Tele-Tuesday: Remembering the Family Programs of Years Past

Television in the 1980s offered a bit more substance than today’s reality fixation.  Honest- to-goodness family programming dominated network TV’s primetime hours instead of the incessant need to watch individuals hurt themselves while rushing through an obstacle course or young talent’s hopes shatter in recorded auditions.

Growing up, Sunday nights at grandma’s house included a hot family meal with all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins, followed by bonding time in front of the TV with shows like Life Goes On and Our House.  Remember those?

Life Goes On

Our House

After homework and dinner Monday through Friday, we curled up on the sofa with mom and dad learning valuable, although funny, lessons with hit sitcoms including:

The Cosby Show

Who’s the Boss?

Family Ties

Growing Pains

The Wonder Years

These series all share wonderful messages.  Audiences watch as fictional families learn to adjust to difficult situations like understanding Corky’s disability in Life Goes On, or recovering from the death of a parent in Our House.  We discover how serious dyslexia is when Theo Huxtable is diagnosed in The Cosby Show, and just how harsh words can be as Carol Seaver suffers constantly from jokes about her weight and her intelligence throughout Growing Pains’ run.

Not all of the storylines in these popular sitcoms focus on family units prevailing through hard times.  Sometimes the stories lighten the mood and take us back to a happy place.  For example, viewers reminisce about first loves and conquering true love as Kevin Arnold crushes on Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, or as Tony Micelli and Angela Bower prove that money really doesn’t matter when searching for the one true connection in Who’s the Boss?.  We also learn to value the importance of friendships such as Mike Seaver and his buddies Boner and Eddie in Growing Pains, as well as Kevin and Paul in The Wonder Years.

But perhaps one of the best messages portrayed by all of these family sitcoms is the importance of education.  Each and every one of these series follows a character as they attend college.  Alex P. Keaton obsesses over one day leading the Republican party in Family Ties and attends college where he studies economics.  Even Kevin Arnold’s hippie sister, Karen, enrolls in college on her way to a M.R.S. degree (she gets married after her freshman year), and Mike Seaver overcomes his high school classroom struggles and takes a few college courses before quitting to pursue an acting career.

Sadly, families today with young children don’t have numerous options on the television similar to these ’80s sitcoms, leaving many with the decision to simply not watch TV.  While there’s nothing wrong with reality programs, what lessons do they teach our children?  That they can wear protective clothing and run through an obstacle course for money?  Or, that they can lay their hopes and dreams on the line to be the next big talent only to run the risk of being publicly humiliated, or that laughing at others’ failures is okay?

Reality TV is fun.  Most times, reality television is even clean enough for the family to watch together; but wouldn’t the return of family programming similar to these ’80s sitcoms make us smile?  We have a few popular sitcoms about families airing today (Modern Family and Parenthood come to mind), but aren’t these shows directed more toward adult humor versus good old-fashioned family values?

Just something to think about…

So many wonderful family programs aired in the 1980s, what did you watch?  What do you think of today’s family programming compared to the ‘80s?  What do you or would you watch with your family today?  I’d love to hear from you!

26 Replies to “Tele-Tuesday: Remembering the Family Programs of Years Past”

  1. Great post and I couldn’t agree more. I remember all of those shows. I loved The Wonder Years and The Hogan Family. My favorite was ALF. My mom let me stay up a little later so we could watch it together. I miss wholesome entertainment choices. What do we watch as a family? Things like, “Deadliest Catch.” Not quite the same. Thanks for posting this. I am glad to know I am not the only one out there missing Whinnie and Kevin. 🙂

    1. The Hogan Family and ALF are two wonderful examples of family programs in the ’80s. It was difficult for me to limit my blog selections to only the five listed today. I haven’t watched an episode of Deadliest Catch, but I would imagine it’s good ‘ol fashioned sporting fun for the family. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Jessie!

  2. I have to agree with you – I miss this sort of family programming. The closest I can think of is some of the sitcoms on the Disney channel, although those are geared heavily towards kids. You’re right – seems like it’s either for kids or adults without a whole lot of programming that the entire family can watch. Not to be a cranky old grump but I wonder how much of it is because families don’t sit around the television that much anymore – they’re on the videogames and the laptop and ect.?
    I’m a child of the 90s but I always caught Growing Pains reruns on the Disney channel. I have so much love for that show, and I had a crush on Mike Seaver before I knew what crushes was. Shame that the actor is pretty much the opposite of his character nowadays. It also makes me sad to hear that Carol Seaver’s actress actually had a great deal of fallout from those fat jokes and developed an eating disorder because of it. Still, Growing Pains will always be a fond memory for me because it was about the fact that the perfect nuclear family isn’t always so perfect, that there are multiple roads and/or ways of appreciating success, and that’s okay. It was a moralistic story that also embraced the idea of being human.

    1. Hi, Annalise! I must admit that I don’t watch the Disney channel very much, if ever, fearing the programs are geared heavily towards young children. I do, however, love the made-for-TV Disney movies, but even those seem few and far between here lately.

      Growing Pains was one of my absolute favorites growing up. I remember crying my eyes out the evening the series finale aired, and my mother sat with her arm around me telling me that it would be okay. In a way, I felt like my best friend was moving away. Similar to what you said, not one Seaver family member was without flaw, and yet they found a way to work through the difficult times and support one another. Great family TV.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I watched almost all of these. Growing Pains and Family Ties were staples in my house. The Cosby Show, too. Times have definitely changed. There are few good sitcoms that we can watch as a family that aren’t totally ridiculous. iCarly borders on that, lol.

  4. That is such a great point. I think there are so few intact families left that these shows are outdated, which is terribly sad. But that doesn’t mean that split or dysfunctional families don’t have honest and good “family values” to show either. I’d love a return of a good family sitcom that I could actually watch with my kids.
    But until then, we can all watch the Cosby Show together! It’s SO funny!

    1. Thanks, Ellie! It wasn’t an ’80s family sitcom, but one of my favorite family dramas that discussed the fact that so many families today are no longer one, but are split into two, three, and sometimes four branches, was Sela Ward’s hit show Once and Again. Did you watch that? I’m not certain it was meant for a younger audience, but the storylines were safe for elementary aged children and older. Once and Again took dysfunctional families and displayed not only the good moments, but the bad too, and most importantly stressed the value of familial support.

      And yes, the Cosby Show will forever be a classic, taking the good with the bad and always ensuring a laugh! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Amen! Preach it, sista! I agree wholeheartedly. As a parent, it’s really hard to make good viewing choices for the family. Despite the numerous channels, there really aren’t a lot of great options. Most families featured on television now aren’t bonding together to meet challenges; they are challenging each other with mild to severe dysfunction. I did watch The Middle for a little while, and it seemed like an exception, but I don’t know if it has kept that flavor.

    I also recall watching Eight is Enough while growing up – in which raising eight children was the original challenging premise; however, when the actress who played the mother died after the first season, it became about a single father making his way and dating and raising eight children. It was always a positive show, however.

    I think the Disney Channel has picked up the mantle of good families for kids to watch. Sometimes they are wizards or psychics or famous singers, but they are at least positive role model families.

    1. I remember watching Eight is Enough when I was really little at my grandmother’s house. I think I was too young to really understand the show’s premise, other than the father had a ton of children – LOL. Looking back, Tom did a great job holding his family together – with the help of Abby, of course. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Julie!

  6. I loved these shows growing up! I agree that a lot of this type of programming is now on Disney. One of my favorites being Good Luck Charlie. Though the shows are geared a little more toward the kids and I don’t think the messages run as deep, but I find them enjoyable (the mom in Good Luck Charlie is hilarious and awesome).

    1. Hi, Erin! I have no idea how I have heard about Good Luck Charlie having never flipped over to the Disney channel, but I do and I remember how cute I thought the premise was…I also recognize the mother as a recurring character from the early seasons of Charmed. I may have to check this out next time my best friend’s little girl comes over for a visit.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Wow, Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Who’s the Boss? were some of my favorites growing up. I don’t watch sitcoms anymore because I really can’t connect with some of the dirty humor and situations they show. I miss these shows. Sometimes I can still catch them on something like TV Land or Nick at Nite, but it’s not the same. As much as I love some of the shows that are on now, I do think something’s been lost.

    1. I’ve tried to think of a sitcom today (on the basic network channels) that rivals the families and messages of these ’80s sitcoms, and I can’t. I can’t think of one. Isn’t that sad? Teen audiences, yes – but even then, the storylines seem a bit racy. I should checkout the reruns on TV Land and Nick at Nite sometime. I haven’t watched any of these episodes in a very long time. Thanks for stopping by, Marcy!

  8. I liked Roseanne better than any other show. Dare I say I related to it? LOL I wasn’t aware that there are so few family sitcoms. As I’ve aged, I’ve lost my interest in the genre. I mean…there is Damon and Scott McCall and Eric Northman these days.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I had a blast.

  9. Great questions, Tiffany. It isn’t just family shows that have changed, it’s kids’ cartoons. I mean, really, Pokemon and the like? It’s rude kids with no parents in sight who go on endless journeys in inappropriate clothing with their only purpose in life being to fight little monsters like pit bulls. What happened to Buggs Bunny and Johnny Quest? How about The Flintstones or Tom and Jerry? Ok. Old Fart Rant over.

    I have often longed for appropriate family humor. I loved The Tim Allen Show, Family Ties, The Bob Newhart Show and The Cosby Show. I don’t mind if the sit-coms feature families that are somewhat patchwork, but I do yearn for clever, clean humor. There are so many good jokes beyond sex and the bathroom. I get that the 1960s Beaver Cleaver reality wasn’t particularly reality for very many people, but that doesn’t mean we have to take our children and wallow in the gutter every time we turn on a show.

    That being said, I really enjoy The Middle, but my kids are older. When they were babies, we just didn’t watch much TV.

    Thanks for your thoughtful blog.

    1. So true about cartoons. Whenever I am around kids watching today’s cartoons I find I am left gaping at what I see. They are awful.

  10. Loved this post! I think about this point all the time. The shows you list were the ones my older sister watched. For me, it was Home Improvement and TGIF: Family Matters, Boy Meets World, Full House, Step By Step. These were all such good shows that we would all watch together as a family. I hate the obsession with reality TV today. Not only does it have little to no value, it is also mostly fake. Thank you for bringing this issue up!

  11. I’ll confess that it was pretty easy to give up TV when shows like The Cosby Show went off the air. Then the Friends/Seinfeld Thursday night went kaput. I watched Scrubs for a while and Everybody Loves Raymond but really, with reality TV as the mainstay of current television, the only thing I ever yearn for a bit is Dancing With the Stars

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