Once a novel medium a couple of decades back, television had become commonplace in most households in the US during the 1970s. Average Americans relied more on television than newspapers for the latest and freshest news, while the American government had grasped the idea that television could be a powerful tool in getting their agendas across.
Television in the 1970s saw a lot of significant changes. Western dramas and genial family/rural comedies were out. It was time for the television to “get real.” Topics that were once considered too taboo for TV such as racism, bigotry and homosexuality were now openly redefined and challenged (and even ridiculed), as demonstrated by sitcoms like All In the Family and Maude.
Apart from that, another new trend of sitcoms in the 1970s was based on the “young, hip and urban” and “escapist” concepts to appeal to a wider and younger audience. Happy Days, Charlie’s Angels and Three’s Company are prime examples of this trend.
Sports broadcast might still be in its infancy during the era. But after ABC teamed up with National Football League (NFL) to launch Monday Night Football in 1970, Monday nights would never be the same. Also, the launch of sports cable channel ESPN in 1979 truly revolutionized sports casting and changed the course of the American sports culture.
Miniseries also saw their rise during the 1970s, many of which were adapted from written works such as novels. With the popularity of early “anthologies” like Masterpiece Theater on PBS, that paved the way for more successful miniseries such as ABC’s Rich Man, Poor Man and most notably, Roots.
Marcus Welby, M.D., Medical Center, Emergency!, and M*A*S*H* were among the first serious medical dramas that became popular and successful during the decade. The 1970s were also a fruitful time for sci-fi TV. Series like The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman and Battlestar Galactica lorded primetime television slots and even spawned a slew of merchandise items. Soap operas were also experiencing a big boom in the 1970s as its audience expanded.
Here are some of the popular TV shows in the 1970s:
1. M*A*S*H* (CBS) (WATCH NOW) – One of the highest-rating series in the history of US television, M*A*S*H* follows the story of a team of Army doctors during the Korean War. The legendary TV series is the best-known adaptation of Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. For more M*A*S*H* trivia, check out the article “Introduction to M*A*S*H*”
2. All in the Family (CBS) – All in the Family bravely took every topic possible that was once too considered as taboo for television, such as racism, bigotry, homosexuality, sexual abuse and women’s liberation, by openly making fun of them. These potentially controversial issues are what makes All in the Family a success in the ratings, enjoying a nine-year run (1971-1979). It eventually became one of the most influential sitcoms in 20th century American television. For more of All in the Family, check out the list of Interesting Facts about All in the Family
3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS) (WATCH NOW) – As women’s lib movement continued to persist throughout the 1970s, it is no wonder that sitcoms about single and independent women became popular during the era. The Mary Tyler Moore Show proved that (despite the trials) being an unmarried and career-driven woman is quite an adventure and an eye-opener in itself. The Mary Tyler Moore Show became a critical darling and a champion in the ratings – and had 29 Emmys to further prove its monumental success. Check out “Interesting Facts about The Mary Tyler Moore Show” for more fun trivia.
4. Happy Days (ABC) (WATCH NOW) – This 1974 sitcom takes a wistful throwback to the (mostly) carefree, innocent happy days during the 1950s and early 1960s. Although the show mainly focuses on the Cunningham family, the greaser Fonzie is the one who often steals the scene throughout the series’ 11 years. Happy Days started as a flop, but eventually became a ratings juggernaut and ended up as one of the greatest TV shows of the 1970s. See the article “Introduction to Happy Days” for more fun Happy Days fun facts!
5. The Carol Burnett Show (CBS) (WATCH NOW) – This variety and sketch comedy show stars actress and comedienne Carol Burnett and her troupe. The original run of the show was broadcast from 1967 to 1978. Notable sketches and characters include the Charwoman, “As the Stomach Turns” (a pastiche on soap operas), Mother Marcus, The Ham Actor, “The Oldest Man,” and “Mrs. Wiggins.” Proofs of its success and legendary status are its 25 primetime Emmy trophies and a lofty place on “TV Guide”’s list of the 50 Greatest TV Show of All Time. Check out “Interesting Facts about the Carol Burnett Show” for more fun trivia!
6. Laverne & Shirley (ABC) – A spin-off of Happy Days, it follows the lives, trials and adventures of two female friends and roommates who work together at a brewery. It stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as the title characters. Read more fun trivia about this show on the article “Introduction to Laverne & Shirley”
7. The Six Million Dollar Man (ABC) – The Six Million Dollar Man was based on Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg. It stars actor Lee Majors in his most iconic role as Steve Austin who is a test pilot who becomes severely injured from an accident. He is brought back to life and rebuilt with bionic limbs and implants. After the operation (which costs six million dollars, hence the title), Steve is employed as an intelligence agent with superhuman powers. The success of the series led to various merchandises and the spin-off The Bionic Woman, which became popular on its own. Check out more fun trivia with this article “The History of the Six Million Dollar Man”
8. Charlie’s Angels (ABC) (WATCH NOW) – The 1970s also saw the rising popularity of the so-called “jiggle shows” or “jiggle TV” (specifically referring to the sex appeal of the female stars). Charlie’s Angels seemed to ultimately cement that trend. It stars Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith (and later Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts) who play skimpy-clad detectives. Its popularity still endures even after the end of the original series, which has led to numerous DVD releases and subsequent TV and movie remakes.
9. Roots (ABC) (WATCH NOW) – Few miniseries have done such an enormous impact as Roots, which was broadcast in 1977. Based on the best-selling novel by Alex Haley, it follows the saga of Haley’s family line from his ancestor Kunta Kinte and his life as a slave, down to the lives of his descendants. It was a groundbreaking moment in American TV; its finale enjoyed unprecedented ratings and it won nine Emmy trophies. More importantly, Roots led to the widespread interest in African-American genealogy and history.
10. Saturday Night Live (NBC) (WATCH NOW) – Saturday late nights haven’t been the same since Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975. Its off-the-wall, absurdist and anti-establishment brand of humor brought cast members like Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and John Belushi to prominence. Four decades and countless cast changes later, SNL still makes night owls rolling on the floor.