Neon, fishnet stockings, shoulder pads, and asymmetrical haircuts? The bizzare fashions of the 1980s infiltrated television and captured the decade perfectly, in all its “Me” generation glory.
Dallas (1978- 1991)
Soap operas offer an opportunity to escape for an hour into the fantasy life of someone else. Bring on the melodrama! Walk into someone’s office during a board meeting and slap them right across the face! Get into a hair-pulling fist fight with that neighbor who’s been eyeing your significant other, who somehow ends up being your long lost relative? Such twists and turns are commonplace in the world of soap operas, the mother of them all being Dallas; a rich Texas oil family, with lots of money, too much time on their hands, cheating one another out of deals worth millions and sleeping with one another’s spouses. Americans were gripped. Larry Hagman, who played the conniving J.R. Ewing, was complemented by an all-star cast of Barbara Bel Geddes, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Susan Howard, George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley, Victoria Principal, Dack Rambo, Donna Reed, Charlene Tilton and Sheree J. Wilson, which provided many explosive scenes for 13 seasons.
Family Ties (1982-1989)
“Hip parents, square kids.” How on earth did Baby Boomer liberals Steve and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter) give birth to highly conservative Republican son Alex (Michael J. Fox) and daughter Mallory (Justine Batemen)? These two ex-hippies are now the parent’s of conservative, Reaganomics-embracing teenagers. They relive the good ol’ days, and recount their time in the Peace Corps, President John F. Kennedy’s administration and subsequent assassination, and the pain of Watergate. Its enormous popularity can best be a reflection of the sign of the times, as adults everywhere adjusted to the cultural divide- when the younger generations of the 1980s rejected the peace and love of 1960s counterculture, and embraced Republican attitudes that would’ve made Reagan proud. Michael J. Fox proved to be the breakout star, winning Emmys and a Golden Globe, drawing 1/3 of American households every week.
The Golden Girls (1985- 1992)
Four widowers/ divorcees share a house in Miami. Dorothy, is the sarcastic yet sensible one. Then there’s her sassy Sicilian mother Estelle; Blanche, the man-hungry Southern belle; and the kind-hearted but seemingly clueless Rose. Though these four distinct personalities lived under one roof, they became as close as family. Throughout their hijinks, Dorothy would threaten to put her mother back in the nursing home, Estelle would tease Blanche about sexual encounters, and Rose would baffle them all with a strange tale about growing up in a Scandinavian community in Minnesota. The show saw them deal with their children and grandchildren’s visits, dating, cheating ex-husbands, ageing, mourning, all with a touching yet zesty panache. The Golden Girls is one of only three sitcoms where all the lead actresses won Emmys for their performances. Widely syndicated, The Golden Girls also spawned foreign versions, in the U.K., Greece, Russia and Spain.
The Cosby Show (1984 – 1992)
The Cosby Show shattered many misconceptions and stereotypes about how African-Americans people lived. Routinely considered one of the best sitcoms of the decade, it was based off of the material of stand-up comic Bill Cosby. It chronicled the trials and tribulations of The Huxtables, an affluent African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York.Bill Cosby played the doctor patriarch, with Phylicia Rashad as his attorney wife, as they raised their 5 children. The Cosby Show was also one of the longest running and most successful sitcoms predominantly featuring African Americans, being one of only three shows to reach the #1 spot in viewers for five consecutive seasons. The show A Different World was created as a spin off.
Cheers (1982- 1993)
For 11 years, we spent ever Thursday night firmly affixed on our barstools and drank beer with “Norm!” (George Wendt), postman Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger), and married psychiatrists Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth). At least that is how felt because after all, “Everybody Knows Your Name” was their theme song. We were happy to be a part of the bar banter and served drinks by handsome actor cum politician Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), womanizing former relief pitcher and owner Sam Malone (Ted Danson), intellectual grad student waitress Diane (Shelley Long), wisecracking barmaid Carla (Rhea Perlman) and former baseball player “Coach” Ernie (Nicholas Colasanto). The storylines followed the lives of these distinct characters, who all came together in the bar. After Long’s departure, the ambitious businesswoman Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) stepped in to provide some sexual chemistry. A worldwide success, Cheers is internationally syndicated and won 28 Emmys from a then-record 117 nominations. It also produced what is perhaps the most successful TV spinoff of all time, Frasier, which also ran 11 seasons.