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Sitcoms of the '70s

Deepa Kartha
Some television sitcoms define our childhood and youth, especially those that were very popular during the 70s.
As opposed to stand-up comedy, where a comedian performs in front of a live audience, situation comedies, or sitcoms, as they are popularly known as, feature a storyline plotted around a group of characters. In sitcoms, the place and characters remain the same, while only the situations change.
A popular genre of comedy, sitcoms date back to the 1940s and earlier, where they were aired on various radio channels. Since the 1940s, however, they have been broadcast on television, and have garnered a healthy following as the decades has passed. Though they are extremely popular these days, it was during the '70s that this genre really caught on. Most sitcoms in the seventies focused on family life and issues related to social injustice.

Best Sitcoms of the 70s

Barney Miller (1975-1982)

Cast: Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie (1975-1976), Abe Vigoda (1975-1977), Max Gail, Ron Glass, Jack Soo (1975-1979), Gregory Sierra (1975-1976), James Gregory, Steve Landesberg (1976-1982), Ron Carey (1976-1982)
"I cannot make the choice between the prevention of a major crime and the correction of my son's overbite! Particularly when the overbite runs on your side of the family."
Barney Miller was an American sitcom that aired between January 1975 to May 1982. The plot revolves around Capt. Barney Miller, the leader of the NYC Police Department and his team of detectives, and the cases they solve. The show is split between cases being solved by the detectives, and personal interactions about their own issues. Barney Miller was a hit with real life police officers, who liked it because of its life-like portrayal of characters and situations.

M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

Cast: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, David Ogden Stiers

"If you want a drink, sir, -- compliments Henry Blake -- brandy, scotch, vodka. And for your convenience, all in the same bottle."
Running for 11 years, M*A*S*H was a sitcom that followed the staff of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War, though it was aired when the Vietnam war was ongoing. The television series was adapted from the 1970 feature film of the same name. In spite of being a sitcom, the show did take a serious turn in its later season, and is also considered to be in the dark comedy genre. Early episodes were based on real incidents recounted by MASH surgeons.

Taxi (1978-1983)

Cast: Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway (Seasons 1-3), Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner, Tony Danza, Randall Carver (Season 1), Christopher Lloyd (season 1 as guest, 2-5), Carol Kane (Season 5), Andy Kaufman, J. Alan Thomas

"I'm not really a cab driver. I'm just waiting for something better to come along. You know, like death."
Winner of 18 Emmy Awards, including 'Outstanding Comedy Series', this sitcom circles around a fictional New York based cab company called Sunshine Cab Company and a handful of taxi drivers who work for that company, driving cabs to make a living.
The plot is a dynamic mix of characters, from the wise veteran driver to the obnoxious rude driver, and the situations they face in daily life as cab drivers. Though classified a sitcom, Taxi deals with important issues like drug addiction, single parenthood, teenage runaways, and the loss of a loved one, among others.

The Odd Couple (1970-1975)

Cast: Tony Randall, Jack Klugman

Oscar Madison: "You want brown juice or green juice?"
Felix Unger: "What's the difference?"
Oscar Madison: "Three weeks".
Two men, both separated from their wives, share an apartment in Manhattan. The humor strikes when we see that both of them are totally different from each other. One is a cleanliness freak, having an obsession with tidiness, while the other is casual, sloppy and laidback. The plot is based on their conflicts and differences in their lifestyle, and establishes both of them as freaks in their own way. The series is influenced from the 1968 film of the same name.

The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978)

Cast: Bob Newhart, Suzanne Pleshette, Marcia Wallace, Peter Bonerz, Bill Daily

"I was, uh, just decorating my Christmas tree and I was wondering, is there a trick to stringing cranberry sauce?"
A low-key comedian, Bob Newhart plays the role of a psychologist who deals with different people as his clients, friends and neighbors. The show basically centers around Newhart, but it also splits between his way of dealing with his professional life as well as his personal life which involves a family with a supportive, yet sarcastic wife!

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982)

Cast: Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Jan Smithers, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman

"This is Les Nessman saying so long, and may the good news be yours."
Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the plot of this sitcom is based on the adventures/misadventures of a fictional radio station. The series features running gags that are based on the characters habits, which is where the humor comes from. WKRP in Cincinnati won the Humanitas Prize, in addition to being nominated for 10 Emmy awards. The series enjoyed a successful run for its 4 seasons, doing better than even other big name sitcoms of the time.

All in the Family (1971-1979)

Cast: Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers, Danielle Brisebois

Mike: "Hey it just occurred to me, Mickey Mouse is black."
Archie: "Mickey Mouse ain't got no race. He represents all men."
Mike: "Oh, I guess that's why Walt made him a mouse."
This show was the favorite among all Americans from its first to last episode. However, 'All in the Family' became a controversial show because it voiced issues which white middle class families refused to accept. The main character of the show was Archie, who reflected the racist and chauvinistic attitudes of the middle class white American, and his wife Edith, who loved and supported him, though she was aware of his eccentricities.

Maude (1972-1978)

Cast: Bea Arthur, Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain, Rue McClanahan, Esther Rolle (1972-1974), Hermione Baddeley (1974-1977), J. Pat O'Malley (1975-1977), Marlene Warfield (1977-1978)

Maude Findlay: "Walter, if you don't want my daughter and my only grandchild living here with us just tell me."
Walter Findlay: "And...?"
Maude Findlay: "And I'll rip your heart out."
Maude is a spin-off of 'All in the Family'. Maude was Edith's cousin who was just opposite of Archie with her liberal and feminism attitude. Through Maude's upper class family, the sitcom brought forward the liberal perspective of issues like politics, class, race, and gender. The series, like all other sitcoms of the 70s, highlighted typical controversial social issues, but was praised for portraying alcoholism a result of social drinking.

Good Times (1974-1979)

Cast: Gerren Keith, Herbert Kenwith, Bob LaHendro, Donald McKayle, Perry Rosemond

"We are poor, and poor is one of three things people don't want to be. Right next to sick, and dead."
'Good Times' can be said to be a spin off from the show 'Maude' as the main character of the former is introduced in the latter. The series is the story of Florida Evans, Maude's African-American maid and her family who lived in a ghetto. The show takes the audience through the lives of the Evans' family as they try to make a living while dealing with issues like education, family tensions, race, finances, etc.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Cast: Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Georgia Engel, Betty White, Cloris Leachman

"It's actually tomorrow in Tokyo. Do you realize that there are people alive here in Minneapolis who are already dead in Tokyo?"
Mary Tyler Moore was a sitcom which began in the early 1970s and was aired on television till 1977. The show revolved around Mary, an open-minded, liberal, working woman who dealt with social issues that were prevalent during those times. Later, issues like homosexuality, premarital sex, and equal pay for women were also woven into the plot to fit into the comic structure.

Happy Days (1974-1984)

Cast: Ron Howard (1974-1980), Henry Winkler, Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Donny Most (1974-1980), Erin Moran (1974-1981, 1983-1984), Al Molinaro (1976-1982), Scott Baio (1977-1981, 1983-1984), Lynda Goodfriend (1977-1982), Cathy Silvers (1980-1983), Ted McGinley (1980-1984), Pat Morita (1974-1976, 1982-1984)
Richie Cunningham: "So how did you do on that social studies test?"
Potsie Weber: "I missed that question on Alaska. I hear they want to make it a state now."
Richie Cunningham: "That'll never happen."
The plot revolves around an American middle class family, the Cunninghams, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Though this sitcom started during the 70s, it reflected the life of the 1950s which was characterized by simplicity and innocence. Happy Days, like most of the sitcoms, had a production style of two sets wherein the characters interacted with each other. It was originally titled 'Love and the Happy Days' in the first episodic teleplay.

Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983)

Cast: Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Michael McKean, David L. Lander

Shirley Feeney: "Laverne, I'm telling you, flying is safer than driving! Nobody has ever crashed into a cloud!"
Laverne De Fazio: "Yeah well nobody ever fell 40,000 feet from a DeSoto either."
Laverne and Shirley was a spin off from Happy Days, as both the main characters were introduced in the latter. Laverne and Shirley was the story of two roommates, set during the 1950s and 60s, depicting how they dealt with their dates, family, and life. The show was popular enough to have an animated spin off in 1981 by Paramount Network Television. It was aired every Saturday morning.

Sanford and Son (1972-1977)

Cast: Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson

Fred Sanford: "Listen, Esther. In the first place, you can't enter that contest because you're not eligible. See one of the things you have to be is a part of a certain race."
Woody Anderson: "What race?"
Fred Sanford: "Human!"
Sanford and Son, which was aired in the year 1972, told the story of a father and son duo. The father, Sanford, and his son, Lamont, made a living by working in a junkyard. Though the show was humorous, it dealt with serious issues which were personal, economic, social, as well as political. It was the first successful Afro-American cast (mostly) to be broadcasted in American TV network in the history of television.

Three's Company (1977-1984)

Cast: John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, Norman Fell, Audra Lindley, Don Knotts, Richard Kline, Ann Wedgeworth, Jenilee Harrison, Priscilla Barnes

Janet Wood Dawson: "Chrissy, your dad is a minister, what does he usually say to couples in trouble?"
Chrissy: "He tells them to keep the baby."
Three roommates, two girls and one guy, platonically share an apartment in Santa Monica, where they struggle to pay the rent, amid other problems. Due to a strict landlord, the male roommate is forced to act gay to continue staying in the apartment. Heavy use of innuendo and misunderstanding, along with a fair bit of physical humor, is the hallmark of the show.

The Jeffersons (1975-1985)

Cast: Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Marla Gibbs, Roxie Roker, Franklin Cover, Paul Benedict, Mike Evans, Berlinda Tolbert, Zara Cully, Damon Evans, Ned Wertimer
Louise Jefferson: "Lionel, you'd better go to your room. I don't want you to get hit by your father."
Lionel Jefferson: "Why would Dad hit me?"
Louise Jefferson: "Because I'm not sure just where I'm going to throw him!"
Based on an affluent, well-to-do Afro-American couple in New York, The Jeffersons is the second spin-off from 'All in the Family' where the Jeffersons appeared as the neighbor of the Bunker family. The show focused on the life of an Afro-American couple but was not as politically focused as other sitcoms of the 70s. In spite of that, the show dealt with major issues including racism, suicide, and gun control.

Soap (1977-1981)

Cast: Jimmy Baio, Roscoe Lee Browne, Diana Canova, Billy Crystal, Cathryn Damon, Robert Guillaume, Katherine Helmond, Jay Johnson, Robert Mandan, Dinah Manoff, Richard Mulligan, Arthur Peterson, Donnelly Rhodes, Jennifer Salt, Robert Urich, Sal Viscuso, Ted Wass

I'm 4064 years old. What do you think I owe it to, a terrific moisturizer?
Soap, introduced to the world of television in 1977, had built up quite a lot of controversy around it because it contained sexual humor and risqué jokes. The show centered around two dysfunctional families, namely the Campbells and Tates. Though the show was full of drama, intrigue, clandestine affairs, these eccentric families soon became the favorite of the American people.

Other Honorable Mentions

♥ Alice
♥ Archie Bunker's Place
♥ B. J. and the Bear
♥ Benson
♥ Bridget Loves Bernie
♥ C.P.O. Sharkey
♥ Carter Country
♥ Chico and the Man
♥ Diff'rent Strokes
♥ Dusty's Trail
♥ Eight Is Enough
♥ Fernwood 2 Night
♥ Fish
♥ Make Room for Granddaddy
♥ Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
♥ Mork & Mindy
♥ Nanny and the Professor
♥ Operation Petticoat
♥ Phyllis
♥ Quark
♥ Rhoda
♥ Stockard Channing in Just Friends
♥ Tabitha
♥ That's My Mama
♥ The Bad News Bears
♥ The Love Boat
♥ The New Dick Van Dyke Show
♥ The Partridge Family
♥ The Practice
♥ The Ropers
♥ The Waltons
♥ Welcome Back, Kotter
♥ What's Happening!!
♥ ¿Qué Pasa, USA?
These were some of the sitcoms that were a favorite among people in the 70s. Many of these shows are being currently aired on television and still have a huge fan following. Moreover, many of them have been converted into DVDs and are available in the market. So, pick out a few among your favorite and enjoy watching them with your family and friends.