11 beloved TV shows turning 40 years old in 2018
We once asked the question: Was the 1977-78 television season the worst ever? It was not our opinion, merely one that is echoed around by TV aficionados. There is evidence to support the idea, as by May 15, 1978, a whopping 45 of 96 shows on the networks' schedules had been canceled.
But 1978 got off to a great start. Fantasy Island kicked off on January 14, and more memorable shows followed in its wake. Beloved sitcoms, fascinating superheroes, space adventures and dramas of the rich filled the gaps left by flops from the previous season. Here are 11 TV series that began in 1978, quickly becoming fan favorites. Which is your favorite?
Star Wars changed everything. In May 1977, suddenly every Hollywood studio wanted its own space epic. Battlestar Galactica was the grandest of these late-'70s space operas made for television. The series even utilized much of the same creative talent behind Star Wars, which lent the show a similar look and feel. Frankly, we think the Cylons are even cooler looking than Stormtroopers.
The mystery of "Who shot J.R.?" became a national craze in 1980, after the cliffhanger in the the season three finale. As in all great soaps, the lines between heroes and villains blurred, as we love-hated / hate-loved every single character. The glamorous drama, one of the first American series aired over the Iron Curtain, is even credited with helping end the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania. When the show returned to the airwaves in 2012, few complained. And people loathe reboots.
Image: Warner Bros. Television
No gopd sitcom goes without a catchphrase, and Diff'rent Strokes coined one of the greatest ever with "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" While it set the mold for 1980s family sitcoms to come, Diff'rent Strokes also tackled serious issues, notably in its numerous "very special episodes," but generally in its every episode humor. It spawned the spin-off The Facts of Life (and the far lesser-known McLean Stevenson vehile Hello, Larry) in its eight-year run.
"De plane! De plane!" It was a cry we awaited every Saturday night. There was Tattoo atop the bell tower, announcing new guests to Fantasy Island. Palm trees, waterfalls, white sand and white suits. For Aaron Spelling, the whimsical drama was another hit to his credits. For most of its run, Fantasy Island piggybacked another Spelling series, The Love Boat, which similarly welcomed numerous famous guest stars week after week for romantic romps.
Image: The Everett Collection
The Incredible Hulk
"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." Actually, Dr. Banner, we love it when you blow a fuse. Then again, we never had to face the wrath of the Hulk. For five seasons, primarily on Friday nights, David Banner wandered America, performing good deeds with the occasional green outburst. As one of the earliest Marvel heroes to go live-action, the big guy was a pioneer of our superhero-saturated pop culture. A hit pilot TV movie in November 1977 led to a full series order the following spring.
Mork & Mindy
On February 28, 1978, Robin Williams jumped off the television screen and into immediate stardom as the hyperactive alien Mork. The Orkan character came to visit — well, abduct — Richie Cunningham in a season five episode of Happy Days, "My Favorite Orkan." The title was an obvious nod to My Favorite Martian, but the episode was actually more of a remake of a Dick Van Dyke Show episode from 1963. The character immediately clicked, and earned his own sitcom, set in modern-day Boulder, Colorado. Williams electrified audiences and quickly became a megastar.
Image: CBS Television Distribution
Television legend Jack Webb, who mastered the artform of crime and rescue with Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency!, went down the rabbit hole of U.F.O. investigation with this show, ripped from the files of the U.S. Air Force. The episodes reassured paranoid viewers, "The U.S. Air Force stopped investigating UFOs in 1969. After 22 years, they found no evidence of extra-terrestrial landings and no threat to national security." It would be his last series.
Image: CBS Television Distribution
Technically, this was a reboot. The original Tic-Tac-Dough ran in 1956–59. The 1978 version, however, introduced some far more memorable new features. Yes, we're talking about the dragon, who reared his flaming head in the "Beat the Dragon" bonus round. Wink Martindale hosted the bulk of its run until 1985.
Image: Barry & Enright Productions / ITC Entertainment
Aaron Spelling was on fire in 1978. Filmed on location in Las Vegas, Nevada, Vega$ featured Robert Urich as private detective Dan Tanna, who rumbled down the Strip in a red 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Tanna had one of the most unique homes on television, as he lived in a prop warehouse by the Circus Circus Hotel Casino.
The White Shadow
Before Friday Night Lights, there was The White Shadow. From 1978 to 1981, the high school basketball drama dealt with serious issues in the guise of a sports soap opera. The series meant a lot of many people, and paved the way for topical shows like Degrassi. According to The New York Times, it even helped popularize the sport of basketball in Turkey. The work of Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Productions remains the third longest-running drama with a predominantly black cast.
WKRP in Cincinnati
Based on some true stories from WQXI in Atlanta, WKRP in Cincinnati was the most rock 'n' roll sitcom of the late 1970s. Right away, in its seventh episode, it gave television one of the all time great Thanksgiving episodes, "Turkeys Away." An MTM Enterprises production, WKRP featured brilliant characters in a media workplace — notably Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) — much like The Mary Tyler Moore Show.