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Top 10 Kids TV Shows from the 80s (with videos)

Updated on May 12, 2011

Kids TV in the 1980s

In the 1980s, television shows especially for kids become a phenomenon.  With the introduction of MTV's new Nickelodeon Network and Saturday morning's cartoon invasion, children of the 80s had no shortage of programming to choose from.  These are some of the best and most memorable non-animated kids TV shows of the 1980s.

10. Pee-Wee's Playhouse

Parents hated this show; perhaps therein lies some of the appeal behind this show for kids. "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" is obnoxious and pointless, yet 80s kids just couldn't get enough of it. The show origianlly aired from 1986 to 1990 on CBS. The show stemmed from the 1985 movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, directed by a young Tim Burton.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse Opening Theme Song

9. Shining Time Station

Some of the best kids shows of the 80s aired on PBS, including "Shining Time Station."  Running from 1989 until 1993, the show gave us the iconic character Thomas the Tank Engine.  The cast included Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor, who was later replaced by George Carlin (marking the most family-friendly project of Carlin's entire career).

Shining Time Station Opening Theme Song

8. Square Pegs

Despite only running for a single season (1982-83), "Square Pegs" helped launch the career of Sarah Jessica Parker.  Starring Parker alongside Amy Linker, the show follwed the lives of two awkward girls trying to fit in at Weemewee High School.  The show was created by former "Saturday Night Live" writer Anne Beatts and given a prime timeslot (taking over the Monday 8:00 PM slot from M*A*S*H); however, the show received little attention from the critics and was largely forgotten until the 1990s, when Sarah Jessica Parker's career blossomed into superstardom.

Square Pegs Opening Theme Song

7. Double Dare

Ranked by TV Guide at #29 in their 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time, "Double Dare" premiered on Nickelodeon in 1986 and eventaully spawned several spin-off shows. The show was a mix of trivia questions and messy "physical challenges," often resulting in contestants being doused with various colors of paint or slime. The show's host, Marc Summers, also hosted a handful of other game shows including "Win, Lose, or Draw" and "Hollywood Squares"; he currently hosts the series "Unwrapped" on the Food Network.

Double Dare Sloppiest Moments

6. Saved By the Bell

An icon of 80s pop culture, "Saved By the Bell" was actually a spin-off on the pilot of an earlier, unsuccessful series called "Good Morning, Miss Bliss."  It bore two spin-offs of its own, "Saved By the Bell: The College Years" and "Saved By the Bell: The New Class."  The series ran from 1989 until 1993 on NBC.  It was unique in that the show's central character, Zack, would often speak directly to the audience.

Saved By the Bell Opening Theme Song

5. You Can't Do That On Television

This show began filming in Canada in 1979 and was introduced to the United States by the fledgeling Nickelodeon Network in 1981.  It was a clever sketch comedy show for kids with made famous by a recurring dumping-green-slime-over-someone's-head theme.  The cast included Alanis Morissette, who went on to become a pop superstar in the 90s.

You Can't Do That On Television Opening Theme Song

4. The Muppet Show

Jim Henson's ecclectic cast of Muppets hosted this classic kids show from 1986 to 1981.  Children of the 80s grew up with reruns of this show alongside "Sesame Street" and the animated 80s series "Muppet Babies," making the Muppets an important part of any 80s childhood.  The show ran in syndication on TNT through the late 80s and early 90s.

The Muppet Show Opening Theme Song

3. Punky Brewster

Abandoned by her parents, Penelope "Punky" Brewster lives a life different than the idyllic scenarios portrayed in most sitcoms.  Despite dealing with serious issues like life in an orphanage, foster care, and the health problems of loved ones, the show manages to keep a positive tone.  Punky has a Pollyanna-esque quality to her personality, always optomistic even when things seem at their worst.

Punky Brewster Opening Theme Song

2. Today's Special

With a cast comprise of half actors and half puppets, "Today's Special" is an imaginative and unique series.  It takes place after hours in a department store, where a mannequin with a magic hat comes to life with the magic words, "hocus pocus alimagocus."  The show takes an educational look at .topics including some serious social issues, all the while maintaining a captivating, fun vibe.

Today's Special Opening Theme Song

1. Fraggle Rock

With a Muppet-like cast of characters created by Jim Henson, this show is largely an allegory for human society.  (Henson even provided voices for some of the secondary characters.)  The series examines complex relationships between different "races" of creatures, exploring things like prejudice, spirituality, and social conflict.  It gained international acclaim, and the theme song even reached number 33 on the British music charts.

Fraggle Rock Opening Theme Song


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I think the name of the movie that has people playing animals is Zoobilie Zoo!! My sister and i loved that show!!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Zoobalie zoo

    • pelt545 profile image


      8 years ago from Hampton Roads, VA

      Yeah, I know that "Saved by the Bell" was a hit show. I heard from Mark Paul Gosselaar telling George Lopez that the series became more popular after it went off.

      One thing I love about history: unforgettable memories, shows, music, etc.

      I would spend an entire day or week dwelling on classic shows, music, etc.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      does anyone remember that tv show (which wasn't a cartoon) that was aired in the early 80s to mid 80s. that had animals (people playing them). it was like a carnival type of show. made for kids. 5-6 years old. all i can remember from it was there was animals and it had a stand where they sold or carried animals.

    • Olaguma profile image


      8 years ago from Slovenia

      Awsome Top 10 list! Really enjoyed going back to the future :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      there was a black and white tv show that was on during a saturday morning program ( get fresh, going live, live and kicking etc) think it was some variation of flash gordon. it was set in a valley of sorts, and they used some sort of tank in it. think there was horses also. two warring factions and i think one or both lived in a cave at either end. about all i can remember, anyone any ideas????

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Lots of great memories on this list!

      Would anyone like to critique a new children's concept that I am working on?... It's called Hector The Friendly Collector...

      Any comments, feedback or suggestions would definitely be appreciated.


      "Hector's Creator"



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