The Most Popular TV Shows Of The 1980s

The 1980s were defined by excess, extreme fashions, big hair, and changes in political outlooks - all of which were reflected in popular '80s TV shows. The decade was given several nicknames, such as the "Me-First Decade," the "Decade of Greed," the "Yuppie Decade," and the "Reagan Decade." Whatever you call the era, one thing is for sure - the '80s gave us great, everlasting TV.

 It was a unique time to be alive. In the 1980s, there was no streaming, no reality TV, no internet, no social media, and limited video games. Cable TV had also just begun to reach the masses. TV was the main source of entertainment at home and competition between television networks was at an all-time high. A show had to be good to stay on the air, and these popular '80s shows made the cut.

Although the 1980s are long gone, taking with them the mullet, the Jheri curl, teased hair, neon fashion, fanny packs, and leg warmers, one thing surely remains: the unforgettable, successful, and popular TV shows of the 1980s.

  • The Golden Girls
    Photo: NBC

    What Was It? The Golden Girls originally aired from 1985 to 1992 with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning seven seasons. It features four older women who share a home in Miami, Florida, while experiencing the joys and trepidations of their golden years.

    Ratings/Awards: The series earned 40 wins and 88 nominations at various major awards shows, including a Golden Globe for Best Television Series and an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.    

    Why Was It So Popular? Much of the popularity of The Golden Girls has to do with how the series tells a story about an often-overlooked segment of the population. The show often addresses uncomfortable or difficult topics with humor, such as romance among older women.

    • Actors: Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Estelle Getty
    • Premiered: September 14, 1985
  • The Cosby Show
    Photo: NBC

    What Was It? The Cosby Show centers on the lives of the Huxtables: a doctor named Cliff, his attorney wife Claire, their son Theo, and their daughters Sondra, Denise, Vanessa, and Rudy. It aired for eight seasons from 1984 until 1992. 

    Ratings/Awards: The Cosby Show was the most-watched TV series in the nation from 1985 to 1989. It also received 58 nominations and 55 wins at major awards shows, including a Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Comedy or Musical in 1987, and Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1985 and 1987.   

    Why Was It So Popular? The series focuses on the ups and downs of family life and how these sometimes difficult topics are approached, all while maintaining the humor one expects out of a comedy series. It approaches real-world family issues, such as learning disabilities and teen pregnancy. 

    • Actors: Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tempestt Bledsoe, Lisa Bonet
    • Premiered: September 20, 1984
  • Dynasty
    Photo: Dynasty

    What Was It? Dynasty was a primetime soap opera that aired from 1981 to 1989 and is considered one of the quintessential 1980s primetime soaps. It follows the extremely wealthy Carringtons and highlights their trials and tribulations.

    Ratings/Awards: The series received 67 nominations and 24 wins, including Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series - Drama in 1984 and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama (Linda Evans).     

    Why Was It So Popular? Dynasty was the closest thing to reality TV in the 1980s. It was likened to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with its excess of wealth on display. It aired in an era known as the "Greed Decade." Like many sucessful shows, it mirrored the times, hopes, and dreams of the viewers.

    • Actors: John Forsythe, Linda Evans, Joan Collins, Heather Locklear, Gordon Thomson
    • Premiered: January 12, 1981
  • The A-Team
    Photo: NBC

    What Was It? The A-Team is an action-adventure TV series that aired from 1983 to 1987. Former members of a fictitious United States Army Special Forces unit were court-martialed "for a crime they didn't commit" and escaped from military prison. Afterward, they work as soldiers of fortune, usually for an everyday person in need with nowhere else to turn. The cast includes the leader, Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard), whose catchphrase is, "I love it when a plan comes together;" Lieutenant Templeton Peck (Dirk Benedict), usually called "Face" or "Faceman," who is a smooth-talking con man and serves as the team's second-in-command; Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock (Dwight Schultz), the team's pilot; and Sergeant First Class Bosco "B.A." or "Bad Attitude" Baracus (Mr. T).

    Ratings/Awards: The show received two Emmy nominationsThe A-Team made its mark in popular culture, with the show remaining in syndication in several markets. The show was rated No. 4 in the nation in 1983.  

    Why Was It So Popular? The series' trademark is over-the-top explosions and cartoonish violence, with a spotlight on Mr. T as the show's standout character. It's relatable, showing real-world-type people in need that have nowhere else to turn. Hannibal's disguises, Face's con-man antics, B.A.'s "I pity the fool" attitude, and Murdock's recurring escapes from a mental instition and constant attempts to trick B.A. into flying are among the show's many charms. 

    • Actors: George Peppard, Mr. T, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, Melinda Culea
    • Premiered: January 23, 1983
  • Cheers
    Photo: NBC

    What Was It? Cheers aired from 1982 to 1993 with a total of 275 half-hour episodes across 11 seasons. It follows Sam Malone, the owner and bartender of the Boston bar Cheers, where a varied cast share their lives with each other while working or drinking at the bar - where everybody knows your name.  

    Ratings/Awards: Cheers is one of the 10 most award-winning TV shows of all time with 117 Emmy nominations and 28 wins. Rhea Perlman won two Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and fellow actor Ted Danson also took home two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor.   

    Why Was It So Popular? The show is relatable to a large audience with characters like Sam, Diane, Norm, and Carla. They are all bound together like a dysfunctional family. We share their ups and downs, joys, and tears, much like we are a part of the crew. The writing is exceptional with scripts that are wise-cracking and razor-sharp; there is nothing that will cause you to cover the eyes and ears of your kids, so it's something the whole family can watch together. The show may have gone many more seasons, but when Ted Danson (Sam Malone) called it quits, the network canceled the show.

    • Actors: Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, Shelley Long, Kirstie Alley
    • Premiered: September 30, 1982
  • Dallas
    Photo: CBS

    What Was It? Dallas was a primetime television soap opera that aired from 1978 to 1991. The series revolves around the Ewings, a wealthy, larger-than-life family who owns Ewing Oil and a cattle ranch in Southfork, Texas. The oil tycoon J.R. Ewing is constantly engaged in schemes and dirty business.

    Ratings/Awards: 350 million people around the world tuned in to find out who shot J.R. Ewing in 1980. It was one of television’s all-time most-watched episodes with 76% of all US televisions tuned in that night. The series was nominated for 21 Emmys with four wins. 

    Why Was It So Popular? Cliffhangers and plot twists like who shot J.R. are the hallmarks of Dallas. It was the show that made cliffhangers popular. Dallas kept viewers on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next season's premiere, and talking about it all summer long.   

    • Actors: Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Victoria Principal, Charlene Tilton
    • Premiered: April 2, 1978