I really think the 70s was the best decade in television. Pop culture is a subjective game, and any “best of” list is a surefire way to start an argument among even the closest of pals.
But the friendly, rational and logical person in me is here to tell you that television was at its best, its greatest, its most epic – in the funky, far out, groovy era of the 1970s. It’s not enough to say TV shows in the ‘70s were just good. When compared with other decades, it’s not even close. It was television at its finest.
The ‘70s were a time when TV began to graduate from safe, formulaic ‘60s sitcoms like “My Three Sons” and “Leave It To Beaver,” the less realistic and but more fanciful “Bewitched,” “The Addams Family,” “The Munsters” and “I Dream Of Jeannie,” and of course, westerns galore.
And yet, it was before the transforming years of the ‘80s when cable TV and new networks exploded on the scene, not to mention VCRs and movie rentals, which changed our viewing habits. More wasn’t necessarily better. “Charles In Charge,” anyone?
The ‘70s started with the groundbreaking “All in the Family,” which dipped its comedic toes into sensitive topics, injecting a new realism into the sitcom format that normally portrayed only happy families with little social strife. The show dominated ratings for six consecutive seasons, and made a huge impression on TV history, so much that you can even find Archie Bunker’s original chair on display in the Smithsonian.
Airing at one point right after “All in the Family” was another trailblazing show: “M*A*S*H.” Based after a 1970 feature film of the same name, “M*A*S*H” could have been classified as a situation comedy or dramedy, but it always had a huge following. By season two, it remained in the ratings top twenty for the rest of its 11 seasons and continues in syndication today. Its 1983 series finale was America’s first-ever, and still only, regular primetime TV series to be watched by more than 100 million viewers for a single episode.
Venerable “Saturday Night Live” was also born in the ‘70s, and its 40 seasons have given rise to a who’s-who of comedians and actors, all the while remaining one of the longest-running network television programs in history. In 1975, its cutting edge and satire bucked the trend of family-friendly variety shows from yesteryear, while its highly rare “live” format still retains a perpetual risk of censorship, not to mention constant media criticism.
Sitcoms would remain a solid force in the ‘70s, several that became notable and some even historic: “The Brady Bunch,” “Happy Days,” “Good Times,” “Three’s Company,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jefferson’s,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Barney Miller,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Maude,” “Alice,” “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and “Taxi,” were just a few.
One of its most celebrated may have been “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which received high acclaim during its seven-year run. It was an innovation of sorts, having been the first TV show with a never-married, independent career woman as its central character.
The ‘70s also showcased many dramas, action shows and family fun, which still retain prominence in entertainment folklore to this day: “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Eight is Enough,” “CHiPs,” “The Waltons,” “Wonder Woman,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “The Love Boat,” “Columbo,” “The Partridge Family,” “Kojak,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and “Fantasy Island,” were a few.
Let us also not forget “The Carol Burnett Show,” which though born in the ‘60s, continued its solid streak of respectable ratings, unyielding laughs and character breaking – for which the show became famous – through most of the ‘70s.
The case has been made – ‘70s TV was a hit in more ways than one. If you’re old enough to remember these shows, reliving their distinction validates once and for all that your couch potato lifestyle was warranted; and if not, YouTube is only a click away – all of which proves that the ‘70s live on, and once gave us the best TV programming you will ever see. And that's why the 70s was the best decade in television.