Yes, 1980s Teevee Was That Bad


“Alright!  It’s time for ABC’s TGIF lineup!” – Lisa Simpson
“Lis, when you get a little older, you’ll learn that Friday’s just another day between NBC’s Must See Thursday and CBS’s Saturday night craporama.” – Bart Simpson

This morning, Al Jean retweeted this horrifying YouTube copy of ABC’s network promo for the 1982-83 season:

It’s eighteen minutes long and isn’t worth watching in full, but starting at the 7:15 mark you can see three of their new comedies.  Two are family sitcoms.  The first, “Star of the Family”, starred Brian Dennehy as the dad.  Here’s the IMDb summary:

Fire Captain Buddy Krebs’ 16-year-old daughter Jennie Lee begins getting show-business offers because of her singing talents in the country/pop genre. This scares Buddy because he does not want his daughter to grow up too fast. Adding to his troubles, are (1) his wife runs off with a bellhop, (2) his 17-year-old son has muscle instead of brains in his head, (3) his crew down at the firehouse are “strange”: Feldmand tells his mother he is a doctor instead of a fireman, Rosetti has only sex on the brain and Max, a Hispanic, speaks fractured English. Finally, his daughter signs with a manager named Moose; the name fits the description of the woman.

Two precocious kids and a wacky fire station with an ethnic!  Millions of dollars were spent to create that.  It lasted ten episodes.

The second family comedy, “It Takes Two”, is just as bad:

Sam and Molly Quinn are two hard working career people just too busy with their careers (him a doctor and she a lawyer) to pay attention to each other or their teenage children.

That one made it a full twenty-two episodes but, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, did not get a second season.

Finally we come to “The New Odd Couple“, which is two black dudes who are opposites instead of two white dudes who are opposites.  It was a remake of a series that was itself a remake of a movie which was an adaptation of a play.  Creative!  It lasted eighteen episodes.

Stuff like this is why I described 1980s American television as a “terrible world“.  NBC and CBS were making shows just as bad and just as repetitive, and year in, year out, those three crappy channels were it.  No cable.  No satellite.  No internet.  Thank Jebus The Simpsons destroyed these so thoroughly that “family sitcoms” never recovered.

47 Responses to “Yes, 1980s Teevee Was That Bad”

  1. 4 March 2015 at 11:02 am

    Most TV was this bad up until The Simpsons updated it into the real world. Before them, most TV shows were light n’ fluffy crapola (I said “most”, not all) that weren’t capable of being remotely edgy. The Simpsons showed that not all shows had to be bland and inoffensive, and as a result became a more relatable show.

    Heck, up until The Simpsons, the biggest breakthrough for TV censorship was when Archie Bunker flushed a toilet. Because apparently flushing toilets is offensive.

  2. 2 Joe
    4 March 2015 at 11:06 am

    Jebus, that sounds awful, family sitcoms are still around but thankfully don’t get quite as much viewership, and are at least slightly better.

  3. 3 Richard
    4 March 2015 at 12:12 pm

    The start of TV’s second most exciting season – mid season – is just two hundred exciting seconds away!

  4. 4 March 2015 at 12:29 pm

    There were some good shows like SNL, MASH and Taxi, but yeah, great points.

    80’s movies were the best, ironically and thank God and Jesus for The Simpsons, Married With Children, Seinfeld, Modern Family and a few other good shows as well.

    • 4 March 2015 at 1:51 pm

      “Al let’s have sex”
      “Uhhh no Peg”
      *Flushes toilet*

      • 4 March 2015 at 3:14 pm

        Lol love that scene and line ^_^

        • 7 Monty Python Forever
          4 March 2015 at 4:28 pm

          Married with Children actually predates The Simpsons and is also an important precedent for modern comedies. I know that the main Simpsons show was preceded by Ullman shorts, but those were basically generic sitcom jokes.

          Modern Family is the worst possible examples: At least these sitcoms presumably have jokes, whereas Modern Family is nothing but boring drama and annoying characters. It is also incredibly racist and homophobc.

          • 8 RaikoLives
            4 March 2015 at 7:40 pm

            I’d rather give credit to Roseanne than to Married With Children, for bringing working class struggles, values and humour to the screens. They were hard, abrasive people (on the Roseanne show) but they were decent, and didn’t try to needlessly bring each other down to prop themselves up. The wretched cast of Married With Children were simply tools through which to insult the others, for “laughs”. And the sense of reality on Roseanne was similar to some of the early Simpsons, when a hard working guy just couldn’t provide for his family the way he wanted to, despite doing the absolute best he was capable of. It kinda got a little iffy in the last season when they won the lottery and went to Disney World etc, but that was basically a payoff for these hard working characters who’d struggled for as long as they had. A reward for the audience to get to see the family be happy. Married With Children was bottom of the barrel nastiness for nastiness sake. It’s basically the “Family Guy” to Roseanne’s “The Simpson’s”.

            Also yes. Modern Family is awful.

            • 9 Patty Cash
              4 March 2015 at 7:57 pm

              Wasn’t Roseanne’s last season revealed to be part of a book Roseanne was writing because Dan died and she became too depressed to do anything? So, how can you say that it’s like The Simpsons (unless it’s the weirder later episodes).

              And I like “Married…With Children” It was the first live-action sitcom I watched. Screw “Full House” and “The Cosby Show”! But, hey, everyone has their own tastes and opinions. Besides, there were people back in the late 1980s who did think of “Married…With Children” and vulgar and crass. It was supposed to be like that because the show creators were sick of the fluffy family shows that were on TV back then.

              • 10 torbiecat
                5 March 2015 at 5:24 am

                I dunno, I agree with RaikoLives with how Roseanne and The Simpsons are a more apt comparison. At some point during The Simpsons’ earlier seasons, I think Matt Groening said something to the effect of how The Simpsons is an animated sitcom but Married with Children is a cartoon consisting of actual actors, which think was a good way of describing the tone of both series. And think the whole thing of how Roseanne went off the rails in the end is kind like the zombification of The Simpsons.

                And as much as I disliked Married with Children, something I’ve noticed is how a lot of people failed to realize how tongue and cheek a lot of it is, and saw the jokes and characters as justification of their ugly views (e.g. assuming that all feminists are shrill and joyless people with a chip of their should like Marcy), which is sort of similar to how bigots supported Archie Bunker despite All in the Family ridiculing those of his ilk.

                and I’ve never watched Modern Family, but I pretty much stopped watching TV regularly after I lost faith in The Simpsons and went off to get my undergraduate degree. And I actually don’t mind the earlier seasons of The Cosby Show despite that it was a template for a lot of crappy family sitcoms.

            • 5 March 2015 at 10:47 am

              You know, I love Married…With Children, but I can’t disagree with it being Family Guy to Rosanne’s Simpsons. Interesting comparison.

          • 4 March 2015 at 8:17 pm

            Modern Family has now been on for at least 6 seasons and the jokes are funny and clever, the documentary style works, the cast is great and the gay themes are treated with class and humor. Some are cliches.

            It is a great comedy along with The Big Bang Theory.

            RIP Futurama btw.

      • 13 Stan
        4 March 2015 at 7:11 pm

        Putting a toilet in the middle of your living room. Get a load of this, feng shui!

      • 15 mmmfreegoo
        5 March 2015 at 8:53 am

        “Smithers I’m home!”
        “What? Already?”


    • 16 Joe H
      4 March 2015 at 2:43 pm

      MASH was for all intents and purposes a ’70s series. It could also be said that SNL had its roots in the ’70s which is why its creative juices still flowed through the ’80s. Though I think late night TV programming (SNL, Johnny Carson, etc) operated by its own rules.

      • 18 Patty Cash
        4 March 2015 at 7:48 pm

        [QUOTE]It could also be said that SNL had its roots in the ’70s which is why its creative juices still flowed through the ’80s.[/QUOTE]

        I don’t know about “still flowed in the 1980s,” considering that the 1980-1981 season of the show was a disaster due to Lorne Michaels and his staff leaving and NBC hiring Jean Doumanian to create a new 1980s SNL (which, believe it or not, included Gilbert Gottfried as a cast member and was where Eddie Murphy got his start). It flowed again when NBC fired Jean Doumanian and got Dick Ebersol to retool the show, then the creative juices took a turn for the strange when Lorne Michaels came back and got a cast filled with celebrities who were semi-famous at the time (Robert Downey Jr., Joan Cusack, Anthony Michael Hall, Dennis Miller, etc), then it went back to normal when Lorne got Dana Carvey, Victoria Jackson, Kevin Nealon, and, of course, Phil “Troy McClure” Hartman and Jan “Manjula” Hooks.

        What I’m trying to say about SNL is that its quality is more of a roller coaster than a bullet train to Hell, like the one The Simpsons has taken since season 10 and hasn’t (though some people do think SNL’s quality took a bullet train to Hell).

  5. 20 FireFlower
    4 March 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Nothing kuch has chnaged. TV sucks these days as well.

  6. 22 FireFlower
    4 March 2015 at 1:15 pm

    much* changed*

  7. 23 Joe H
    4 March 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Yeah, the ’80s was a very noticeable TV slump era, especially in light the the very entertaining and original shows that were coming out through the ’60s and ’70s and even the ’50s. I’m not sure why, but by the time of the 80s they really did shackle themselves on the traditional family sitcom mold, seeped heavily in the moralizing with very few purely fun TV shows.

    You can sort of see this trend taking shape in the ’70s, moving away both from purely fun premises and grittier dramas (particularly cop dramas). However, there were standout early examples shows that kept the genre fresh and interesting in their own ways (Little House on the Prairie, All in the Family)

    But it seemed to absolutely crystallize in the ’80s when it seemed like every show was literally a cookie carbon copy of either the family sitcom genre (particularly aping The Cosby Show’s success) or making desperate attempts at remaking classic ’50s ’60s and ’70s TV shows/situations with forgettable results. They were often very safe, “wholesome” situations while making only lip-service at being edgy.

    Though it wasn’t totally bad. Dallas was also a good show until they screwed it over near the end of its run. Though even that was launched in the 70s.

    • 4 March 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Well said, Charlie’s Angel’s too and Family Ties, Alf and Small Wonder were the only good 80’s sitcoms as well, Mr. Belvidere too maybe.

      70’s was creative esp for Woody Allen (Sleeper,1973)

      • 25 RaikoLives
        4 March 2015 at 4:45 pm

        ALF is one of the worst television programs ever made. I beseech thee to go and rewatch it. Phil Reed over at NoiselessChatter.com is doing a weekly review series for ALF if you’d rather read than watch. Episode 1 – http://noiselesschatter.com/2013/10/17/alf-reviews-a-l-f-season-1-episode-1/

        • 26 Patty Cash
          4 March 2015 at 7:36 pm

          Al Jean actually worked on ALF.

            • 28 Matthew
              4 March 2015 at 9:25 pm

              I heard Sony had the movie rights to ALF and wanted to do it as a SMURFS-style live-action/animation hybrid. Maybe Al Jean can get his old job back there.

              In all honesty, the worst of the Saturday Morning Cartoons of this era are a better point of comparison than prime time TV. Hanna-Barbera and Filmation still dominated Saturday morning, and their output was not getting better. The whole animation industry seemed to be in a slump starting from Walt Disney’s death (and probably a few years before that) and the demise of “Looney Tunes” in the 1960s until WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT came out in 1988. Even the live-action sitcoms were more animated than some of the Saturday Morning cartoons of this era.

          • 29 torbiecat
            5 March 2015 at 6:11 am

            As did Mike Reiss. I think The Tonight Show was where the duo go their start.

          • 30 Bleedy Gums Murphy
            5 March 2015 at 5:32 pm

            Shiver my timbers!!
            I mean… Al Jean works on Zombie Simpsons… but he also worked on The Simpsons and The Critic… how… how could the same man who worked on ALF be also part of the team that made so many wonderful episodes of The Simpsons?

            • 31 torbiecat
              5 March 2015 at 8:18 pm

              Both Jean and Reiss worked on Homeboys from Outer Space, too. I’ve never seen that show, but seems to have quite a… reputation. It makes the whole connection to excellent years of The Simpsons all the more boggling.

              • 32 torbiecat
                5 March 2015 at 8:20 pm

                I meant “Homeboys IN Outer Space.” Like I’m mangling the name of a great cultural institution…

        • 4 March 2015 at 8:21 pm

          I forgot about Different Strokes!!!!

  8. 4 March 2015 at 3:30 pm

    This topic reminds me of that awful Three’s Company spinoff, The Ropers.

    Also, don’t we all realize by now that skewering the ‘white middle class suburban family’ has worn thin ages ago, and hasn’t been ‘edgy’ in a long time? It’s long been a toothless and safe resort for hacks with no original material, but writers keep attempting to bring it back and fail every time, with few exceptions now and then.

    • 35 RaikoLives
      4 March 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Being “edgey” vs being “toothless” aren’t really concerns for what are attempting to be safe, middle-of-the-road shows that appeal to a few and are offensive to none. It’s not what the studios are looking for.

  9. 4 March 2015 at 3:33 pm

    P.S.- haven’t we had enough of shows extolling the virtues of being a beta male?

  10. 37 Patty Cash
    4 March 2015 at 7:34 pm

    [QUOTE]Thank Jebus The Simpsons destroyed these so thoroughly that “family sitcoms” never recovered.[/QUOTE]

    Yeah, but now you have animated family sitcoms trying to be like “The Simpsons,” whether it’s showing a quirky or dysfunctional family or trying to do clever, pop culture-laden jokes about how silly modern life is (even though “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home,” “The Flintstones,” and “Fritz the Cat” did quirky families and sociopolitical satire better back in the 1960s and 1970s). Not that it’s all bad, but, just once, I’d like to see an animated piece that wasn’t like this. I hear that Europe and Japan do great things with animation…

  11. 38 Victor Dang
    4 March 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Sure, 1980s TV was bad, and 1980s mainstream music was only a few notches above it, but on the plus side, the video games were stellar! Well, assuming you weren’t an Atari fan after 1983.

    • 4 March 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Super Mario!!! AVGN on YouTube…. Must watch…

    • 40 torbiecat
      5 March 2015 at 5:29 am

      The video games of the ’80s are really the only good thing about that decade, in my opinion. That decade sucked big time, and I don’t get the nostalgia for it.

      • 41 Monty Python Forever
        5 March 2015 at 9:02 pm

        I love those old NES and Genesis games, and even some Atari games are still fun. I do love a lot of ’80s music though, and my favorite Grand Theft Auto game and soundtrack is Vice City.

  12. 42 Marcy Conolon
    4 March 2015 at 8:52 pm

    [QUOTE]NBC and CBS were making shows just as bad and just as repetitive, and year in, year out, those three crappy channels were it. No cable. No satellite. No internet.[/QUOTE]

    Actually, there was cable television dating as far back as the 1950s. Satellite TV started in 1976, and the Internet also started in the 1950s. You could argue that they wouldn’t come to be commercially available/molded into how we have them now until later, but you can’t just say they weren’t around just so you can demonize how mediocre TV was back then and prop “The Simpsons” up as a savior. I thought you had more faith in your readers than that. If they’re smart enough to pinpoint everything that’s wrong with this week’s 20-minute documentary on how not to write a sitcom, then they should be smart enough to see that cable, satellite, and Internet were always around.

    And what about TV in the parts of the world that had TV (you know, in countries where English is not a main language. Scary, I know, but it is real)? Were they as bad (or worse) than American TV?

    • 43 Joe H
      5 March 2015 at 1:47 pm

      I’m pretty sure he meant American TV. British TV has often been rather strong, at least since the ’60s. Just changed in keeping up with the times and audience tastes. Heck, Soviet TV was probably better than American TV in the 80s. (Hyperbole probably, but maybe?)

      And you are quite right about cable/satellite. It was a godsend around that time, though around that time dish was very bulky and less practical.

      Internet was more common in the latter days of the ’80s though it was more limited to college/student use though it did gain some traction among private PC owners.

      • 44 torbiecat
        5 March 2015 at 2:54 pm

        I think something that British TV has in its favor is that it seems to operate more in terms of quality over quantity. American TV seems obsessed with having its shows continue for years and years.

        • 45 Monty Python Forever
          5 March 2015 at 8:58 pm

          American TV has a lot of bullshit like Scorpion, The Big Bang Theory, Allegiance, Broad City, The Blacklist,, The Walking Dead and Jon Stewart, but it also has awesome shows like Sleepy Hollow, Gotham, Hannibal, Workaholics, South Park, the upcoming Stephen Colbert show, The Flash, half of Constantine, Drunk History and Fargo. I would say the season is pretty good.

  13. 46 Matthew
    4 March 2015 at 9:17 pm

    It’s kind of disingenuous to cite three shows that bombed as representative of an entire decade of TV; even back then, we could read “Joanie Loves Chachi” for the crap it was, is, and always will be. But keep in mind “Cheers,” which has a fair bit of writer overlap with Good Simpsons, premiered that same year.

  14. 47 torbiecat
    5 March 2015 at 6:06 am

    I kind of find it depressing how Barney Miller so often gets overlooked when people talk about good TV shows of all time. It was another intelligent sitcom that was good at depicting real-life situations (and actually had some ethnic diversity with the characters). A number of police officers actually have stated that they actually like Barney Miller as opposed to so many other cop shows that are present or ever made, and have lauded it for its realism.

    A goofy thought of mine (of the several million that I have) is that I wonder if The Simpsons would have a similar fate to Barney Miller had it been a live-action show rather than had been animated and ended in its hey day. Think about it: The Simpsons notoriety was mostly due to it being animated, and that very notoriety has allowed it to persist. The Simpsons would probably had been lauded for its plots, characters, and intelligence, but would had faded into the mists of time, and be appreciated only by a certain subset of TV viewers. It’s not really a thought that has been subjected to a lot of rumination, so I’m sure there are holes in it.

    I frankly think that there were a number of decent ’70s sitcoms, and I suppose some stupid execs decided that the sitcoms of the ’80s needed to be (dratically) tonally different due to the changing times (and that the lack of intellect found in a lot of ’80s seems to part this). Well, I know that there was more to it than that, but yeah.

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