10 unforgettable Afterschool Specials that made us laugh, cry and grow up a little

"You can do it, Duffy Moon!"

We each had our own particular routine after school. Typically, as latchkey kids, we would come home, pour a big bowl of cereal and flip on some cartoons. Perhaps you tuned into some game shows or soaps. Of course, any child of the 1970s or 1980s remembers the after-school special, those TV movies drenched in melodrama, morals, hormones and, occasionally, unintentional humor.

ABC kicked off its Afterschool Special series in 1972, and the program ran for a quarter century, airing its last installment in the summer of '97. Yes, somehow we have gone two decades without the Afterschool Special

These low-budget, educational flicks provided a showcase for budding actors. Jodie Foster, Kristy McNichol and Melissa Sue Anderson were common faces. Child stars like Ike Eisenmann and Robbie Rist popped up, too. 

Certain titles stick out in our memory. These ten ABC Afterschool Special titles particularly come to mind, for whatever reason. We were sucked up into their adolescent lessons. Which were your favorite?

1. "Rookie of the Year"


In this 1973 entry, Jodie Foster is the lone girl on a little league team — and the crowds are tough! When she enters the game, boos and hisses emerge from the bleachers. Eesh. The look of hurt on the precocious Foster's face portended an incredible acting career that was about to rocket.

Image: ABC / Rotten Tomatoes

2. "Sara's Summer of the Swans"


As Brady Bunch fanatics, we have this one stuck in the brain. It featured both Chris Knight and Eve Plumb, though they did not headline. Young Sara, played by Heather Totten, who also appeared in Sarah T. - Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic with Linda Blair and Mark Hamill, copes with raising her handicapped brother. It tugged on the heartstrings good and hard.

Image: ABC

3. "The Skating Rink"


A boy with a stuttering problem discovers the joyful world of figure skating. You know, that old tale! We're not sure how the two things are related, but the kid does find his confidence on the ice. Rance Howard, father of Ron, plays the kid's father, a brings a surpring heavy tone to the story.

Image: ABC / Sidereel

4. "The Amazing Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon"


The following day at school, your classmates were undoubtedly quoting this one, shouting, "You can do it, Duffy Moon!" A short kid in the sixth grade (Ike Eisenmann) uses a magic book to increase his stature in school and life. "You can do it, Duffy Moon!" is the self-motivational mantra he repeats in his head. We still do it decades later.

Image: ABC / YouTube

5. "Dear Lovey Heart: I Am Desperate!"


They really had a way with titles, no? Here, a teenager girl starts an advice column in the school newspaper. But who will help Lovey Hart?! Perhaps you read the novel it was based upon, too?

Image: Comfort TV

6. "My Mom's Having a Baby"


Perhaps you had to watch this one in the health sciences classroom, as it explained childbirth. There was one problem — it did a rather terrible job at teaching the birds and the bees. The sex-ed film simply says, "When a man and a woman are intimate…" and shows two silhouettes hugging. In other words, young children jumped to the conclusion that kissing makes you pregnant. Nevertheless, it won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Informational Special.

Image: ABC / YouTube

7. "Hewitt's Just Different"


A mentally challenged teenager tried to make friends with the neighborhood kids. "He overcomes their wariness through his own spirit and determination," the promotional ad proclaimed. That pretty much sums up most Afterschool Specials.

Image: randy*rodman / eBay

8. "The Pinballs"


Kristy McNichol leads in this story about a trio of orphans who bounce around form foster family to foster family (the Pinballs, get it?). It was the third and final Afterschool Special for McNichol, who had honed her chops in "Fawn Story" and "Me and Dad's New Wife."

Image: ABC / YouTube

9. "Mom and Dad Can't Hear Me"


If the adolescent lead character did not have a disability, ABC loved to flip the script and depict a teen dealing with parents who have disabilities. In this classic example, Rosanna Arquette plays the daughter of a deaf couple. Of course, she is initially ashamed until she learns to accept.

Image: ABC / YouTube

10. "Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid"


Robbie "Cousin Oliver" Rist is Calvin Brundage, a depressed rich kid who earns seven wishes from a genie. (Some kids have all the luck!) Of course, he uses the supernatural powers to impress a girl, played by Cynthia Nixon. It goes without saying, that magic does not go his way.

Image: retrospace.org



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mikedo2007 36 months ago
It would be nice if they can bring back after school special for the streaming generation. I mean I would love to see a after school special revival on Netflix. Would be kind of neat if Jodie Foster was the executive producer for that Netflix's after school special revival (and maybe direct one or two episodes).

Why stopped at Netflix, I would love to see something similar and equivalent on other streaming services like Disney+, and HBO Max (anybody remember HBO's Lifestories: Families in Crisis, this need to be revived for today's generation). I think it's about time the after school special should make a modern day comeback for today's kids and teens. There's a lot of social issues and new issues for teens and young kids and from my POV, I think a modern-day revival of after school special in this era of streaming and a time where we probably need these for our kids and teens.
Dario 42 months ago
Good gravy, people! Do we have to use PC terms to describe programs like this? 😣😣😣😣😣
Mark 51 months ago
Now show them to us on Me-TV! We will watch!
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