The Seventies: TIME's take on Television

Story highlights

  • The '70s changed the face of television
  • Sitcoms depicted more "real-life" issues

(CNN)CNN's original series "The Seventies" looks back at the decade's politics, people and pop culture. But how did it look at the time? For the first episode, "Television Gets Real," we searched TIME magazine's vault to see how they covered six of TV's biggest milestones of the 1970s.

"Are you ready for some football?"
ABC teamed up with the NFL, and Monday nights would never be the same. "Monday Night Football" made its prime time debut on September 21, 1970, and a sports series classic was born.
    The show began with the three-man booth team of Keith Jackson, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell. The comedic banter between Meredith and Cosell quickly became must-see TV.
    TIME's article, "Television: The Don and Howard Show," from December 14, 1970, picked up on the chemistry between the announcers:
    Meredith's Texas drawl and bucolic quips sound as if they belong on one of ABC's "Monday Night Football's" competitors, "Mayberry R.F.D.", which makes them a highly effective counterpoint to Cosell's rasping New York pedantry. As Meredith told TIME's Mark Goodman last week, "If Cosell says, 'They have a paucity of plays, I may say something like, 'If you mean they ain't got a whole bunch, you're right.'" As a result, the Don and Howard Show has become so entertaining that at times it comes close to upstaging the action on the field below.
    Changing the face of television
    At the start of the decade, rural fantasies like "Green Acres" and "The Beverly Hillbillies" were popular shows. With the rise of writer/producer Norman Lear, TV was about to get real. Lear broke down cultural barriers, redefined taboos, and took on bigotry in shows like "All in the Family," "Maude" and "Good Times."
    Nixon no fan of Archie Bunker
    cultural barriers television the seventies _00011107

      JUST WATCHED

      Nixon no fan of Archie Bunker

    MUST WATCH

    Nixon no fan of Archie Bunker 01:59
    A TIME cover story from September 25, 1972, entitled "The Team Behind Archie Bunker & Co." discussed this new era of TV:
    Archie Bunker burst on-screen snorting and bellowing about "spades" and "spics" and "that tribe." He decried miniskirts, "bleeding heart" churchmen, food he couldn't put ketchup on and sex during daytime hours. ... He mentioned what had previously been unmentionable on TV. ... With his advent, a mass-media microcosm of Middle America took shape, and a new national hero — or was it a villain? — was born.
    Single women as leading ladies
    Women in TV: From entry-level jobs to power players
    exp the-seventies women tv burnett dnt erin_00000811

      JUST WATCHED

      Women in TV: From entry-level jobs to power players

    MUST WATCH

    Women in TV: From entry-level jobs to power players 02:58
    "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spin-off "Rhoda" proved that female leads could be funny and authentic.
    Mary Tyler Moore played a single woman working on a nightly TV show during a time when lots of young women were entering the workforce. In "Rhoda," Valerie Harper's character moves to Manhattan to find an apartment, a job and a man.
    TIME's cover story "Rhoda and Mary — Love and Laughs" from October 28, 1974, discussed the two characters' appeal:
    Between them, the two very different, identical comediennes are the season's brightest clowns. On every show they prove that women need not be dingbats or contralto foghorns to win applause or affection. Almost alone, they are bringing back the forgotten tradition of the beautiful clown. From the look of the ladies and sound of their followers, TV '74 has a glow that extends to viewers who may yet be witnessing television's true Golden Age of comedy — stronger and longer than the one in the '50s.
    A comic invasion
    Where Lear challenged taboos on CBS, producer Garry Marshall created more escapist fare for ABC, first with "Happy Days" and then its spin-off, "Laverne & Shirley."
    A second "Days" spinoff, "Mork and Mindy," turned struggling comic Robin Williams into a household name.
    TIME's article "Television: Manic of Ork: Robin Williams" from March 12, 1979, recognized his emerging talent:
    The secret of the program's runaway success is Williams. He is not only an inspired clown but also a perfect entertainer for TV's mass audience. Mork has the innocence and enthusiasm of a toddler discovering the world. But he is one toddler who can talk. Artless, gullible, endearing, he lets the audience in on every transparent thought that whirls through his head. ... But Williams is not so much lucky as talented. In his stand-up nightclub act, which he does for free, to keep in touch with live audiences and to try out new material, he displays a range that encompasses Jonathan Winters, Danny Kaye, Steve Martin and Daffy Duck.
    Rise of the miniseries
    Levar Burton: TV came of age in the 70's
    Levar Burton: TV came of age in the 70's

      JUST WATCHED

      Levar Burton: TV came of age in the 70's

    MUST WATCH

    Levar Burton: TV came of age in the 70's 02:13
    When PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" gained popularity adapting novels for the small screen, miniseries became a hit with ABC's "Rich Man, Poor Man" and the critically acclaimed "Roots."
    The epic dramatization of "Roots" was based on Alex Haley's novel, "Roots: The Saga of an American Family." TIME's cover story, entitled "Why 'Roots' Hit Home" from February 14, 1977, declared it "the single most spectacular educational experience in race relations in America":
    For eight consecutive nights, tens of millions of Americans were riveted by Haley's story of his family's passage from an ancestral home in Africa to slavery in America and, finally, to freedom. Along the way, Americans of both races discovered that they share a common heritage, however brutal; that the ties that link them to their ancestors also bind them to each other. Thus, with the final episode, "Roots" was no longer just a best-selling book and a boffo TV production but a social phenomenon, a potentially important benchmark in U.S. race relations.
    Big Bird's rising star
    Sesame Street writer on 'The Color of Me'
    sesame street writer diversity joey mazzarino being proud being brown cnn seventies don lemon tonight_00010009

      JUST WATCHED

      Sesame Street writer on 'The Color of Me'

    MUST WATCH

    Sesame Street writer on 'The Color of Me' 01:38
    The bar was raised on children's programming in the '70s with shows like "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street." These shows proved that TV could be used as a medium to educate kids.
    According to TIME's cover story from November 23, 1970, called "Television: Who's Afraid of Big, Bad TV?" the goal of "Sesame Street" was to teach disadvantaged children counting, vocabulary, reasoning skills and an increased awareness of themselves and the world. But the show was also popular with preschoolers from wealthier backgrounds:
    It was a combination of the circus, a classroom and the Brothers Grimm. At first it was suspected of merely looking brilliant, compared with the boring horrors of standard children's programming. Vulgarity and violence dominate children's video: mice endlessly bombing cats, family "comedies" with dumb daddies, mischievous kids and dogs who wag their way into your heart. ... By now, even the most cynical promoters have begun to realize that "Sesame Street" is no fluke and that it is excellent in its own right, not merely relative to the rest of the junior TV scene. In its new series, just begun, the program proves that it is not only the best children's show in TV history, it is one of the best parents' shows as well.
    Can you name these '70s TV theme songs?
    Can you name these '70s TV theme songs?

      JUST WATCHED

      Can you name these '70s TV theme songs?

    MUST WATCH

    Can you name these '70s TV theme songs? 01:46