Arguably one of the best decades in television, the 1970s produced such hits as:
- Alice – The Bionic Woman – The Bob Newhart Show – Bonanza – Charlie’s Angels – CHiPs – The Dukes of Hazard – Eight is Enough – Fantasy Island – The Flip Wilson Show – Good Times – Gunsmoke – Hawaii Five-0 – Ironside – Kojak – Laverne and Shirley – Little House on the Prairie – The Love Boat – Mannix – Marcus Welby, M.D. – The Mary Tyler Moore Show – Mork and Mindy – One Day at a Time – The Partridge Family – Rhoda – The Rockford Files – The Rookies – Sanford and Son – The Six Million Dollar Man – Soap – The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour – Starsky and Hutch – S.W.A.T – That’s Incredible – Three’s Company – The Waltons – What’s Happening? – WKRP in Cincinnati – The Wonderful World of Disney
But here are the top five:
The Jeffersons (January 19, 1975- June 25, 1985)
A spin-off the number two on this list, The Jeffersons is to date the longest-running series, be it comedy or other genre, with a predominantly African-American cast. The story of an affluent African-American couple, the husband the owner of several dry cleaning stores throughout Manhattan, the wife a stay-at-home mom. Living in a luxury high-rise with predominantly white neighbors, including an interracial couple, the comedy tackled racial discrimination and attempted to squash stereotypes that continued to plague African-Americans. The cast included Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Mike Evans, Roxie Roker, and Marla Gibbs.
Welcome Back, Kotter (September 9, 1975- June 8, 1979)
Gabe Kotter, played by comedian Gabe Kaplan, returns to his alma mater high school in Brooklyn, NY, where he is assigned to teach the most undisciplined group of students in the school who are affectionately known as “The Sweathogs”. Each character and the storyline are based on Kaplan’s experience in an eerily similar high school in Brooklyn, which was the often subject of his stand-up routine. Who can forget the characters? Arnold Horshack, Vinnie Barbarino (played by John Travolta), Freddie Washington and Juan Epstien? Although the school closed its doors, it was clearly the beginning of a long career for John Travolta.
Taxi (1978- 1983)
With more taxis in New York than in any other city in the world, Manhattan is home to numerous taxi and limousine companies, including a fictional one called, the Sunshine Taxi Company. Its dispatcher Louie DePalma, played by Danny DeVito, is a wise cracking, self-serving, obnoxious man who makes up arbitrary rules that suit nobody but himself. Taxi drivers working for Sunshine would of course prefer to be anywhere else than working for this borderline tyrant. Tony Banta (Tony Danza) is a boxer who thankfully makes more money as a cab driver than he does a prizefighter. Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway) is a struggling actor who is forever chasing that big break. Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner) is a full-time receptionist in an art gallery and only hacks it at Sunshine part time. “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd) is a former hippie who did more drugs in the 1960s than he did actually preaching. Latka Gravas (the late Andy Kaufman) is an immigrant from a country the writers never identified. He often lapsed into a strange language, which would last for minutes and then return back to his ‘normal’ self. Eventually, it was discovered that he had multiple personality disorder. Smika Gravas (Carol Kane) played Latka’s equally kooky, but assertive wife who loves her husband to pieces, faults and all.
All in the Family (January 12, 1971- April 8, 1979)
Despite his being racist, homophobic and sexist, Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Conner) was the beloved protagonist who stole the hearts of viewers the moment he hit the airwaves in 1971. Outspoken about his views, using words on TV that would now be censored, it was an amazing vehicle to address many difficult topics, among them race, homophobia, sexism, rape, breast cancer, impotence and menopause. Ironically, many of the themes routinely expressed on All in the Family are ones that continue to be hotbutton issues today. Archie Bunker is a World War II vet who essentially dislikes anyone who doesn’t fit his All-American worldview. This includes his son-in-law, Michael “Meathead” Stivic (Rob Reiner) who is a hippie, anti-war, and anti-nearly everything Archie Bunker stands for. This cast is rounded out by Bunker’s wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), neighbors George and Louise Jefferson who eventually left the Astoria, Queens neighborhood for the big time, when they got their own spin-off known (see number 5 on our list).
M*A*S*H (September 17, 1972- February 28, 1983)
This sitcom/dramady followed the every day lives of the doctors and medical staff of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Staff (MASH) during the Korean War. Its ensemble cast that included Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, and Loretta Swit, helps to explain why it ran as many years as it did, and how it could turn a dramatic and difficult topic – war – into something funny and poignant. Few television programs have come close to addressing the complexity of its subject matter, consistently offering quality scriptwriting, and boast viewership in the millions, week after week for 11 seasons. Indeed its finale is said to have been viewed by 125 million people worldwide. We loved characters like Radar O’Reilly, Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, Father Mulcahy and Max Klinger. Garnering 14 Emmys in its 11 seasons, not only did viewers fall in love but critics and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences did as well. Such a show as M*A*S*H will likely never come around again, which is why it remains the standard with which compare all other TV programming to this day.