The cast of Magnum P.I., Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad of The Cosby Show, the cast of Family Ties
Television was transformed in the 1980s. With the advent of cable, the three major networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- lost their monopoly on what Americans viewed in their living rooms. In the late Seventies, Time Inc.'s Home Box Office became available. In 1980, Ted Turner unveiled the Cable News Network (CNN). Media baron Rupert Murdoch paid a billion dollars for Twentieth Century Fox and, with Barry Diller, created TV's fourth network, Fox.
In 1986, 82% of American adults watched television daily, and the average household had the television set on for seven hours a day. Sunday was the most popular night for television viewing, and the most popular form of television entertainment was the mini-series, followed by made-for-TV movies. Americans watched an average of 39 minutes of television news daily. By 1985, 68% of all American households (60 million) had cable television service, while 88% of those subscribed to a pay cable service like HBO or Showtime.
Cable wasn't the only culprit in ending the era of network television. New technologies resulted in the videocassette recorder, home video games and remote control devices. According to TV Guide, "the remote control switch revolutionized the way we watched TV in the 80s."
The decade was the golden age for primetime soap operas -- Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and Knots Landing all had their legions of faithful viewers. New life was breathed into the sitcom, with hit series like The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties and the irreverent Married. . .With Children. The animated sitcom The Simpsons debuted in 1989, though Bart Simpson had previously made appearances on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show. Top crime dramas like Magnum P.I. and Hill Street Blues enjoyed long runs in the 80s, while the innovative Miami Vice had a significant impact on television imagery. Programs like thirtysomething and Moonlighting appealed to the yuppie crowd. TV talk shows hosted by the likes of Geraldo Rivera and David Letterman became more provocative and occasionally outrageous.
A comprehensive look at some of the major TV series of the decade.
Television Time Machine
Journey back in time with us to see what people were watching in the Eighties
The A-Z of Television in the '80s
When completed, this will list every primetime TV series aired during the decade,
with network, stars, dates and a brief synopsis.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
A listing of the Top 25 shows for each of the decade's ten seasons.
From ALF to Voltron, a look at the cartoons that made Saturday mornings so great.
Primetime Schedules of the 1980s
A listing of the winners in top categories for 1980 through 1989.