The Wacky and Far Out World of 1970's TV
All About 70's TV
The 1970's brought some interesting changes to television. Sitcoms were prevalent but in many instances, they stepped well beyond the somewhat mindless hilarity that was common in earlier shows. Social issues of the day began to emerge and to be addressed in prime time programming in a way it never had before.
Cops and detectives, as well as doctors and paramedics, filled TV screens. Of course, that's not to say that there weren't some very frivolous topics filling the airwaves. Stick around and re-live some of the 70's TV that left it's mark on our lives and on television today. Don't forget to take our test to see if you really know your stuff!
Social Issues and Diversity in the 1970's
One of the shows that received critical acclaim from 70's TV was Norman Lear's "All in the Family". Although it was a sitcom, it covered some controversial topics and highlighted some talented actors. Carroll O'Connor starred as Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as his wife Edith. Also living with them was Gloria (Sally Struthers) their daughter and her husband, Mike (Rob Reiner). The conflicting philosophies between the generations and even between neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds provided a fertile ground for debates on politics, religion, racial stereotypes, and much more.
Ethnic diversity seemed to expand in the 1970s. Shows like "Good Times" and "Sanford and Son" presented a point of view from one segment of the African American population, the urban poor.
"Good Times" followed a poor family living in a Chicago housing project and struggling to get by. Esther Rolle was Florida, the mother, James Amos played her husband, and JJ Walker played the eldest son JJ. A very young Janet Jackson even had a role on the show in later seasons as Penny, the daughter of a neighbor.
"Sanford and Son" on the other hand, was set in LA and focused on the relationship between the Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his adult son, Lamont (Desmond Wilson). Fred was an outspoken, crotchety old man who ran a junk business with Lamont. Unfortunately, Lamont carried most of the burden of running the business and suffering from the results of Fred's antics in his endless battles with other friends, neighbors, and family members.
On "Chico and the Man", Jack Albertson played an aging white man who runs a small business in a neighborhood that has grown increasingly diverse. He's very uncomfortable with this and distrusting of his neighbors until a young Chicano man, played by Freddie Prinze, manages to get a job with him and becomes a friend. Although the show was popular for a couple of years, it faded away after Freddie Prinze committed suicide just two years into it's run.
Women also began to take on stronger roles in the 1970s. Even in shows such as "Mary Tyler Moore", a change was occurring. For the first time, the female lead lived on her own, had a satisfying life, and her focus wasn't a husband, children, or even a boyfriend. She wasn't just a secretary or Girl Friday, she was a professional. In shows like "One Day at a Time", families were also recognized as changing. With this show, a divorced woman was the single head of household raising two teenage daughters. Bonnie Tyler played the mother and her daughters were acted by MacKenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli.
In addition to changing lifestyles were other issues surrounding the events of the time. "MASH" was a show that focused on the lives of the surgeons, nurses, and staff of a field hospital in Korea during the Korean War. Humor was a tool used by the characters to cope with the horrors of war. Although certainly a comedy, it did present a somewhat realistic view of what war is really like. From death, disability, and even mental illness, it addressed the effects not only upon the soldiers but upon those serving behind the lines and civilians as well. Despite it's setting in Korea, it is generally believed to be a commentary on US participation in the Vietnam conflict.
The Lighter Side of 70's TV
Despite some of the more serious messages in sitcoms, some of the more traditional shows were still popular on 70's TV. The "Brady Bunch" which started it's run in 1969 was still popular.
"Happy Days" came along in 1974 and starred Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham), Tom Bosley (Mr. Cunningham), Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham), and Henry Winkler (Fonzi) among others. It was a nostalgic show set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that took a look back at family life in the 1950s and early 1960s. Much of the show featured the activities of the kids at Arnold's drive in and for much of it's run, saw the high school drop out, Fonzi, as the central character.
Springing from "Happy Days" was "Laverne and Shirley" with Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as well as their friends Lenny and Squiggy.
"Mork and Mindy" was popular for a couple of years and introduced Robin Williams to his first real taste of fame. He was an alien from the planet Ork who came to earth to study and better understand humans. Luckily, he quickly encountered Pam Dawber (Mindy) who befriended him.
For millions of young girls though, shows like "The Partridge Family" were even more memorable. The show was basically the story of a family which formed a pop group, including their mother. Shirley Jones was the mother of characters played by David Cassidy (the teenage heart-throb), Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough, and Brian Forster. Several popular songs sprang from the show including "I Think I Love You!", "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat", and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning".
"Taxi" came along late in the decade and gave viewers a look into the lives of a group of cab drivers. Judd Hirsh, Marilu Henner, and Danny DeVito among others starred.
"Three's Company" was among the sillier offerings, with three young people rooming together in a somewhat unusual situation. With Jack (John Ritter) as the only male in the trilogy of roommates, he had to pretend to be gay to avoid eviction by the landlord. Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt were the female part of the trio.
"Welcome Back Kotter", with Gabe Kaplan was a humorous look at a teacher who returned to his old neighborhood to work with some tough kids who needed some extra help. The "sweat hogs" included a new to the scene, John Travolta.
Family dramas were popular and some of the most watched were period pieces like "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Walton's" (set in the depression era). Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert played primary characters on Little House while Richard Thomas found popularity on the Waltons. Both of these shows continued their success in reruns for generations to come.
"Love Boat", "Fantasy Island", and "Love American Style" were popular among those searching for romance.
Law enforcement was a common theme on 70's TV as well. Some of the shows were based on fantasy and superheroes such as Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), The Six Million Dollar Man (Lee Majors; Farrah Fawcett's husband at the time), and the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner). Marvel based movies are popular now, but superheroes weren't unheard of in the 70's decade.
Also on a fairly light note, was the popular series "Charlie's Angels". The show ran for several years beginning in 1976. There were numerous cast changes but Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd and David Doyle figured prominently. Of course, there have been a couple of movie remakes of the once popular show.
Cops and Detectives on 70's TV
Police and detective shows in general filled the programming schedule on 70's TV. Shows such as "Columbo" with Peter Falk as a very shrewd but outwardly bumbling detective, "McCloud", with Dennis Weaver as a cowboy who comes to the big city to show the cops how detective work really gets done, and "McMillan and Wife" were Sunday night favorites.
"Banacek" with George Peppard, "Kojak" with Telly Savalas, and "Cannon" with William Conrad were other offerings.
"Adam 12" with Martin Milner and Kent McCord took viewers on the beat with patrol officers in LA, while "CHiPS" took us along with Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox on the California Highway Patrol. "Barney Miller" was a comedy set in police headquarters with Hal Linden at the helm.
With a 12 year run, "Hawaii Five-O" was one of the most successful shows in the cops/detective genre. Jack Lord played the lead as Steve McGarrett who was in charge of a state police force based in Honolulu Hawaii.
Another hit 70's TV show was "The Rockford Files" which followed sometimes employed detective Jim Rockford (James Garner) in his efforts to catch the bad guys without getting into any violent situations.
Shows with a focus on the medical profession also did well on the television screens in the 70's. "Emergency!" followed paramedics, including Randolph Mantooth, on their runs, "Marcus Welby, M.D." (Robert Young) in the office of his family practice, and "Medical Center" (Chad Everett) in a large university hospital setting.
Other Popular Shows From the 1970's
"The Muppet Show" sprung onto screens in 1975. If featured the famous Kermit the Frog as leader of a troupe of acting puppets which included, among others, Miss Piggy.
Also debuting that year, was "Saturday Night Live" which still runs today. The original cast of "not ready for prime time players" included Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, and later Bill Murray as well as a claymation character named "Mr. Bill". Coneheads and Land Sharks were among the popular skits and Roseanna Roseannadanna was a hit for Gilda Radner.
Variety shows were still around to some extent. "Hee Haw" was a popular, long-running country version while "Donny and Marie" (Osmond) and "Sonny and Cher" were also around.
The Test - Think you know 70's TV? Find out here!
See answers at the bottom of the page.
#1 In real life, Shirley Jones was David Cassidy's:
#2 Which 70's TV private investigator had been in prison?
#3 Which two Angels were sisters on the show Charlie's Angels?
#4 Who was Mary's neighbor on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?
#5 Which 70's law enforcer was famous for saying "Who Loves Ya' Baby"?
#6 Which character was a manager/friend to the Partridge family?
#7 What was the name of the eldest son on Happy Days?
#8 What kind of car did Jim Rockford drive?
#9 On MASH, what was Hawkeye's hometown in Maine?
#10 Which show was a spin off of All In The Family?
How Did You Do?
#1: Step mother
#3: Cheryl Ladd and Farrah Fawcett's characters
#4: Rhoda Morgenstern (played by Valerie Harper)
#6: Reuben Kincaid
#7: Chuck Cunningham (seldom seen)
#8: Pontiac Fierbird
#9: Crabapple Cove
#10: The Jefferson's
© 2009 Ruth Coffee