Top 20 TV Shows That Defined the 1980s According to Rotten Tomatoes

The 1980s were a big turning point for TV. There was an explosion of talent and a wide range of shows that changed pop culture forever. From thrilling dramas to funny comedies and everything in between, there were a lot of shows on TV that showed what life was like at the time. Rotten Tomatoes, a reliable measure of both critics’ and viewers’ praise, says that these TV shows were the best of the decade. 

1. Cheers 

Cheers One More for the Road
Image Credit: CBS Television.

Cheers took people to a famous pub in Boston where everyone knows your name. This show was about a group of regulars and workers at a pub, like Ted Danson’s Sam Malone and Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers. Cheers became a cultural touchstone and a great example of the charm of a classic American sitcom because of its clever writing, memorable characters, and warm friendship.

2. The Cosby Show 

The Cosby Show
Image Credit: NBC.

The Cosby Show changed how family comedies were made by showing the Huxtable family as a wealthy African-American family led by Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad). The show was funny and heartwarming and discussed important social issues. It showed black families in a good light on TV.

3. The Golden Girls 

The Golden Girls
Image Credit: NBC.

Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia, all older women, lived together in Miami on The Golden Girls. With great comedic timing, witty banter, and dynamic performances from Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty, the show dealt with friendship, getting older, and important social problems with grace and humor.

4. Magnum, P.I. 

Magnum, P.I.
Image Credit: CBS.

Magnum, PI, followed the adventures of private detective Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) as he solved cases and enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle of Hawaii. With its beautiful setting, action-packed stories, and charismatic lead, Selleck, the show was a great example of the action-adventure genre of the 1980s.

5. Saturday Night Live 

Saturday Night Live Eddie Murphy
Image Credit: NBC Studios.

Even though the first episode of Saturday Night Live aired in the 1970s, it significantly impacted the 1980s. Sketches, political satire, and famous characters on the variety show continued to change pop culture. Throughout the 1980s, SNL was a major comic force, thanks to its constantly changing cast and uncanny ability to reflect the cultural moment.

6. Miami Vice 

Miami Vice 1984
Image Credit: NBC.

Following detectives Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) through Miami’s flashy and dangerous streets, Miami Vice took fans there. With its mix of action and style, the show set a new standard for crime stories. It was known for its stylish visuals, innovative use of music, and use of the fashion of the time.

7. Dallas 

Dallas J.R. Larry Hagman
Image Credit: Lorimar Television.

Throughout the 1980s, Dallas kept people interested with its sprawling story of the Ewing family’s oil business and personal problems. The show’s mix of family drama, power battles, and shocking plot twists led by Larry Hagman’s character, J.R. Ewing, made it a prime-time hit and cemented its place as a pop culture phenomenon.

8. MacGyver 

MacGyver 1985
Image Credit: Paramount Network Television.

MacGyver introduced viewers to the clever secret agent Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson), who used his scientific knowledge and everyday things to solve difficult problems. The show was known for its creative solutions and Anderson’s charisma. It was a mix of action, intelligence, and a sense of excitement that people liked.

9. Saved By The Bell 

Saved by the Bell
Image Credit: NBC Productions.

The world of Saved by the Bell was Bayside High School, where Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and his pals faced the trials of adolescence with humor and grace. The show was popular with young people because it was funny and had themes about growing up. It became a mainstay of Saturday morning TV.

10. Family Ties 

Family Ties
Image Credit: Paramount Television.

The Keaton family was tracked in Family Ties as they dealt with generational gaps and social shifts. The show was about conservative parents Steven and Elyse (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter) and their liberal son Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox). It was funny and had a lot of heart as it talked about cultural changes and family relationships.

11. Hill Street Blues 

Hill Street Blues
Image Credit: MTM Enterprises.

Hill Street Blues changed the way police procedurals were made by showing a fictional police station in a way that was realistic and focused on the people who worked there. The show’s ensemble cast and complex plot made it easy for viewers to relate to both the police officers and their personal lives, which led to more complex and socially aware plays.

12. 21 Jump Street 

21 Jump Street
Image Credit: Fox.

In 21 Jump Street, a group of young police officers worked secretly in high schools to stop crimes committed by young people. The show was important because it got Johnny Depp’s career going. It was a mix of drama, comedy, and social commentary, and it dealt with serious problems while keeping a young edge.

13. Moonlighting 

Image Credit: ABC.

Moonlighting was a unique mix of comedy, romance, and mystery. It was about private detectives David Addison (Bruce Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and their unpredictable relationship. The show’s fast-paced dialogue, metatextual humor, and breaking the fourth wall significantly impacted how stories and characters are told on TV.

14. Three’s Company 

Threes Company
Image Credit: ABC.

Three’s Company was a great example of the kind of comedy that was popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The show was about the funny mistakes that happen when a man pretends to be gay so he can live with two women. The show was a sitcom favorite of the time because of how funny it was.

15. The A-Team 

The A-Team 1983 Mr. T Boy George
Image Credit: NBC.

The A-Team was about a group of ex-military agents who work as mercenaries and are on the run from the law for a crime they didn’t do. With its action-packed episodes, famous catchphrases, and the way the team worked together, the show became a classic of 1980s adventure TV.

16. Knight Rider 

Knight Rider 1982
Image Credit: NBC.

Knight Rider showed how Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) and his smart, talking car, KITT, used high-tech gadgets to fight crime. It mixed action, adventure, and technology from the future to make a dynamic pair symbolizing popular culture in the 1980s.

17. Dynasty 

Dynasty 80s TV shows
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

The TV show Dynasty told the story of the wealthy Carrington family as they dealt with power struggles, betrayals, and a life of luxury. With its rich settings, dramatic turns, and memorable characters, the prime-time soap opera set the bar for glamorous and addictive storytelling.

18. Alf 

ALF 1986
Image Credit: NBCUniversal, Inc.

When the Tanner family in Alf took in the furry and disrespectful alien Gordon Shumway, their lives were turned upside down. This show mixed family drama with sci-fi humor. It showed ALF’s funny pranks and talked about real-life family problems.

19. Murder, She Wrote 

Angela Lansbury Murder She Wrote
Image Credit: Universal Television/Hallmark Channel.

Angela Lansbury played Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. Fletcher was a mystery writer who was often caught up in real-life murder cases. The show had a mix of mystery, whodunit, and Lansbury’s charismatic acting, which made it a popular feature of 1980s TV.

20. The Wonder Years 

The Wonder Years 80s TV shows
Image Credit: New World Television.

Through Kevin Arnold’s (Fred Savage) eyes, The Wonder Years took viewers back to the 1960s and showed them how he dealt with growing up. The show was told by a grown-up, Kevin, who remembered his childhood. It brought back memories of a simpler time while also showing how complicated family, friendship, and first love can be. The show was popular with people of all ages because it told stories about people growing up.

26 Once Hilarious Comedy Films That You’re Not Allowed to Laugh at Today

Revenge of the Nerds
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Although comedy movies have always been a source of amusement and laughter, society’s expectations and sensibilities have changed over time. What was previously seen as hilarious and acceptable may beconsidereds improper or offensive today. Let’s look at some once brilliant comedy movies that are unlikely to be produced or laughed at in the current cultural climate (unless you grew up watching them).

25 Fan Voted Greatest Television Episodes of All Time, Do You Agree?

The Twilight Zone
Image Credit: United Paramount Network.

With thousands upon thousands of television episodes over the decades, it is difficult to narrow down the best. However, one entertainment forum tried to do just that. Do you agree with their picks?

15 of the Worst Series Finales of Your Favorite Shows on Television

How I Met Your Mother
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

Have you ever been disappointed with a TV series finale? You’re not alone. After someone asked a popular online entertainment forum what the worst series finales are, here is what they had to say. Do you agree?

15 Beloved Fictional Characters Who Are Terrible and Have No Business Being Glorified

Indiana Jones
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Are there any fictional characters people love and revere that you can’t stand? I think you can rip apart just about any cast on a sitcom. I’m looking at you How I Met Your MotherSeinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory. After someone asked an online forum for examples of terrible fictional characters that people love, here are their most interesting responses.

10 Magnificent Performances That Tricked Us Into Loving Terrible Movies

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures.

Ready for some controversy? First, let me preface that I do NOT agree with several of the films listed on this list. Recently, an online film forum member asked about amazing performances in terrible films. Again, don’t hate the reporter. These are not my picks.

Source: Rotten Tomatoes.

Featured Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.