The Most Popular TV Shows of the 1980s

There have been thousands of popular TV shows that have premiered on various TV stations and streaming platforms over the years, but the 1980s is considered by some to be the era where some of the best TV shows first aired. The 1980s introduced numerous unforgettable shows and iconic characters that are still talked about or referenced to this day. To know more, here is a list of the most popular TV shows of the 1980s.

Cheers (1982 to 1993)

Cheers is a situational comedy (sitcom) television show that first aired on NBC (National Broadcasting Company) on September 30, 1982. The show centers on Sam Malone, the owner and head bartender of the titular bar that is located in Boston. Besides being the owner of the bar, Malone was also a former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Each episode would then follow Malone as he interacts with other characters like bartender Ernie Pantusso, regular customers like Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson, and the two waitresses in the bar named Carla Tortelli and Diane Chambers.

After the premiere of the first season of Cheers in 1982, the show was almost canceled since it had low rankings. However, the show slowly became popular, until it became one of the most-watched TV shows in the United States. In fact, the series finale that was aired in 1993 became the most-watched TV episode in the 90s. In addition to being popular, Cheers was also critically acclaimed, and it was able to win 28 Primetime Emmy Awards with 117 total nominations.

The Golden Girls (1985 to 1992)

The Golden Girls logo

The Golden Girls is another sitcom in the 80s that aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. The show follows the lives of four older women played by Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan, and their experiences while sharing a home in Miami, Florida.

Upon the show’s release, it received critical acclaim because of its jokes, story, and the acting of the four veteran actresses. The show won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series, and it also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.

Because of the phenomenal acting of the four veteran actresses, they each received an Emmy Award during the show’s run, and this was just one of the only four sitcoms that were able to achieve this feat. Today, The Golden Girls is considered by many critics to be one of the best TV shows of all time.

There are a lot of instances where the four women would gather in their living room, which was filled with bamboo furniture. The success of the show also contributed to the rise of bamboo furniture as a home décor trend in the 80s. If you want to know more about bamboo furniture and other popular home décor items in the 80s, check out our Nostalgic 80s Home Décor Ideas.

Magnum, P.I. (1980 to 1988)

Magnum, P.I. is a crime drama that first aired on December 11, 1980. The TV show starred Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private investigator or P.I. that was based in Oahu, Hawaii. As a private investigator, Thomas Magnum solves numerous cases, from murders to kidnappings. From 1980 to the end of its original airing in 1988, Magnum, P.I. was one of the most-watched TV shows in the United States. A remake of the show premiered on September 24, 2018. As of 2023, the remake of Magnum, P.I. already had five seasons.

Full House (1987 to 1995)

Full House logo

Full House is a sitcom TV show that first aired on ABC (American Broadcasting Company) on September 22, 1987. This particular show was created by Jeff Franklin, who was previously a screenwriter for movies such as Just One of the Guys (1985) and TV shows like The Bad News Bears (1979) before creating Full House.

The show revolves around a widowed father named Danny Tanner, who asked help from his childhood best friend Joey Gladstone and brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis to raise his three daughters, namely D.J., Stephanie, and Michelle. Because of how popular Full House was, it ran for a total of eight seasons and 192 episodes.

The A-Team (1983 to 1987)

The A-Team title card

The A-Team is an action-adventure TV show that originally aired on NBC from 1983 to 1987. The story of the show revolves around a fictional US Army Special Forces called “The A-Team,” which is composed of four members that were tried by court martial for a crime that they did not commit. After being convicted and sentenced to prison, the four members of the team escaped to Los Angeles and started life as soldiers of fortune or hired guns.

The show is instrumental in the massive popularity of Mr. T in the 1980s. Mr.T, whose real name is Laurence Tureaud, is an American actor who would first become known in the 1982 film Rocky III as boxer Clubber Lang before starring as one of the main protagonists in The A-Team. The popularity of Laurence Tureaud became so big in the 80s that his Mr. T persona became much bigger than the roles he played in various movies and TV shows.

Knight Rider (1982 to 1986)

Knight Rider is an action crime drama TV series that was originally broadcast from 1982 to 1986 on NBC. The show starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, a crime fighter that is accompanied or assisted by an AI car called KITT, which is self-aware, highly intelligent, and indestructible.

The car that was used for depicting KITT in the show was a customized 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Because of the popularity of Knight Rider, there have been many people in the 80s that bought and owned the same car. Knight Rider ran for four seasons, and the finale aired on April 4, 1986.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 to 1994)

A science fiction or sci-fi TV show that was popular in the 1980s was Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was the third series in the Star Trek franchise and was originally aired from 1987 to 1994. The show is set in the 24th century when a fictional version of Earth was a part of an interstellar government called the United Federation of Planets or UFP. The story in Star Trek: The Next Generation follows the USS Enterprise and its crew as they explore the Alpha quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy.

By the 5th season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it had already reached 12 million viewers, and the series finale was watched by more than 30 million viewers. Due to the success of the said show, the fourth series of the franchise titled Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was already launched in 1993, a year before the finale of the third show.

Murder, She Wrote (1984 to 1996)

Murder, She Wrote was a crime drama that was originally aired from September 30, 1984, to May 19, 1996. The show centers on the life of Jessica Fletcher (played by Angela Lansbury), a mystery writer and amateur detective who would often become involved in solving murders in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine.

Murder, She Wrote became one of the longest-running television shows in history, and its popularity never waned throughout its eight years of tenure on CBS, another commercial broadcast and radio network in the US. For her role as Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury won four Golden Globe Awards out of ten nominations, and this feat earned her a record for the most Golden Globe nominations and wins for Best Actress. In addition, Lansbury was also nominated for 12 Emmy Awards.

Family Ties (1982 to 1989)

Family Ties logo

Family Ties is a situational comedy show that originally aired from September 22, 1982, to May 14, 1989. The premise of the show is supposed to depict the sudden political and cultural change between the 1970s and 1980s, as the 70s was viewed to be more liberal while the 80s was more conservative. In order to emphasize this premise, the story of the show follows a young conservative Republic named Alex P. Keaton (played by Michael J. Fox), who would often have arguments with his ex-hippie parents, Steven and Elyse Keaton (played by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter).

Family Ties gained positive reviews throughout its seven-season run, and the show also helped launch the career of Michael J. Fox, who won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the show. Fox would later go on to star in Back to the Future (1985), one of the most memorable and iconic films of all time. If you are a fan of Family Ties or Back to the Future, then you should definitely have a poster of them at home. Movie or TV show posters can also serve as great gifts to loved ones. Read our Nostalgic 80s Gift Ideas for more info on the best 80s-themed gifts for friends or family members.

Who’s The Boss (1984 to 1992)

Who’s The Boss is a sitcom that was aired on ABC from September 20, 1984, to April 25, 1992. If you haven’t noticed yet, sitcoms were very popular in the 1980s, especially the ones that revolve around family members or groups of close friends, and Who’s The Boss is no exception.

The show follows Tony Micelli (played by Tony Danza), a former MLB (Major League Baseball) player who is struggling to raise his daughter, Samantha Micelli (played by Alyssa Milano), while living in Fairfield, Connecticut. Who’s The Boss is regarded as one of the best sitcoms in the 1980s, and it was even nominated for over 40 awards, including five Golden Globe Awards and ten Primetime Emmy Awards.

Those are some of the most popular TV shows of the 1980s. If you haven’t seen these shows yet, you can invite your family members who grew up in the 80s for multiple TV show marathon nights so that you can enjoy with loved ones that have fond memories of watching the shows mentioned above.