The Best TV Shows Based on 80s Toys

There have been numerous TV shows in the 1980s that are now considered classics because of their quality and their timelessness. Some of these popular TV shows are animations that are specifically designed to be enjoyed by kids, and these shows would even have action figures so that kids would be able to own a toy of their favorite characters. However, what some people may not know is that the animated TV shows were actually created to sell action figures or toys, which have been produced and sold months before the TV shows’ airing. To know more, here are the best TV shows based on 80s toys.

The Best TV Shows Based on 80s Toys

The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin (1986 to 1987)

Teddy Ruxpin title card

The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin was a popular children’s animated TV series that was originally aired from December 24, 1986, to October 23, 1987. The show features Teddy Ruxpin, which is an animatronic teddy bear that moves its mouth and eyes using batteries and mechanical parts. In addition, the toy can also talk thanks to its built-in speakers that are attached to an audio tape cassette deck hidden on its back.

The teddy bear was created by Ken Forsse, a toy inventor and author who designed the said toy around the early 1980s along with toy designers Larry Larsen and John Davies. The first batches of Teddy Ruxpin toys were sold by Worlds of Wonder, an American toy company founded in 1985, which was also the same year that the Teddy Ruxpin toy was launched. [1]

From 1985 to 1986, Teddy Ruxpin became the best-selling toy in the United States, and in order to capitalize on the popularity of the toy while also seeing an opportunity to sell more, two production companies called DIC Enterprises and Atkinson Film-Arts decided to produce an animated TV show based on the animatronic teddy bear.

In the TV show, Teddy Ruxpin is a 15-year-old adventurer who collects crystals with his companions Grubby and Dr. Newton Gimmick. Along his journey, Teddy Ruxpin would also discover the origins of his species and the whereabouts of his father that has been missing for years. 

There were 65 total episodes that were produced between 1986 and 1987. There were talks about continuing the series after the 65th episode, but the talks eventually died down due to the financial problems that Worlds of Wonder were dealing with during the late 1980s. If you want to get a Teddy Ruxpin toy for your collection or as a gift to your loved ones, you can get the Teddy Ruxpin stuffed toy online, which can be connected to a smartphone app so that kids can read and sing along with the toy.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983 to 1985)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe title card

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was the first animated TV show based on the “Masters of the Universe” toy line that was introduced by Mattel in 1982. [2] When the 5.5-inch action figures for the toy line were launched and sold in stores, they were accompanied by mini comics that talked about the story of each character in their fictional world. 

Those min icomics would become the source material for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which first aired in September 1983. Because of the show’s popularity, it aired for two seasons with 65 episodes each, and these two seasons lasted from 1983 to 1985. Right around the end of the show’s second season, a feature-length movie titled “He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword” premiered in theaters. The movie was supposed to give more prominence to She-Ra, one of the main characters in the show, in preparation for her spinoff series titled “She-Ra: Princess of Power,” which aired in 1985. A few more sequels, spinoffs, and reboots would be released over the years, but the original 1980s TV show is still considered the best iteration of the Masters of the Universe for fans and critics.

If you are currently looking for retro He-Man toys, Mattel has re-issued the vintage design Masters of the Universe figures with better parts and articulation. Here are three of the best action figures from the franchise that you can purchase online:

Challenge of the GoBots (1984 to 1985)

Challenge of the GoBots title card

Challenge of the GoBots, also known as GoBots for short, was an animated TV show that was produced by Hanna-Barbera (known for producing The Flintstones and The Jetsons) and first aired on September 8, 1984. This particular TV show was based on GoBots, a line of transforming robot toys that were produced between 1983 and 1987 by Tonka, a toy company that is popular for producing toy trucks. 

Interestingly, the GoBots line of transforming toys was released just one year before the famous toy company Hasbro launched Transformers, a toy line that would eventually dominate the transforming toy market. Another interesting fact is that Challenge of the GoBots premiered on September 8, 1984, while the first Transformers TV show premiered on September 17, 1984. 

Unfortunately, the GoBots shows wouldn’t last long compared to the Transformers show, as the former ended on December 13, 1985, while the latter finished airing on November 11, 1987, although the Transformers would spawn more TV shows, movies, comic books, and video games. The GoBots toy line was also short-lived, as Tonka stopped production of the robot toys in 1987. Hasbro would buy out Tonka in 1991, with the former establishing the GoBots toys as an alternate universe to the Transformers franchise. [3]

The GoBots toy line has been discontinued by Hasbro and has never been re-released for many years. However, if you are a fan of GoBots, you will still be able to watch the original Challenge of the GoBots TV show through Amazon’s Prime Video.

The Transformers (1984 to 1987)

The Transformers title card

Since we are talking about the best TV shows based on 80s toys, it would be wrong not to include a section for the original Transformers show in this article. The first Transformers TV show, aptly called The Transformers, is an animated TV series that originally aired from September 17, 1984, to November 11, 1987. The Transformer TV show is based on the Transformers toy line that was launched by Hasbro in 1984. [4]

The Transformers toy line was actually created through the partnership of Hasbro and a Japanese toy company Takara, which was actually responsible for popularizing transforming robot toys in Japan. Fascinatingly, the first Transformers TV show was also created thanks to the partnership of a Japanese company and two American companies. 

The series was produced by Marvel Productions (known for creating animated TV shows like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in 1981 and The Incredible Hulk in 1982) and Sunbow Productions (known for producing animated commercials for the G.I. Joe toy line) in association with Toei Animation (popular for producing the Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon TV shows). 

For the first two seasons of the show, Toei Animation was one of the co-producers, but starting from the third season, Toei’s role in the production of the show was reduced, as the other companies decided to share the production and animation role with AKOM, an animation studio in South Korea. Between the second and third seasons, specifically in 1986, a feature film titled “The Transformers: The Movie” premiered in theaters. The popularity of the original Transformers show allowed Hasbro and its partner production companies to produce more TV shows and movies over the years.

You can still buy reissues of retro Transformers action figures by checking out the links below:

My Little Pony (1986 to 1987)

My Little Pony title card

Another popular animated series in the 1980s is My Little Pony. This animated TV show was produced by Sunbow Productions and Marvel Productions (who also produced the original Transformers show) in partnership with Japanese company Toei Animation and South Korean company AKOM. The show is based on the popular line of plastic pony toys created by Hasbro in 1981.

The first My Little Pony TV show was the first segment of a larger program called “My Little Pony ‘n Friends,” while the second and last segment would feature cartoons that are based on other toys produced by Hasbro, which includes Potato Head Kids, The Glo Friends, and MoonDreamers. However, the animated version of the popular My Little Pony characters first appeared in a film rather than on a TV show. The first My Little Pony movie, aptly called “My Little Pony: The Movie,” premiered on June 6, 1986. [5] Then, a few months later, specifically on September 15, 1986, the first My Little Pony TV show debuted.

Much like most of the franchises or toy lines we have mentioned above, the first My Little Pony TV show became so successful that it inspired the creation of more animated shows, films, and even video games. The toy line of My Little Pony is also still quite popular even after years of its launch.

If you want to get your hands on the original My Little Pony figures, Hasbro is still selling reissues of those original figures online and in select toy stores. Here are three 40th-anniversary editions of the retro My Little Pony figures:

Care Bears (1985 to 1988)

Care Bears title card

Care Bears is a very popular TV series in the 80s, and it is so popular that it ran from 1985 to 1988 with more than 30 episodes and two specials. The Care Bears TV show is based on the stuffed toy line of the same name that was designed by artist Elena Kucharik in 1981 and was used first as characters for greeting cards made by American Greetings, a greeting card producer. It was in 1983 when these greeting card characters were turned into teddy bears. Two years after the launch of the Care Bears stuffed toys, the first Care Bears movie premiered in theaters. 

The Care Bears Movie premiered on March 24, 1985, and thanks to the movie’s success, American Greetings greenlit a TV show, which would first air on September 14, 1985. The TV show was produced by DIC Entertainment, an international production company that was a former division of The Walt Disney Company. [6]

The DIC Entertainment series would end on November 23, 1985, but the Care Bears franchise would be picked up a year later by a Canadian animation studio called Nelvana, who would produce three seasons of their Care Bears show called “The Care Bears Family.” The show would finish airing in 1988. The Care Bears franchise would later spawn numerous films, TV shows, soundtracks, storybooks, and video games.

If you want the best Care Bears stuffed toys for your collection or as a gift to friends or family members, here are three of the best that you can buy online:

Centurions (1986)

Centurions title card

Centurions is a sci-fi animated TV show that was produced by Ruby-Spears, an entertainment production company that was founded in 1977 by the creators of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. The show was animated by a Japanese animation studio called Studio 7, which was owned by Nippon Sunrise (now known as Bandai Namco Filmworks Inc.). The concepts and designs of the show were created by renowned comic book artists Jack Kirby and Gil Kane. [7] On the other hand, the character designs were handled by Norio Shioyama, who also worked as the character designer for a popular anime TV show titled “Armored Trooper Votoms.”

The series first aired on April 7, 1986, and this first run ended on December 12 of the same year. Centurions is a show that revolves around the battle between the cyborgs created by a mad scientist named Doc Terror and the titular Centurions, who are doing their best to stop every nefarious plan of their nemesis. 

The original Centurion team was composed of three members, Max Ray, Jake Rockwell, and Ace McCloud. This original team would later be joined by two extra members named Rex Charger and John Thunder. To promote the TV show, the license to manufacture toys for Centurions was given to Kenner, who is best known for producing Star Wars figures. The Centurions toys produced by Kenner were discontinued by the late 1980s.

M.A.S.K. (1985 to 1986)

M.A.S.K. logo

M.A.S.K. was an animated television series that was produced by DIC Entertainment (the producers of the Care Bears and Teddy Ruxpin TV shows). The show is animated by Ashi Productions, an animation studio based in Japan. M.A.S.K. first aired on September 30 1985 and ended on November 26, 1986. This show is considered to be the first animated series to have closed captions or subtitles.

The animated show is about a special task force called M.A.S.K. (an acronym for “Mobile Armored Strike Kommand”) that is led by a human named Matt Trakker, who controls and commands a group of transforming vehicles that are used to stop the evil plans of a criminal organization called V.E.N.O.M. (an acronym for “Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem”). 

Those who grew up in the 80s know that the show was based on the line of action figures with the same name that was produced by Kenner. The M.A.S.K. action figures were designed to be Kenner’s entry into the transforming toy market, which was dominated by The Transformers in the 80s. However, the creators of the action figures also drew inspiration from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which is more focused on human action figures rather than transforming robots. If you want to watch the TV show, you can buy the M.A.S.K.: The Complete Series DVD online.

Rubik, the Amazing Cube (1983)

Rubik, the Amazing Cube VHS cover

Rubik, the Amazing Cube was an animated show that was based on Rubik’s Cube, a cube puzzle that was invented by a professor of architecture named Ernő Rubik in the 1970s. The animated show aired in 1983 and was produced by Ruby-Spears (the producer of Centurions). Rubik, the Amazing Cube was just a half-hour Saturday morning show that aired alongside the Pac-Man animated series that was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions. The two shows would combine to form The Pac-Man/Rubik, the Amazing Cube Hour block on the ABC (American Broadcasting Company) network.

The animated show featured a magical Rubik’s Cube that can talk and fly while also having other special powers. This magical Rubik’s Cube is named Rubik, and he can only come alive if he is solved by other characters in the show, namely the three Rodriguez kids Reynaldo Rodriguez, Lisa Rodrigues, and Carlos Rodriguez. The show originally aired from September 10 to December 3, 1983, with 13 total episodes. [8]

Pound Puppies (1986 to 1987)

All New Pound Puppies title card

Pound Puppies is the sequel television show for the Pound Puppies television special that aired in 1985. This animated TV show was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, who are most known for producing The Flintstones and The Jetsons shows. This particular series was based on the Pound Puppies line of stuffed toys that were produced by Tonka, an American company that is known for manufacturing toy trucks.

Pound Puppies follows the story of several puppies that lived in a puppy pound and are waiting to be adopted. Many hijinks and problems ensue inside and outside of the puppy pound that forces the characters to take action and create solutions for the issues. The TV show first aired on September 13, 1986, and ended on December 19, 1987. A second season was also produced within the show’s first airing, and this season was titled “All New Pound Puppies.”

While the original Pound Puppies TV show ended in the 80s, the toy line is still alive today. Here are three Pound Puppies stuffed toys that you should check out if you want to get one for your toy collection or as a gift to a loved one:

Dino-Riders (1988)

Dino-Riders logo

In order to promote their new toy line in the late 1980s, an American toy manufacturer called Tyco partnered with Marvel Productions to create an animated TV show titled “Dino-Riders,” which also sports the same name as Tyco’s new toy line. Dino-Riders first aired on October 1, 1988, and there were a total of 14 episodes that were produced until December 31, 1988.

The Dino-Riders TV show revolved around a group of heroic humans called Valorians that battle the evil Rulon Alliance, which is composed of different humanoid breeds that are based on sharks, crocodiles, ants, snakes, and more. These two battling groups were from the future, but they were sent back in time to the age of dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were befriended by the Valorians, but the Rulons opted to brainwash these dangerous creatures.

Because the Dino-Riders TV show only had 14 episodes (with three of them not even aired on television), it was considered a failure since it didn’t last long enough to promote its tie-in toy line. However, through multiple re-runs that were aired on different networks or channels throughout the years, Dino-Riders gained a small cult following worldwide.

Jem and the Holograms (1985 to 1988)

Jem and the Holograms band

Jem and the Holograms, also known simply as Jem, was an animated musical TV show that was produced through the joint collaboration of Marvel Productions, Hasbro, and Sunbow Productions. The series creator was Christ Marx, who served as a staff writer for the other TV shows that the three mentioned companies created, which are G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. The show was mostly animated by the Japanese animation studio Toei Animation, with several scenes or sections being animated by the South Korean animation studio AKOM.

The show focuses on the happenings in the life of Jerrica Benton, a record company owner who has an alter-ego named Jem, and Jem is a singer in the band called The Holograms. Jerrica Benton is able to transform into her alter-ego with the use of a holographic computer known as Synergy that is connected to the remote micro-projects in Jerrica’s earrings, which would then hide her real facial features and put on a disguise.

Jem and the Holograms originally aired on October 6, 1985, and this first run ended on May 2, 1988. Hasbro launched a Jem and the Holograms toy line in 1985 to serve as official merchandise for the TV. The toy line also served as Hasbro’s entry into the toy doll market, which was made popular by Mattel’s Barbie franchise. However, Hasbro discontinued the Jem toy line in 1987 due to low sales, but the TV show was able to continue for one more year after that. [9]

So, those are the popular TV shows from the 80s that are based on iconic toys. There are online streaming websites and apps that you can check out if you want to watch the TV shows we mentioned above. So, you can invite your fellow 80s fanatics to your house and organize a marathon of 80s shows with popular toy lines.

References

[1] Goldberg, L. (2021, September 9). Iconic ’80s Toy Teddy Ruxpin Getting TV, Film Treatment (Exclusive). The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/teddy-ruxpin-tv-film-1235010310/

[2] Greene, J. (2019, January 14). A THOROUGH ORAL HISTORY OF HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, THE GAME-CHANGING ’80S TOON. SYFY. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/a-thorough-oral-history-of-he-man-and-the-masters-of-the-universe-the-game-changing-80s

[3] Vrchoticky, N. (2022, April 12). WHAT HAPPENED TO GOBOTS? Grunge. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.grunge.com/830200/what-happened-to-gobots/

[4] IGN TV. (2012, June 14). The History of Transformers on TV. IGN. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.ign.com/articles/2011/06/27/the-history-of-transformers-on-tv

[5] Molyneaux, M. (2015, April 27). The History of My Little Pony. Shout! Factory. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://shoutfactory.com/blogs/blog/the-history-of-my-little-pony

[6] 80’s Fashion. (2021, June 27). Care Bears – A 1980’s Cartoon You Should Care About. 80’s Fashion. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.80sfashion.org/care-bears-a-1980s-cartoon-you-should-care-about/

[7] SYFY WIRE Staff. (2019, December 4). POWER XTREME! EVERYTHING YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT CENTURIONS. SYFY. Retrieved June 16, 2023, from https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/power-xtreme-everything-you-didnt-know-about-centurions

[8] Jamie. (2019, June 14). What Was Rubik, The Amazing Cube?. Everything 80s Podcast. Retrieved June 16, 2023, from https://www.everything80spodcast.com/rubik-the-amazing-cube/

[9] The Game of Nerds. (2018, January 27). “IT’S SHOWTIME SYNERGY” – THE JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS STORY. The Game of Nerds. Retrieved June 16, 2023, from https://thegameofnerds.com/2018/01/27/its-showtime-synergy-the-jem-and-the-holograms-story/