Our Top 10 "Just Say No" TV Specials - Page 2

By McCarton Ackerman 07/10/13

In the '80s a flurry of cheesy after-school specials appeared on network television, designed to curb kids' enthusiasm for drugs. The Fix presents a hard-to-forget collection of clips.

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Desperate Lives (1982)

Want to see Helen Hunt on crank? This ‘80s flick shows just that. Hunt plays the role of teenager Sandy Cameron, who engages in reckless drug experimentation with her brother Scott (Doug McKeon). After ingesting angel dust cooked up by Scott in the school’s chemistry lab, Sandy jumps through a glass window at the school and is paralyzed from the fall. Scott also smokes drugs with his girlfriend and crashes their car off a cliff, then later has a violent reaction to drugs which sends him to the hospital. Recognizing a severe problem amongst the student body and frustrated at the staff’s refusal to do anything about it, guidance counselor Eileen Phillips (Diana Scarwid) storms into a school assembly and confronts the students. She makes it clear that their drug use is having a severe impact and that further tragedies will continue to occur unless something is done.

15 and Getting Straight (1989)

One of the few anti-drug movies in which the actors had already experienced severe drug problems in real life, this film is set in a 12-step, 28-day drug addiction treatment center for teenagers where the group leader Kim (Tatum O’Neal) is a recovering addict herself. The film centers around two newcomers: Jeff Hoyt (Corey Feldman), who is new to treatment and despite trying to commit suicide while high, refuses to admit his addictions; and Susan (Drew Barrymore), a bulimic and fellow newcomer to the group, who provides the most powerful scene in the flick when she confronts her mother’s belief that she is “too fragile” to deal with a troubled daughter. Despite being written and directed by Emmy Award-winner Joanna Lee, the movie was considered a flop and quickly forgotten.

Shattered... If Your Kid’s On Drugs (1986)

Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson narrate this anti-drug propaganda flick that exposes the “American nightmare” of drug use in suburbia. Kim (Megan Fellows) and Rick (Ricky Seagull) are teenagers who initially start experimenting with marijuana. But their “cool” drug dealer (Dermot Mulroney) tries to get them to take harder drugs like crack. Their parents, who are frequently either drunk or on valium, are in denial of their children’s drug problems as they watch them eventually get expelled from school. Rick eventually enters rehab, but Kim continues to use and even gets high before visiting a shrink. Meanwhile, Reynolds and Nelson periodically appear to provide personal thoughts from the sidelines—but don’t appear to be particularly sober themselves while delivering their lines.

Get High On Yourself (1981)

No, this special wasn’t promoting vanity; the hour-long offering kicked off an anti-drug concept of the same name that filled an entire week of primetime programming on NBC. Ironically, it was created by Hollywood producer Robert Evans as part of a court-ordered, community service probation deal after he pled guilty to purchasing $19,000 worth of cocaine. A loosely structured documentary about the making of an all-star sing along, the special featured a variety of major names from the ‘70s, including Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Paul Newman, Ted Nugent and Muhammad Ali—all of whom informed kids that taking drugs isn’t cool and that nobody in Hollywood actually does them. Some of the more infamous vignettes include John Travolta and Burt Reynolds awkwardly rapping about drugs, while Al Jarreau inexplicably leads a gospel songfest.

All The Kids Do It (1984)

Part of the CBS Schoolbreak Special series, Scott Baio returned to the anti-drug franchise for the final time with the role of Buddy Elder, an Olympic high-diving hopeful who is secretly hiding a crippling drinking problem. The film features Buddy going on long drinking binges with his friends and justifying it with the rationale, “All the kids do it.” However, Baio is eventually caught drunk driving and the incident could potentially put an end to his Olympic dreams. Buddy ultimately learns his lesson and puts down the bottle to focus on his diving career. Baio earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performer in Children’s Programming. The film also marked the directorial debut of Henry Winkler, aka. The Fonz.


McCarton Ackerman is a regular contributor to The Fix. He recently wrote about Esther Nicholson.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.