The 1970s was an incredibly exciting era for television, as it introduced groundbreaking shows that pushed the limits of what could be shown on the small screen. This list of the most incredible TV shows from that time ranks them based on the opinions of both viewers and die-hard fans of television. These shows, like All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, and Sanford and Son, completely revolutionized the world of television by seamlessly blending social commentary with hilarious moments. They fearlessly tackled sensitive topics such as poverty, racism, abortion, rape, and abuse, paving the way for future discussions and debates on television.
But it wasn’t all serious business during this era! Alongside these thought-provoking shows, there were also lighter sitcoms that brought immense joy and entertainment to audiences. Who could forget classics like The Brady Bunch, Three’s Company, and Laverne & Shirley? These shows were loved by millions for their pure entertainment value and ability to make us laugh out loud.
If action and adventure is more your style, then the 1970s had you covered too! Shows like Charlie’s Angels, Ironside, and The Six Million Dollar Man were action-packed and drew in massive audiences, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. And let’s not forget the variety shows that left an indelible mark on television during this time. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, in particular, was an absolute sensation that had everyone talking.
We’re eager to hear from you! Share with us your favorite TV shows from the 1970s. Which series do you believe should be remembered for generations to come? This list showcases the highest-rated and most buzzed-about shows of the decade, so make sure to cast your vote for the ones you think are absolutely outstanding.
(Note: “Rhoda” could be considered the most polarizing show on this list.)
1. All in the Family
This groundbreaking sitcom tackles social issues with humor and poignant insight. It follows the lives of Archie Bunker, a working-class bigot, his wife Edith, their daughter Gloria, and son-in-law Mike. The show fearlessly addresses topics like racism, sexism, and politics, which resonated with viewers and challenged their preconceived notions. Unsurprisingly, it is widely regarded as one of the most acclaimed shows in television history.
Premiered: January 12, 1971
Actors: Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner
The Korean War serves as the backdrop for this classic show that skillfully captures the mix of laughter and sorrow felt by a tight-knit group of army doctors. Led by the unmatched talent of Alan Alda in the role of Hawkeye Pierce, the ensemble cast masterfully combines humor and heartfelt moments, making this series a true cultural phenomenon. Unforgettable characters like Hot Lips Houlihan and Klinger add depth and humanity to the portrayal of war during a turbulent period in American history. The show’s long-lasting appeal is undeniable, evident in its impressive 11-season run and ongoing presence in syndication.
Premiered: September 17, 1972
Actors: Alan Alda, McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers
3. Happy Days
Set in the 1950s and based on a Midwestern family, this sitcom instantly won over audiences with its heartwarming portrayal of a simpler era. With the talented Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, and Tom Bosley leading the cast, it didn’t take long for viewers to become attached to the show. Through the adventures of Richie Cunningham and his friends, including the unforgettable Fonzie, this series captured the essence of teenage life with a perfect blend of humor and genuine emotion. Even now, the catchphrases from the show, like “Ayyyy!” and “Sit on it!”, still resonate with fans and continue to be remembered.
Premiered: January 15, 1974
Actors: Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Tom Bosley
4. The Rockford Files
This detective drama had James Garner in the lead role as Jim Rockford, a former convict who became a private investigator. It really grabbed the attention of viewers with its exciting cases and a protagonist who had his flaws but was still quite lovable. The show was known for its great mix of storytelling that focused on the characters and action-packed scenes. In fact, it paved the way for the crime dramas we see today. Garner’s performance as Rockford was so charismatic that it made him one of the most unforgettable TV detectives.
Premiered: September 13, 1974
Actors: James Garner, Noah Beery, Joe Santos
5. The Carol Burnett Show
An awesome sketch comedy series led by the comedic legend Carol Burnett, along with Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner, totally mesmerized audiences. It was all thanks to their hilarious skits, famous guest stars, and unforgettable musical performances. This show was not afraid to push boundaries with its satire, all while showing off Burnett’s amazing talent. No wonder it won Emmy awards and is still considered a classic that people adore.
Premiered: September 11, 1967
Actors: Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner
6. WKRP in Cincinnati
This sitcom took place in the world of radio broadcasting. It followed the hilarious misadventures of a diverse group of characters, including Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Loni Anderson, and Tim Reid. They all worked at an underdog station, striving to become more popular. The show had a sharp sense of humor and introduced us to unforgettable characters like Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap. It perfectly encapsulated the vibe of the late ’70s and never failed to bring laughter to its audience.
Premiered: September 18, 1978
Actors: Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson
7. Sanford and Son
This sitcom, centered around junk dealer Fred Sanford and his son Lamont, offers a unique portrayal of life in Watts. The talented Redd Foxx, known for his impeccable comedic timing, brings Fred Sanford to life, while Demond Wilson portrays his son Lamont. Through their hilarious interactions, the show also touches on important themes surrounding race relations in America.
The series is filled with unforgettable catchphrases, such as “You big dummy!” and “I’m coming to join you Elizabeth!” These lines have become iconic and are still quoted today. The comedic chemistry between Fred and Lamont creates uproarious hijinks that make the show a timeless classic.
Premiered: January 14, 1972
Actors: Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson, Whitman Mayo
8. The Scooby-Doo Show
Everyone loves the mystery-solving Great Dane and his gang – Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy. This cartoon series brought us a delightful mix of spookiness and hilarity as they solved supernatural mysteries. It’s no surprise that Scooby-Doo has become a beloved part of our popular culture. The show has even spawned countless spin-offs and adaptations throughout the years.
Premiered: September 11, 1976
Actors: Don Messick, Casey Kasem, Frank Welker
This sitcom was set in a New York City taxi company and had quite the cast – Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Andy Kaufman, Marilu Henner, Tony Danza, and more. The group of cabbies they portrayed was quite eccentric, and their interactions on the show created some truly unforgettable moments. What made the show even more special was how it managed to delve into the human condition with both warmth and humor. It wasn’t just about laughs – there were some serious and dramatic storylines too. It’s no wonder this show earned so many accolades and developed such a devoted following.
Premiered: September 12, 1978
Actors: Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway, Danny DeVito
The iconic detective series that featured Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo was a massive hit with audiences. Falk’s portrayal of the seemingly bumbling yet brilliant investigator had a unique charm that captivated viewers. His trademark catchphrase, “Just one more thing…” became a household phrase.
Unlike most crime shows, the suspense in this series came not from figuring out who committed the crime, but rather from watching Columbo use his unorthodox methods to unravel each case and expose the culprit. It was this innovative format that set the show apart from others in the genre.
Peter Falk’s performance as Columbo was truly endearing, and it continues to have a lasting impact on modern detective dramas. The show’s influence can be seen in the way subsequent detective series have approached their storytelling and character development. Falk’s portrayal of Lieutenant Columbo will forever be remembered as a defining role in the world of television.
Premiered: September 15, 1971
Actors: Peter Falk, Mike Lally, John Finnegan
11. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
This sitcom was set in a local newsroom and made waves with its fresh approach. Mary Tyler Moore played Mary Richards, a single woman who faced both professional triumphs and personal obstacles. The show boasted a stellar cast, including Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, and Gavin MacLeod, among others. It fearlessly addressed important issues like gender equality and the complexities of the workplace, all the while providing plenty of laughs. And who can forget that unforgettable opening sequence? The image of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat into the air has become an iconic moment in television history.
Premiered: September 19, 1970
Actors: Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod