Readers' Poll: The 10 Best TV Shows of the 1980s - Rolling Stone
Home TV TV Lists

Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best TV Shows of the 1980s

See what series managed to beat ‘Alf,’ ‘The Wonder Years’ and ‘Married With Children’

Cheers and Miami Vice


How exactly does one pick the greatest television show of the 1980s? Do you go with a beloved sitcom like Cheers, an era-defining action drama like Miami Vice, something fantastically dated and silly like Alf or maybe a primetime soap opera like Dallas? Then there's the issue of a certain family sitcom whose central figure has been revealed to be a sexual predator. Should that impact our respect for his show? Well, we asked our readers to sort through all these issues and select their favorite series the Reagan decade. Here are the results. 

Night Court

‘Night Court’

New York really does hold court sessions late into the evening. Stop by the downtown courthouse to watch a steady stream of accused people face sentencing – just don't expect to see the staff engage in elaborate prank wars, a judge obsessed with magic tricks and Mel Torme, a womanizing prosecutor or a dim-witted bailiff named Bull. Sadly, reality is a lot more boring than television.

Fun Night Court fact: Ellen Foley, who portrayed public defender Billie Young in the second season, was Meat Loaf's duet partner on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." She also dated the Clash's Mick Jones, and their rocky relationship inspired him to write "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"



Three years before Die Hard turned him into an enormous movie star, Bruce Willis was known to the world only as Detective David Addison on the ABC cop show Moonlighting. His partner was Maddie Hayes, played by Cybill Shepherd. The show had a unique fusion of comedy and drama, and "shippers" pined for the day when Willis and Shepherd would finally declare their undying love for each other. The show hit the skids by 1989, just as Willis was more than happy to move on to movie projects. 

Family Ties

‘Family Ties’

Few shows are more quintessentially 1980s than Family Ties: This program revolved around a free-spirited hippie couple that winds up with a straight-laced Republican son played by Michael J. Fox. Simply put, it stacks the values of the 1960s against the values of the new decade. It's hard to imagine any show today contemplating such a thing, but Family Ties was an enormous hit and ran for seven seasons, wrapping up just months after Ronald Reagan left office. 

Mr. T

‘The A-Team’

In Rocky III, our hero faced a brutal, fool-pitying competitor named Clubber Lang. He was brilliantly portrayed by Mr. T, and soon after the movie hit the actor was presented with a handful of new opportunities. The best one was a television show about a group of former Special Services officers hired to perform extremely dangerous jobs. T was the breakout star, and his face was quickly appearing on lunch boxes, action figures and pillowcases all over the country. The show ran for five seasons, but in 2010 became a motion picture starring Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson and Jessica Biel. 



With the possible exception of E.T., Alf was the most docile alien of the 1980s. Sure, he was always threatening to eat the family cat, but he never actually went through with it. The show began when his spaceship crashed into the garage of the Tanner family – a pretty lucky break because they instantly took him in and treated him like one of their own, resisting the Alien Task Force's attempts to take him away. It's an incredibly goofy show, but it's aged a little better than you might think. Plus the dad looks and sounds so much like Joe Lieberman that it's almost eerie. 

Wonder Years

‘The Wonder Years’

Directly after the 1988 Super Bowl, a new show – one about a family way back in the impossibly distant year of 1968 – first appeared on the air. It taught kids about Vietnam, the moon landing and why it's important to hang onto your old friends even if they become huge nerds in their teenage years. At the center of the show were Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper, an adorable couple who spent much of their time breaking up and making up over and over again. Want to feel old? Consider that if they made this show today, it would take place in 1995. 

Ed O'Neil

‘Married With Children’

Fox was just months old when Married With Children hit the air in April of 1987, and the series didn't do much to earn the new network a lot of critical respect. As the title suggests, it's about a married couple with children, but at the time, television had never shown anything like this. Al Bundy and his wife Peg could barely stand each other, and they certainly didn't fawn over their two kids. Instead, Al watched TV, complained about his job at a woman's shoe store and rebuffed Peg's never-ending sexual advances. Family values groups launched a bitter protest campaign, but this only led to more attention and better ratings.

Hill Street Blues

‘Hill Street Blues’

Television producer Stephen Bocho was absolutely on fire in the 1980s, spearheading everything from Doogie Howser, M.D. to L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues. The last was an incredibly popular program about a group of police officers. Unlike many modern-day procedural shows, you saw the cops both at home and on the job. It was filmed in Los Angeles, but they went out of their way not to specify which city the series took place in. It won a slew of Emmy's and stayed on the air for seven seasons – were it around today, there would probably be four different spin-offs.

Miami Vice

MIAMI VICE, Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, 1984 - 1989. (c) Universal Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.



‘Miami Vice’

If 1980s television had to be boiled down to a single show, it might well be Miami Vice: The edits were fast, the clothing was bright, cocaine was everywhere and the women were barely dressed. Hell, any series that casts Phil Collins as a game show host named Phil the Shill screams 1980s beyond belief. At its peak, Miami Vice was so popular that stars Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas both had music videos on MTV. It ended in 1989, right on time. 


CHEERS, from left, Nicholas Colasanto, Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman, 1982-93, ©Paramount Television/courtesy Everett Collection




When you think about it, the characters on Cheers all had pretty sad lives. Norm hated his wife and job, Cliff was a lonely mailman, Sam's baseball glory days were long behind him and Carla was raising a bunch of kids on what was surely a pretty tiny salary. But the beauty of the show was that these people all had each other. They became an unlikely family unit, even if they came from wildly different walks of life and had little in common. The show ran for an incredible 11 seasons, and then Kelsey Grammer played Frasier for another 11 seasons on a hugely successful spin-off. 

In This Article: Readers Poll

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.