One of the most fondly remembered sitcoms of its era, “The Jeffersons” chronicled the lives of a well to do black family living in New York City. It ran for 11 seasons and a total of 253 episodes, and as recently as 2011, its stars were still occasionally cameoing as their Jeffersons characters in other shows.
The characters of the Jeffersons were originally introduced as neighbours of the Bunker family on “All In The Family” in 1971, but they became the nucleus of the second spin off of that show – another brainchild of prolific tv producer Norman Lear. “The Jeffersons” was nominated for 13 Emmy Awards during its run, but won none of them.
The original run of “Fantasy Island” commenced with a made for tv movie screened on ABC on the night of January 14, 1977. A second such movie was screened more than a year later, on January 20, 1978, with the regular series commencing a week after that. By the time it finished in 1984, there had been 152 weekly episodes across seven seasons, and Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize were celebrities. Even now, shouting “the plane, the plane!” in a bad Spanish accent will bring back memories for many people.
Ironically, “Fantasy Island” was originally pitched as a joke, when Aaron Spelling asked an exec if what they really wanted was a show where tourists visited a tropical island to live out their sexual fantasies. The question was intended to be rhetorical, but the exec took it seriously, and the rest is history (albeit, probably less x-rated than Spelling’s sarcasm implied).
“CHiPs” was a light-hearted action adventure series that followed the adventures of two members of the California Highway Patrol, motorcycle-riding partners Ponch (Erik Estrada) and Jon (Larry Wilcox). The show was very formulaic, with almost every episode ending with a high speed vehicular chase that ended in a spectacular collision. Although the show destroyed cars at a rate that even John Landis would envy, and featured armed police officers in every episode, it was rare for a weapon to be un-holstered, let alone fired.
ChiPs ran for 139 episodes across six seasons from 1977 to 1983, with a reunion movie being released in 1999. In its day, it was one of the top-rating shows on television, and Erik Estrada, in particular, has become strongly associated with the show (to the exclusion of almost everything else in his career).
In a three-hour long introduction, Dynasty first appeared on tv screens across America on January 12, 1981. Over the course of nine seasons, it would become one of the most dominant shows on the decade. In the field of soap operas, it and its competitor Dallas – both of which revolved around wealthy oil families – reigned supreme.
But Dynasty, although it rated respectably in its initial season, didn’t really take off until its second season, the first episode of which introduced actress Joan Collins in the role she is still best known for, Alexis Carrington. Collins and Dynasty were synonymous in the Eighties, an actor and a show that couldn’t be separated from each other. Dynasty finally came to an end on May 11, 1989, after 220 episodes of scheming, betrayal and infidelity.
A short-lived competitor to “Saturday Night Live”, “Fridays” ran for three seasons on ABC from 1980 to 1982. It had a similar format to SNL – sketches, a guest host and musical guests – but was generally noted for having a sharper satirical edge to its politics. While it did not pull in the ratings ABC hoped, it did well enough to last three years.
It also launched a few careers, notably those of Larry David and Michael Richards, both of whom would go on to much greater success with “Seinfeld” a decade later – and almost all the regular cast members of “Fridays” have popped up on “Seinfeld”, sometimes as recurring characters.
In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.
This opening narration prefaced every episode of “The A-Team”, first heard by the world when the opening episode was broadcast by NBC on January 23, 1983. For the next five years, the world would thrill to the adventures of “Howling Mad” Murdock, B. A. Baracus, John “Hannibal” Smith and Templeton Peck on a weekly basis. And even as late as 2003, it was voted the series that people most wanted revived.
TV Party — Black Flag
I Love America — Alice Cooper
Although there had been occasional special matches played on a Monday night before 1970, it was not until that season of NFL play that they became a regular feature of the game. The first Monday Night Football game was played between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, at Cleveland Stadium.
The Browns defeated the Jets 31-21, and all the action was relayed to the loungerooms of America by the commentary team of Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson and DOn Meredith. The experiement was a roaring success – even movie and bowling alley attendances dropped on Monday nights as Americans stayed home to watch the games. Monday Night Football has been a regular feature of the game ever since, about to enter its 44th season.
One of the greatest television shows of all time, “Hill Street Blues” was first broadcast on this day in 1981. In its first season, it won eight Emmy awards (a record not beaten until “The West Wing”‘s first season) – and it would go on to be nominated 98 times over the seven seasons it ran. It was a weird blend of cop show and soap opera, with a level of realism little seen in either genre before that time.
It set new benchmarks in television drama, broadening the possibilities of the form – it is reasonable to think that such later shows as “The Sopranos”, “The West Wing” and most especially, “The Wire”, might never have happened without the trail that it blazed.
It is the most successful sketch comedy series in the history of the world by any measure: the longest running, the most prolific generator of spin-offs and the launching place of the most careers. Even just the original cast line-up is a chapter in comedy history: it consisted of Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase. Chase, Belushi, Radner and Aykroyd in particular would find that appearing on “Saturday Night Live” would really get their careers going.
The first ever episode featured George Carlin as the host, with Billy Preston and Janis Ian as the musical guests. It also introduced what would become famous recurring features, including The Bees and The Land of Gorch.
On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen: rock and roll,” played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV’s logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. Appropriately, the very first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
And thus it would remain for the first few years, when MTV took its full name – Music TeleVision – seriously. But try finding a clip on MTV these days – it’s all Real World retreads and Behind The Music rockumentaries now. Well, not all, but enough to make one nostalgic for when MTV played any weird crap they could get their hands on just to fill the hours.
If the phrase “wha chu talkin’ about Willis?” doesn’t make you cringe, you were presumably born after this show went off the air. Well, I suppose you might have liked it. Someone must have – it ran for eight seasons, and made stars out of the kids in it. That’s right, Gary Coleman was a star for a while.
Leaving the snark aside, “Diff’rent Strokes” was a fairly decent example of the American sitcom, and it did make a lot of important points about racism, albeit mostly in a humourous way. On the other hand, it also gave airtime to Nancy Reagan so she could push her “Just Say No” campaign, so no one agreed with everything it had to say.
Except that it really does take different strokes to move the world.
One of the most popular shows of the Eighties, “Dallas” chronicled the lives of the wealthy Ewing family and their associates, and was set in and around the eponymous city of the title. The Ewings were a powerful family who made their fortune in oil, and the show was a soap opera that largely concerned itself with the business and romantic lives of its characters.
It lasted for a total of 13 seasons, not counting the original mini-series that kicked it off, or its assorted spin-offs and re-unions. Today, it is probably best remembered for three things: the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger that ended the second season, the “dream season”, where in early season nine it was revealed that all of season eight had been a dream; and the intense ratings rivalry between Dallas and Dynasty, the reigning soaps of their era.