Television Shows in the 1980s

The 1980s remain an iconic era for television, marking a period of transformation, innovation, and unforgettable programming that shaped the landscape of modern entertainment. This golden age of TV brought us a blend of genres, from groundbreaking sitcoms and action-packed dramas to fantasy series that captured the imagination of audiences worldwide. In this exploration, we delve into the essence of 1980s television, highlighting the shows that defined the decade and their impact on viewers and the industry.

The Rise of Must-See TV

The 1980s introduced the concept of “must-see TV,” with networks delivering content that glued millions of viewers to their screens. This era saw the birth of classic sitcoms like “Cheers,” “The Golden Girls,” and “Family Ties,” each offering a unique blend of humor, relatable characters, and social commentary that resonated with audiences. These shows were not just about making people laugh; they were about creating a connection and addressing real-life issues through the lens of comedy in an enlightening and entertaining way.

Drama series also took center stage, with “Miami Vice” and “Hill Street Blues” redefining the genre. These shows introduced more complex narratives, multi-dimensional characters, and higher production values, setting new standards for storytelling and visual presentation on the small screen. “Miami Vice,” in particular, was notable for its stylish aesthetic and integration of music, fashion, and locale, which influenced other television series and had a lasting impact on pop culture.

The 1980s were a turning point for fantasy and science fiction on television. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” resurrected the beloved Star Trek franchise, bringing it into the living rooms of a new generation with sophisticated stories that tackled philosophical and ethical dilemmas through the prism of space exploration. Meanwhile, “Quantum Leap” offered a unique twist on the genre, combining elements of drama, comedy, and sci-fi as it followed the time-traveling adventures of Sam Beckett, who leaped into different bodies throughout history to right historical wrongs.

These series, alongside others like “Knight Rider” and “The A-Team,” showcased television’s ability to push the boundaries of reality and imagination. They provided viewers with an escape, an opportunity to explore new dimensions and ideas that were as thought-provoking as they were entertaining. The success of these shows paved the way for countless sci-fi and fantasy series in the following decades, proving the genre’s enduring appeal.

My Top 10 Favorite TV Shows of The 80’s

Looking back at TV in the 80s, a number of things quickly stand out: Talk shows like Oprah, Regis, Kelly, and Ellen were virtually non-existent, game shows still dominated morning programming, all the major networks showed cartoons on Saturday mornings, and nobody had ever heard of the term ‘reality show.’ Does that mean TV sucked back then? Compared to what passes for entertainment today, I would answer with a resounding “NO”!

Here, then, are my top 10 favorite TV shows of the 80’s:

10) ThunderCats

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088631/

This cartoon was a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, where magic was just as important as technology. The ThunderCats, cat-like heroes living on a planet called “third earth,” have to defend it against the nearly omnipotent Mumm-Ra and a band of mutants he enlists to destroy them. Aside from the typical superhero fare, ThunderCats episodes often ended with a short retrospective as to the moral dimension of the struggle du jour.

9) Police Squad!

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083466/

Only six episodes long, Police Squad! It may be the funniest police spoof of all time. Filled with deadpan humor, witty running gags, and special guests who visit Johnny, the shoeshine boy, the cancellation of this show has to be one of the strangest events in television history. The show ultimately exacted the ultimate revenge by being made into three extremely popular movies.

8) Moonlighting

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088571/

This is the TV show that gave Bruce Willis his big break. It is a comedy loosely wrapped around a private investigating theme. Funny, romantic, and filled with mysteries, Moonlighting was great because of the chemistry between Willis and female co-star Cybill Shepherd. The theme song to this show is also great in its own right.

7) The Greatest American Hero

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081871/

This superhero comedy involves a guy (Ralph) who comes across a magic outfit given to him by aliens that bestows superpowers upon him. However, Ralph does not know how to ‘operate’ the uniform and frequently has difficulty utilizing its powers. Both funny and goodhearted, this show still has many fans.

6) Pee-wee’s Playhouse

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090500/

Although ostensibly a children’s show, adults couldn’t seem to get enough of Paul Reubens’ live-action Saturday morning show. Pee-wee lived in this magic house filled with talking furniture, elaborate gadgets, and an assemblage of puppets. The show was extremely funny and often sought to teach a lesson. If you pay attention to the credits, you will find a number of famous people who were involved in the show, including Laurence Fishburne and Phil Hartman.

5) Airwolf

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086662/

Airwolf, for those unfamiliar, was a series about a super secret, supersonic helicopter that had the most advanced weaponry of the time. Yes, it sucked when they added Caitlin in seasons 2 and 3 and completely eliminated the original cast in season 4, but for a time, Airwolf was the best sci-fi action drama out there. If you are looking to get an idea of what made this series popular, check out season one. It was essentially the success of season one that convinced viewers to put up with seasons 2 through 4.

4) Miami Vice

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086759/
Miami Vice (TV Series 1984–1989)

If you were at all cool during the 80’s, this was a show you never missed. A collage of music, violence, fashion, and hip-special appearances by the cool and beautiful of the time, Miami Vice was a cop show that reveled in the energy and excess of the 80s. Often criticized for being shallow and lacking character development, this show epitomized the fact that if you put enough attractive people and hit songs on a show, you could have a hit during the 80’s.

3) Wok with Yan

Originally aired on the Canadian network CBC, this program was eventually syndicated and broadcast in the U.S. The allure of this show was its host, Stephen Yan, who was very funny and an excellent cook. Staples for the show included Yan wearing an apron with a pun involving the word “work” on it (e.g., “baby elephant wok,” “Wok and roll”) and Yan shooting off hilarious one-liners. Though I never once cooked one of his recipes, I loved to watch Stephen Yan cook and joke.

2) The Smurfs

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081933/

Although the Smurfs did not originate in the U.S., Hanna-Barbera brought over these cute, blue forest dwellers in 1981. The Smurfs were simple and charming, appealing to both children, who loved their cuteness and the adventures they got into, and adults, who were bemoaning the violence of other Saturday morning cartoons like “Super Friends.”

1) The Price is Right

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0134258/

Bob Barker was still the host of this popular game show, and the unforgettable voice of Johnny Olson was still the one shouting, “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price is Right!” until his death in 1985. The girls on the show were still known as “Barker’s Beauties,” and, as is still the case today, contestants were not pre-screened as in other game shows. This meant that occasionally, complete idiots would get onstage and guess the price of a banjo was $1,000,000. The games were simple and easy to understand, and individuals and families enjoyed competing with the contestants onstage, as well as with their fellow viewers.

The Impact of 1980s Television

The influence of 1980s television extends far beyond nostalgia. This era laid the groundwork for many storytelling techniques, genre blends, and production values that are staples in today’s TV landscape. The character-driven narratives and serialized storytelling pioneered in shows like “Hill Street Blues” have become the norm, with modern series building on these foundations to create even more complex and engaging stories.

Moreover, the 1980s saw the emergence of powerful female characters and narratives that challenged traditional gender roles. This trend has continued to evolve. Shows like “The Golden Girls” and “Cagney & Lacey” offered portrayals of women that were groundbreaking for their time, inspiring countless characters and series that followed.

The 1980s television is not just in the memorable characters or the catchy theme songs that still resonate with audiences today; it’s in how these shows have influenced the medium. The era’s willingness to experiment, to blend humor with heart, and action with introspection set a new course for television. It proved that TV could be both a mirror to society and a window to new worlds, inspiring viewers and creators alike.

As we look back on this pivotal decade, it’s clear that the shows of the 1980s were more than just entertainment; they were a reflection of a changing world, capturing the hopes, fears, and dreams of a generation. They pushed the boundaries of what television could be, laying the foundations for the rich, diverse landscape of today’s programming. For anyone exploring the evolution of television, the 1980s offer a fascinating study in innovation, creativity, and cultural impact, reminding us of the power of this medium to entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

In conclusion, the television shows of the 1980s hold a special place in the annals of TV history. They were instrumental in shaping the future of storytelling, character development, and audience engagement. As we continue to enjoy the plethora of content available in the digital age, it’s worth paying homage to this influential era. The 1980s were not just about big hair, neon colors, and synthesizer music; they were about setting the stage for the future of television, a legacy that continues to influence and captivate audiences around the globe.

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