1 9 8 0 – 1 9 8 4 (USA)
Derided by critics and hailed by its creators as innovative, That’s Incredible! took a look at the more unusual sides of nature, medicine and human endeavour.
Audiences were presented with the ultimate in sensationalism, where real blood was shed in a circus without a ringmaster.
Segments ranged from the uplifting (young people overcoming severe handicaps to lead normal lives) to the unexplainable (a park ranger who had been hit by lightning seven times) to the simply stupid (a stuntman jumping a motorcycle over the spinning rotors of three helicopters).
ABC’s That’s Incredible!, conceived as an imitation of NBC’s hit show Real People, seemed to be the freak-show annexe of the earlier series. From a yogi sandwiched between two slabs of nails (sealed with a sledgehammer) to the band of karate experts levelling a barn, this show had less to do with “real people” than with those craving attention at any cost.
Viewers were drawn to the show like a magnet though it was never explained why the producers considered it necessary to have John Davidson, Cathy Lee Crosby and Fran Tarkenton to handle the simple job of reading a few introductory lines from the cue cards.
CATHY: Our next story on That’s Incredible! . . .
JOHN: . . . concerns a man who will ride a motorcycle over six blazing cars . . .
FRAN: . . . while playing the piano . . .
CATHY: . . . with his feet
When Time magazine announced its 1980 dubious achievement awards, ‘Most Sadistic Show’ went to “That’s Incredible!, which, in the search for thrills and ratings, had caused one man nearly to lose a foot, another to burn his fingers to stumps, and a third to suffer several fractures and a ruptured aorta”.
Even an exposé in a May 1982 issue of TV Guide, which revealed several of the show’s stunts to be rigged or outright frauds, did not faze the series’ producers.
To be fair, there were informative segments on breakthroughs in medicine and people overcoming their handicaps. But the show was perhaps best represented by the picture of a man juggling whirring chainsaws, while a caption on the screen read, “Do not try this yourself! ”
Cathy Lee Crosby