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Best Shows of the '80s

Updated on August 28, 2011

I'll admit that when you're talking about shows from the 1980's, like the 1990's, it's very hard narrowing down the best of them. I didn't want to necessarily go with my own personal favorites, but what shows were actually good television whether it was then or whether you're watching them now. Some I wouldn't say were great shows, but they were good family oriented shows like Full House (1987-1995), Family Matters (1989-1998), and Who's the Boss? (1984-1992). Also a few of my own guilty pleasures were Alf (1986-1990), Knight Rider (1982-1986), Night Court (1984-1992), and 227 (1985-1990). Obviously I can't put every single show on this list, but the ones that just didn't make the top 10 cut are: Miami Vice (1984-1992), Designing Women (1986-1993), Empty Nest (1988-1995), Gimme A Break (1981-1987), Roseanne (1988-1997), Family Ties (1982-1989), and Married With Children (1987-1997).

More than half of these shows are iconic and you can probably catch them on cable now repeating and even kids and adults that missed them when they were fresh are loving them now and some love them so much that they went out and bought the DVD box sets. I'm surprised at myself that I actually had guilty pleasures and I was a kid watching most of these shows--literally a baby you could say, and I remember a lot of these episodes. Saved by the Bell (1989-1993) is one of those shows that teens enjoy even know; even I'll admit that a decade ago when I used to be heading off to my morning college courses I'd watch the repeats of this show and people are still watching it. I loved them for different reasons and they were good shows for different reasons. When you hear people talk about Baywatch now all you'll hear is Pamela Anderson's boobs or David Hasselhoff (I used to think he was so cool on that show when I was little), but truth be told I was always more interested in the relationship between Shauni and Eddie, two characters played by Erika Eleniak and Billy Warlock. When people say Full House they think more of the Olsen twins now, I believe, but really "Uncle Jesse", aka John Stamos, was the cutie a lot of women tuned in to watch. Most people would probably hunt me down for not making Knight Rider one of the top ten of the best, but even when I was younger it simply didn't make that caliber with me. Michael Knight = cool, talking car = triple cool, but just like Baywatch I felt it was always a little too "gimmicky" for my taste (or commercial, whichever way you want to put that). Miami Vice was also a very cool show and not even gimmicky in my opinion, but it just didn't make my top 10. Roseanne showed what a lot of families were like and people loved it, that's why it stayed on the air for nearly a decade. The Simpsons (1989- ) is still on today, going strong, with a brand new audience, and I don't think they're going to end that series anytime soon even though I stopped watching it years ago (it didn't stop me from watching the movie, though), and it was my favorite cartoon during the 1990's. Married With Children still plays reruns till this day (on more than one channel I believe) and even spawned a cheap knockoff during the '90s entitled Unhappily Ever After (1995-1999) which copied the it's predecessor's premise just enough so it almost appeared to be a satire and paying homage all at once.

I have a soft spot for the '80s, maybe it's because I was born during the decade or maybe because so many memorable things happened and entertainment just happened to be entwined somehow so that the memories of different television shows, movies and music just happen to blend in with everything else. Either way, I'll give you what I believe were the best shows of the '80s right here, right now:

1) The Cosby Show (1984-1992)

Is this one of my favorite shows? It's not. Do I believe it's one of the best shows? I do. I believe that within this television family there are so many people who can relate and others who were either motivated by these episodes or they learned from them. With this show it went beyond stereotypes and showcased a middle class family with two parents who were not only professionals, but also great parents and a good husband and wife to one another. They loved one another and they loved their kids--but eventually they wanted them all to move out and have families of their own; only most of them ended up moving out, falling flat on their faces, and moving right back in under their parents' roof. The writing was great, the acting was great, and the episode premises weren't so far fetched that people wouldn't believe them. This was just a great show all around and I don't believe I missed one episode of it growing up and I still remember most of them now.

2) Mama's Family (1983-1990)

This show had great acting, great writing, and some of the funniest, yet down to earth, premises I've ever seen. Everything felt fresh about it and I don't think anyone could remake this show even if they tried. Rarely do I see any repeats of this show, I used to see a few on the channel "ion" a while back, but lately not at all. I feel as if people have forgotten this show and it's just sad because it's truly one of the best shows that were ever on television and if you've never seen it you're missing out on a real gem. I think the episodes are timeless and never lost their panache down to the very last one.

3) thirtysomething (1987-1991)

I didn't actually watch this show growing up, I'm catching up on it now and it's as relevant today as it was back then.

4) A Different World (1987-1993)

One could only wish that their college experience is like the ones that are showcased on this classic. It still reruns on BET, and like the others up at the top it had it all--great writing, great acting, and never lost steam even till the last episode. I hated to see this show go off the air. It was basically a spin-off to The Cosby Show when the daughter played by Lisa Bonet went off to college. I hated Jasmine Guy's character when I was younger, but as the show went on she grew on me and I couldn't imagine it without her. I was also surprised when I found out there were so many girls just like her since I chose to attend a historically black college after I graduated (this show, however, didn't influence that decision). Like most great shows, I remember nearly every episode and every now and again I still watch. I don't even consider it a guilty pleasure, it's just a really good show.

5) Golden Girls (1985-1992)

You know you're watching a great show if all the main characters are fifty and over and you have a nine year old watching faithfully nearly two decades after the original episodes even aired. These women kept me entertained throughout my childhood and I enjoyed every minute of it. I still know the theme song and I still remember most of the episodes, but that never stops me from sitting and enjoying them over again.

6) Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988)

Even the intro to this show was spooky; the contrast of the narrator's voice to the scenic shots of lush countryside would freak anybody out. I couldn't wait for this show to come on when I was younger and I get excited now when some of my favorite episodes air again on either the Sci-Fi channel or Chiller.

7) Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990)

This was one of the coolest shows from my childhood. It was a love story, but I used to feel sorry for the "the beast" that lived below ground. Even though I haven't seen it rerun on television, you can still catch up with these episodes on Netflix.

8) A-Team (1983-1987)

It didn't surprise me when I heard they were trying to make a movie out of this show a couple of years ago, and while I haven't seen the movie I remember this show. I used to laugh so much at it, but even I'll admit it was good.They'd be trapped in a situation and use the most common sense techniques to get out of it. All the dynamics of the personalities, most people had favorites, but I doubt any of them were hated or even disliked. And Mr. T is simply iconic and the character he's played on this show has been spoofed and so many have tried to do what he did, but they just don't come close.

9) Cheers (1982-1993)

This wasn't one of my favorite shows when I was younger, it just seemed extremely boring--a bunch of people sitting around in a bar talking. I did like Rhea Pearlman's character and Ted Danson seemed cool, but I hardly paid any attention to the rest of them or really what was going on. Besides, it started airing a year before I was even born. It wasn't until I got older that I appreciated the significance to this show and how all the characters and story lines came together and at the end of the day, for a lot of people, this was the kind of show to relax to and put you at ease. This is a show that isn't really a favorite of mine, but with that familiar theme song and the comfort you feel just watching these great actors deliver these lines, it's truly like going to a place where everybody knows your name.

10) Amen (1986-1991)

Two words: Sherman Hemsley. He was great in this show as a lawyer that rarely won any cases, the widower that still housed his middle aged daughter, Thelma, and the deacon of a local church. He didn't like the minister they'd hired for their church and seemed to take pleasure in sending the most cutting remarks his way, nor did he get along with the sister duo that sung in their choir, but as much as he seemed to dislike everyone and they disliked him you still loved all the characters. It still airs a few channels to this day and the quality of the show is timeless.


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