Top 10 ABC Sitcoms of the 1970s
Weird but awesome.
While NBC was floundering in its attempts at comedy in the '70s, ABC was dominating. By the end of the decade, they had rolled out a marketing campaign with the theme "Still the One" just to remind everyone who was king. Of course, that all came to a fairly swift and abrupt end once the '80s rolled around and ABC has never really recovered in the world of sitcoms. But, prior to that, they ruled the roost.
Among their shows of that era are some of the most beloved TV programs of all time and they spanned the entire decade. Yes, some on the list were cheesy and the network did tend to play it safe for the most part, but there is no denying their record of hit shows.
Note that to qualify for the list, shows had to have spent the bulk of their lifespan in the decade of the '70s, which disqualifies wildly popular shows like Three's Company and Taxi.
10. The Partridge Family (1970-1974)
Premise: The family that rocks together stays together.
While perhaps not the first family of television comedy at ABC (that title is reserved for another show on this list), the Partridges captured enough of the hearts and minds of households to hold down a successful five-season run on the network. Centered around a family singing group -- and the moderately creepy manager -- the show soared thanks to the dreamy talents of David Cassidy and a very young Susan Dey.
9. Love American Style (1969-1974)
Premise: Multiple plots, one show.
LAS was one of the first examples of a show with multiple plots involving numerous guest stars each episode. Later, shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island (both ABC shows as well) would take the format to a whole new level. Many of the segments were considered racy for the time, though they would be barely PG by today's standards.
8. The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)
Premise: America's first blended family.
"Here's the story..." Words that would signal the birth of the family-based sitcom. Part after-school special, YA television and part adult comedy, The Brady Bunch became a massive hit and pop cultural phenomenon once it reached syndication. The plot of a couple marrying and trying to combine three boys and three girls (and a maid and her butcher boyfriend) was ripe for all sorts of lessons and comedic hijinks, including one very famous football-meets-nose moment.
7. What's Happening!! (1976-1979)
Premise: Inner-city LA teens work and get insulted by Dee, the sarcastic sister, and Shirley, the chubby waitress.
The best parts about What's Happening!! (besides those two exclamation points) were contained in the sarcastic jabs provided by the show's female characters. Dee, the young, whip-smart sister of Rog, was particularly acerbic, dropping all kinds of put downs on her brother and his goofy friends. Shirley may have been the prototypical sassy waitress, but Dee was something different and funny as hell.
6. Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979)
Premise: Former troubled youth returns to his high school to teach a remedial class.
When this show first aired, it was as famous for its catch phrases as it was for John Travolta's good looks. From "up your nose with a rubber hose" to "Hello, how ah ya? I'm Ah-nald Ho-ah-shack," the "sweathogs" of James Buchanan High in Brooklyn new how to turn a phrase. But, it was the sparkling good looks of Vinnie Barbarino that landed the show on the cover of every teen magazine in America...well, his face anyway. Some of the best moments where when students would barge through the window of Kotter and his wife's apartment from the fire escape or the interactions with Mr. Woodman (vice principal) who hated Kotter from his days at the school.
5. Barney Miller (1975-1982)
Premise: Cops and a Fish.
Among the underrated '70s joints, Barney Miller is certainly one of the headliners. The sitcom revolved around a police precinct, something that was often handled with relative seriousness at the time, but was more like Taxi in a police precinct. They recruited some fine veteran acting talent including Hal Linden and Abe Vigoda as "Fish" and the show was consistently funny. It also spawned one of the most recognizable bass lines in music history with its intro.
4. Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983)
Premise: One of quite a surprising number of successful spinoffs from our No. 1 show on the list, this show involved two best friends and roommates (guess their names!) as well as a cast of weirdos and crazy people in Milwaukee. The title characters worked at a brewery, but most of the show was set either in their apartment or in a pizza place/bowling alley run by Laverne's father. In addition to being very funny over an extended run, the '50s-era show spawned the career of one Marshall, Penny as Laverne, and continued the marvelously successful career of another, Frank (Penny's brother) as show creator. Penny has gone on to mega success in Hollywood as a writer and director and Frank is still one of the greats in showbiz comedy.
3. Soap (1977-1981)
Premise: Soap opera parody in prime time and only 30 minutes.
Soap was both funny and controversial for its time. It was also one of the most critically acclaimed sitcoms of any era. Centered around a soap opera-like cast that included some future celebrities and respected character actors (Richard Mulligan, Katherine Helmond, Robert Urich and Billy Crystal), it pushed the boundaries of sexual humor and was labeled raunchy by censors and church groups, though pretty tame by today's standards. It also featured one of the first TV portrayals of an openly gay man by Crystal.
2. The Odd Couple (1970-1975)
Premise: Sports journalist and dandy try to be roommates.
The casting of Tony Randall as the uptight, fastidious Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as the crude, bawdy Oscar Madison is one of the inspired pairings in TV history. The unlikely buddy comedy was spawned from the film of the same name with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Most of the humor centered around their vast differences and despite being a remake of a successful film (which starred some sizable names), it was nearly always hilarious.
1. Happy Days (1974-1984)
Premise: Family in the '50s lives life and takes care of Fonzie.
This take on George Lucas's sweet film about growing up in the '50s American Graffiti was not only a massive hit, but it launched the careers of numerous budding stars and produced several successful spinoffs including Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy. Set almost entirely in either the home of the Cunninghams or Al's pizza joint, no character shined more than Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzerelli, a greaser motorcycle mechanic who was beloved by the ladies and seemed to possess a magical ability for repairing anything by smacking it. From Ron Howard to Scott Baio to Pat Morita to Henry Winkler, the show gave us some signature Hollywood stars. It also was the genesis of the term "jump the shark" referring to an episode when The Fonz jumped a shark tank in a season-ending cliff hanger.
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