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How Betamax Was Going to Change Your Life, According to Sony

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“There was an astronaut walking on the moon, and we were watching it on TV.”

“I didn’t see it.”

“Oh, you’re kidding me!”

So goes the conversation between two men in The Flying Clouds, a promotional film made by Sony to trumpet the incredible benefits of Betamax, their videocassette system. (The movie also reminded viewers about the miserable realities of living without Betamax, like missing out on moon landings and looking like an idiot.)

Sony launched Betamax on May 10, 1975 and, in America, it was originally only sold as part of a home entertainment combo set, housed inside a wooden console next to a 19" Trinitron color television. The whole kit and caboodle was dubbed the LV-1901, and it set people back a cool $2,495. Included in that bundle was a copy ofThe Flying Clouds, so it wasn’t a total rip-off.

LV-1901s are hard to find outside museums nowadays, but The Flying Clouds endures thanks to YouTube:

How did you live without it? How are we living without it? Oh no, am I missing a moon landing right now?

The bold quotes below are all pulled from The Flying Clouds, and each one testifies to the life-changing qualities of Betamax, a machine whose "only purpose is to serve you."

“From This Day On, With the Betamax, You Are The Controller And Preserver of Time”

In 1975 there was no home video market or industry, and Blockbuster was a full decade away from even existing. Betamax's initial purpose was solely to record programs off your television set. This was pretty remarkable at the time, hence Sony’s slightly hyperbolic claims that their machine would grant you the ability to tame the relentless flow of time. 

Still, the LV-1901 had some neat features, like a timer and a dual tuner. The latter allowed you to record a show on a channel you weren't watching—something that wasn't really seen again until the advent of modern DVRs.

“You’ll Be Free From the Restrictions of Time”

Besides its ability to make you a sorcerer of time (i.e. attending your est course without missing The Six Million Dollar Man ), Sony heralded the machine's ease of use. This 1977 Betamax salesman instructional video shows how operating a Betamax was "child's play"—"child's play!"—even for luddites:

Unfortunately, mayonnaise-colored suits were not included as part of the $2,495 LV-1901 package.

“You Can Create Your Own Betamax Cassette Library Of...Every Subject: Past, Present, And Future”

The first Betamax cassettes only held one hour of video. A miniseries like 1977's Roots, for example, would have filled up over ten Betamax tapes. At $35 a pop, these cassettes weren't cheap, and owning an LV-1901 with a substantial video collection would have set you back thousands upon thousands of dollars.

“The Betamax Will Allow You to Break the Time Barrier”

A year after Betamax hit the U.S. market, JVC introduced their competitor: Video Home System, a.k.a. VHS. While VHS offered inferior video quality, it still had more than enough going for it. Early VHS tapes held twice as much as their Betamax counterparts, meaning people could record entire movies on a single two-hour cassette. Sony increased the length of Betamax tapes in the 1980s, but VHS had too strong a foothold in the market by then. The price of VHS players also plummeted at a rate faster than Betamax, and VHS was able to penetrate foreign markets more effectively than Sony’s product.

There’s a school of thought that maintains the adult film industry was a primary reason for Betamax's downfall. Sony reportedly did not permit pornography to be published on their format, whereas VHS welcomed the stuff with open arms. While handing that kind of blanket market share to a competitor didn't exactly help Betamax's cause, experts now say the effects of porn on the broader format war were negligible compared to factors like price and cassette space.

“Consider the Ultimate Conquest of Time”

We all know how this story ends. Betamax lost to VHS, which was eventually made obsolete by DVDs, which gave way to Blu-ray, which is currently being wiped off the face of the earth by digital downloads and streaming services.

We can still look at The Flying Clouds, however, for a glimpse at a time when Betamax had the world at its feet. What would have happened had it out-dueled VHS? What kind of alternate future would we be living in now? Would there still be wars? Famine? Violence?

Humanity will never know. If only we had an LV-1901—only then could we “Break the Time Barrier” and find out.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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