TV Moments You Thought You Dreamt

Do you have a half-remembered TV moment that few others seem to recall? You're not alone, my friend, you're not alone.

TV Moments You Thought You Dreamt
Photo: Art by Chloe Lewis

Believe it or not, but in the time before the internet it was possible for media to actually disappear. In that dark era, nothing felt more temporary than television. 

While film existed on reels, books in print, and music on vinyl, television was but a mere signal that broadcast into your living room. Like a ghost, it was right in front of your face one second and gone forever the next. Without a world wide web to obsessively catalog it, so much of television felt like it was purely a one-time experience. And for folks of a certain age (i.e. the absolutely ancient creatures running this website) this often meant having a surreal TV memory that you were sure you were the only one in the world to have ever witnessed…until the internet came along to assure you otherwise. 

Whether it was an obscure scary TV movie you watched during a sleepover or a live moment gone wrong on a news show, some TV moments feel like you may as well have dreamed them. And who knows: maybe you did! Though uncovering “lost media” is now a favored pastime on the internet with many subreddits, forums, and social media accounts devoted to finding long-forgotten nuggets, so many bizarre TV moments remain little more than half-remembered anecdotes.

During one of Den of Geek’s recent (and lit) TV meetings, we all got to talking about the mysterious TV moments, episodes, and specials that seemed to exist for us and us alone. In most cases, we were able to find corroborating evidence that such TV events actually existed, albeit in different ways than we recall. So we thought we’d bring our research over to you. 

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What follows are many strange TV moments that we were sure we dreamt (but apparently did not).

A Cartoon Mouse Gets Stuck In A Christopher Nolan-Esque Hell

For years, I walked through life harboring a dark secret: I once saw a mouse become stuck outside of time and did nothing to stop it. 

One of my most pervasive pop culture memories that I couldn’t put a name to was staying home sick from school one day to watch a truly bizarre episode of some animated series. The details I remembered were as follows: there was a cartoon featuring a cute white mouse dude. One day he and his friend discover that time has stopped all around them and they are the only ones aware of it. They eventually encounter none other than Father Time himself who patiently explains that he stopped time to go on vacation and the reason the time stopping effects didn’t work on them is that they were eating pickle sandwiches…or something. 

Finally, after so much time trying to figure out what the hell I watched I recently did what I should have done in the first place and Googled “cartoon bear time stops father time PBS pickles.” Somehow that SEO word salad led to the truth. What I had seen was an episode of the early ‘90s animated series Rupert, based on the beloved British children’s comic strip character Rupert Bear. As you may have guessed by his name, Rupert is not a white mouse but a white bear. My bad! Many of my other recollections from this particular episode, however, were shockingly accurate.

Titled “Rupert in Timeland” and first airing on Oct. 4, 1992, this installment does indeed find Rupert and his friend Podgy becoming stuck outside of time due to Father Time wanting a vacation … a 75-year long vacation, in fact. I was even pretty close on the reason the time stop didn’t affect Rupert and Podgy. Apparently it’s eating peppered pickles in a tent and then sneezing simultaneously that halts Father Time’s chrono-magical powers. Ultimately, “Rupert in Timeland” was even stranger than I remembered. If I had recalled that Rupert and Podgy go through an It’s a Wonderful Life-esque journey of their own timelines and endured the unimaginable horror of watching themselves slip into old age, I would have felt even worse for not helping that mouse…sorry, I mean bear. – Alec Bojalad

A Famous Magician Dies Performing a Magic Trick on Live TV

I was eight years old when I saw a celebrity die on live TV. At least, I certainly believed that’s what I saw. Having tuned into the Beeb on Halloween night in 1987 to see UK magician Paul Daniels perform some spooky tricks, I got more than I bargained for. As Daniels set up his last trick – a daring escape from the spiky clutches of an Iron Maiden – the door of the Maiden suddenly closed, a hush filled the room, the lights went down, and an announcer asked the audience to leave before the credits rolled. I sat there, stunned. Had…this man just died in a horrible accident right before my eyes? 

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A couple of days later, a defiant Daniels wrote a letter to The Times revealing he was very much alive, and he was rather miffed to have been criticized for the stunt, calling it “black theater” in the style of Orson Welles, and saying that it would have been “a lot worse” if he’d been allowed to execute his original vision. But since I was eight, and therefore didn’t read The Times, it was quite a while before I realized Daniels hadn’t actually died. Worse still, no one else I knew had watched the show, and other kids accused me of “making stuff up for attention” which, to be fair, was one of my favorite hobbies at the time. – Kirsten Howard

Murun Buchstansangur

Murun Buchstansangur. Murunbuch Stansangur. What is a Murun Buchstansangur? I do not know. But I know something with that name existed. Here’s what I recall. It was an animation about a sort of odd grey-brown blob – not human, not any specifically discernible animal. He was sad and possibly a bit anxious and the show was incredibly downbeat. And I think he was naked and you could see his butt. 

There were a few animations around in the ‘90s that had this melancholy vibe – Agrippina and Stressed Eric were two others I seemed to remember being of this ilk. A quick search tells me that Murun was a creature who lived in a crack under a kitchen cabinet. He featured in 52 shorts commissioned for Channel 4 which were shown to fill scheduling gaps. 

You don’t sit down to watch Murun. Murun just appears when you least expect him. Rather than fun japes, Murun had dilemmas – in episode one he is invited to a play and also a party neither of which he wants to attend. He spends the episode trying to decide which to skip and who to let down. Ultimately he goes to neither. Yep, a cartoon about a blob who doesn’t go to a party. What a story! – Rosie Fletcher

A Truly Bonkers Animated Anti-Smoking PSA

I loved the animation in a short anti-smoking ad which used to run early in the mornings in the New York metro area when I was a kid. The commercial was just a bunch of rhyming actions, each with their own character doing the action. “Swing” might show a kid on a swing, and then it would change into “Sing,” and show a woman performing opera. It ended on an animation of someone coughing, accompanied by the word “choke,” followed by a curt “but don’t smoke,” and I believe it showed a gravesite. 

The animation was very close to several Canadian PSAs which ran in our area in the early 1970s. The voice was serious, grim with gravitas, and my mind remembers it sounding very much like the voice in another commercial made by the American Heart Association. It started as a longer ad, and was cut, like most are, as the season went along, running prior to morning cartoons. It exists, I didn’t dream it. I would just like to see it again. I’ve searched internet archives, and obviously YouTube. 

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Where could it be, I wondered, giving it one last chance now that dear old Alec assigned this, and FOUND IT, at the 30 minute, and 27 second mark, in the compilation seen above. – Tony Sokol

Tim Curry Is a Sexy Devil

Now it all makes sense. For decades I thought I’d dreamt my minor obsession with an early 1990s ITV series in which Tim Curry played the devil and tricked a group of schoolgirls into making monkeypaw-style wishes that left them sorting guts at a chicken factory. Nobody I knew remembered it. Google was no use. IMDb came up short. Curry wouldn’t even answer my fanmail.

For good reason, it turned out. Fact-checked over 30 years later, the memory turned out to be real but flawed. It wasn’t Tim Curry playing the devil, but – and I’m sure you’ll all understand my confusion here – former Spandau Ballet bassist and future EastEnders bad boy Martin Kemp.

Tim Curry had played the devil in 1985 Tom Cruise fantasy Legend – the VHS tape of which was on our living room shelf – but in Fay Weldon’s six-part 1992 drama Growing Rich, the role was Kemp’s. Both men clearly made the same erotic imprint on my 11-year-old brain, so it had duly saved them under the same mental heading: devils, hot. No further investigation required. – Louisa Mellor

ALF Ends On the Promise of Alien Torture

To young me, nothing was funnier than ALF, the show about a wise-cracking Alien Life Form (get it?) hiding away with an average suburban family. I studied ALF closely, not to see how they produced a 30 minute sitcom with a puppet interacting with humans, but to emulate the title character’s rapier wit. 

But by the time the series ended in 1990, I had matured beyond such fare, and so I missed most of the final season. That is, until one day when I was home sick from school, seeking comfort in the form of ALF reruns on USA Network. Instead of the usual one-liners about eating cats, I watched as Alf’s adopted family the Tanners bring him to an empty field where he will be rescued by a spaceship from his home planet Melmac. Instead, he’s arrested by government officials, who chase off the ship and take him away for testing. 

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Given my delirious state, and the lack of widespread internet in the early 90s, I was never sure I actually saw what I thought I saw. How could a show that seemed so lovable end on such a dark note? I wasn’t sure that it really existed until the airing of the 1996 tv movie Project ALF, featuring supporting cast members of another favorite show Home Improvement (I was a child of taste and refinement, you see), which picked up with ALF having fun in government custody. Unfortunately, whatever vindication I received from being right about the show’s ending was undercut by the realization that I was wrong – so, so horribly wrong – about ALF’s humor and likability. – Joe George

The Simpsons Meets The X-Files

One of the first episodes of The Simpsons I remember watching as a child was “The Springfield Files.” I don’t remember much about that day, what happened in this episode, nor how old I was when I watched it, but I do remember that it gave me nightmares for a while after. Now why would a random non-Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons give me nightmares? Well it has to do with the appearance of the most chill-inducing alien I had ever seen.

When Homer met this mysterious creature in the forest for the first time, it gave me chills and made me question everything I thought I knew about this show. All I wanted was Bart causing chaos and Homer losing his mind over donuts, not this terrifying glowing thing with eyes that seemed to stare into the depth of my soul. Even when it was revealed that the alien in question was just a combination of Mr. Burns’ radiation exposure and a pseudo-scientific wellness ritual, it didn’t alleviate my fears that this creature would come floating out of a random crop of trees on the playground or from beyond the fence of my backyard. In fact, grounding this episode in reality (or at least Simpsons reality) made the idea of glowing green things with giant eyes randomly showing up even more possible in my mind.

I still haven’t gone back to rewatch this episode as an adult, despite its X-Files connections, because of how haunted I was by this alien as a child. The “alien” may claim to come in peace, but the nightmares I had after watching this episode say otherwise. – Brynna Arens