1 9 8 0 – 1 9 8 4 (USA)
Derided by critics as a sensationalized freak show 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 conceived the show as an imitation of NBC’s hit show Real People, but – from a yogi sandwiched between two slabs of nails (sealed with a sledgehammer) to a 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! ”
While it was hyped by ABC publicists as “a kaleidoscopic look at astounding events and feats that inform, entertain and educate”, the series more often than not encouraged snuff television, paying big bucks for people to smash their motorcycles through brick walls and such.
The show ended on 30 April 1984 but continued to be shown in syndication.
Four years later, it returned for an additional season, under the new title Incredible Sunday. Otherwise, little had changed. Smiling John Davidson was once again host, joined by Christina Ferrare (and in early 1989, by teen actress Tracey Gold). The feature story on the first episode in October 1988 was about a South African woman who became the surrogate mother for her own daughter; implanted with her daughter’s fertilised eggs, she gave birth to her own grandchildren . . .
Cathy Lee Crosby