One of the big things about the 80s in my mind is TV. There were so many family friendly shows on Saturdays that you could watch with the whole family. You just don’t get that these days. I’ve got lots of happy memories of watching shows like The Dukes of Hazzard or The A-Team with the whole family on a Saturday night whilst eating dinner often right after the football results and before Blind Date or the Generation Game. Happy times.
Five of the shows below (that’s 50% of the Top Ten) are actually made or produced by Glen A. Larson. That really highlights the legacy that he has left behind. Pretty incredible when you think about it. This list is not what I think are the archetypal best shows of all time but they are the shows which impacted me the most during my childhood.10. Magnum P.I. Tom Selleck was a bit of a dude wasn’t he? And this was a bit of a dude role. Playing a P.I. who lived on a big private estate on Hawaii and drove a Ferrari. I’m not sure how much of the plots I really understood as a youngster but I just loved the whole setting of the show and all the action that they had. One of Glen A. Larson’s early successes. And Higgins was great.
9. The Fall Guy Another Glen A. Larson product here. Lots of cool things about The Fall Guy. Lee Majors, Heather Thomas, a very cool pickup truck and an even cooler theme tune. This show was just sheer fun. They were stunt guys who drove around in pickup trucks and then on the side they helped solve mysteries and catch bad guys. Lots of car and truck jumps and lots of bar brawls. Classic early 80s TV. And Colt Seavers really is such an awesome name.
8. Manimal Now comes a trio of cult shows that some people might not even remember. But I loved them and even though they only had between 8 and 13 episodes they still left a massive imprint on my brain that I always remembered through the rest of my life. I’ve watched them all again recently and still think they hold up, for me anyway! First up is Manimal. A pretty ridiculous premise of a man who could shape shift into a variety of animals including a panther and a hawk. But it worked mostly because of the charisma of the late Simon MacCorkindale and the, at the time, great special effects of Stan Winston (who later went on to do the Terminator films). It only lasted 8 episodes but it had a massive impact on my memory and I’ve been doing Manimal impressions for most of my life (which normally no-one ever gets). I won’t stop though. There are rumours that there is going to be a Manimal movie starring Will Ferrell, although I’ve got a hunch it might be a spoof take on the TV show. I’m rewatching Manimal right now in fact and will be writing reviews of each episode. Watch out for my Manimal Week coming soon.
7. Automan Next up is Automan. Like Manimal, this was also a Glen A. Larson product. Reportedly this was Larson’s attempt at capitalising on the success of Tron in the cinema. So he got Chuck Wagner to put on a lycra suit which would have Tron-style graphics added to it and he got to ride around in an achingly cool Tron-style Lamborghini Countach. The cop role was played by Desi Arnaz Jr, son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The episodes were often pretty ridiculous when you watch them back now but they’ve got an amazing early 80s charm, particularly in terms of how they talk about computers. A whole lot of cheesy fun. Only 12 episodes of this one, so again I’ll be doing episode reviews of this show in the coming weeks. Really hoping I can interview Chuck Wagner too at some point.
6. Street Hawk Street Hawk is much more well known. It still only lasted for 13 episodes though. It’s basically Airwolf on a motorcycle. Rex Smith does a great job in playing the injured cop who gets recruited to ride the secret project that is known as Street Hawk. Joe Regalbuto is brilliant in the role of Norman Tuttle, the genius behind Street Hawk who doesn’t want a smart alec like Jesse Mach let loose on his baby. Loads of fun, and despite its short run it managed to produce some pretty awesome merchandise.
5. MacGyver MacGyver is one that can be hit and miss with some people. Some people I know never watched it at all. But it ran for 7 years from 1985-1992 almost concurrently with The A-Team and lasting longer than The A-Team. I personally loved this show. MacGyver was a kind of American James Bond in a way but he was a bit geeky and also more concerned about people’s feelings and the environment which I thought was all pretty cool. And he is probably the most resourceful guy on the planet. Give this guy some washing up powder, a rubber band and an alarm clock and he’ll make it into a bomb. It was educational. Great theme tune too, something that is consistent with almost every show in this list. Check out this great video of the MacGyver intro without music!
4. Airwolf Now we’re entering the big guns. I found it very hard to rank the next three. Got very good memories of all three of them. Airwolf was great in the sense that it was actually pretty realistic. Assuming that you believed that they could make a helicopter that could fly like a jet. Everything else was done in a very realistic way. Even some quite serious storylines. Stringfellow Hawke.. another great TV name. And coincidentally very appropriate for someone who plays a stringed instrument on the edge of a lake while a Hawk flies overhead. Funny that. Legendary actor Ernest Borgnine brought both a gravitas and a great humour to the show too. Check out the very interesting interview I managed to get with Alex Cord who played Archangel in Airwolf.
3. The Dukes of Hazzard The Dukes of Hazzard has huge happy memories for me. My whole family used to sit down and watch it on Saturday evenings whilst having dinner. That theme tune and the voiceover just takes me straight back to those times. It was a great show with fantastic characters. Bo, Luke, Boss Hogg, Rosco P Coltrane, Enos, Daisy, Cooter, Uncle Jesse etc. And the big star of the show, the General Lee. Fantastic light hearted stories with loads of chases and crazy car jumps. Meanwhile back at the ranch…
2. Knight Rider Now we’re talking. This show was so cool to me as a little boy in the early 80s. What’s not to like about it. The force of nature that is David Hasselhoff, a jet black Pontiac Trans Am with artificial intelligence and a cool red light on the front, a watch you can talk into, and a big truck. Mix in some cheesy storylines and it sounds like the recipe for a legendary Glen A Larson show. Awesome stuff.
1. The A-Team For me there was always only one winner here. The A-Team is the embodiment of everything an 80s show needs. It’s got action, it’s got cool vehicles, it’s got some famous cast members, it’s got awesome montages, it’s got a great theme tune and it’s a show that the whole family can watch together. It was such an inclusive show that they managed to have both Hulk Hogan and Boy George as special guest stars. You can’t get much more opposite ends of the spectrum. The show has just engrained itself into the pysche of everyone who was around in the 80s. The van is iconic. The theme tune is known by everyone. So many catchphrases that have entered popular culture…”I just love it when a plan comes together”, “Shut up fool” and “I ain’t getting on no plane sucker”. It had absolutely everything and it is my 80s action show no.1.
CHiPs – Skin tight cream trousers, aviator sunglasses, big Harley motorbikes. Proper manly stuff back in the 80s.
The Incredible Hulk – Loved this show. Such vivid memories of Bill Bixby walking down the road on his own again in the end credits.
Starsky & Hutch – Classic 70s show. So stylish in terms of the flares, the car, Huggy Bear etc.
Quantum Leap – I totally remember watching the pilot when it first launched. Loved it right from the start.
Mission Impossible – You don’t get much more classic than this. Great theme tune, great actors, great plots. Sheer class.
What are some of your favourite shows and which one would you have at no.1? Let me know in the comments.