Theme Times – American Sitcoms 1980’s

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1980’s Sitcoms Part 1

A sitcom, clipping for situational comedy (situation comedy in the U.S.), is a genre of comedy centered on a fixed set of characters who carry over from episode to episode. Sitcoms can be contrasted with sketch comedy, where a troupe may use new characters in each sketch, and stand-up comedy, where a comedian tells jokes and stories to an audience. Sitcoms originated in radio, but today are found mostly on television as one of its dominant narrative forms. This form can also include mockumentaries.

A situational comedy television programme may be recorded in front of a studio audience, depending on the programme’s production format. The effect of a live studio audience can be imitated or enhanced by the use of a laugh track. During filming productions, the laugh track is usually pre-recorded.

Critics disagree over the utility of the term “sitcom” in classifying shows that have come into existence since the turn of the century. Many contemporary American sitcoms use the single-camera setup and do not feature a laugh track, thus often resembling the dramedy shows of the 1980s and 1990s rather than the traditional sitcom. Other topics of debate have included whether or not cartoons, such as The Simpsons or Family Guy, can be classified as sitcoms.

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1980’s Sitcoms Part 1

1 – WKRP in Cincinnati – 1978 – 1982

When a Cincinnati radio station switches from sedate music to top-40 rock ‘n’ roll, its staff of oddball characters has to switch gears quickly. New program director Andy Travis brings in a DJ named Venus Flytrap to work with the station’s burned-out veteran, Dr. Johnny Fever. Neurotic newsman Les Nessman, eager beaver Bailey Quarters, sleazy salesman Herb Tarlek, blond bombshell Jennifer Marlowe — who serves as the station’s ultracapable receptionist — and station manager Arthur Carlson, whose domineering mother owns WKRP, round out the eccentric bunch.

2 – Cheers – 1982 – 1993

Sam Malone, a former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, owns and runs Cheers, a cosy bar in Boston. Somewhat snobby, beautiful and intelligent Diane Chambers – forced to become a waitress when her fiance jilts her – constantly bickers with Sam. Eventually, they fall in love. Several wacky characters make the bar their home-away-from-home, including sarcastic waitress Carla, beer-loving accountant Norm and know-it-all letter carrier Cliff. A few seasons later, after Diane leaves Boston, Sam sells the bar to buy a boat and sail around the world. But his boat sinks and he returns to bartending. Rebecca Howe, the new (more ambitious) manager, hires him back. They love to hate each other and eventually get together as well.

3 – The Golden Girls – 1985 – 1992

Four mature women live together in Miami and experience the joys and angst of their golden years. Strong-willed Dorothy, spacey Rose, lusty Southern belle Blanche and matriarch Sophia, Dorothy’s mom, occasionally clash but are there for one another in the end. After all, when the show’s theme song is titled `Thank You for Being a Friend’, the ladies have to remain friendly with one another.

4 – Different Strokes – 1978 – 1986

Two black kids from Harlem, Arnold Jackson and older brother Willis, are welcomed into the family of wealthy New York businessman Philip Drummond when their mother, his housekeeper, passes away. The two brothers become part of the Drummond family and learn various lessons about life.

5 – Three’s Company – 1977 – 1984

When two single girls need a roommate to share their Santa Monica apartment, they decide to offer a room to the guy they find passed out in the bathtub after the going-away party for their last roommate. Hijinks ensue.

6 – Benson – 1979 – 1986

Butler Benson DuBois is the smartest (and possibly only sane) member of widowed Gov. Eugene Gatling’s household staff. Benson always manages to keep his head, no matter what the staffers or the governor’s family members throw at him. He begins his post on loan from his employer, Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) on the show “Soap,” but soon wins a permanent place in the governor’s staff and heart. His cool head and keen intellect are a perfect complement for the constant craziness that surrounds Gov. Gatling and his entourage.

7 – Taxi – 1978- 1983

This Emmy-winning sitcom follows the lives of a group of cabbies in New York. The employees of the Sunshine Cab Company are a motley crew, including frustrated actor Bobby, struggling boxer Tony, art gallery receptionist Elaine, and tyranical dispatcher Louie. For almost everyone, the cab company is just a temporary job that can be left behind when they make it in their chosen professions. The core of the company is disillusioned Alex (Judd Hirsch), who’s sure he will be driving a cab for the rest of his life. Burned-out ex-hippie minister Reverend Jim and mechanic Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman) round out the group.

8 – Mork & Mindy- 1978 – 1982

Mork, an alien from the planet Ork on a mission to Earth to study human behavior, travels to 1970s Boulder, Colo., where he meets up with Mindy, a young journalism graduate, after his egg-shaped spacecraft lands there. The bumbling alien is trying to get a handle on Earth culture, and his frequent dispatches back to his home planet give him the opportunity to sound off on human foibles. This spinoff of “Happy Days” features Robin Williams as Mork in an early starring role for the comic actor. As Mork would say, “Na-nu, na-nu!”

9 – Alice- 1976 – 1985

After her husband is killed in a trucking accident, Alice packs up the car and her son, Tommy, and heads to Hollywood, dreaming of a singing career. Her car breaks down in Phoenix, forcing her to take a job at Mel’s Diner, a greasy spoon where gruff owner Mel barks orders to Alice and her fellow waitresses.

10 – Family Ties – 1982 – 1989

Steven and Elyse Keaton, once 1960s radicals, now find themselves in Reagan-era American trying to raise a traditional suburban family. Son Alex P. Keaton is an ambitious young Republican, and his sister Mallory is a shallow victim of the corporate culture, obsessed with music, clothes and boys. Their only normal kid is young Jennifer, a bit of a tomboy. In later seasons, the Keatons add a fourth child, Andrew. Most of the comedy arose from the conflict between the liberal parents and the conservative children.

The big question of course is this … how many of today’s so call sitcom themes can you whistle along to in fond memory in comparison to yesterday’s? So the sitcoms from late 70’s to mid to later 80’s – which were your favourites? 

Tomorrow – UK Sitcoms = The 80’s

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10 thoughts on “Theme Times – American Sitcoms 1980’s

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    1. Hey Gary, yeah very much so – very much so, the 80’s l think were pretty clear cut in many ways for music, sitcoms and so on – in this world of ours today nothing is defined.

  1. Great post Rory. 😀
    I watched all of them but I loved Benson and mork and Mendy and three’s company.

    I’m not sure about the years,
    Star trek, The incredible hulk, The six million dollar man and woman, the twilight zone, soap, the munster’s, the Adams Family, there were others but I can’t remember the names alone with the other ones I’ve mentioned before.

    ❤️✌️
    BY FOR NOW

    1. Hey Dawn, these will all get covered in the coming weeks from the UK and the US sides of comparison – there are some great titles in there from Drama, Family, Sci-Fi and so on 🙂

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