80s TV ushered in an entirely new era of home entertainment. Networks like HBO and Showtime brought movies and other special programming right into your living room. MTV was born and changed music and television. Sitcoms, dramas, animations, and variety shows clogged the airwaves. And we totally loved all of it.
The 80s TV Family
70s shows like The Brady Bunch broke the mold of how families were depicted on television. 80s TV shows carried on the tradition and an entire spectrum of shows that featured nontraditional families became regular fare.
The kids on Full House had one biological father plus two bonus dads. Diff’rent Strokes featured a widowed white dad with two adopted black sons. And the girls on The Facts of Life didn’t live with family at all – their sisters were fellow boarding school students and the role of mother was fulfilled by their housemother, Mrs. Garrett.
But the nuclear family was alive and well, as we could see whenever we tuned into 80s TV shows like Family Ties or The Cosby Show, both of which featured two parents, several kids, and everything but the white picket fence.
80s TV Drama
Dynasty and Falcon Crest were nighttime soap operas that kept viewers coming back week after week to find out who would sleep with who. Hospital dramas like St. Elsewhere gained success while cops and lawyer shows such as Law and Order and Hill Street Blues were instant smashes.
Detectives were special favorites. Remember Moonlighting? Miami Vice?
And the drama wasn’t for nighttime only. Soap operas were as popular in the 80s as they were in any other decade, with General Hospital leading the early 80s TV pack thanks to daytime television’s most famous wedding: Luke and Laura. Later in the decade, Days of Our Lives became television’s most popular daytime drama.
Variety Shows and MTV
It was more a weekly countdown of the top ten hits than an actual variety show. Solid Gold went from ten to one, showing off the week’s greatest hits and featured scantily clad dancers (with totally amazing moves) as well as performances from some of the decade’s biggest hitmakers.
But in 80s TV, it was MTV that took the cake for making the biggest splash, lasting the longest, and having the biggest impact on our culture. Twenty-four hours of music videos. The kids raved and the parents whined. Musicians rallied to the cry of “I want my MTV!” and a new type of star was born – the video star (because the radio star was dead).
Comedy and Animation
Married with Children enjoyed word-of-mouth success and the viewers followed the buzz and laughed at one of the quirkiest families television had ever seen. Roseanne also featured family laughs and depicted a less-than-perfect model family .
The Simpsons hit the little screen late in the decade, slipping onto the airwaves in 1989 and never has an animated show enjoyed so much success (or so many adult viewers).
Saturday Night Live enjoyed its first full decade of success, continuing from its launch in the 70s and dishing out skits and giggles right into the 90s.
80s TV in a Nutshell
There were so many great 80s TV shows and yep, there were some pretty bad ones too. Television totally exploded during the decade with new cable networks popping up, fresh stations with exciting formats, and a bunch of shows that saw the dreams of sixties and seventies liberation realized – television started showing a more realistic portrayal of real life. Gone were the Donna Reeds and Carol Bradys, replaced with working moms, single dads, and confused, misbehaving kids. We found out that the public enjoys getting a peek at what cops and doctors do, and we also learned that grownups still like cartoons. Music television might have stolen the decade, but 80s TV was good entertainment all around.