From Cheers to the Wonder Years: The Best TV Shows of the 1980s

A lot of big things happened in the 1980s: there was an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, the Berlin Wall came down, IBM released their first PC, and the Challenger shuttle exploded. 

In addition to all these big events, the 1980s was also known for something else: great television. 

Back in the 1980s, there were great comedies and dramas to watch every night to distract society from the world’s outside problems for a little bit. 

But, what were the best shows in the 1980s?

Check out this guide to learn about the best 1980s TV shows. 


“Sometimes you wanna go…”

If you can finish that lyric without hesitation, then you were definitely a child of the 80s. 

What made the TV show Cheers so great was the fact that all the characters on the show had pretty sad lives. However, all the characters were able to find the humor in their sad lives, thus making for some great television. 

In the show Cheers, we see an unlikely group of normal people form some type of a family unit with one another. 

The show ran for a total of 11 seasons, and after its ending, Kelsey Grammar, one of the main characters of the show, even found success with a spin-off, Frasier

Miami Vice 

If you could put everything iconic about the 1980s into one television program, Miami Vice would be the program. 

Miami Vice has everything that the 1980s is notoriously known for: cocaine, bright clothing, barely dressed women, and fast edits. 

At the height of its fame, the two stars, Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas even had music videos on MTV. 

In artistic fashion, the show ended the same time the 80s did, in 1989. 


A show that stars a weird looking puppet may seem like a recipe for disaster, but Alf proved otherwise. 

The show was about an alien named Gordon Shumway who somehow crash lands into a family’s backyard. He then proceeds to work his way into their hearts while waiting for his fellow aliens to come down to earth to pick him up. 

Of course, all the hijinks that comes with living with an alien inevitably ensue, but the family loves Alf nonetheless. This makes for one uniquely funny, heartwarming show that the whole family could enjoy.

And, just as you’d expect with a bizarre show involving a puppet/alien, Alf ends on a pretty weird note. In the final season, the government captures Alf and takes him to a lab, allegedly to dissect and study him. 

The show should have had a fifth season in which things wrapped up on a less sinister note, but a fifth season was never produced, leaving us all wondering what happened to our poor buddy Alf. 

The Twilight Zone 

The Twilight Zone isn’t only considered one of the best shows of the 1980s, it’s considered one of the best shows of all time. 

Many don’t know this, but the show originally ran from 1959 to 1964. Then, CBS decided to resurrect the series in 1985. While the 80s revival may not have had the same success as the original series, it was still very popular among viewers. 

The series was so popular, in fact, that it was even renewed a third and fourth time, once in 2003, and again recently in April 2019. 

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Full House 

Full House is the absolute definition of a wholesome family sitcom.

Even in the most “dramatic” moments of the show, Full House still stayed innocent and wholesome the whole way through.

The entire show seemed to revolve around a few simple plot lines and jokes: Uncle Jesse’s band, Joey’s weird impersonations, and of course, the adorable one-liners from America’s favorite twins: Mary Kate and Ashley Olson. 

Reading Rainbow 

Reading Rainbow was probably the first show to make reading seem fun and exciting to children. 

During its 23-year run, the show featured thousands of great books for elementary school children in a fun and exciting way. 

Every episode of Reading Rainbow followed a basic format: the host would offer a quirky introduction to the book of the day, which he would then read and explore further through a series of videos and stories. 

Then, in the final segment of the show, reading recommendations were offered from other elementary school children (just like you!). 

While the show lasted for 21 seasons, people still feel like they didn’t quite get enough of Reading Rainbow. Hence, the Reading Rainbow app launched to encourage this new generation of children to get excited about reading. 


Dallas could be the king of all primetime soaps.  

The show continuously had the whole nation on edge, especially when an unknown assailant shot J.R. Ewing outside his office. 

In fact, when the show returned for its next season the following November, 90 million Americans (76 percent of TV viewers) tuned in to see who shot him. 

Compare that to the most-watched episode of Desperate Housewives, which saw 30 million viewers, and you can see how big of a TV show Dallas was to viewers in the 1980s. 

Murder She Wrote

Imagine a show where a woman who is not a detective or employed by the police department needs to solve an improbable amount of random murders. 

It sounds like a crazy idea, but that’s the exact premise of Murder She Wrote

And, what makes the show even more improbable is that Jessica Fletcher, the lead character of the show, rarely even travels to solve these crimes. 

But, despite the improbability of the plot line, people loved the whodunit nature of Murder She Wrote

The fact that the charismatic and sweet Angela Lansbury played the lead role didn’t hurt. 

The Golden Girls 

Speaking of charming women, let’s take a minute to talk about the Golden Girls

Beginning in 1985, the Golden Girls took the TV world by storm with their clan of stars: Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue Mclanahan, and Estelle Getty. 

In this show, four elderly women spend their days constantly reminiscing about nights of passionate romance. It’s hard to imagine such a show working in today’s world, but perhaps that was the charm of the Golden Girls – it could never be repeated. 

Even though the characters’ personalities definitely clash in the show, you can tell that through it all, they all deeply care about one another. 

Mr. Rogers

Although Mr. Rogers technically aired from 1968 to 2001, it would be doing it a disservice to not include it as one of the best shows of the 1980s. 

During this show, the iconic Fred Rogers entertained and instructed children on being kind. 

While Mr. Rogers was intended for children, even adults found a safe and calm oasis in this show. While the show lasted for nearly forty years, it was at its most popular during the 1980s, when Mr. Rogers really hit his stride and focused on extolling the virtues of kindness and curiosity on a younger generation. 

Different Strokes 

“Whatchu talking about Willis?”

This iconic catchphrase came from the equally iconic 1980s television show- Different Strokes

This show focused on the life of two African American boys from Harlem who are adopted by a rich white businessman who lives on Park Avenue. 

While the show had plenty of lighthearted moments, it also tackled tougher issues such as racism, poverty, drugs, and even sexual abuse. 

The Facts of Life

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have, the facts of life”. 

With a theme song that most people can still remember to this day, the Facts of Life starred Kim Fields, Lisa Welchel, Charlotte Rae, Mindy Cohn, and Nancy McKeon. 

The series followed these four charismatic characters as they go through boarding school and deal with tough teen social issues such as eating disorders, peer pressure, and drug use. 

Yet even as the show tackled these tough issues, it still maintained a sort of innocence and lightheartedness that made it all the more appealing. 

The Wonder Years 

Last but not least, we have the Wonder Years

While some shows from the 1980s can totally bomb when you try to watch them a second time around as an adult, the Wonder Years is one of the few shows from the 80s that has fully stood the test of time. 

The show revolves around three adolescents: Kevin Arnold, Winnie Cooper, and Paul Pfieffer. 

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam era and our nation’s changing landscape, the Wonder Years chronicles the innocent up and downs of adolescence. 

Are You Ready to Revisit These Awesome 80s TV Shows? 

As you can see, there were some pretty iconic television shows that came out of the 1980s. 

Which of these 80s TV shows was your favorite? Which one are you most excited to revisit? 

Let us know in the comments below! 



Author: Pia Sooney

Just a little obsessed with all things 80s, Pia still has her Swatch, her cassette tape collection, and her Converse Chucks. When not making friendship pins or listening to Depeche Mode, she runs a web design business.

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