What we were watching on TV in the '80s

By Thom Patterson, CNN

Updated 1:06 PM ET, Tue May 16, 2017
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"Roseanne" has been called "groundbreaking," "unflinching" and "among the 50 greatest TV shows of all time." From 1988-1997, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman led a cast of this ABC sitcom that took on difficult issues such as teen marriage, abortion, birth control, parental abuse and unemployment. Click through to see some other influential shows from the 1980s. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
'The Love Boat': ABC's cruise-ship comedy series sailed from 1977 through 1986 with Gavin MacLeod, left, at the helm as Capt. Merrill Stubing. The show also starred Lauren Tewes, center, as cruise director Julie McCoy, and Fred Grandy, right, as lovable purser Gopher Smith. Here's a fun fact: After the series ended, Grandy served four terms as a Republican congressman from Iowa. ABC Photo Archives//Getty Images
'Dallas': In March 1980, the season-ending cliffhanger of this CBS drama rocked the world with the question, "Who shot J.R.?" Actor Larry Hagman's delicious villain J.R. Ewing had so many enemies, the list of suspects was long. When the series returned eight months later and revealed Ewing's shooter, more than 83 million viewers tuned in, according to Adweek. That made it one of the highest-rated shows in American history at the time. Arthur Schatz/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
'The Dukes of Hazzard': A sitcom that gave birth to Daisy Duke shorts and colorful names such as Enos Strate, Boss Hogg and Cooter Davenport can't be all bad, right? From 1979-1985, CBS brought America the adventures of cousins Bo and Luke Duke, played by John Schneider and Tom Wopat. These guys liked to drive around in a car named the General Lee, a 1969 Dodge Charger painted with a Confederate flag on top. The Duke boys were joined by their cousin Daisy and Uncle Jesse (Catherine Bach and Denver Pyle). Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
'Fantasy Island': Every week, ABC's "Fantasy Island" began the same way: Tattoo, played by Herve Villechaize, left, would shout: "The plane! The plane!" Then, Mr. Roarke -- the mysterious island host played by Ricardo Montalban, right -- would remind his employees to welcome the guests with, "Smiles, everyone, smiles!" In a decade of excess, somehow it didn't seem far-fetched to believe in a place where wealthy people would pay huge amounts of money to play out their outlandish narcissistic fantasies. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
'Diff'rent Strokes': In the 1970s, talented child actor Gary Coleman caught Hollywood's eye, and by 1978 he'd landed the sitcom that would make him a star. "Diff'rent Strokes" would run on two different networks -- first NBC, then ABC until 1986. Conrad Bain, left, played Philip Drummond, a wealthy widower who adopted orphans Arnold Jackson (played by Coleman, right) and his older brother, Willis. Coleman's catch phrase, "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis?" made him famous. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
'The Facts of Life': This sitcom was a "Diff'rent Strokes" spinoff, taking its housekeeper character (played by Charlotte Rae, center) and making her the housemother at a school for girls. Who could forget the girls? From left are Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie Green; Kim Fields, who played Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey; Nancy McKeon, who played Joanna "Jo" Polniaczek; and Lisa Welchel, who played Blair Warner. Little-known fact: There were four extra girls in the first season of the show, including a then-unknown Molly Ringwald. NBCUniversal/NBC via Getty Images
'Dynasty': This '80s prime-time soap opera detailed the scandalous lives of a Denver family that had become filthy rich in the oil business. The series starred veteran actors such as Linda Evans, left, and Joan Collins, right, who captured viewers with their dramatic catfights. By the 1984-85 season, "Dynasty" ranked No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings. ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
'The Fall Guy': Lee Majors, star of "The Six Million Dollar Man," reinvented himself in the '80s as "The Fall Guy." Majors played Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stunt man who moonlighted as a bounty hunter. The ABC show, which ran from 1981-1986, typically opened with a dazzling film stunt while Majors sang the theme song. American Broadcasting Companies, INC.
'Newhart': Bob Newhart, seated, also reinvented himself in the '80s with his second self-titled comedy series. The show, which ran from 1982-1990, featured an eclectic cast of characters, including Larry, Darryl and their other brother Darryl. In the series' final episode, Newhart wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife on "The Bob Newhart Show," revealing that the entire "Newhart" series had been a dream. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
'General Hospital': Before Demi Moore, John Stamos or Rick Springfield became famous, they first appeared on ABC's long-running soap opera "General Hospital." This daytime drama premiered in the 1960s but enjoyed some of its highest ratings in the '80s. Here, 20-year-old Moore plays Jackie Templeton, an investigative reporter who often got tangled up with dangerous people. ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
'Hill Street Blues': When this gritty, realistic police drama debuted on NBC in 1981, it was unlike anything else on American television. The creators of "The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad," and "Mad Men" all owe thank-you notes to "Hill Street" creator Steven Bochco, said Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson. The show, which ran until 1987, was a mix of drama and comedy with diverse, colorful three-dimensional characters. NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
'Knight Rider': If some fans had their way, NBC would have called it "The KITT Show," because, really, it was all about David Hasselhoff's intelligent, talking Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Hasselhoff and KITT, which stood for Knight Industries Two Thousand, hunted down criminals for a group called the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG). The series ran from 1982-1986, A 21st-century reboot could be coming. Hasselhoff and a KITTish-looking car have surfaced in a mysterious YouTube "trailer" for something titled "Knight Rider Heroes." NBCU Photo Bank
'M*A*S*H': This CBS comedy centered on a mobile Army hospital during the Korean War, and fans held viewing parties to watch its final episode on February 28, 1983. In its 11 years, "M*A*S*H" had gained such a loyal following that about 106 million people watched the finale, making it the largest single TV audience before the domination of cable programming. RED MCLENDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
'Remington Steele': In this comedy/drama, Stephanie Zimbalist, left, played Laura Holt, a private detective who has trouble getting clients to take her seriously. Her solution: create a fictitious boss named Remington Steele as a way to gain clients' trust. A handsome thief, played by a pre-James Bond Pierce Brosnan, stumbles into Holt's life and assumes the Steele role. The two would go on to solve cases along with assistant Mildred Krebs (played by Doris Roberts, right). Herb Ball/NBC/Episodic/NBCU Photo Bank
'The A-Team': In this NBC action series about a former Army unit for hire, '80s icon Mr. T, right, played Sgt. Bosco "Bad Attitude" (B.A.) Baracus. The show, which aired from 1983-1987, also starred Dwight Schultz, left, who played the A-Team's skilled pilot, Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock. The show peaked in the Nielsen ratings at No. 4 during the 1983-1984 season. In 2010, series co-creator Stephen J. Cannell eventually produced an "A-Team" movie. Frank Carroll/NBCUniversal/NBC via Getty Images
'Cheers': From 1982 to 1993, this sitcom -- set in a Boston bar -- offered viewers a community they could call their own. From left, Nicholas Colasanto played "Coach," Ted Danson played ex-baseball player Sam Malone, Shelley Long played Malone's romantic interest Diane Chambers, and George Wendt played lovable barfly Norm Peterson. Some "Cheers" characters -- like the know-it-all mailman, Cliff Clavin, unforgettably played by John Ratzenberger -- became so embraced by viewers that they entered almost mythical cultural status. Ron Tom/NBC Universal/NBC via Getty Images
'Magnum P.I.': In 1984, a New York Times writer described "Magnum P.I." star Tom Selleck as "a tall, furry actor with laughing dimples." Selleck played Thomas Magnum, a Ferrari-driving private investigator hired by a rich Hawaiian estate owner who viewers never saw. The estate was run by the verbose and stuffy Jonathan Quincy Higgins III, played hilariously by John Hillerman. The series became a CBS prime-time staple from 1980-1988, peaking at No. 3 during the '82-'83 season. Silver Screen Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images
'MacGyver': A guy who's so smart he can engineer his way out of danger with a simple stick of chewing gum and a piece of wire? That's MacGyver. The idea has become so well-known that the word is now a verb: Stuck? You can "MacGyver" your way out of that. The series, which starred Richard Dean Anderson, aired on ABC from 1985-1992. CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images
'Family Ties': America watched the liberal politics of the '60s and '70s give way to the Reagan '80s right before their eyes on this family sitcom. Young Republican Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, center, made constant fun of his liberal baby boomer parents. No matter what your politics were, it was hard not to laugh when Alex coaches his little brother to say he spent his summer vacation watching the Iran-Contra hearings. NBC Universal/NBC via Getty Images
'Miami Vice': It started when NBC entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff wrote a memo with an idea for a TV drama about "MTV cops." Not long after, "Miami Vice" was born -- stylishly produced by Michael Mann and shot on location in Miami starring Philip Michael Thomas, left, as Rico Tubbs and Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett. They didn't skimp on the music. The theme song by Jan Hammer became a No. 1 hit. Miami Vice ran from 1984 to 1990. NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
'Kate & Allie': This was the first (and perhaps the only) American sitcom to feature two single mothers living and raising their children together to save on expenses. Allie Lowell was played by Jane Curtin, right, and Susan Saint James played Lowell's friend Kate McArdle. The series ran from 1984-1989. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
'Pee-wee's Playhouse': Pee-wee Herman, played by Paul Reubens, was unlike any TV character we'd seen before. Who was this guy? Was he a kid? An adult? It didn't matter -- he was full of surprises that kept us glued to his Saturday morning show. Airing on CBS from 1986-1990, "Pee-wee's Playhouse" was loved by kids, adults and critics, winning five Emmys. Like the show said: If you love it so much, why don't you just marry it? John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Ar/Archive Photos/Getty Images
'Moonlighting': This screwball comedy broke out of the regular TV comedy formula, experimenting with ideas like a musical episode or an episode shot in black and white. But the undeniable star of the show was the romantic chemistry created by lead actors Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. They took the "Sam and Diane" element from "Cheers" and escalated it. With "Cheers" it was, "Will they or won't they?" In "Moonlighting," it was, "Do they even want to?" ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
'Siskel & Ebert & the Movies': These were the film critics who coined the phrase "two thumbs up." But Gene Siskel, right, and Roger Ebert contributed so much more than that to American culture. From 1986-1999, their nationally syndicated show reviewed each week's major new releases. When they disagreed, their passion showed through and they could really go at it -- turning their on-camera movie debates into some pretty entertaining TV. Michael L. Abramson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
'Who's the Boss?': Premiering in 1984, "Who's the Boss?" featured Tony Danza, left, as a macho live-in housekeeper working for a divorced advertising executive played by Judith Light, right. His young daughter, played by Alyssa Milano, moves in, too. ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
'The Cosby Show': Premiering on NBC in 1984, it quickly became TV's No. 1 show for five years running and turned Bill Cosby into a superstar. Leaders in the African-American community widely praised it at the time for portraying a successful, wholesome, middle-class African-American family. Today, viewers who knew Cosby as a TV dad are watching him defend himself against accusations from more than 40 women who say he assaulted them over the past four decades. Cosby has denied he sexually assaulted any women. NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
'Murphy Brown': This CBS newsroom comedy starring Candice Bergen, seated, ran from 1988-1998 and made political history in real life during the '92 presidential campaign. After Vice President Dan Quayle slammed the show because Brown's character was a single mother, the producers included Quayle's comments in the show and had Bergen's character respond. Life slams art, and art slams life. Genius. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
'The Wonder Years': It seemed like we all learned some kind of life lesson at the end of each episode of this nostalgic ABC series, which aired from 1988-1993. It followed Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage, center) as he grew up in suburban America in the late 1960s and early '70s. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
'Late Night with David Letterman': When David Letterman's talk show launched on NBC in 1982, he re-invented late night TV by introducing us to elevator races, freaky characters such as "The Guy Under The Seats," and something called the "Late Night Monkey Cam." For years, an alleged "feud" with Oprah Winfrey was a hot topic for gossip columnists and the subject of Letterman's jokes. Paul Natkin/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
'The Golden Girls': In a decade dominated by youth and glamour, it's hard to believe a sitcom about a divorced woman, her mother, and two widows living together in Miami could be a hit. Running on NBC from 1985-1992, the show celebrated feminism and friendship and didn't have a problem portraying women who actually enjoyed being single after marriage. Theo Westenberger/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images