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Popular Sitcoms From the 1970s

By Edited Dec 30, 2014 1 9

This page is a tribute to some classic tv sitcoms from the 1970s. The 1960s had been dominated by family friendly shows that largely appealed to kids.  Most of the humor from the 60s was slapstick or fantasy.   This completely changed in the next decade.

 TV network executives decided by 1970 that they wanted to offer something different to viewers.  Shows like Green Acres and Beverly Hillbillies were still attracting large audiences, but most of them were children or older people. The networks were focused on attracting younger demographics as this is what advertisers wanted. This meant people in their 30s and 40s.

They made the controversial decision to cancel most of the 60s comedies that were still generating good ratings so that they could feature programs with more contemporary themes. As a result, they broadcast series like All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which went on to become icons that are still loved today.

The comedies of the 70s tackled subjects that had previously been taboo on television. The gamble paid off, as the majority of the programs turned out to be very successful. Many are still being shown on classic TV channels today.

All in the Family

All in the Family

Let's start with one of the biggest sitcom hits from the 70s. All in the Family was the first program to finish as the top rated series for five consecutive seasons.  It regularly drew over 30 million viewers for each episode in the first few seasons.  Such ratings are unheard of now except for major events.  

All in the Family was very funny but also controversial.  The creator of the series, Norman Lear, had to pitch it to more than one network.   CBS finally agreed to pick it up.  Mickey Rooney was offered the role of Archie, however the actor declined. He felt it was too risky to play such a character.

This series was the first to feature episodes about subjects that had not been featured on television before. Such topics as the Vietnam War, impotence, rape, and cancer  were included on the program.   All in the Family was targeted to an adult audience, and they loved it. 

Archie was quite a complex person. He was hot tempered, bigoted, and had little patience with anyone who did not agree with his points of view. However, Archie was also a hard working man, and he deeply loved his wife and daughter. He really longed for the days of the 40s and 50s, when life was a lot simpler.

Edith was almost always subservient to Archie, even if she did not agree with a lot of his views. It was always memorable on those rare occasions when Edith stood up to him. One example was on the occasion of their 25th anniversary. Edith had secretly booked a room in the Atlantic City hotel room where they had spent their honeymoon. Archie has bought tickets for a ball game for the same weekend. Edith was forced to reveal her secret when she found out he was going to attend the game. Archie wanted her to cancel the reservation. She refused, and insisted they celebrate their anniversary by going to Atlantic City once again.  That was one of the few episodes where Archie showed a softer side.

Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton were great actors.  Neither one of them were even remotely like the characters they portrayed so well.  

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary's program was one of the first about a successful single woman who loved her career. Mary had a happy life and fulfilled life.   In that regard the show was considered ground breaking.  It was one of the most popular 70s sitcoms and was a staple on Saturday night.  

Mary Tyler Moore Show
There was no such thing as a DVR, so if you wanted to see the program you had to be home.   

Mary and Rhoda became very good friends, even though they were opposites in many ways.  Initially the writers were going to have Rhoda's character take a dislike to Mary. However, Mary Tyler Moore  was very popular,  having starred for many years as Laura Petrie in another successful series. The writers thought there could be a backlash. So although Rhoda's first impression of Mary was not too favorable, she changed her mind very quickly.

Mary was  the level headed one at the WJM network.  Murray was most of the time, but he had his slip ups.  Mary could almost always be counted on to keep calm and help fix problems.

The biggest problem was usually Ted, who drove Lou and the others crazy on a regular basis. Over the years the supporting characters changed, which is typical for a long running series. One thing that remained consistent was the good writing and plausible storylines. 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show returns to Me TV on January 1st and will air in the morning.  

Rhoda

The character of Rhoda was very popular on Mary Tyler Moore.  CBS decided to take a chance by giving Valerie Harper her own show. It turned out to be a very successful program for the first two years.  Then  the writers made a bad decision by having Rhoda and Joe split up.  

Valerie  Harper as Rhoda

 The writers thought a single Rhoda give them an opportunity to involve her in stories that were more interesting.  I disagree.  The ratings dropped when  the characters separated, and there was quite a backlash from viewers.

Rhoda's sister Brenda was featured regularly on the show, along with her nosy and manipulative mother. There was continuity with the actress playing her mom, as Nancy Walker had appeared on MTM a few times. However, Brenda had never been previously mentioned.

 The episode in which Rhoda married Joe happened a few weeks after the series began. It was the second highest rated TV episode ever at the time. Over 50 million people tuned in to watch. It still remains high on the list of most watched episodes.

Many people from MTM appeared at the wedding, including Mary herself, who was her closest Minneapolis friend. Rhoda had to run to catch the subway to make it to the ceremony, as Phyllis forgot to pick her up. She is seen running down the streets of New York in her wedding gown.  To this day it remains one of the most memorable sitcoms scenes.  

Carlton the doorman was never seen, but he was heard on the intercom almost every episode. He often had too much to drink.  Carlton was wise cracking and sarcastic. The man who voiced Carlton later went on to do Garfield the cat.

The Opening Scene From Rhoda

Mary comes to the airport to say goodbye

The Bob Newhart Show

The Bob Newhart Show was part of a powerhouse Saturday evening line up of 1970s sitcoms. It was not an instant hit like All in the Family or Mary Tyler Moore, but the show built up a loyal audience over time.    

Bob Newhart Show cast

This program did not win a single Emmy, even though it lasted for several seasons. Bob Newhart  featured a really good ensemble cast. Many of Bob's patients were semi regulars.

Bob and Emily were very patient with Howard, the neighbor who  just walked into their apartment without knocking. Howard frequently had problems and he would seek Bob and Emily for advice.

There were some very memorable episodes. One of my favorites was when a few of Bob's patients convinced him to hold a therapy session on TV. Another was Bob's awkward appearance at Emily's school to talk to her students.  Bob  found it very hard to relate to the young ones.  He had no children of his own and was used to relating only to adults.  

Bob Newhart  has been on ME TV on and off for many years. Bob has appeared on the network in a series of witty and funny ads. Sadly Suzanne Pleshette died several years ago of cancer.

Threes Company

This series centered around room mates Janet, Chrissy and Jack. The landlords originally were the Ropers. They eventually left the program and were replaced by Mr Furley.  

Threes Company cast

Many plots involved misunderstandings between the roommates and their outlandish schemes to solve problems. It was  slapstick comedy, and always hilarious. John Ritter was one of the best comedians in performing physical comedy.

Three's Company had many cast changes. The Ropers were such a funny couple who were very popular with the audience.  This led to producers writing them out of Threes Company so they could star in their own TV series.  It was not successful however.   Much as I like Don Knotts, he wasn't as good in this show as he had been playing Barney Fife.

 Suzanne Somers abruptly left in a highly publicized dispute over her salary, and was replaced by Jennilee Harrison, and later Priscilla Barnes. The character of Larry was added.  

For one season they also had Lana, an older woman who was crazy about Jack.   He did not feel the same way about her.

Jack did have many girlfriends, but the relationships he had with Janet and the other room mates always remained platonic. At the end of the series, Janet got married, Terri moved to Hawaii and Jack moved in with his girlfriend Vicki.

 Threes Company  probably lasted a couple of years longer than it should have.  It wasn't believable to have people that age so broke they had to keep living together for all of those years. However, it did remain a very funny program until the end.  

Suzanne and Joyce DeWit, who played Janet, were estranged for many years due to Suzanne leaving the show.  They finally reconciled their differences a couple of years ago and are friendly again.  John Ritter tragically died suddenly many years ago.

Happy Days

This long lasting series resulted in stardom for Henry Winkler.  He made the character of Fonzie enormously popular.   The program did not anticipate Fonzi would be so well liked.  

Ron Howard in Happy Days

He started as a minor character but that soon changed when it was apparent how much the audience loved him. Fonzie had been abandoned by his parents and was raised by a grandmother. He loved the Cunningham home, as it represented stability and a happy home life.

Mrs Cunningham was the only person who ever called him by his real name of Arthur. He was always Fonzie, or The Fonz, to everyone else.  Fonzi always affectionately  referred to her as Mrs. C. 

The series presented an idealized version of life in the 50.  That made it pleasant to watch. The young people hung out at Arnold's drive in.

Happy Days  introduced viewers Laverne and Shirley, who were spun off into their own successful series. Robin Williams appearance as Mork was so popular it led to the creation of the Mork and Mindy show.  This program was responsible for the spin off of three more successful 70s sitcoms.   The third one was Joani loves Chachi.   The show was set in Milwaukee, which was a first for a TV series.

Happy Days was Ron Howard's last acting role. He left the series before it ended to start his highly successful directing career.

There were other highly popular 70s sitcoms in addition to those mentioned here.  MASH has been in reruns continuously since it ended.  Maude was a spinoff that was just as controversial as All in the Family.  The Jeffersons also were a spinoff and were highly rated for many years.

I don't think they make sitcoms like this today.  Those shows were genuinely funny.  

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Comments

Jan 23, 2015 12:59pm
LexShadowglide
Great article. I loved all of those shows as a kid. The physical comedy of John Ritter was always great. Also the theme songs really put you in the mood for the shows, because when you heard that song playing, you knew you were going to get some laughs.
Jan 23, 2015 9:21pm
WriterJoanne
It's too bad new TV shows don't have theme music Some of those themes became classics themselves. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Jan 23, 2015 3:18pm
javrsmith
It's amazing that they were able to broadcast All in the Family. Even today, watching "Archie Bunker" on YouTube is amazing. That's timeless humor, in my opinion. And it's still edgy!
Jan 23, 2015 9:22pm
WriterJoanne
I still think it's one of the funniest shows of all time. Thanks for your comments.
Jan 24, 2015 6:43pm
Moina-Arcee
Love All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore. Very well written shows with great acting by the principals, and hilarious physical comedy. MASH was another controversial but very funny sitcom too. Thanks for the article.
Jan 25, 2015 9:46am
WriterJoanne
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Jan 25, 2015 7:55am
msevie68
My favorite shows were Happy Day, Laverne&Shirley, Three's Company I never missed one show. Loved them
Jan 25, 2015 9:46am
WriterJoanne
I never missed any either. It was when TV shows were funny. Thanks for reading.
Aug 4, 2015 7:03pm
drangelahowell
We love Bob Newhart!
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