1980's Television

Television 1980's.mp4

1980's Television

The 1980's was all about television and self expression.  Television was coming into its own with the passage of the 1984 Cable Act which allowed for more TV networks to launch and through the decade over 70 new networks launch that focus on niche markets.  The birth of the first 24-hour news station was launched with CNN, music lovers were sucked into a world of music videos with the creation of MTV and sports programming became an all day affair with ESPN launching in 1979 and going 24-hours in 1980.

The big three NBC, CBS and ABC had to create new compelling content to draw in viewers that had more options and more diverse programming.   Shows like COPS that followed police in real life situations emerge and game shows start to expand to include families, children and potential mates.

At the same time sitcoms had reached the beginning of their "golden age" with family based shows for families to watch together.  Shows like Family Matters, Full House and The Cosby Show tackled real issues facing families and provided comedic relief to the daily grind.

By the end of the 1980's, there was no turning back, television was at the center of American Pop Culture.


Task 1: Watch the Introductory Video to this Unit (5 minutes)

Task 2: Review the provided videos and attached links for Television during the 1980's (15 minutes)

Task 3: Exploring Movies in the 1980’s (30 minutes) 

Just as television was seeing an expansion of niche programming, the same phenomenon was occurring within the movie industry. You see a growth of targeted audience films that speak to or highlights the changing trends and focus of the nation and blockbuster films that reinforces current values.  

Films like:

Many movies do not speak directly to the times, but rather the things that are important or of interest to Americans.  As you select your movie make sure it represents the times in some way and was well known enough that it is easily recognizable.

Your research should include:

Task 4: Submit your work on GOOGLE CLASSROOM


As NBC, ABC and CBS's share of the television audience was steadily encroached upon by cable in the 1980s, network television responded in several ways. At first, NBC followed the most effective strategy, introducing a diverse schedule of programs that attempted to retain their hold on the undifferentiated mass audience while also developing their own targeted audiences in the cable model. A handful of such old-fashioned action-adventure shows as The A-Team (1983–87), Riptide (1984–86), and Knight Rider (1982–86), the latter of which featured a talking car that fought crime, helped ease NBC out of third place in the first half of the decade. (https://www.britannica.com/art/television-in-the-United-States/CNN )

L.A. Law

Original Release September 15, 1986 – May 19, 1994 

No. of Seasons 8

No. of Episodes 172

Stars Harry Hamlin, Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michele Greene, Jimmy Smits, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan, Richard Dysart, Susan Dey, Blair Underwood

Network NBC

"This popular television drama depicted life in a large Los Angeles law firm. The plots were strongly character-based and dealt with the personal lives and professional activities of the partners, associates, and staff. Scenes centered around the courtroom and the law offices. Often, an episode would open with a surprising twist, which would then be played out during the rest of the show. " - IMDB

Miami Vice

Original Release September 16, 1984 – January 25, 1990

No. of Seasons 5

No. of Episodes 113

Stars Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago, Michael Talbott, John Diehl, Olivia Brown, Gregory Sierra, Edward James Olmos

Network NBC

"Resplendent with authentic 1980s music, fashion, and vibe, "Miami Vice" follows two undercover detectives and their extended team through the mean streets of Miami, Florida. " - IMDB

Knight Rider

Original Release September 26, 1982 – April 4, 1986 

No. of Seasons 4

No. of Episodes 90

Stars David Hasselhoff, Edward Mulhare, Patricia McPherson, Rebecca Holden, Peter Parros

Network NBC

"A lone crimefighter battles the forces of evil with the help of a virtually indestructible and artificially intelligent supercar." - IMDB

Game Shows and Reality TV

In the 1980s, game shows suddenly became more physical. People doodled on Win, Lose or Draw. Kids slithered through giant PB&J sandwiches on Double Dare. Contestants smashed buttons on Press Your Luck. The Price Is Right introduced Plinko. (https://www.metv.com/lists/7-strange-short-lived-game-shows-of-the-1980s )

As we progress through time, the more creative we get with the types and genres of shows we watch.  A new fad came into American pop culture known as reality based television.  Reality TV is typically defined as, non-fictional programming in which portrayal is presumed to present current, historical events or circumstances.  The production itself must be a realistic account.  Generally included in this category is...real world events, police or emergency worker drama, and live quiz shows.   (https://oregonstate.edu/instruct/soc499/cordray/media/Realitytv.html )

Double Dare

Original Release April 10 – May 22, 1985

No. of Seasons 1

No. of Episodes 8

Stars Mark Summers

Network CBS

"Two teams of two children, ages 9 through 13, competed in this classic kiddie game show of questions and physical challenges. At the beginning of each show, the two teams competed in a physical challenge. The winner of the physical challenge would gain control of the first round questions. Host Summers asked the question, to which the team could answer for $10 or "dare" (i.e., challenge) the opposing team to answer for $20. However, the opponents could "double dare" (challenge back) the original team to answer; the original team could then answer for $40 or complete a "physical challenge," an often messy stunt that had to be completed within 10, 15, 20, or 30 seconds. Completing the physical challenge was worth $20; however, losing the physical challenge meant the other team got the money and control of the questions. The team with the most money after two rounds won and advanced to the Double Dare Obstacle Course, a series of eight often very messy obstacles the team had to clear within 60 seconds to win a grand prize. Each team member alternated duties, but each time, the object was to retrieve a flag and hand it to his/her partner. Each flag was worth a prize, and if the team retrieved all eight flags, they won a grand prize (usually a trip). " - IMDB

*Several other variations of this game soon followed including Family Double Dare where kids and their parents competed in similar games, challenges and questions.

American Gladiators

Original Release September 9, 1989 – May 11, 1996 

No. of Seasons 7

No. of Episodes 208

Stars Jim Starr (Laser), Deron McBee (Malibu), Marisa Pare (Lace), Raye Hollitt (Zap), Myke Horton (Gemini), Dan Clark (Nitro), Cheryl Baldinger (Sunny), Ritch Finnegan (Bronco), David Nelson (Titan)

Network Syndicated

"A competition in which two men and two women compete against each other and a roster of "American Gladiators". Events include, The Assault, Joust, The Wall, Breakthrough and Conquer, Hang Tough, Powerball, and many others, all culminating in the final event, "The Eliminator", a difficult obstacle course race. Every season there is a tournament to determine its "Grand Champion"." - IMDB

American Gladiators Television Premiere 

(Full Episode)


Original Release March 11, 1989 – Present 

No. of Seasons 34 (and counting)

No. of Episodes 1,164+ (and counting)

Opening Theme Song "Bad Boys" by Inner Circle

Network FOX

"Follows real-life law enforcement officers from various regions and departments of the US armed with nothing but with cameras to capture their actions. "  - IMDB

Mr. Gerhardt in the 1990's


There was a certain vibe that reverberated through the comedies of the 1980s. The gritty, biting comedic satire that defined the 1970s was out (for the most part) and wholesome ensemble comedies were in. Sitcoms had a certain lightness to them. Even the darker moments were couched in a kind of ABC After school Special lesson. The laughs and the tears were tempered with a can-do attitude and dressed in shoulder pads and, occasionally, dayglo.

NBC began its reign as the undisputed king of prime time comedy during this decade with list of long-running shows and name stars that made other networks jealous. They spawned the careers of quite a few budding actors and breathed new life into a others. From muppet-like aliens to old friends in the twilight of their lives, NBC seemed to hold every demographic and this is a list of the best of what they had to offer.  (https://www.houstonpress.com/arts/10-best-nbc-sitcoms-of-the-1980s-6381506 )

Full House

Original Release September 22, 1987 – May 23, 1995 

No. of Seasons 8

No. of Episodes 192

Stars John Stamos, Bob Saget, Dave Coulier, Candace Cameron, Jodie Sweetin, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Lori Loughlin, Andrea Barber, Scott Weinger

Network ABC

"This is a story about sportscaster turned morning talk show host Danny Tanner and his daughters, D.J. (Donna Jo), Stephanie, and Michelle. Before the show begins, his wife, Pam, is killed by a drunk driver, so he needs help raising his daughters. He asks his rock musician brother-in-law, Jesse Katsopolis, and comedian best friend, Joey Gladstone, to move in with them for that. As the show goes on, Jesse marries Danny's talk-show cohost, Rebecca Donaldson, and they have twin sons named Nicky and Alex."  - IMDB

The Cosby Show

Original Release September 20, 1984 – April 30, 1992 

No. of Seasons 8

No. of Episodes 201

Stars Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Sabrina Le Beauf, Geoffrey Owens, Lisa Bonet, Joseph C. Phillips, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Raven-Symoné, Erika Alexander

Network NBC

""The Cosby Show" centers on the lives of the Huxtables: obstetrician Cliff and his lawyer wife Claire, their daughters Sondra, Denise, Vanessa and Rudy, and son Theo. Based on the standup comedy of Bill Cosby, the show focused on his observations of family life. Although based on comedy, the series also addresses some more serious topics, such as learning disabilities and teen pregnancy " - IMDB

Family Matters

Original Release September 22, 1989 – July 17, 1998 

No. of Seasons 9

No. of Episodes 215

Stars Reginald VelJohnson, Jo Marie Payton, Rosetta LeNoire, Darius McCrary, Kellie Shanygne Williams, Valerie Jones, Joseph and Julius Wright, Bryton McClure, Jaleel White, Shawn Harrison, Michelle Thomas, Orlando Brown, Judyann Elder

Network ABC, CBS

"The Winslow family deals with various misadventures, many of them caused by their pesky next-door neighbor, ultra-nerd Steve Urkel. " - IMDB


One of the biggest influences on 1980s TV animation was Ronald Reagan. As president, Reagan’s aggressive deregulation stance upon taking office in 1981 also extended to his FCC. 

Mark Fowler (Reagan’s FCC commissioner) felt that rules regulating advertising on children’s TV weren’t necessary, as the free market should be free to determine programming choices. Thus, it’s little surprise to anyone said market “determined” shows based on toy line were ideal.

The 1981-82 TV season didn’t see any reflection of these deregulation rules. Despite being the early 1980s, its lineup still reflected what was in vogue in TV animation the late 1970s, aside from the debut of that season’s biggest hit, “The Smurfs”. However, the debut of “Pac-Man” in 1982 plus some shows in syndication was the start of the trend of shows based on toys and other product lines.

The most famous of these toy-based shows were “He-Man,” “Transformers,” and “GI Joe,” all airing in syndication on weekday afternoons. “He-Man” was probably the main cartoon that kicked off the toy-based show craze, debuting in 1983 (as did “GI Joe”). It was popular enough to see a live-action film, as well as a spin-off, “She-Ra”. (https://www.diversetechgeek.com/2018/07/20/influences-trends-1980s-tv-animation/ )

The Simpsons

Original Release December 17, 1989 – Present 

No. of Seasons 34 (and counting)

No. of Episodes 750+ (and counting)

Stars Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer

Network FOX

"This is an animated sitcom about the antics of a dysfunctional family. Homer is the oafish unhealthy beer loving father, Marge is the hardworking homemaker wife, Bart is the perpetual ten-year-old underachiever (and proud of it), Lisa is the unappreciated eight-year-old genius, and Maggie is the cute, pacifier loving silent infant."  - IMDB

Care Bears

Original Release September 14 – November 23, 1985 

No. of Seasons 1

No. of Episodes 11

Stars Billie Mae Richards, Jayne Eastwood, Janet Laine-Green, Luba Goy, Eva Almos, Melleny Brown, Dan Hennessey, Pauline Rennie, Patrice Black, Laurie Waller Benson, Bob Dermer, Marla Lukofsky

Network Syndication

"The Care Bears live in a faraway place up in the clouds called Care-a-Lot. They travel around the world on Missions in Caring, whilst evil villains such as Lord No Heart, try to thwart their plans. " - IMDB

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) Intro.mp4

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Original Release December 14, 1987 – November 2, 1996

No. of Seasons 10

No. of Episodes 193

Stars Cam Clarke, Barry Gordon, Rob Paulsen, Townsend Coleman, Peter Renaday, Renae Jacobs, James Avery, Pat Fraley, Jennifer Darling, Tony Jay

Network Syndication, CBS

"This show tells the adventures of four turtles who were transformed into humanoids by a strange ooze and were trained as ninja by a human martial arts master, Hamato Yoshi, who was changed into a humanoid rat, Splinter, by the same substance. Together with the intrepid reporter, April O'Neil, they fight against the threats against the world, like Shredder and Krang "  - IMDB

Talk Shows

In the 1980s, soap operas ruled the airways. But a shift occurred late in the decade — when everyone started noticing that talk shows hosted by Phil Donahue and Geraldo Rivera were becoming more and more deliciously controversial (anything to drag eyeballs away from the marital affairs and amnesia plot lines of soaps). With sensational story topics like midget-tossing, paternity suits, Neo-Nazi nonsense, brawling transvestites, and grisly murders, several talk shows followed their lead. Enter “Trash TV,” which featured the likes of Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake, Maury Povich, and Jerry Springer.  (http://www.vh1.com/news/88786/outrageous-daytime-talk-show-moments/ )

The Oprah Winfrey Show

Original Release September 8, 1986 – May 25, 2011

No. of Seasons 25

No. of Episodes 4,561

Stars Oprah Winfrey

Network Syndication

"Chicago-based daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey invites a guest panel to discuss a topic, in front of a studio audience. The topics are often controversial or sensational. " - IMDB

The Sally Jesse Raphael Show

Original Release October 17, 1983 – May 24, 2002 

No. of Seasons 19

No. of Episodes 3,820

Stars Sally Jessy Raphael

Network Syndication

"A long-running talk show with a host of the same name. This show was one of the first challengers to Phil Donahue's undisputed rule over the daytime talk world. Raphael's subjects were often more sensational, and were often aimed more at titilation, rather than information. As time went on and shock TV became more popular, Raphael's show thrived while Donahue's faded " - IMDB

The Late Show with David Letterman

Original Release February 1, 1982 – June 25, 1993  

/ August 30, 1993 – May 20, 2015 

No. of Seasons 11 / 23 (34 total)

No. of Episodes 1,819 / 4,261 (6,080 total)

Stars David Letterman, Paul Shaffer

Network NBC / CBS

"The Late Show with David Letterman is an hour-long weeknight comedy and talk-show broadcast by CBS from the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in New York City. " - IMDB

Premiere of The Late Show with David Letterman that aired on NBC from 1993 - 2015

Niche Networks

The 1984 Cable Act established a more favorable regulatory framework for the industry, stimulating investment in cable plant and programming on an unprecedented level.

Deregulation provided by the 1984 Act had a strong positive effect on the rapid growth of cable services. From 1984 through 1992, the industry spent more than $15 billion on the wiring of America, and billions more on program development. This was the largest private construction project since World War II.

Satellite delivery, combined with the federal government’s relaxation of cable’s restrictive regulatory structure, allowed the cable industry to become a major force in providing high quality video entertainment and information to consumers. By the end of the decade, nearly 53 million households subscribed to cable, and cable program networks had increased from 28 in 1980 to 79 by 1989. Some of this growth, however, was accompanied by rising prices for consumers, incurring growing concern among policy makers. (https://calcable.org/learn/history-of-cable/ )

MTV Debut 8-1-81 Opening and 1st Video.mp4


 In 1981, MTV: Music Television goes on the air for the first time ever, with the words (spoken by one of MTV’s creators, John Lack): “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video to air on the new cable television channel, which initially was available only to households in parts of New Jersey. MTV went on to revolutionize the music industry and become an influential source of pop culture and entertainment in the United States and other parts of the world, including Europe, Asia and Latin America, which all have MTV-branded channels.

In MTV’s early days, its programming consisted of basic music videos that were introduced by VJs (video jockeys) and provided for free by record companies. As the record industry recognized MTV’s value as a promotional vehicle, money was invested in making creative, cutting-edge videos. Some directors, including Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Three Kings) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), worked on music videos before segueing into feature films. In the 1980s, MTV was instrumental in promoting the careers of performers such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince and Duran Duran, whose videos played in heavy rotation. (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mtv-launches )


On June 1, 1980, CNN (Cable News Network), the world’s first 24-hour television news network, makes its debut. The network signed on from its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with a lead story about the attempted assassination of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. 

CNN went on to change the notion that news could only be reported at fixed times throughout the day. At the time of CNN’s launch, TV news was dominated by three major networks–ABC, CBS and NBC–and their nightly 30-minute broadcasts. Initially available in less than two million U.S. homes, today CNN is seen in more than 90 million American households and over 160 million homes internationally. (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/cnn-launches )


By the end of 1983 ESPN was cable's largest network, with a reach of 28.5 million households. In January 1984 ABC, Inc. bought a 15 percent stake in the company, then acquired control of the company six months later. The acquisition of ESPN by ABC put the sports network on firmer financial footing and provided a foundation for its phenomenal growth in the coming years.

When college football on television was deregulated through a court decision in 1984, ESPN began broadcasting Thursday and Saturday night games. These college football broadcasts helped improve the image of ESPN's audience with advertisers, who began noticing upscale demographics among ESPN's viewers. When ESPN announced it would cover the 1986-87 America's Cup competition, advertisers quickly bought up all of the advertising time for the network's 70 hours of coverage of yachting's premiere event. (http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/espn-inc-history/ )