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The Most Popular TV Shows Of The 1970s

Updated July 28, 2021 6.8k 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: ABC

    What Was It? It features comedy hijinks with roommates and best friends who share an apartment and work at the fictional Shotz Brewery. The duo engages in plenty of physical comedy and the occasional musical number.

    Ratings/Awards: Laverne & Shirley started life on Happy Days, with Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) as an occasional girlfriend to Richie Cunningham and Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) paired off with the Fonz. The girls were then spun off into their own popular series. By 1980, the show had "jumped the shark" when the girls made a move to Los Angeles and Williams left the show. It was canceled in 1983. 

    Why Was It So Popular? Due to the comedic timing of Marshall and Williams.

    • Actors: Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Eddie Mekka, Phil Foster, David L. Lander
    • Premiered: January 27, 1976

    #106 of 301 The Best Duos of All Time#83 of 234 The Greatest TV Shows for Women#42 of 184 The Most Important TV Sitcoms

  • What Was It? Mary Tyler Moore starred as Mary Richards, a 30-something TV producer who spends much of her time working with a cast of colorful characters, including her gruff boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), an egomaniacal newsman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), and her co-producer Murray (Gavin MacLeod).

    Ratings/Awards: The Mary Tyler Moore Show was so successful that it spawned three spinoffs - Rhoda (1974-78), Phyllis (1975-77), and Lou Grant (1977-82) - and received 67 Emmy awards (winning 29) and 22 Golden Globe nods (winning 3).

    Why Was It So Popular? One of TV's first real feminists, Mary was the first of her kind - a single woman whose career was far more important than a romantic relationship. She did have boyfriends and even came home dressed in the same clothes she wore while out the night before (unheard of in the '70s), but her love life was never the focal point of the show.

    • Actors: Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper
    • Premiered: September 19, 1970

    #78 of 206 The TV Shows With The Best Writing#13 of 89 The Best CBS Shows of All Time#412 of 632 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch

  • Photo: ABC

    What Was It? Long before Charlie's Angels was ever committed to film, there was the iconic TV show starring Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson as detectives Jill Munroe, Kelly Garrett, and Sabrina Duncan, who worked for the never-seen but often heard Charlie.

    Ratings/Awards: The show was an instant hit among fans, but not so much with critics, who lamented its "jiggle" factor.

    Why Was It So Popular? Charlie's Angels became an instant hit and made an icon of Fawcett, whose hairstyle was copied by millions of girls around the world. Her fame was such that she had the best-selling poster in history, which currently hangs in the Smithsonian.

    • Actors: Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett, David Doyle, Cheryl Ladd
    • Premiered: March 21, 1976

    #43 of 325 The Best Female-Lead TV Shows#154 of 508 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time#58 of 89 The Best 1980s Primetime TV Shows

  • Photo: NBC

    What Was ItLittle House on the Prairie is the story of the Ingalls family, a pioneer clan who made their way across various states to settle in Walnut Grove, MN, in the late 19th century.

    Ratings/Awards: 16 Emmy nods and 4 wins. The show stayed in the Top 10 for years before its popularity started to wane in the early 1980s. When it was canceled, show star/producer/writer/director Michael Landon decided to go out with a "bang." He had to dispose of the sets as they were on rented property, but he also didn't want them used for other productions. He wrote a finale in which a developer buys up the town, and its residents then decide to enact revenge by blowing up every building. The only structures that aren't blown up are the Ingalls home and the church.

    Little House still airs in 30 countries worldwide and is available on Amazon Prime. 

    Why Was It So Popular? The show debuted in 1974 (as a two-hour film) and ran for nine seasons. Based on the true tales from young adult novelist Laura Ingalls Wilder, the family show dealt with some hard-hitting topics while focusing on the importance of family and the community.

    • Actors: Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, Karl Swenson
    • Premiered: September 11, 1974

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