The 1980s was a time when families gathered around their television sets, eager to escape into the world of sitcoms, dramas, and wholesome entertainment.
We’re going down memory lane to revisit some of the best family TV shows from the ’80s. From heartwarming sitcoms that taught valuable life lessons to action-packed adventures that thrilled kids and adults, the ’80s had it all.
So, grab your favorite snack, settle into your favorite armchair, and go back to a time when TV brought families closer together.
Top 6 best family TV shows from the ’80s
Cheers (1982 – 1993)
Cheers was an iconic American sitcom that ran for 11 seasons, capturing viewers’ hearts. Set in a Boston bar with the same name, it provided the backdrop for its patrons and staff’s witty, heartwarming, and often hilarious interactions.
Produced by Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions, the show was created by James Burrows, Glen, and Les Charles. It starred Ted Danson as Sam Malone, the charming bar owner, and Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, a sophisticated waitress. Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of Dr. Frasier Crane was so memorable that he received his own spin-off series, “Frasier.”
“Cheers” launched careers and became synonymous with the phrase “where everybody knows your name.” It emphasized that family extends beyond blood ties, portraying the bar as a second home for its characters, creating a sense of belonging.
As a quintessential ’80s and ’90s TV show, “Cheers” remains beloved for its timeless lessons in friendship and community, making it a must-watch for fans of classic sitcoms and those seeking a nostalgic journey.
Family Matters (1989 – 1998)
This enduring American sitcom aired on ABC in 1989 before moving to CBS in 1997. A spin-off of “Perfect Strangers,” the show revolves around the Winslow family, an African-American middle-class family residing in Chicago, Illinois.
This beloved sitcom tackled many themes, with some of its “special episodes” being particularly impactful. It wasn’t just about laughs; it delved into serious issues.
For instance, Eddie Winslow (played by Darius McCrary) grappled with Chicago street gangs. At the same time, Carl Winslow (portrayed by Reginald VelJohnson) faced racial bias within the Chicago Police Force, providing a poignant reflection of real-life challenges.
Though it reached its peak ratings during the ’90s, Family Matters maintained the timeless charm of ’80s family sitcoms. Its endearing characters, including the iconic Steve Urkel (played by Jaleel White), have left an indelible mark on pop culture.
With its blend of humor and thought-provoking content, “Family Matters” remains a classic, showcasing the enduring appeal of family-centric television.
Punky Brewster (1984 – 1988)
This beloved American sitcom first aired on NBC from September 16, 1984, to March 9, 1986, and later in syndication from October 30, 1987, to May 27, 1988. The show is about a lively girl named Punky Brewster, played by Soleil Moon Frye, who is raised by her foster parent, George Gaynes.
The series gained such popularity that it even inspired an animated spin-off titled “It’s Punky Brewster,” where the original cast lent their voices to their respective characters. This cartoon was produced by Ruby-Spears and aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to December 6, 1986.
In 2020, “Punky Brewster” made a remarkable comeback when NBC announced a 10-episode revival exclusively for its Peacock streaming service. Soleil Moon Frye reprised her role, joined by original cast member Cherie Johnson. The revival premiered on February 25, 2021, bringing back the beloved character and her endearing charm for both nostalgic fans and a new generation of viewers to enjoy.
Growing Pains (1985 – 1992)
This is an American television sitcom that aired on ABC for seven seasons, totaling 166 episodes. The show was created by Neal Marlens and revolved around the Huntington, Long Island, New York Seaver family.
Dr. Jason Seaver (portrayed by Alan Thicke), a psychiatrist, works from home to care for their kids while his wife, Maggie (Joanna Kerns), resumes her career as a reporter. The Seaver children include the ladies’ man and troublemaker Mike (Kirk Cameron), bookish honors student Carol (Tracey Gold), and rambunctious Ben (Jeremy Miller), who idolizes Mike and emulates his penchant for mischief.
Season four introduced a new addition, Chrissy Seaver, portrayed by twins Kelsey and Kirsten Dohring and later by Ashley Johnson, who rapidly aged over seasons five through seven.
In the final season, the Seaver family expanded, including homeless teen Luke Brower, played by a young Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Growing Pains” blended family dynamics with humor and life lessons, becoming a beloved ’80s and ’90s sitcom that resonated with viewers for its relatable characters and the challenges of growing up and raising a family.
Family Ties (1982 – 1989)
This classic American sitcom aired on NBC for seven seasons, beginning on September 22, 1982, and concluding on May 14, 1989. Set in Columbus, Ohio, during the Reagan administration, the show revolved around the Keaton family.
Steven and Elyse Keaton, portrayed by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter, were baby boomers and former hippies raising their three children: ambitious, conservative Alex (Michael J. Fox); fashion-conscious Mallory (Justine Bateman); and tomboy Jennifer (Tina Yothers). The clash of generational ideologies and values during the 1980s formed the crux of the show’s humor.
Alex, a young Republican and a Reaganomics enthusiast, often found himself at odds with his liberal parents. Mallory, in contrast to her feminist mother, was portrayed as materialistic and apolitical. Jennifer represented a bridge between her parents’ values and the younger generation.
The show creator, Gary David Goldberg, drew inspiration from his experiences and observations of the changing cultural landscape in the ’80s. Despite the characters’ ideological differences, the series skillfully balanced humor with thoughtful moments, and Michael J. Fox’s portrayal of Alex became a central element in the show’s success.
The Cosby Show (1984 – 1992)
The Cosby Show is a groundbreaking American television sitcom co-created by and starring Bill Cosby. Airing on NBC from September 20, 1984, to April 30, 1992, the series revolves around the Huxtable family, an upper-middle-class African-American household in Brooklyn, New York.
Cliff Huxtable, portrayed by Bill Cosby, is an obstetrician and the son of a renowned jazz trombonist. His wife, Clair Huxtable, played by Phylicia Rashad, is a lawyer. They are the loving parents of five children: Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy.
The show masterfully combines humor with insightful commentary on important issues, such as Theo’s struggle with dyslexia, inspired by Cosby’s own experiences with his dyslexic son, Ennis. “The Cosby Show” also fearlessly tackled teenage pregnancy when Denise’s friend Veronica became pregnant.
Notably, the series was based on Cosby’s stand-up comedy routines and drew from his real-life family experiences, lending an authentic and relatable touch to the show. It not only shattered stereotypes but also provided a positive representation of an African-American family on television, making it a cultural milestone and a beloved classic in the world of television.
In concluding our journey through the ’80s and some of the best family TV shows it had to offer, it’s clear that this decade left an indelible mark on the world of television.
From the heartwarming camaraderie at “Cheers” to the insightful social commentary of “Family Ties,” and the relatable dynamics of “Growing Pains,” these shows continue to resonate with viewers of all generations.
These series weren’t just about entertainment; they reflected the era itself.
They navigated through societal changes, embraced diverse family dynamics, and provided a comforting escape into the lives of characters who felt like a part of our own families.
Looking back, it’s evident that the ’80s weren’t just about neon fashion and catchy tunes; they were a golden era for family-oriented television. These shows, filled with laughter, love, and life lessons, remind us of the enduring power of storytelling and the bonds that tie families together—both on and off the screen.
So, whether you’re reliving these classics or discovering them for the first time, there’s something timeless about the best family TV shows from the ’80s that will continue to warm our hearts for years.