Top 15 '80s Sitcoms

For this week's Ranked!, we decided to rank our favorite sitcoms from the 1980s. Enjoy!

15. Silver Spoons
14. Diff'rent Strokes
13. Married... With Children
12. Newhart
11. The Facts Of Life
10. Bosom Buddies
9. Head Of The Class
8. Who's The Boss
7. The Wonder Years

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6. Growing Pains
Growing Pains.

Why did I faithfully watch Growing Pains?


Two words: KIRK CAMERON.

Be still my now-cougar heart. Rawr. --Jennyonthespot

5. Night Court
Night Court was a weird show. Nothing about it should have worked. It was set in a dreary courtroom that tried cases during the graveyard shift. It had a bizarre cast of characters, including a magic-performing judge, a libido-laden DA, an uptight public defender, a scary, bald bailiff. It was filled with petty criminals and hookers and other dregs of society. But somehow, this strange stew did work and created one of the most original and revered sitcoms of the '80s.

Long before it was called "Must See TV," NBC ruled Thursday nights. The powerhouse lineup in the '80s included The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers and was topped off with Night Court. Night Court was different from the rest. It was over the top and silly. It was a great way to cap off a strong night of grounded sitcoms.

While Night Court didn't live on in reruns in the same way as Cheers, its influence is undeniable. Let's face it, there would never have been Arrested Development without Night Court. Two decades later, NBC comedy still rules Thursday night and it's sublimely satisfying to know that the night still ends with an over-the-top, silly show. Yesterday's Night Court is today's 30 Rock.

So long live Judge Harry Stone, Dan Fielding, Bull and the rest! --Daddy Geek Boy

4. Roseanne
Not counting the disastrous lottery-winning last season of the show, Roseanne was one of the most realistic sitcoms to air on television. While I'm sure there are plenty of bars where everyone knows your name, hippies raising Young Republicans, rich white men who take in orphaned African-American children and whose housekeepers go on to run all-girl boarding schools, and guys who have to dress like women to find affordable housing, nothing gave a realistic depiction of the salt-of-the-Earth Common Man like Roseanne.

Roseanne was about Roseanne and Dan Conner, two blue-collar parents, and their three children, Becky, Darlene, and DJ. And unlike most sitcoms, where all the bad things happened to other people and/or were neatly tied up and promptly forgotten at the end of twenty-two minutes, Roseanne dealt with serious and long-lasting issues. The family constantly worried if they'd have enough money to survive. The kids got into trouble frequently. The family argued over day-to-day events.

But while the show dealt with some heavy topics during its nine seasons, like abortion, menstruation, birth control, abuse, drug use, homosexuality, mental illness, and death, it was still a comedy. For no matter how much the family yelled at each other, no matter how much the kids rebelled, no matter how bad their money problems were, in the end they were a loving and caring family. And that made it realistic more than anything. --Chag

3. Cheers
Over its eleven-year run (1982-1993), Cheers laid the groundwork for all the three-camera comedies that depended on a wacky band of eccentric, maladjusted characters to flesh out their rosters. In Cheers' world, that roster included the cocky, womanizing alpha male. The cranky waitress. The dimwitted hayseed. The insufferable academic.

Not only that, but Cheers pulled off the impossible: halfway through its run, it replaced one beloved lead character with another, and sacrificed nothing in the process: Shelley Long’s prissy Diane Chambers exited at the end of Season 5, and Kirstie Alley’s neurotic, frazzled Rebecca Howe stepped in. That sort of change can rock a show at its core, but Cheers became both something new and something instantly comfortable.

During the show's final season in '93, I had the opportunity to drive out to L.A. and watch the cast rehearse for an afternoon. It was to be the last run-through before they filmed that week's episode, and I was curious to see if being funny was as effortless as the cast always made it seem. I sat in the studio and watched the cast work through their paces; they changed some blocking for cameras here, punched up a scene with some improvised lines there. I remember that Ted Danson and Rhea Perlman joked around a lot during breaks. Kirstie Alley kept cracking up at stuff George Wendt said between scenes, busting out with that braying cackle that made everyone else laugh too. Woody Harrelson, having already entered his Serious Actor phase by then, was absorbed in the paperback he kept pulling out of his pocket whenever the focus wasn't on him. Everyone was only acting at half levels, saving the good energy for the taping that night. But it was obvious, that late in the series' run, that the actors were able to slip into their characters like comfortable old clothes. By the time the rehearsal was done, they’d made their own writers laugh several times, as well as us guests sitting in the back of the studio. And yes, it was as effortless as it always looked at TV. --Didactic Pirate

2. The Cosby Show
Back before the Thursday night "Must See TV" that we all remember from the '90s, there was an all-star lineup in the '80s that rocked our world. Thursday nights on NBC started with The Cosby Show, then went to Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, and Hill Street Blues (AKA BEDTIME). That was the one night that my family would sit down and watch TV together. My dad was a teacher who worked two jobs. When he was at home in the evenings, he was usually really tired and/or grading papers (or screwing around on the computer; my geekiness is inherited). But I remember that Thursday nights were the one night he'd try to sit around with us kids and just hang out.

So The Cosby Show became important to us as a family. It was important to a lot of families, though. It was a groundbreaking series in that there had only been a handful of television shows that had African-American characters, much less a full cast of non-white actors. Cliff and Claire Huxtable (played by Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad) were working parents, but they were a doctor and a lawyer. They had five kids of varying ages (Sondra, the eldest was an adult but Rudy, the youngest, was still in grade school). The show centered around the normal every day things that a typical American family deals with. And they did it with with humor and with heart. And wildly colored sweaters.

The Cosby Show ran for 7 seasons and had a spin-off, A Different World, which ran for six seasons, and followed Lisa Bonet's character to college. The Cosby Show dealt with a lot of issues of the day: drugs, teen pregnancy, learning disabilities, because Bill Cosby is both a comedian and an educator (Picture Pages, anyone?). Since both my parents are teachers, they often used the show as an opportunity to talk to us kids about issues in our lives. I heard on more than one occasion "See, Cliff Huxtable says it too!" The Cosby Show was good clean fun for the family and, for me, has always been a nice tribute to dads who make time for their kids, even when they're tired. --Archphoenix

[We cannot embed theme music for The Cosby Show. If you'd like to here it, click here.]

1. Family Ties
Apart from soap operas and reality TV shows (but you'd get a fierce argument from me on that topic), there is no television format more maligned than the situation comedy. If you look back at the history of sitcoms, you can see that there's good reason for that. When a show about someone's mother being reincarnated as an automobile can run for 30 episodes (My Mother The Car, 1965) and one about a talking horse can run a whopping six seasons (Mister Ed, 1961-1967) , there's plenty of ridicule material to work with.

Every once in a while, though, a sitcom is more than just a half-hour of forced laugh track. There were actually a few of them in the 1980s, but Family Ties was the real standout.

The problem that most sitcoms have is that they are based on whacky situations and over-the-top characters. Although Family Ties had its crazy moments -- like the time Alex, Mallory, and Jennifer decided to make money while his parents were away by turning the house into a hotel -- and outlandish characters (remember Nick?), for the most part the show was solidly grounded in real-world situations and people. All of the Keatons were well-developed characters who we really came to care about over the show's seven seasons. Even in the funniest episodes, there was enough serious interaction between the characters to make you like them as opposed to simply enjoying their weekly antics. This was so pervasive throughout the show that even when they decided to do a totally serious episode about Alex dealing with the death of a close friend, it was totally engaging. Usually, I think that going serious in a comedy is the kiss of death, but by the time they aired this episode, the audience was so invested in the characters that we didn't miss the rapid-fire hilarity.

Family Ties is a classic example of how a sit-com can really rise up and transcend the medium. It was one of the few shows of any type that was strong throughout its entire run and was sorely missed when it finally ended in 1989.

(Oh and here's a Family Ties-related question. Does anyone besides me remember a short-lived Family Ties spin-off called The Art of Being Nick? It's a long-running joke between my sister and me that I have imagined that show. But I KNOW I didn't.) --Dave

We showed you ours, now show us yours! What was your favorite '80s sitcom?

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