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The Most Popular TV Shows Of The 1970s

Updated July 28, 2021 6.5k views20 items

List RulesVote up the best series of the decade.

The 1970s were a time of turmoil, change, and challenges, all of which were reflected in the television of the time.

During that era, there were only three networks, as streaming was yet to be imagined, and cable had yet to meet a broader market. Shows were so uniformly watched that they were discussed in school halls and at office water coolers the next day. It was a decade in which television found its voice, as shows began dealing with controversial topics that were previously verboten. Similarly, there were series that existed for sheer entertainment that took place in different time periods or were more family-oriented. 

Despite the difference in offerings, '70s television was so iconic it influenced not only the future of small screen offerings, but film, music, and pop culture around the world. The best TV shows the Me Decade had to offer encompassed all these things and more. 

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  • Photo: CBS

    What Was It? One of the most successful shows of any decade, M*A*S*H lasted longer than the Korean conflict it depicts.

    Ratings/Awards: This critically acclaimed fan favorite racked up the viewers (over 100 million for its 1983 finale, one of the biggest audiences of all time) and awards (14 Emmys).

    Why Was It So Popular? This often hilarious (despite its wartime backdrop) show is still a favorite among viewers over 40 years later, much of which has to do with the writing, which continually struck a fine balance between a well-crafted dramatic tale of the atrocities of conflict and slapstick. It struck a chord with audiences and is in the Top 10 of best-written TV shows of all time, as voted on by the Writers Guild of America.  

    • Actors: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swit
    • Premiered: September 17, 1972

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  • Photo: NBC

    What Was It? Sanford and Son follows the adventures of a junk dealer and his son living in South Central Los Angeles.

    Ratings/Awards: The NBC show was a smash hit from its beginning until its 1977 finale and remains a cultural staple for African Americans today.

    Why Was It So Popular? Based on the British show Steptoe and Son , it starred Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford, the wisecracking business owner, and Demond Wilson as Lamont Sanford, his peacemaking but perpetually frustrated progeny. Much like Archie Bunker of All in the Family , Fred had his own prejudiced views, which resulted in hilarity and lessons learned. CBS turned it down, which was something it later regretted. Fred Silverman, former president of the network, said:

    It was one of the stupidest things I did... We had All in the Family on the air, and Bud [Yorkin] and Norman [Lear] came in with the idea...They failed to mention that Redd Foxx was on it, or that it was going to be a Black show. They never said that. And they just described it, and I said, "Well, I don't understand, you are selling us a show we already have. I mean, we have All in the Family , and this sounds like Archie and Meathead."

     

     

     

     

    • Actors: Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson, Whitman Mayo, LaWanda Page, Slappy White
    • Premiered: January 14, 1972

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  • Photo: ABC

    What Was It? The show follows roommates Jack, Janet, and Chrissy as they share a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, CA. Plots often center on misunderstandings and bad communication among the roommates, who have to pretend Jack is gay to legitimize the arrangement to their prudish landlords. ​​

    Ratings/Awards: 5 Emmy nominations and 1 win. It stayed at the top of the ratings for a few years, until Suzanne Somers (Chrissy) fought for equal pay and quit the show. She was replaced by actresses Jenilee Harrison and Priscilla Barnes, but the chemistry was never really the same, and the show was canceled in 1984. 

    Why Was It So Popular? Three's Company was another show in the "jiggle" TV canon that was a massive hit with audiences, many of whom were kids who responded more to the show's slapstick elements than its racy double entendres.

    • Actors: John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, Richard Kline, Don Knotts
    • Premiered: March 15, 1977

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  • Photo: ABC

    What Was It? The story in which a widow with three girls meets a widower with three boys, falls in love, and gets married doesn't sound like it would resonate, but it most certainly did.

    Ratings/Awards: The Brady Bunch wasn't highly rated when it first aired, but it spoke to a whole generation of kids nonetheless. It continues to resonate with audiences 50 years after its 1969 debut. Recently, HGTV's A Very Brady Renovation had the Brady kids rebuild the Studio City house used for exterior shots to mimic the sets from the show. It was a ratings juggernaut for the channel.

    Why Was It So Popular? The Bradys were the fantasy family every '70s latchkey kid wanted to be part of, with a loving mom and dad, as well as siblings who worked all of their biggest problems out in less than 30 minutes each week. As divorce rates rose and the nuclear family changed, the Bradys were still close-knit, supportive, and fun.

    • Actors: Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Ann B. Davis, Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb
    • Premiered: September 26, 1969

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