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101 Classic (and Not-So-Classic) TV Shows From the 1980s

With every decade television has gone through something of a seismic shift in terms of content. When the medium kicked off in the 1940s, we got lots of experimentation, people pretty much thrilled to be capturing images — any images — and beaming them to the few television viewers out there. There was, of course, debuts for children’s show Howdy Doody, The Ed Sullivan Show (a variety series that would become one of the biggest in the genre), The Morey Amsterdam Show (co-starring Art Carney), The Boris Karloff Mystery PlayhouseThe Lone Ranger and Texaco Star Theatre (featuring Milton Berle).

The 50s became more ambitious with creators starting to hone in on what television could be in terms of sitcoms and dramas. With the former, we were given lots of radio shows adapted for TV, among them Father Knows Best, The George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowGunsmoke, I Love Lucy (inspired by Lucille Ball’s My Favorite Husband), The Jack Benny Program and Our Miss Brooks.

James P Kerlin/AP/Shutterstock

While it may seem odd to consider shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show more “grounded” and “real,” in many instances things got a little wilder and broader in the 1960s, first with the so-called “supernatural” sitcoms that gave us witches (Bewitched), Martians (My Favorite Martian), talking horses (Mister Ed), monsters (The Munsters), the macabre (The Addams Family) and genies (I Dream of Jeannie). These were followed by “rural” comedies such as Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Mayberry RFD and so on. Obviously there was a lot more to TV in that decade, but some of those listed are the iconic titles that really stand out when you think of that time.

Head into the 1970s, and the television sitcom comes of age. We get shows like All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MASH, Sanford and Son, Taxi, Maude and others that began to address real-world issues in a way that viewers had never seen before. Dramas evolved as well, as they had from the beginning, but one could argue that the ’70s was the era of the sitcom. Contrast this with the ’80s, which not only gave us great sitcoms (Cheers, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld), but saw a maturation of the drama in particular. Shows like Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, thirtysomething, L.A. Law and Wiseguy elevated the form even further. We also got our share of the new hybrid  known as “the dramedy,” with shows like The Wonder Years, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Hooperman and even Doogie Howser, M.D.

In previous installments of the this series, we’ve focused on the 101 classic (and not-so-classic) television shows of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Well, now the ’80s are getting their shot, focusing on many of the highlights (and some of the lowlights) of that 10-year period. Hopefully you’ll find some favorites and, just as importantly, others you may never have heard of but find intriguing — or are relieved you missed.

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