We were subjected to a whole lot of TV shows in the 80s…ranging from great to WTF. There were quite a few shows based on movies as well as a whole lot of programming aimed at kids. A lot. Of all the 80s TV shows we had to wade through, there were some significant shows that made their mark on the decade (or, on occasion, pop culture). I couldn’t narrow the list to 10, so I had to split the list in two (check out Part 1 of 80s TV Shows). In alphabetical order (so I don’t get yelled at for my ranking):
Knight Rider (1982) — This show was wildly popular (did you have your own KITT car?), in spite of it starring David Hasselhoff. He portrayed a crime fighter who had assumed a new identity after receiving a new face through plastic surgery. Hasselhoff’s sidekick was supercar KITT, an advanced 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with artificial intelligence.
Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983) — This show, with its memorable chant of “Schlemiel, Schlimazel” (not to mention the hard-to-understand “Hasenpfeffer”), was a lot of fun — and I’m including it on the list of 80s TV shows because it ran several years into the 80s. It was set in the late 50s and 60s, complete with monogrammed clothing and poodle skirts. The show followed roommates Laverne and Shirley and their neighbors Lenny and Squiggy as well as Carmine, also known as “The Big Ragu.” Worth noting is Boo Boo Kitty, Shirley’s stuffed cat, as well as Laverne’s propensity for drinking a mixture of Pepsi and milk. Blech.
MacGyver (1985) — This show has become part of the lexicon — with the word “MacGyver” being used as a verb to describe a clever, creative way of fixing something. The MacGyver character was known for his inventive uses of common items (along with his Swiss Army knife) to get himself out of life-or-death situations, which always had a short window remaining (time-wise).
Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986) — This show, featuring the peculiar Pee-wee Herman and a hodge-podge of characters (Captain Carl and Jambi the Genie, to name a few), was enjoyed by both kids and adults. Herman was influenced by 1950s shows such as Captain Kangaroo and incorporated toys, gadgets, and talking furniture and appliances. Each show had a running gag of a “secret word.”
Punky Brewster (1984) — Punky Brewster was abandoned by her parents and subsequently took up residence in a vacant apartment. There, she met the man who would go on to become her foster parent. At one point she was forced to stay in an orphanage prior to getting adopted. (Kinda sounds like Annie, right?) This 80s TV show didn’t last long, as it aired against the more popular 60 Minutes.
Remote Control (1987) — This show was the first non-music program to be featured on MTV. Remote Control was a game show that featured three contestants in lounge chairs answering trivia questions about movies, TV, and music. The show’s set resembled a basement, with a washer and dryer as well as assorted knick knacks. On occasion, the voice of the host’s mother would be heard. The show featured Snack Breaks and eliminations where the contestants’ lounge chairs would be pulled through a breakaway wall. Trivia categories featured “Dead or Canadian,” “Bon Jovi Network,” and “Really Bad TV.”
The Smurfs (1981) — The Smurfs were already popular as merchandise characters prior to the introduction of their cartoon in 1981. Papa Smurf, Smurfette, and Brainy Smurf were among the favorite of the Smurf characters. There’s not a whole lot to say about this cult classic; it was about the Smurfs. What else do you need to know? As far as 80s TV shows go, this one lasted a long time — until 1989.
Webster (1983) — This show (not unlike Diff’rent Strokes) featured an African American boy who was adopted by white parents. The star of Webster, Emmanuel Lewis, was discovered by an ABC executive who spotted Lewis in a Burger King commercial. Lewis was uncharacteristically short (but had no health condition which caused it), which inevitably made him appear “cuter” to audiences. ABC was anxious to get him in a show before he grew.
Who’s the Boss? (1984) — This show was — in spite of its far-fetched premise — quite charming and likable. The show focused on a wealthy Connecticut advertising executive and her son, and the retired baseball player who came to live with them (with his daughter in tow) as their live-in housekeeper/nanny. Tony Danza certainly didn’t hurt the show’s chances, as he was fresh off of the success of Taxi, where he became quite popular. The show had great ratings and great reviews throughout its tenure and was one of the mot popular 80s TV shows.