bond. Phoebe starts seeing a journalist (Ron Leibman). Jason has an affair with a dizzy, ridiculous actress (Robyn Douglass). His wife divorces him. Phoebe abandons him, and marries Ron Leibman.  I think the point of the story (if there was one) is that creative partners are analogs for lovers, or that an intense inventive synthesis is the same as a romantic coupling.

Years later, Jason’s life is in ruins. Phoebe returns, after having written a semi-autobiographical book about her partnership with Jason. She wants to turn the book into a play, and she wants to collaborate with Jason. He flips out in a restaurant and suffers a heart attack. Phoebe nurse-maids him. Leibman finally leaves her when he realizes she loves Jason and working with Jason more than spending time with her own husband. I think he wants the woman who is with Jason, rather than the woman she is with him.

This is as close to unlikable as you’re likely to get from Dudley Moore. He’s crass, vulnerable, sarcastic, moody, and patronizing, but he is Dudley Moore. Again, he manages to make an impossible character work, because we, as viewers, still sympathize with him. Maybe it has something to do with his height. He’s not a powerful man. Perhaps strong in his wit, his manner, his intellect, but a flailing man-child in aesthetics. We believe Dudley Moore; whether he’s a songwriter, a drunk playboy, a writer, a psychiatrist, or a symphony conductor, we believe him. As an actor and entertainer, his decisions were brave and ultimately successful. In the final analysis, his performance is the only thing I enjoy in Romantic Comedy. He would go from the daffy Arthur to the gut-punch of Six Weeks within the space of a year. No other actor would dare to bank on his image as a dramatic actor.

Romantic Comedy is typical eighties cheese, and the Marvin Hamlisch music doesn’t do the narrative any favors. It seemed the formula, or the structure of movies made this way depended on montage to break up acts. We have a set-piece scene, a montage, another scene, another montage, and it goes on like this until toward the end after the climax and before the end credits. Other films from this time period do a better job of linking the elements, but Romantic Comedy is a bit clunky because, being based on a stage play, you have static blocking and heavy dialogue on a big set. Director Arthur Hiller (Author! Author!) tries to shake it up, sometimes putting the actors in nice New York locales, but the stage play narrative feels like a prison from which these very talented actors cannot escape.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.