The 1980s were known for its fashion and music scene, but 80s TV shows were some of the best we feel ever made as well. In fact many of the best shows of the decade still continue to be beloved and watched even till this day, some 40 years later!
The 1980s is often revered as being the golden age of television. Before the onset of the internet, television was the most favored choice of home entertainment for many families in the US. From family sitcoms to dramas, crime shows, and sci-fi genres, the 80s saw some of the best TV shows to have ever created, as well as some of the most award-winning in TV history.
80s TV Shows
Any time you make a list when it comes to the “best of the decade” it’s always tough to narrow things down in a concise list. Afterall, there were literally thousands we could choose from when it came to the TV shows of the glorious 1980s.
We tried to compile a list that was “Quintessential 80s” meaning they had their strong showings within the 1980s itself. There were many shows that got their start towards the tail-end of the 1980s like The Wonder Years for example, but didn’t really hit their stride until the 1990s, so we left those out.
So what do we believe were the best 80s tv shows? Here’s our picks:
1. Cheers (1982 -1993)
Often considered to be the best TV show of the 80s, Cheers is about a group of friends who drink and work at a local bar. Considered to be their “third home” apart from work and home, Cheers (the bar) served as the perfect place for the Boston bar regulars to share their lives and experiences in a place “where everybody knows your name.”
The show ran for 11 seasons and won a total of 28 Primetime Emmys while launching the Hollywood careers of its stars Woody Harrelson, Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhe Perlman, Kristie Alley, and Kelsey Grammer (who starred in the spinoff, Frasier).
2. The Golden Girls (1985-1992)
A fan favorite for many till this day, The Golden Girls was about four women who had previously been married, deciding to live together in one house in Miami. The show was unprecedented at the time because there was nothing fancy about the show despite being made in the decade known for its decadence and extravagance.
Despite this, the show became a cult classic with a large following and changed the way society viewed women of “a certain age.” The clashing personalities provided instant comic relief and humor to the show, making it a beloved comedy that won a total of 11 Primetime Emmys, with each of the four main characters winning an Emmy at some point.
Starring Betty White, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan, The Golden Girls is considered to be one of the most iconic 1980s TV shows.
3. Dynasty (1981-1989)
On the other end of the spectrum is Dynasty, a soap opera that focused on the trials and tribulations of two rich rival families in Denver, Colorado. Starring Linda Evans, Joan Collins, and John Forsythe, among many others within its 8-year run, the show featured the decade’s boldest fashions, makeup, and trends. Almost every list of the best soap operas of the 1980s has the show at or near the top!
Every star on the show was good-looking and well-dressed, and people loved seeing these beautiful people fight each other in their most luxurious garbs. The styles and fashions of the show was a major theme, spearheading a couture collection by its costume designer, Nolan Miller, who named it, “The Dynasty Collection.”
Dynasty remains to be a cult classic today, with the show credited for making big shoulder pads and power suits fashionable in the 80s and beyond.
4. Family Ties (1982-1989)
Considered to be the best family sitcom of the 80s, Family Ties was a regular fixture in every family’s home every Sunday night. It was the TV show that launched Michael J. Fox’s career, leading him to star in the Back To The Future movies. Having won 5 Primetime Emmys, the show was a cult classic because it showed the perfect dynamics of a family in the 80s.
The show revolved around the lives of parents Steven and Elyse Keaton, who were ex-hippies, and their children, particularly Alex (played by Fox), who was a conservative. Funny and heartwarming, the show set the golden standard for family sitcoms that followed.
5. Miami Vice (1984 -1989)
Action, crime, drama, and fashion, Miami Vice was a stylish take on a crime drama. The show featured two undercover cops in the streets of Miami, combatting prostitution and drug trafficking while wearing stylish Miami Vice suits along with the hottest 80s trends. The show was the first of its kind in making police work cool and sexy, and it doesn’t hurt that the show was the first to use pop music in its musical score.
Offering fashion, crime, and music, Miami Vice was the best example of new wave culture applied on the small screen.
6. MacGyver (1985-1992)
MacGyver sparked the ingenuity and resourcefulness of every one of its viewers in the 80s. Offering action, drama, and adventure in one show, it was the survival-themed show that preceded all survivor shows in the next decades.
MacGyver was played by Richard Dean Anderson, a secret agent who could make his way out of any sticky situation he was in, using whatever he could find around him. These included paper clips, rubber bands, batteries, and of course, his ever-reliable Swiss Army knife. Because of the show, everyone who watched it wanted to buy a Swiss Army knife or two, in the hopes of following MacGyver’s scientific resourcefulness should they encounter similar situations.
Having been nominated for 4 Primetime Emmys, the name MacGyver is not just associated with the show, but it became a term used to associate finding solutions to problems when you have almost nothing to work with.
7. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Star Trek: The Next Generation was the third series in the Star Trek franchise but it was the most watched and most successful. Having run for 7 seasons, the show won 18 Primetime Emmys and is considered to be the most successful of all the Star Trek franchises. A total of 4 Star Trek movies were made using the cast of the series, and in 2021, Empire Magazine dubbed it as the 17th greatest TV show of all time.
Starring Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner among many other stars, it is revered for being the best sci-fi TV show of the 80s. We also feel that it is the best Star Trek franchise when compared to all others to date.
Final Thoughts On 80s TV Shows
There were so many TV shows from the 80s that have changed the way people in the US watch TV, that many of the shows during that decade lasted for many seasons, with stars being the most successful and celebrated in Hollywood. The golden age of TV made its mark on society, creating lasting changes forever engrained in its viewer’s lives.
The 1980s may have come and gone, but the TV shows of that era are timeless classics. It was a time when shows relied on great acting and storylines, and not the gimmicky stunts that too often pervade TV shows of today.
The 1980s was really the heyday of TV sitcoms, and this great tradition would carry on into the 1990s before the introduction of “Reality TV” that changed the landscape forever (for the worst).
So hopefully this list helped take you down memory lane for a bit, and maybe even consider firing up some old episodes if you can find them. Did your favorite 80s TV show make the cut?