The 1980s were the greatest decade for “television specials” ever. There was David Copperfield doing big scale magic on TV, there was Geraldo finding nothing but stale air in Al Capone’s vault, and on the heels of that there was Telly Savales hosting the unintentionally hilarious and partially disturbing “Return to the Titanic” in 1987. Broadcast live from Paris, France the show was supposed to reveal a bunch of interesting stuff about the ship, the iceberg crash, and some items that were in a safe recovered from the ship. The show was broadcast in France because after Robert Ballard found the wreck of the massive ship, there was a law passed by Congress that prohibited American explorers from taking stuff off the crash site. France missed the memo on that and their divers had no issue taking stuff from the rotting hulk of a ship at the floor of the ocean. The big find? A safe. That safe was the keystone of the show and it was to be opened live and the contents exposed to the world.
Savales was a hugely famous guy in France and in 1987 he still had some Hollywood horsepower here in the USA as well but his casting as the host was ultimately kind of weird. The safe was largely a bust as well but before the show aired it was revealed that producers had gone into it to determine if there was anything cool but more importantly to determine if they would have to “stock” it for the show. There wasn’t much. Some coins, personal items, and other small stuff made up the items “found” in the safe. The majority of those things were placed there AFTER the safe was first opened and checked. Reality TV was in full swing even in the 1980s.
As a kid, I was all in on the Titanic craze that exploded after Ballard found it. I read whatever I could and kept up on the “news” as best I could as a sub-10 year old. I do remember watching this show, likely on tape the next day and being totally enthralled with it. Watching the videos below, it cracked me up how terrible the whole thing actually was. Watch the last video first because it is when the items are being “examined” and the production is clearly off the rails. Savales doesn’t seem to give a rip about what is happening, there is all kinds of awkward pauses, and there’s nothing for the “scientists” to talk about. The show just kind of ends in a manner that seems as though the production people killed the cameras out of mercy for Savales and the nine people left watching.
This show was not an embarrassment the likes of which Geraldo suffered and Savales was not “wounded” by the flood of negative that followed the airing of the program in October 1987. The only real vitriol was reserved for the French divers who apparently caused damaged while rooting around the wreck looking for the safe, stuff to put in the safe, and whatever else they could pull off the hulk.
The story of the Titanic continues to be very compelling today and weirdos like me will remember until I am too old to remember anything that April 14, is the anniversary of the end of the massive creation and a big blow to man’s thought process about our ability to engineer things that were thought to be failure-proof. Both as an allegory and as an actual historical event the sinking of the Titanic will be talked about for centuries.
This comically bad television show? Not so much but it was worth remembering it here to make me smile.