Welcome back to part two of the best shows of the 1980s! Join us as we continue to reminisce about the era that jumpstarted the careers of many now-familiar actors. Groundbreaking in their subject matter and style, these are our favorite shows of the 1980s.
Cagney & Lacey
Although the ’80s was the golden era of the comedic sitcom, Cagney & Lacey sought to push boundaries with its gritty crime-solving subject matter. Unique, even by today’s standards, was the decision to create a crime-solving drama starring two lead female characters. Actors Tyne Daly (Mary Beth Lacey) and Sharon Gless (Christine Cagney) truly gave it their all, both repeatedly trading off the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series from 1983 through 1986.
Trivia Tidbit: The character Lieutenant Albert Samuels was played by actor Al Waxman, whose full birth name is coincidentally Albert Samuel Waxman.
Kick starting the career of a young Michael J. Fox, Family Ties displayed a family dynamic unique to the 1980s: liberal, hippie parents with a son swept up in the trendy conservatism of the Reagan era. Stuck in the middle were daughters Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer Keaton (Tina Yothers). With light drama and constant punch lines, this show delivered generally warm and feel-good messages.
Trivia Tidbit: Michael J. Fox almost didn’t get the role of Alex P. Keaton because a producer for the show didn’t believe that parent actors Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross would have a son that short.
The Golden Girls
Yet another sitcom boasting a unique premise different from the norms then and now is The Golden Girls. Revolving around the rapport of four previously married women who live together in Miami, The Golden Girls gave a voice to a generation of women that many Hollywood studios have ignored. They couldn’t have been more wrong as this dynamite cast never failed to entertain with their witty irreverence and biting humor, always delivered with unflinching deadpan authenticity.
Trivia Tidbit: Although Bea Arthur (Dorothy Zbornak) is known to hate cheesecake, the characters of The Golden Girls ate more than 100 cheesecakes during the show’s seven years of filming. Perhaps that’s enough to turn anyone off from this culinary treat!
One of the most flashy and stylish shows of the 1980s, Miami Vice followed the adventures of undercover detectives James Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Besides fighting crime, both detectives (especially Crockett) were on a nearly equally important quest to find beautiful women. The show was steeped in all things ’80s, from an ever-present trendy pop hard rock soundtrack to their patented Miami-centric threads with bright neon colors and rolled suit-sleeves.
Trivia Tidbit: The show was known for featuring many guest actors, which once included musician Frank Zappa.
The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years set itself apart early on by presenting a much more cinematic approach. Whereas it was common to film sitcoms in front of live studio audiences, often with canned laughter, The Wonder Years was filmed in multiple locations and featured an ever-present monologue narration from an adult version (Daniel Stern) of the show’s main character, Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage). Accurately exemplifying many awkward junior high and high school situations, audiences found the show to be relatable and nostalgic. The show also didn’t stray away from the social and political issues occurring during its setting of the 1960s-1970s. All in all, The Wonder Years leaned harder into drama territory than many of its contemporaries, but as a result, had a much more lasting impact on inspiring television shows of the 1990s.
Trivia Tidbit: In an effort to help Fred Savage react to the voiceover narration, the studio provided an on-set narrator to read aloud the voiceover lines.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of favorite television shows of the 1980s. Did we forget one of your favorites? We’d love to hear about your memories from this bygone era on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to check out part 1 of the best TV shows of the 1980s to see our complete list!