A lot of TV shows go on to become audience favorites, and many of these boast over a decade of viewership. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Friends, Suits, Supernatural, and Modern Family are a few examples of shows that have stayed relevant in recent years. But there are quite a few others with a long list of seasons, supported by a moderately fair share of loyal viewers.
Take, for instance, Mad Men, Dexter, South Park, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld. These shows were on air for a long time, and even though the hype around them isn’t comparable to, say, Game of Thrones, Narcos, or Breaking Bad, they’re fine examples of how good content can make a lasting impression.
Let’s look at the seven shows that are turning 50 this 2021. These aired way back in 1971, and most of us have seen a few episodes of these here and there from reruns, if not entire seasons.
The Crime Drama
After two pilot episodes in 1968 and 1971, the American crime drama Columbo was released in 1971 on NBC. The show’s original run went on till 1978, recording 69 episodes over 10 seasons. Based on the life of a shrewd, inelegant, blue-collar detective working with the LA police department, Columbo was the first TV show to popularize the inverted detective story format, which came to be known as howcatchem.’
The show’s murder mystery concept was not really a mystery considering each episode began with details about the crime and the criminal. The mystery element was more in how detective Columbo managed to solve the crime. The show also subtly addressed class conflict – Columbo is portrayed as a blue-collar detective who is rough around the edges while the suspects were mostly the elite – wealthy and elegant. What’s more, suspects underestimate Columbo’s ability to crack the case, and most of the episodes ended with the criminal’s confession as a result of the detective’s relentless pursuit. Not very subtle when you look at it that way.
The show was a huge success; it aired in 44 countries and is widely regarded as one of the 100 best shows of all time. Even though Columbo ended in 1978, it aired on ABC from 1989 to 2003, which is quite something considering TV show formats had changed so much by then. TV Guide ranked Columbo seventh on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list in 1999, which was quite the recognition not just for the show but also for actor Pete Falk who portrayed the detective on screen.
While a lot of good shows graced the small screen in 1971, one of our favorites is a spin-off of The Archie Comedy Hour. Yes, the show is based on one of the characters from the famous Archie Comics. Can you guess the show we’re talking about? If you haven’t got it yet, we’ll give you a little hint – it’s based on a certain teenage witch. Continue watching to know why the show was such a hit and what’s so special about it.
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All in the Family
CBS kicked off 1971 on a hit note, releasing the sitcom All in the Family on January 12. Often regarded as one of the greatest shows ever, All in the Family is based on the lives of a blue-collar worker Archie Bunker and his family. The show had a total of 205 episodes spanning 9 seasons, and to say it was a hit would be an understatement.
But All in the Family‘s beginning didn’t seem as promising. The show received a lukewarm reception, and it was only after the summer reruns that it gained an ardent viewer base. From then on, All in the Family was a massive hit, becoming the first-ever TV show to top Neilson ratings for five consecutive years.
In a way, All in the Family was a sort of flagbearer for the revolution in TV content that brought about the inclusion of more meaningful topics. The show did the unthinkable by openly portraying and discussing racism, homosexuality, infidelity, rape, abortion, and impotence – all of which were considered inappropriate for TV back then.
The show’s very premise is based on addressing hard truths. The lead character Archie Bunker is a bigot – he’s racist, narrow-minded, prejudiced, and hates that people who share his thought process are no longer in power. His wife is cast in a typical nice but dumb’ light and their daughter is shown as a feminist. It’s no secret the premise offers much scope to address uncomfortable truths.
The Music-Dance Show
The American music-dance show Soul Train has a long history dating back to 1971. The show recorded a whopping 1,117 episodes till it ended after 35 years in 2006. It was the longest-running first-run, nationally syndicated program on American TV till Entertainment Tonight surpassed it, with a history of almost 40 years and more than 12,000 episodes.
Created by Don Cornelius, Soul Train primarily featured R&B, soul, dance/pop, and hip hop performances, with a mix of other genres here and there. The show was referred to as the Black American Bandstand,’ which was not very far off the mark since Bandstand was the model for Soul Train, at least to begin with.
Much like the other shows that kicked of the essence of 70s’ TV, Soul Train was influential. It was the first Black-owned show and became a platform for Black music and culture that launched several stars, such as Jody Watley and Rosie Perez.
Show creator Cornelius was known for his conservative views – he wasn’t a fan of hip-hop because he felt it portrayed the Black community in poor light and he even disliked dancers performing provocative moves. Despite his dislike for hip-hop and rap and the associated dance, Cornelius relented due to the genres’ growing popularity. Unfortunately, this move cost the show its popularity, because the middle-aged Black audience could no longer connect with the show.
The Detective Series
Compared to some of the other shows covered in this video, the detective series Cannon had a relatively shorter run. The show’s pilot – a two-hour movie – aired in 1971, and six months later, its first episode premiered on screen. The show aired on CBS till 1976, spanning 122 episodes over 5 seasons.
Based on the titular character Frank Cannon, the series follows the detective, a veteran of the Korean War, as he solves crime for various clients, from the police department to insurance companies. Cannon’s first season’s rating was mediocre, but the next three seasons ranked in the top 20 Nielsen ratings. However, the fifth season ranked 39 and marked the end of the show.
William Conrad, who played the lead role of detective Frank Cannon, was the only regular on the show. A few other characters had multiple appearances but no one was a staple. Conrad was nominated for the Emmy award Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series’ twice for his role in Cannon.
The Children’s TV Series
The Electric Company
Created by Paul Dooley, The Electric Company is a children’s TV series that aired on PBS from 1971 to 1977. The show has a total of 780 episodes spanning 6 seasons. Even after it was canceled, The Electric Company reran till 1985. It later reran on Noggin from 1999 to 2002.
The show employed sketch comedy to help elementary school children with grammar and reading. Its original cast included big names like Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, and Rita Moreno. The Electric Company was a favorite among children, entertainingly brightening young minds.
The Variety Show The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour
Pop icons Sonny Bono and Cher, who were a couple back then, put together a sing-and-joke act on CBS’s The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. The show first aired in 1971 and covered 4 seasons spanning 67 episodes till it was canceled in 1974 when the couple split.
The show was not a run of the mill concept because, well, it wasn’t developed as a TV concept. Sonny and Cher’s music career wasn’t as well and Cher’s first film Chastity had tanked at the box office. As a result, the duo was performing sing and joke acts at night clubs. CBS’s head of programming saw one of these acts and gave them the show, which was only supposed to be a summer replacement. But the show’s unexpected success made CBS bring them back.
Each episode featured a sketch, which entailed elements of comedy, sarcasm, and of course, melody. The show featured a number of regular cast members for these sketches and big celebrity guests, including Ronald Reagan, Farah Fawcett, and The Jackson 5.
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour came to an end when the couple divorced, but once the duo had set aside their differences, they decided to partner on The Sonny and Cher Show in 1976, which shared the previous show’s format. The Sonny and Cher Show aired for two seasons and came to an end in 1977 when its rating fell drastically.
The Archie Spin-Off:
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
CBS’s musical sitcom based on the legendary comic, The Archie Show, gave birth to this evergreen animated show Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The show was unexpected because Sabrina’s character was still a fledgling in the Archie universe and not one established enough to pull off an entire series. But the show did well, featuring only one season comprising thirty-one episodes.
Produced by Filmation, Sabrina the Teenage Witch aired on CBS from 1970 to 1974. Filmation again brought Sabrina to life in 1977 for the series The New Archie and Sabrina Hour. Despite the show being based on the comic, a few changes to the plot were first introduced in the show and then added to the comic. For instance, Harvey Kinkle, Aunt Zelda, and Cousin Ambrose were not a part of the 1962 comic, and it was only after they appeared on the show that they made an appearance on paper.
Another interesting fact that no one seemed to pick up on was Sabrina’s accent. Despite the teenage witch being an American, she has a British accent on screen. Also, speaking of Sabrina’s voice, did you know Jane Webb, the voice-over artist behind Sabrina, also lent her voice to the characters of aunts Hilda and Zelda, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, and Big Ethel, among others. What an extremely versatile artist!
So those were some of the most memorable TV shows that aired in 1971. Which of these almost 50-year-old shows do you remember? Did we miss any of the best? Do let us know in the comments, we’re always happy to hear from you.
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