TV in the 1980sArticle by Claire Cappelle, Anna Furman, and Parker Maimbourg
The 1980's was a much more conservative era than the past, therefore more shows were generated to be family friendly and taught strong morals. In addition, with the implementation of technology, the structure of TV grew to new heights, and included Cable TV, as well as 24-hour news.
Sitcoms were a central theme in the 1980's. They usually depicted life during the era and had reflections of many different races and social classes. Sitcoms were often enjoyed and many people loved to watch them. In addition, many values were reflected in these sitcoms. In addition, manyof these sitcoms dealt with taboo subjects not talked about on TV before. These sitcoms were in the form of comedies in which most families were able to watch together, and went together with the conservative fashion of the 80's.
M*A*S*H (1972-1983)external image c.gif
Promotional Poster for M*A*S*H
Promotional Poster for M*A*S*H

Out of the movie of the same name came the TV series, M*A*S*H, a comedy about doctors coping in the Korean War, usually displaying anarchic behaviors. Being one of the first shows to do so, it dealt with homosexuality and included a very anti-war tone.
The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
Of the several spin-offs of All in the Family, The Jeffersons was the most successful, even lasting longer that its parent series. In fact, The Jeffersons is the longest-running show that features an African-American family. From their series home, George and Louise moved up to a deluxe apartment in the sky and went into the middle-class society. The chemistry and comedy of George and Louise were a great factor in what made the show so successful. Particularly George was the person whom many watched for humor because of this extreme arrogance and over-the-top persona. Throughout the series, they had several friends. One of these friends were Tom and Helen, who were the first interracial couple to be shown on TV. Another one of their friends was Bentley, an Englishman. Topics on the show included race and social issues. Unfortunately, the series did not get a true series finale, and was ended before the cast members knew that it would be cancelled.
The Facts of Life (August 1979-September 1988)
The Facts of Life was a series that centered on five girls of whom lived at a boarding school. The show dealt with many adolescent issues such as being homesick, divorce, death, puberty, adolescence, and cerebral palsy. The series was the highest rated in NBC's history.
Cheers (September 30, 1982-1993)
Cheers was a comedy about a man who was a recovering alcoholic and former football coach whom owned a restaurant called Cheers in Boston. This series was one of the highest rated television shows in history, known for its intelligent humor and way of not talking down to the audience. In addition, it was one of the first shows with a main chemistry between the characters and that centered on relationships. In fact, many fans enjoyed the relationships between Sam and Diane and Sam and Rebecca, which helped boost ratings even more. In 1990, Cheers was the top rated TV series and by then had generated a large cult of enthusiastic fans. After 11 years, the cast had decided the series would end there, and featured a 90-minute finale, which brought in a total of 40 million viewers.
Family Ties (1982-1989)
This show has become one of the staples of the 80's that many people can reminisce on. Parents who were counterculture liberal hippies and had children had finally settled down to a suburb and had a total of three children. During its run, the show talked about sex, drugs, teen pregnancy, racism, and abuse. Michael J. Fox had become the star of the show and went on to produce many more movies.
The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
The cast of The Cosby Show
The cast of The Cosby Show

Around the mid-1980's, many people were starting to get sick of sitcoms. However, The Cosby Show affirmed that there are still quality sitcoms being produced. This show was also one of the last where the whole family could sit town and watch the series together. Instead of portraying African-Americans as extreme characters in the past, this show became the realistic view of the Black upper middle-class. The parents raised their children in a positive environment instead of always hearing negative putdowns. This show helped Bill Cosby, a comedian, to be known around the world. Within the series was the father, a doctor, the mother, a lawyer, and their three children. This show proved to be popular beyond everyone's expectations. In fact, the series had surpassed ratings by beating Magnum P.I., a highly popular show at the time. However, some criticism arose when some experts stated that the children were being too civilized. They thought that this did not portray where and how most blacks lived. Around the end of the decade, ratings began to decline as a result of new shows emerging such as Roseanne, The Simpsons, and Married...With Children.
The Golden Girls (1985-1992)
A show emerged about four elderly women living together in Miami. One was a teacher, another was a widow, the third was a Sicilian woman, and the fourth was a promiscuous woman who dated several men. However, there were always conflicts and disputes in the household. This show was very successful, seeing that all of the actresses won Emmy's during the show's run, had won the Emmy for "Outstanding Comedy Series" for two years in a row, and received several Golden Globes.
Married...With Children (1987-1997)
A show emerged that was very controversial included a cliché white family, the husband being a shoe salesman and the wife constantly spending his money. The household was dysfunctional and had a sexually promiscuous daughter and another child, both who had seemed to lose their way. In addition, the husband always was trying to get him and his family to a better place, but he'd always find himself back to where he started.
Full House (1987-1995)
The Cast of the Second Season of Full House
The Cast of the Second Season of Full House

Full House was a series about a single dad of whom was a widower raising his three children, D.J., Stephanie, and Michelle. He also received help from his brother-in-law, Jesse, and best friend Joey. As the series progressed, Jesse met Rebecca, who was Danny's co-star and they became married, and they had children. The use of children in the show helped make Full House very popular. In fact, most of the main plots revolved around the children and their issues growing up. This show in particular started Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's career, and much of this reason was because their character Michelle, became the most popular character on the show. During its run, various pieces of merchandise were sold, including books and dolls. The series ended when the inflation rose for the show and the cost to produce the show became too high.
Roseanne (1988-1997)
Roseanne was one of the first shows about a white lower-class family trying to make life better for themselves. The show specifically catered to women who worked, but felt that their work was not being received as well as they would like. However, as the economy soon picked up from the recession, the show lost its focus and began to lean more toward middle-class Americans. Roseanne was a striving low-class worker, along with her husband Dan, who was a contractor. This show also featured jokes about women's husbands and their kids. Taboo subjects such as homosexuality, teenage sex, and the recession were also addressed. Roseanne and Dan had three kids: an eldest boy-crazy girl, a tomboy, and a boy who was known to be strange. The show became so popular that Roseanne was on The Tonight Show and The Johnny Carson Show. In real life, Roseanne was very loud and obnoxious, even going so far as to firing a producer because he did not let her do something that she wanted. Even still, Roseanne lost its roots and ratings declined in the late 1990's.
The Wonder Years (1988-1993)

This series was set back in the late 60's-early 70's featuring adolescents growing up and its challenges. The show was well known for its no nonsense plot and no exaggeration was used. Throughout its run, this series won four Emmys.

Many drama shows were proven to be successful by their fan bases. Although not popular at first, they became to be almost like cult shows to many, eagerly waiting for the next episode to air.
Dallas (1978-1991)
The cast of the television series, Dallas.
The cast of the television series, Dallas.

Dallas was an extremely popular soap opera that had a total of over 300 episodes. This show was a phenomenon and had many strong morals and included many guest stars. Also, Mr. Nasty was voted TV's greatest villain of all time. The show caused great cynicism among people, however.
The Hill Street Blues (January 1981-1987)
This series was the introduction of how many people made police dramas more interesting. This helped because there were other shorelines going on other than the main plot. The characters were also very realistic and all of the characters had their own storyline at some point in the series. Drama and dry-humor was used, and The Hill Street Blues was the first show to use a hand-held camera. The series featured 13 cast members across many ethnicities. As a result, views felt as if they were in the show itself and were experiencing similar things. Out of this show came Frank and Joyce, who were a well-known couple and added tension to the show. However, the most famous character was Sgt. Phil for his optimism and peacemaking personality.

Breaking Down Barriers
Many of the sitcoms that aired on television during the 80's helped to eliminate stereotypes or ease tensions. For example, in the series The Golden Girls displayed the issues about senior citizens while using that in a humorous fashion, while still respecting the dignity of senior citizens. Also, The Cosby Show helped to eliminate many stereotypes of African-Americans. For instance, the Cosby's lived in an affluent neighborhood and emphasized positive, optimistic, and family values, unlike other series at the time that portrayed racial violence, crime, insensitive jokes, and dysfunctional households. The Cosby Show truly displayed that minorities lived in all types of neighborhoods, and did not have to be in low socio-economic situations. Today, racial stereotypes are not seen on most shows, as now most people are respectful of different ethnicities, races, ages, and backgrounds. This is partly because of the more conservative shift in television series of the eighties with more series being themed on family values and morality.


MTV was launched on August 1, 1981 in New York City. The MTV stands for "Music Television" as the original layout of the station was to play music and music videos. It was the first station to show music videos on a 24 hour cycle. Slogans such as "I want my MTV" stuck in the minds of the public, as they were drawn to their television screens. MTV revolutionized the music world by providing artists with more creative outlets to reach their full creative potential. The artists that were show on MTV set music trends worldwide, as well as fashion trends.
MTV's slogan: "I want my MTV"
MTV's slogan: "I want my MTV"

At midnight on August 1, 1981, MTV launched. The first music video they played for for Bugles, "Video Killed The Radio Star" which we now see today as ironic. The channel launched the first 24 hour cycle of purely music videos. MTV played the role of a top 40 radio station, playing the top 40 songs in rotation around the clock. A "video DJ" would appear between music videos supplying the song name as well as trivia about the band or the music world. As the years passed, MTV started to move away from music videos, and create its own shows of different variety, such as: news shows, extreme sports, investigative documentaries, real life situations, and cartoons. In 1985, the twin station of MTV, VH1 was launched. VH1 drew the crowds of adults that strayed away from MTV. VH1 played more "adult-contemporary" music.

MTV started just showing music videos, but moved away from music and started to develop shows of their own. One of their more famous cartoons was Beavis and Butt-Head, a show about two rebellious teenagers that was described as vulgar and a bad influence. After receiving low ratings in the mid 1990's, MTV decided to go back to its roots as a music station. In the station's beginnings, the music videos they showed were crudely made and could pass as home videos, but as the years went on the quality of the videos skyrocketed. In 1996, MTV2 was launched to give light to more lesser known artists, giving their videos a chance to be shown also.


Many of today's famous artists got their start on 80's MTV. One of the more famous people are: Madonna, Michael Jackson, George Michael, and the B-52's. Madonna is known as a sex icon, one of the outcomes of having her flashy and crude music videos. Michael Jackson was renowned with fame when he released his music video for "Thriller" on MTV.

MTV's primitive advertising
MTV's primitive advertising
The impact MTV had on adolescents was a big one. The music videos focused on a more vulgar and violent nature of the world which kids loved but adults hated. Kids were more in tune to the current style, technology and music than they ever were before. Kids spent more time indoors watching MTV than they did outside, which could be considered a negative impact of the television station. MTV is said to be responsible for the popularity of rap and hip-hop music

Many critics argued that MTV idolized visual appearance as opposed to the actual music content. With bright colors and weird outfits, the audience focused more on the video than the song.

News Channels

In the beginning of 1980, there were three major news networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. However, in the '80s, the previously dominant "big three" news channels were challenged by cable TV providers and new networks such as FOX news and TBS. Cable news networks started out slow, but soon gained an advantage, as their subsribers' fees made them less dependent on ratings.

The big three news channels each spent over one hundred million dollars annually to create a thirty minute news show every evening. In 1979, Ted Turner, the founder of Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), announced his idea of creating a 24-hour news network on less than half their budget. His idea received much ridicule from mainstream media. Still, Turner founded the first 24-hour cable news network (CNN) in 1980 as an alternative to ABC, NBC and CBS.
CNN goes on air June 1, 1980

From the beginning, CNN was a different news network. Unlike the pre-existing news programs, CNN treated the news as the star instead of the anchor. In fact, anchors were less attractive than those of the opposing networks. CNN's lack of glamour helped it to become known for its straight forward journalism. By the end of 1980, CNN had 4.3 million subscribers. CNN had changed how Americans viewed current events. Significant events were now defined by the stories picked to broadcast by CNN.
CNN Newsroom

CNN impressed many with its live coverage of many historical events. In 1985, CNN began broadcasting overseas. CNN's coverage of major events such as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, where CNN was the only news network to provide live footage of the explosion, and the Persian Gulf War earned it much praise and profit. Furthermore, despite government restrictions, CNN maganged to aquire many captivating images of significant 1989 events such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, the failed Russian coup (with Boris Yeltsin addressing the crowd from atop a tank, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the invasion of Panama. But the moment CNN established itself as a trusted news source for the American people was by far during the Persian Gulf War in 1990, when correspondents stayed in Baghdad despite bombing and government warnings to leave. Setting up their own transmission line, the correspondents had a link to the news channel even when power and phone lines went down.

CNN continued to closely monitor potentially important situations, giving it the ability to cover a story live and on the spot at any given moment. President George Bush declared, "I learn more from CNN than I do from the CIA". People began talking about the "CNN effect"; how press briefings and military strategies were designed with consideration of how they would appear on CNN. In 1990, CNN was rated "the most believable" of TV news sources in a poll in Times Mirror magazine. Additionally, due to its major influence on international affairs, it is sometimes referred to as "the sixteenth member of the U.N. Security Council". By the end of the 20th century, CNN had expanded into a whole family of networks: CNN Headline News, CNN International, CNN en español, CNNfn (financial news), CNN-SI (sports), CNN Airport Network, CNN Radio, and CNN Interactive (Internet). Today, CNN is fully committed to international, unfiltered news coverage, making it a top news source for some of the world's most elite and powerful people.

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