I can remember exactly what was happening in my life at the time; I was seventeen years old, had just moved to a new town that very same month, and about the only “friend” I had to my name was my loyal dog Sam. So it was a no brainer for me to invite the gang – who were all close in age to me – of Point Place, WI into my life when That ’70s Show premiered on Fox on August 23, 1998.
The sitcom had a simple enough concept; a group of high school kids navigate their lives during the drug-filled ’70s that many still yearn for. The young cast was beyond easy to relate to; Eric (Topher Grace) was the awkward leader, next door neighbor Donna (Laura Prepon – who I had a raging crush on from the get-go) was the love interest, while Hyde (Danny Masterson), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie (Mila Kunis), and Fez (Willmer Valderrama) rounded out their group of misfit friends.
The ensemble cast also included Kurtwood Smith as Red and Debra Jo Rupp as Kittie, Eric’s very-much involved parents. Neighbors Bob (Don Stark) and Midge (Tanya Roberts) portrayed Donna’s airhead parents, while Lisa Robin Kelly sometimes played Eric’s promiscuous sister. Even Tommy Chong eventually got in on the action as a love-able stoner type (big stretch) for several seasons.
But alas, all good things must come to an end; by the end of the seventh season, Grace had left the show, initially replaced by by Bret Harrison before Josh Meyers ultimately filled the gap. Things finally concluded on May 18, 2006, and I watched the “That ’70s Finale” episode from home as a new father (at the time of this writing, my son Jacob is now the same age I was when it originally premiered, effectively aligning him to Eric, while I’ve since gained more in common with Red).
I have also been able to personally catch many of the bands featured/mentioned on the show live throughout the years. From Aerosmith to Kiss, to Blue Oyster Cult, to the band that actually provided the show’s theme song “In the Street” throughout the majority of its existence, Cheap Trick (the very same year the show went off the air in 2006 nonetheless – see flyer below), which the band of course performed live that night.
Unfortunately, time has also done a number on several cast members since the show; Roberts and Kelly both succumbed to early deaths, while Masterson is now facing up to thirty years in prison after being convicted on multiple sexual assault/rape charges, putting a dark cloud above the head of his character Hyde to say the least.
Still, the show’s popularity eventually spawned two spin-offs; the brief but underrated That ’80s Show in 2002, and more recently, the Netflix vehicle That ’90s Show that premiered earlier this year. But no matter what has come or gone since then, nothing can take away the lightning once caught in a bottle by a group of six deviant, albeit well-natured, kids back in 1998.
Flyer from an Orlando, FL Cheap Trick concert post-show party on 11/12/06 from the author’s personal collection.