My list of the top 10 TV shows of the 80s would produce snorts of laughter from anyone who didn’t grow up in that decade. Sure, the TV shows of today have special effects that blow away even the blockbuster movies of the 80s, and the effects of the low budget TV shows of the 80s were embarrassingly simplistic. Still, back in those days that was all we knew, and most of the programs on this list of the greatest TV shows of the 80s were awaited with breathless anticipation by millions of viewers throughout North America. TV shows may have been simpler then, the acting may have been simpler, but remember, we had no internet back then, and video gaming was in its infancy. The TV was really our only form of “digital” entertainment. This list of the best TV shows of the 80s represents the best of what kept us glued to the couch with friends and family back then. So, the “young folk” can feel free to laugh up their sleeves while the rest of us take a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
10 – Three’s Company
The 80s must be considered the golden age of the sitcom. While today’s TV consists of reality programming and crime dramas, back in the 80s people were a little less serious about their TV programming. Wacky situational comedies abounded, and this little gem featured a poor cooking student who pretended to be gay in order to be allowed to live with two young women, all in an effort to make ends meet. The premise may not sound that funny, but throw in the great physical comedy of the late John Ritter, along with great supporting actors like Don Knotts, and you’ve got a recipe for laughter. At least in the 80s, you did.
9 – The Love Boat
I’m somewhat surprised that this romantic dramedy made my list of the top 10 TV shows of the 80s. Normally it is not the type of programming I go in for. Still, I found myself joining my parents each week, waiting to see what would happen with Gopher, Doc, Isaac, Captain Stubing and the rest of the gang. The sitcom was such a powerful recipe for success back in the 80s that it even infiltrated some hour long programs normally reserved for serious drama. The characters on the boat often found themselves in wacky situations, and that comedic edge helped them find a wider audience.
8 – The Dukes of Hazzard
Yet another hour long TV show with a little comedy to lighten the mood. The Dukes of Hazzard was hugely popular in the early 80s, and stars John Schneider, Tom Wopat, and Catherine Bach were hugely popular among the poster-hanging teen crowd. Every teenage boy imagined himself driving the General Lee, jumping washed out bridges in an attempt to escape from the wrath of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. Classic stuff.
7 – Miami Vice
Was there anybody cooler in the 80s than Sonny Crockett? Though Miami Vice might not have had the consistent ratings to justify a spot on the top 10 TV shows of the 80s, it was so hugely popular among my demographic – teenage boys – at the time that I give it a deserving spot here. The show featured two Miami detectives who took liberties with the law they were sworn to uphold, racing through city streets and blowing up buildings in an attempt to win the war against the drug lords that ruled the city. Miami Vice may look cheesy today, but for the 80s it was very edgy, gritty television.
6 – Knight Rider
If anyone could give Sonny Crockett a run for his money in the cool department back in the 80s it would have been Michael Knight. David Hasselhoff is certainly no longer synonymous with the word cool, except perhaps in Germany, but for a brief time every teenage boy dreamed of wearing a black leather jacket, driving a talking Trans Am, and beating up anyone who got in their way.
5 – Magnum P.I.
This detective drama featuring Tom Selleck as a Hawaiian P.I. is a no brainer for a high spot on the list of the top 10 TV shows of the 80s. Magnum may not have been quite as cool as Crockett or Knight, but he did drive a Ferrari, and certainly held his own with the women. This show featured great characters, consistent action and top notch writing. One of the few shows that you can watch today without thinking it was too cheesy.
4 – The A-Team
If this list was solely based on my favorite TV shows of the 80s, then The A-Team would be at number one. However, I must consider a number of factors besides personal preference, and thus it only comes in at number 4. A roving gang of ex-military experts wanted for a crime they didn’t commit always managed to stay one step ahead Colonel Decker, all the while saving small towns from oppression with a flair and style.
3 – Cheers
No surprise here. Another sitcom makes the list of the top 10 TV shows of the 80s. It is hard to believe that Cheers garnered such incredible viewership and critical acclaim. The entire series took place in a bar! It is a clear indication just how good the writing and acting on this show was. Despite limited possibilities for subject matter the show just never seemed to grow boring, and millions of North Americans tuned in weekly for a dose of laughter from Sam, Diane, Woody, Norm, Cliff and the rest. Definitely one of the all-time TV classics.
2 – Dallas
Once again personal preference is disregarded on this countdown. There is no way Dallas would have cracked my top 100 favorite shows of the 80s. I was a TV junkie back then, but found it almost painful to sit through an entire episode of this show. Still, I can’t deny that this was one of the most popular shows on television during the 80s, and thus must grudgingly give J.R. and the gang a deserving spot at number 2.
1 – The Cosby Show
Dallas was popular, but there can really only be one choice for the number one spot on the list of the top 10 TV shows of the 80s. Bill Cosby had audiences in stitches during the latter half of the 80s with his monster hit comedy, The Cosby Show. Despite his bumbling manner, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable always seemed to get the best of his children, dispensing valuable parental advice along the way. The good doctor didn’t always win though. He always seemed to come out second best when he went head to head with wife, Claire. The Cosby Show was one of those rare TV shows that brought families together with the gift of laughter. TV is often vilified for driving a wedge between children and their parents, but for a time in the 80s The Cosby Show broke that stereotype. Truly one of the greatest television shows of all time.