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The Most Popular TV Shows Of The 1970s

Updated September 17, 2020 6.0k views20 items

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? It features Archie Bunker, a working-class husband and father who lives a Queens row house with his ditzy wife, Edith. Also in attendance are his daughter Gloria and her husband Michael "Meathead" Stivic, who both spar with Archie on his narrow-minded, prejudiced, and often offensive views.

    Ratings/Awards: 55 Emmy nods, 22 wins. At its peak, ⅕ of the US was tuning in to Archie.

    Why Was It So Popular? Few shows have changed the landscape of television more than Norman Lear's All in the Family. The show is considered by both fans and critics as one of the best ever made as it dealt with controversial topics in groundbreaking ways. Parts of the set, including Archie's chair and Edith's apron, are on permanent display at the Smithsonian. The show also spawned many spinoffs, including Good Times, Maude, and The Jeffersons.

    • Actors: Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers, Betty Garrett
    • Premiered: January 12, 1971

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  • Photo: ABC

    What Was It? The show focuses on the Cunningham family and the dilemmas of nice-guy teen Richie Cunningham.

    Ratings/Awards: This 1970s slice of life set in the 1950s wasn't a runaway hit in its first two seasons. It wasn't until Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) was given a more significant role that the show really took off. 

    Why Was It So Popular? The Fonz, AKA Fonzie, a greaser from a broken family, was initially introduced as a cautionary character, but once writers showed that he was a tough guy with a heart of gold, Happy Days's ratings went through the roof.

    The show also coined several catchphrases used by characters, and some are still used today. For example, the term "jump the shark," which describes a juncture when something reaches its peak and begins a swift decline, originates from the moment Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while on water skis. 

    • Actors: Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, Anson Williams
    • Premiered: January 15, 1974

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  • Photo: CBS

    What Was It? The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All in the Family. The show tells the story of an affluent Black family whose obstinate but lovable patriarch (George, played by Sherman Hemsley) runs a successful dry-cleaning business.

    Ratings/Awards: The show received 13 Emmy nominations, and Isabel Sanford (George's wife, Weezy) was the second African American actress ever to win an award for Best Actress.

    Why Was It So Popular? Much like All in the Family, The Jeffersons also dealt with controversial topics and was the first to feature an interracial couple in Helen and Tom Willis, who were played by Roxie Roker (Lenny Kravitz's mother) and Franklin Cover.

    • Actors: Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Mike Evans, Damon Evans, Roxie Roker
    • Premiered: January 18, 1975

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  • Photo: CBS

    What Was It? Variety shows featuring guest stars, music, and sketch comedy were all the rage in the '70s, and The Carol Burnett Show was at the top of the heap. The series ran for 11 seasons, from 1967 to 1978 on CBS, and features Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and Lyle Waggoner.

    Ratings/Awards: 70 Emmy nominations with 25 wins.

    Why Was It So Popular? Spontaneous and hilarious, the show brought the energy of its "anything goes" live performances to audiences nationwide who were glued to their TV to witness classic sketches, such as "Went with the Wind" and "From Here to Maternity." The highlight, however, was "The Family Sketch," which depicted nearly all the cast members in a bickering, dysfunctional clan (and spawned a spinoff with the show Mama's Family).

    • Actors: Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway
    • Premiered: September 11, 1967

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