The 1980s were defined by myriad phenomena, and perhaps just below the end of the Cold War in terms of cultural relevance was the growth in popularity of group aerobic exercise. The Richard Simmons Show premiered in 1980; the next year brought Physical by Olivia Newton-John. Jane Fonda’s first video workout tape was released in 1982, and John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis starred in the film Perfect three years later.
But on April 24, 1987, the ultimate merger of mass media and body mass reduction took place when at least one television station in the United States (KTLA in Los Angeles, as evidenced by the clip above) aired the third annual Crystal Light National Aerobics Championship.
To mark the occasion of the 25th anniversary of this broadcast, I recently had the privilege to speak with the program’s host, Alan Thicke.
How did you get involved in this?
I have no idea other than the fact that Growing Pains was on the air and was very popular*. Aerobics back then was a national craze — a borderline phenomenon — and so I was invited to front that particular competition. I think I had done one in Canada before then already, so I was a wisened, experienced veteran of the aerobics championship circuit and that probably inspired them to book me.
You were billed as the Honorary Chairman of the International Sports for Peace Foundation as well as the Special Advisor to the National Fitness Foundation. What were your responsibilities in those roles, and how long did you serve?
I don’t remember how long I served, but I’ve been on a few of those kinds of committees over the years because I’m a sports fanatic, especially a hockey fan. I play golf or hockey or tennis just about every day, and it keeps me in reasonable cardio shape. I have no muscles in my entire body, but I’m not usually fat because I’m burning stuff out.
Do you have any specific memories of the event?
Well, I remember I had a lot of hair — and I was very fond of my hair color back then, so I’ve tried to reference that period as a hair color prototype for me ever since. I also remember the wardrobe at the time, and that’s kind of amusing to see in retrospect.
Were your sportcoat sleeves hemmed or just rolled up?
They were rolled up, I believe. That was part of the fashion — to try to look more cool and casual by defacing your own garment.
What was the atmosphere like? Was it live to tape or did you have multiple takes?
I don’t remember multiple takes, I remember it being mostly a live event. This was a pageant. I’ve also hosted a number of pageants — Miss Universe and Miss USA and some programs like that — and I actually ended up marrying somebody from the Top Five. That was never a temptation at the aerobics production, but I remember thinking it was clearly a pageant experience because they eliminated contestants as they went along and the atmosphere backstage was certainly that, with everybody making sure they looked their best, and that they were prepped and primed and properly stretched for their routines. They all kind of knew each other by that point, they had rehearsed group numbers together and there was a sense of camaraderie underscoring the competition aspect, but it was pageant-like. It was a fitness pageant.
With regards to your monologue, how did that come together?
Generally speaking, it’s often that they expect that they’ll get a certain amount of amusement or humor whether it’s in the script or on stage as an ad-lib, so I was always flattered that I got invited to do those kinds of shows because I always fancied myself as a writer**. My recollection was that it was the kind of a show where they sent you a script and said feel free to play with it.
Any recollections about the craft services at an event like this?
It probably was way too much granola for me. I’m a muffin tops guy.
When it comes to Crystal Light, do you have a favorite flavor?
I’m a berry flavor guy, as opposed to citrus. I was a big fan of Crystal Light, and when they started producing it in actual containers instead of the powdered form that you had to mix, that’s my style, that’s my level of convenience, so I was on board for that.
Let’s talk a little about the song.
I was particularly proud of the song I wrote for that occasion, only because I think I’m the only person in history to have rhymed the word “cardiovascular” in a rock tempo song.
Where would you rank hosting the Aerobics championships among your many accomplishments?
On the fun scale, I’m sure it would be right up there. I remember it as being a lot of fun, vibrant, vital bunch of people who were all there for a good time and a good purpose, the purpose being to be in good shape. You’ve got to celebrate that.
*almost 20 million viewers a week!
Mitchell Scherr is a writer and producer in New York. The interview was condensed and edited.