Did you know the ‘70s was a remarkable period in Television History? A decade that came with notable change on the small screen as TVs began to spread. In no time, televisions came to be friends with films. There were quite a lot of people who were getting accustomed to tuning in to see their favorite TV shows. It was a decade laden with great socio-cultural changes: the Vietnam War was prominent, the notable political divide, marginalized groups fighting for equal rights, and many people feeling empowered. The TV was not going to let all that energy slide. So, it did well to birth brilliant TV shows that premiered decades later, receiving inspiration from the happenings of this decade.
The ’70s decade came in with a wide variety of shows that focused on issues like race, equality, politics, etc. Family shows were also not lacking, as productions aimed to satisfy and entertain all. The series came in ways that connected with viewers on several ends as it concerns individuals and categories. This was an impressive decade for television shows, no doubt.
Let us dive right into the top 10 TV shows that graced the ’70s decade!
10. Happy Days (1974-1984)
Beginning this list for the number 10 spot is Happy Days! It is a brilliant TV show that excellently displayed an idealized reality of life from the mid-’50s to the mid-’60s. It tells the story of the Cunningham family, consisting of Howard (the father), Marion (the mother), Richie (the son), and Joanie (the daughter). This family gets through their days as they receive help and guidance from the superhuman greaser Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli.
Interestingly, it started as a feel-good show that simply highlighted the charm and nostalgia of adolescence. Later, it turned out into a boisterous, fun-filled comedy! Happy Days creatively used nostalgia and memory in impressive ways. It was able to form a world that its viewers could easily identify with and characters that they could relate to. For instance, no wonder Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) easily became a household name. This TV show is one that is an important American cultural highlight of the ’70s decade. It has gone further to becoming an exemplary case study as far as TV’s changing nature over the years is concerned. Happy Days has now become a quintessential example of modern comedies that is easy to watch!
9. The Muppet Show (1976-1981)
Number 9 on the list is no other but The Muppet Show! It features a fantastic composition of both the mischievous and the sweet – Jim Henson’s Muppets! The show also includes Kermit the Frog, as well as Miss Piggy. It was a TV series that hosted a weekly variety of famous guests. Also, Gonzo, Fozzie the Bear, and Scooter happen to be the closest analog for a human puppet in this series.
This show is succinctly uproariously funny, adorable, and intelligent! Jim and Jade Henson brilliantly created the Muppet Show, which is arguably their most famous creation. In the space of 5 years, this show was a masterpiece that went on to win four times at the Emmys, three times at the BAFTAs, as well as a Grammy and Peabody Award, amongst others! This TV show grew to be an integral part of modern culture with its very salient messages merged with witty comedy. It will, no doubt, remain one of the most important American comedy-variety shows ever!
8. Barney Miller (1975-1982)
On the number 8 spot on this list, you will find Barney Miller! It is a brilliant American sitcom TV-series that happens to be set in Ney York City Police Department. The story centers on the eponymous character in this TV series, Barney Miller (Hal Linden), a highly dedicated police officer. He is the ‘by-the-book’ officer who sometimes takes his duties way too seriously. Together with his staff, they handle several local troubles. He is the cop anyone would want to run into. Also, he leads the detectives of the city’s 12th precinct!
This TV series was no doubt one of the highlights of the ’70s decades. Barney Miller has won several awards, including the DGA award, Emmy award, Golden Globe Award, and Peabody award. It also has several nominations to its name and ranked in the TV Guide list as one of the best series of all time. With Linden supported by a host of brilliant actors, Abe Vigoda, Ron Glass, Max Gail, and Jack Soo, Barney Miller was able to birth an interesting cop comedy that richly redefined the vigor of this limited genre to a full-blown adroit conclusion!
7. Saturday Night Live (1975-present)
Saturday Night Live comes up as number 7 on this list! This is one brilliant American late-night live TV sketch comedy that combines a variety of shows. The show simply parodies contemporary culture and politics. It has a wide variety of performers that feature a repertory of ever-growing cast members. A guest celebrity hosts, who gives the opening monologues and gets to perform in sketches with the cast, each episode. Meanwhile, musical guests accentuated the episodes with featured performances!
Lorne Michaels birthed SNL while Dick Ebersol developed it. The show premiered on NBC on the 11th of October 1975 and runs to date. This has got to be the largest comedy phenomenon in the history of television shows as it never had disappointed in gifting its audience with ludicrous skits, rip-roaring comic acts, and biting political satire, all of which are live performances! It is the only active show on this list! This show has done well to host famous performers like Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Kate McKinnon, Amy Poehler, to mention but a few. It is no doubt one of the most significant and enduring TV shows in its history! It has also won many notable awards as audiences celebrated it for both its technical and creative output.
6. The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978)
The 6th placed TV show on this list is no other but The Bob Newhart Show! This brilliant TV show centers on Robert “Bob” Hartley, Ph. D. (Newhart). He is a psychologist that comes from Chicago. Most of the events in this TV show happens either in his work life or in his home life. A notable character is no doubt, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), who happens to be his supportive wife who is occasionally sarcastic. There is also their neighbor navigator Howard Borden (Bill Daily), who is an airline navigator. All of which culminates in the professional and personal tale of a psychologist and his family, colleagues, friends, and of course, patients.
Notably, audiences widely consider this show as a game-changer as far as comedy television is concerned. Newhart’s performance was brilliantly quintessential as it made the show come out gloriously in grand style. How he handles the chaos around him made the show capture the hearts of many with its sublime feel. It has gone ahead to win the OFTA TV Hall of Fame, as well as the TV Land Awards, amongst several nominations since it came on screen!
5. Dallas (1978-1991)
Number 5 on this list is Dallas! It is one excellent American prime time TV soap opera! Here, the story revolves around a dysfunctional family in Texas, the Ewings. They own an independent oil company as well as the cattle-ranching land of Southfork. Dallas initially focused on the marriage of Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Pamela (Victoria Principal); whose families are not best of friends. Later, Bobby’s elder brother J.R Ewing became the show’s spotlight individual, as his schemes and dirty business turned out to be the show’s trademark, which made the show a bona fide success!
This show has now become a monumentally important show as far as the annals of TV shows are concerned. It has influenced pop culture, especially in the ‘Who shot J.R.?’ mystery. This show is popular with brilliant cliffhangers at the end of each season, which gifted the show a unique vibe that earned it several viewers tuning in. It will also interest you to know that its 2-hour series final ‘Conundrum,’ has undoubtedly become one of the most viewed series finales in history! Yes, about 33.3 million became the quoted count at the very least! It has won several awards, including the Golden Globes, Primetime Emmy Awards, Bambi Awards, BMI Film & TV Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Soap Opera Digest Awards, TV Land Awards, Young Artist Awards, and several others!
4. The Carol Burnett Show (CBS) (1967-1978)
Number 4 on this list is The Carol Burnett Show (CBS)! This is one TV show that the ’70s decade will never forget. It is an amazingly interesting American TV show that comes with many varieties and sketch-based comedy programs that include a musical comedy, skits, and thrilling vaudeville-style performances by Carol Burnett as well as members of her brilliant comedy troupe and guest stars!
The Carol Burnett Show is very memorable with great skits, especially the movie parodies that make its viewers laugh their lungs out! Practically everyone in the ’70s loves the show and would eagerly identify with it positively. Great music wasn’t in no way lacking, and what’s more, the celebrity guests sure add up to make this TV show a classic series as led by the versatile and gifted Carol Burnett and her talented team (Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner). It has gained several awards, including 25 Emmy Awards and 8 Golden Globes, while at its prime time run. Audiences widely consider this TV show as one of the greatest shows of all time, and in 2007, long after the show had ended, it made its way to Time’s list of the ‘100 Best TV Shows of All Time’!
3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
The second runner up TV show on this list is The Mary Tyler Moore Show! It centers around a young single lady, Mary Richards, as it tells of her life, friends, and trails she meets at home and work. Mary Richards must navigate through life and work as a career-oriented woman while pursuing the struggle romance.
This show came to be one of the rare TV shows in America at the time, which turned out to be an enormous success. It runs through important societal issues like equal pay, premarital sex, homosexuality, divorce, and infidelity, along with a brilliant touch of comedy. It is one of the most awarded TV shows of all time, earning 29 Emmy wins for a plot-based show! This record was unbroken for decades until Frasier did in 2002. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one of the golden highlights of the ’70s decade. It is memorable for its realistic, yet complex storylines and characters compared to simplistic plots and characters in TV shows at the time! Without any doubt, this TV show hitherto stays relevant more than ever.
2. M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
Sitting boldly at the second spot of this list is no other but ‘M*A*S*H’. It is based on the 1968 novel ‘MASH’ by Richard Hooker, which talks about 3 Army Doctors. This TV version went ahead to stand the test of time to become one of the best TV shows in all of TV history! Even though it is a TV show, it encompasses a brilliant story. It centers around a group of army doctors as well as support staff at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea between 1950 and 1953 that housed the Korean War. They find that laughter is the best way to handle their situation!
M*A*S*H is no doubt one of the most salient TV shows of all time due to its ingenious legacy it left behind. It was able to brilliantly blend elements of absurd comedy with potent realistic and hard-hitting drama. Although many comedy dramas have over the years tried to borrow M*A*S*H‘s DNA, but no program can adequately clone it. Plot and character brilliant drove this TV show, earning itself the ability to be versatile enough to gain access to varying narrative mode, from serious to comical even within a single episode!
It happened that the show aired during the Vietnam War. Hence, audiences expected to have comments that supported the government and not appear to be protesting it. The show excellently approached their messages in the guise of comedy and acerbic wit was employed. As a result, it dragged the attention of its audience like no other show ever had! This show was able to brilliantly deliver every haplessly humorous aspect of a time filled with futile war.
The finale was showcased as a TV film with the name “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” It became the most-watched and highest-rated single TV episode in the history of US television at the time! It had a whopping record of 125 million viewers at that time! M*A*S*H has accrued several nominations and multiple notable awards, including the Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Award, Peabody Award, Humanitas Prize, and Writers Guild of America Award!
1. All in the Family (1971-1979)
This 1st placed movie, All in the Family, no doubt deserves all the plaudits it can ever get! This TV show brilliantly focused on Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), who happens to be a blue-collar worker. He broods over his past days when people shared his prejudices with assurance. Nonetheless, his decency is still clear even with his blatant fanaticism. This very show puts him in a situation that adeptly turned over his arguments.
All in the Family runs through vital issues and immensely powerful societal themes like abortion, rape, impotence, miscarriages, religion, racism, breast cancer, antisemitism, women’s liberation, infidelity, menopause, even down to the Vietnam War. As a result, it became one of TV’s most influential comedic programs, which brilliantly housed dramatic moments and realistic, topical conflicts. It is widely and considered in the U.S to be one of the greatest TV series in history, ever.
This show became the first TV series to sit boldly on Nielsen ratings as number 1 for five consecutive years! It also made its way to the list of TV Guide‘s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time and Greatest TV shows of all time. All in the Family is also the 1st of four sitcoms where all lead actors won Emmy Awards (O’Connor, Stapleton, Struthers, and Reiner), with Bravo naming Archie Bunker the best TV character of all time. It has won several awards, including Primetime Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and TCA Heritage Award.
All in the Family paved the way for the inclusion of sitcoms in more dramatic clashes other than ‘easy humor.’ It is not just one of the best TV shows from the ’70s, but it is also one of the best TV shows ever to have graced the screen in history!
The ’70s remains a significant decade for the history of TV shows! Not only did outstanding TV series that became a pacesetter for future decades fill the decade, but it also did well to inscribe its legacy in the sands of time, birthing TV shows that touch salient aspects of life and society that is still very much relevant till today. With the above list, you would agree that the 1970s was one that ushered in later decades of excellence with a bar raised so high that the public would only view brilliant TV shows!
Author: Chris Ingledue
Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!