The ’80s was a good era for television. After all, those ten years gave the world Cheers, Family Ties, Hill Street Blues and The Golden Girls, to name just a few classic series. However, plenty of that decade’s shows subsequently slipped into obscurity, never to really resurface – until now, that is.
60. Three’s a Crowd
Just days after Three’s Company came to an end, its spin-off series Three’s a Crowd debuted. That show revolved around John Ritter’s Jack moving in with his new girlfriend, who doesn’t want to get married. And according to The New York Times, ABC announced in 1984, “This series will explore, in depth, the problems that beset a young couple living together.” It couldn’t go too in-depth, though, as the show was axed the following year.
59. She’s the Sheriff
She’s the Sheriff began its run in 1987 and featured Suzanne Somers in her first TV role after Three’s Company. However, the story of a woman who becomes sheriff of a town in Nevada failed to capture the attention of audiences, leading to the show being canceled in 1989. To add insult to injury, in 2002 TV Guide named She’s the Sheriff as one of the worst small-screen series ever made.
Snorks was created to be a competitor to The Smurfs, although the titular characters never reached the same height of popularity as their blue-hued rivals. But to be fair, Snorks was hardly the only Smurfs knock-off around at the time. As we’ll see, small, silly creatures were very popular indeed during the ’80s.
57. Slim Goodbody’s Inside Story
Could a man in a weird anatomy suit really captivate children? Well, apparently so. Slim Goodbody, a.k.a. actor John Burstein, took his educational efforts to PBS in 1980 with Inside Story, where he taught kids about health, hospitals and the human body. And although that show is now virtually forgotten, Slim is still around today: he even featured in a 2014 Radio Shack Super Bowl commercial.
56. My Sister Sam
Unfortunately, the sitcom My Sister Sam is now forever associated with a real-life tragedy. The year after the show had ended in 1988, a stalker turned up at the home of Patti Russell actress Rebecca Schaeffer and shot her dead. Following the horrendous incident, some of the series’ surviving cast members got together and filmed a PSA on behalf of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.
55. Rainbow Brite
Hallmark brand Rainbow Brite ultimately proved popular enough to get its own cartoon show. That series hit the airwaves in 1984, with a movie spin-off showing up a year later. But although the original cartoon is now very much of the past, Rainbow Brite still lives on. A 2014 animated series was later produced featuring the character, in fact, and there has been plenty of further Hallmark merchandise, too.
Time-traveling NBC show Voyagers! attempted to educate kids about history. Indeed, at the end of every episode, a voice-over from one of the characters suggested, “Take a voyage down to your public library!” Despite this noble goal, however, the show only ran from 1982 to 1983 – and no time traveler could save it, either.
53. Jennifer Slept Here
When spooky sitcom Jennifer Slept Here debuted in 1983, it wasn’t exactly showered with critical praise. Apparently, the central storyline about a boy and an attractive ghost didn’t have, well, enough spirit. Toledo newspaper The Blade was particularly damning about the show, writing at the time that it “isn’t funny, it isn’t witty, and it doesn’t stand the ghost of a chance.” That last prophecy proved true, as Jennifer Slept Here was ultimately canceled in 1984.
52. Pound Puppies
A lot of toy properties were turned into cartoons in the ’80s. One of the more obscure ones is Pound Puppies, created in 1986 after a television special the previous year and originally spawned from a Tonka toy brand. That original show only lasted until 1987; a reboot in 2010 met with plenty of acclaim, however.
51. That’s Incredible!
Reality show That’s Incredible! highlighted people with unusual talents, and it even featured some future celebrities during its run from 1980 to 1984. John Moschitta, Jr. appeared on the show in his early days, for instance, as did a young golfer who showed off his skills: none other than Tiger Woods.
50. The Powers of Matthew Star
The Powers of Matthew Star – think a Smallville-style sci-fi about an extraterrestrial prince – was probably doomed from the start. During the early stages of production, star Peter Barton suffered severe burns after an on-set accident involving pyrotechnics and so was hospitalized for months. To add insult to literal injury, the show was ultimately canceled less than a year after its 1982 debut.
49. The Flintstone Kids
If for whatever reason there weren’t enough Flintstones in your life, you could have tuned into The Flintstone Kids from 1986 to 1988. And although the series didn’t remain faithful to the central storyline of the original Flintstones cartoon, it was still pretty good fun. Reruns even popped up on the Cartoon Network until 2003; after that, however, the show went back to the archives.
48. The California Raisin Show
TV commercial characters The California Raisins were so popular in the ’80s that they even had their own show. The series – animated rather than in claymation like the original ads – lasted for just one series in 1989, though. But the Raisins may yet launch a comeback, as a new film featuring the characters was mooted back in 2015.
47. Double Trouble
Liz and Jean Sagal – identical twin sisters of Katy Sagal – were the stars of parenting sitcom Double Trouble from 1984 to 1985. The show didn’t take off, however, and the twins both eventually gave up acting altogether. However, each has since enjoyed success elsewhere in the entertainment industry: Liz as a writer and Jean as a director.
46. The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid remains a very popular movie to this day. However, there was also an animated TV show in the ’80s that few people know about. This was very different to the original film, as it focused on a more fantastical adventure involving a magic shrine. But, sadly, the cartoon version didn’t prove as enduring as its big-screen predecessor, since it only ran from September to December 1989.
45. The Littles
As The Littles’ title suggests, the show centered arround a family of tiny people. The adaptation of John Peterson’s children’s books wasn’t a success, though, since it only lasted from 1983 to 1985. And you’d be forgiven if you heard the series’ premise today and thought of The Borrowers instead.
44. Bosom Buddies
Tom Hanks is now a huge movie star, of course, but had things gone differently, he may have been remembered only for Bosom Buddies. The show – about two men who dress as women to acquire an apartment – bowed out two years after its debut in 1982, but it does still have its place in pop culture history; after seeing Bosom Buddies, Splash director Ron Howard got in touch with Hanks.
43. Star Wars: Droids
Star Wars: Droids was set in the time period between the events depicted in Revenge of the Sith – although it preceded that movie, of course – and A New Hope. And the series focused, as you may expect, on the adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO. However, the show was broadcast at a time when Star Wars’ popularity was seemingly on the wane. Ultimately, then, it only ran from 1985 to 1986.
M.A.S.K. – which stood for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand – was another cartoon designed to encourage kids to buy action figures. Nonetheless, the series – which lasted from 1985 to 1986 – appears to be considered one of the better shows of the genre. In 2009 IGN even remembered M.A.S.K. fondly enough to include it in a “Best Animated Series” list.
41. Captain Kangaroo
Captain Kangaroo was actually the most enduring national kids’ show of its era, having begun way back in 1955. But, alas, changing attitudes towards TV in the ’80s did the beloved series in. CBS truncated Captain Kangaroo’s run-time, moved it around on the schedule and finally canceled it in 1984 – a sad loss indeed.
40. Thundarr the Barbarian
Thundarr the Barbarian may have captivated some young children when it first aired in 1980. It was something new and exciting, after all: a fantasy-style series set in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi world. But while Thundarr’s Earth was destroyed in that far-off, futuristic year of 1994, Thundarr the Barbarian had been canceled long before the 1990s actually rolled around: he got the axe in 1981.
Manimal – which featured a man who could change into any animal he wanted – may have been a victim of its own ambition. CGI was pretty costly back in 1983, after all, and so poor crime-fighter Dr. Jonathan Chase was usually forced into becoming either just a hawk or a panther. The show’s run was equally limited, too; it lasted for only three months.
38. Teen Wolf
There have been a couple of TV shows based on the movie Teen Wolf. One was a live-action drama series that began in 2011 and was a big success… and the other was a 1986 cartoon. Yet while the animated take added a lot of interesting elements to the Teen Wolf story, it was still canceled the following year. Subsequently, the ’80s show practically faded from the public consciousness.
37. Shirt Tales
Shirt Tales was another show co-created by Hallmark and based on greeting card characters. It had a rather bizarre premise, too: the gang of cute animals featured in the series wore shirts that transformed depending on how the creatures were feeling. The series wasn’t much of a hit, however, and lasted only from 1982 to 1984.
36. Sledge Hammer!
Sledge Hammer! was thoroughly ahead of its time, being a smart satire about a trigger-happy cop that touched upon issues that would face America in the years to come. And despite the series not exactly being mainstream, it still has a small but loyal bunch of fans. Would they be enough to get it a 21st-century remake?
35. Dear John
Dear John, an American version of a British sitcom, was actually quite successful in its day. Guest star Cleavon Little even won an Emmy for his performance in the series, which had four seasons from 1988 to 1992. Yet these days you would be hard-pressed to find anybody who remembers it – perhaps because the subject matter, centering around a couple’s divorce, was often so melancholy.
Manimal’s co-creator Glen A. Larson also came up with Automan, a Tron-like series about an “automatic man.” Plenty of merchandise was produced to accompany the series, too, but in the end it only ran for 12 episodes throughout 1983 and 1984. And, curiously, a DVD collection of the series ultimately ended up being released first in the U.K.
Is Pac-Man really a character who can hold his own TV show? After all, he’s just a big yellow blob with a mouth. Well, Hanna-Barbera gave it a try in 1982, with the result being the first ever animated series to be spawned from a video game. Perhaps the basic concept just wasn’t substantial enough for a whole show, though, as Pac-Man was canceled the following year.
32. It’s Your Move
Long before Jason Bateman became a global star, he was the conman protagonist of the 1984 to 1985 sitcom It’s Your Move. However, the show had two major problems. Firstly, parents sent NBC complaint letters about the series’ main character being a criminal; and, secondly, it aired opposite Dynasty, which was extraordinarily popular at the time. As a result, unfortunately, It’s Your Move was doomed.
31. Rambo: The Force of Freedom
Rambo was an R-rated movie, so was it really a good choice for a children’s cartoon? The violence would have to be toned down a lot, of course, and issues such as PTSD and the Vietnam War couldn’t really be mentioned, either. Perhaps inevitably, then, the Rambo cartoon was not a success, being canceled within a year of its 1986 debut.
Sanford and Sons lasted for years, but its sequel Sanford wasn’t so lucky. When the show was first broadcast in 1980, it initially did well; viewing figures soon fell, though. As a consequence, Sanford was quickly reworked and moved to a different timeslot in the following year – although that wasn’t enough to save it, either. The spin-off ended up being canceled so quickly, in fact, that it didn’t even get a proper finale.
29. The Redd Foxx Show
The success of Sanford and Sons also spawned 1986’s The Redd Foxx Show, in which Foxx played a NYC newsstand owner. Its tagline also promised to show “the lovable old fox like you’ve never seen him before.” But that series, too, didn’t garner anywhere near the ratings its predecessor had, and it was taken off the air after just a few months.
28. My Two Dads
My Two Dads actually lasted for three seasons, running from 1987 to 1990. But it never embedded itself into popular culture in the way that lots of ’80s-era family sitcoms have since done. Maybe its premise – an orphaned girl being sent to live with her mother’s warring former lovers – was just too silly.
27. Life with Lucy
Surely a show with Lucille Ball as the star couldn’t possibly go wrong? But, somehow, 1986’s Life with Lucy bombed. It was so much of a ratings disaster, in fact, that five of its episodes never even aired. And when news of the cancellation hit, no one could bring themselves to inform Ball – although later biographies of the star indicated that she had been distraught at the announcement.
26. The Dukes
The animated version of The Dukes of Hazzard had a turbulent start. John Schneider and Tom Wopat had left the original show, resulting in two completely new characters taking the leads. And while, eventually, the dispute was resolved, and the actors provided their voices for the animated version, it was too late. The series concluded in October 1983, having only begun airing in February of that year.
25. Archie Bunker’s Place
The 1979 sitcom Archie Bunker’s Place was a sequel to All in the Family, and in its first season it seemed as if it would be just as big a success as its parent show. Ultimately, though, the series was canceled in 1983. And, apparently, the man behind All in the Family, Norman Lear, hadn’t even wanted the spin-off to be made in the first place.
RoboCop was another R-rated property that received the kids’ cartoon treatment. When the animated series arrived in 1988, then, any swearing that had been present in the original movie was naturally absent, while lasers took the place of firearms; Alex Murphy’s tragic backstory was made more palatable, too. But the show didn’t stand the test of time anywhere near as well as the film has done, since it lasted for just three months before cancellation.
23. Mister T
Yes, The A-Team and Rocky III star Mr T had his own cartoon show in 1983. And Mister T was designed to teach kids important life lessons: work hard, be wary of strangers and eat healthily, for example. Pity the star of the series, though, as Mister T was canceled in 1986 after just 30 episodes.
22. Challenge of the GoBots
GoBots creators Tonka attempted to battle against Hasbro’s Transformers with 1984’s Challenge of the Gobots. It soon became clear which robot army was winning, however, and the Gobots show was duly canceled in 1985. But there’s somewhat of a happy ending to this tale. In 2010, after some company mergers, it was announced that the GoBots had actually been Transformers all along.
21. The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda video game is massively beloved and popular. The cartoon of the same name, though? Not so much. In particular, the animated series is noted among gamers as being annoying and cliché-ridden. Regardless, the kids’ show isn’t entirely forgotten, as one of its catchphrases has been turned into a meme.
20. Ace Crawford, Private Eye
Ace Crawford, Private Eye was a parody of stereotypical film noir detectives and starred Tim Conway in the title role. But it seems that Conway didn’t always have much luck with TV shows. The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, for instance, had only survived for a little over three months in 1970, and Ace Crawford – from 1983 – fared even worse. In fact, a mere five episodes made it to TV screens.
19. My Pet Monster
Like some other characters of its era, My Pet Monster started out as a mascot for greeting cards. He was a little blue guy with horns, fangs and (more strangely) orange plastic handcuffs. Such was the character’s success that he was given his own direct-to-video movie and a cartoon show – named My Pet Monster – but in the end the series lasted just 13 episodes in the latter half of 1987.
18. The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
When The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers first aired in 1986, it was something new and exciting. The series brought Japanese animation, a.k.a. anime, to a whole new audience, in fact. And while it still has a cult following, the show isn’t exactly remembered by the mainstream media. And sadly, it was canceled in the middle of the story, so devotees never saw a satisfying ending.
17. Call to Glory
Call to Glory, starring Craig T. Nelson and a young Elizabeth Shue, was set in the ’60s during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet although a lot of work went into the show – Nelson got to ride real fighter jets in preparation for his role, for instance – maybe the world wasn’t ready for ’60s nostalgia. After all, it only aired from August 1984 to February 1985.
16. Leg Work
Leg Work, starring Margaret Colin and future Oscar winner Frances McDormand, offered up a (mostly) realistic look at a female PI’s life. The 1987 series could potentially have done a lot better, but it aired opposite Golden Girls, and there was no question as to which was the ratings winner. It was subsequently canceled two months after it premiered – before it even finished its run.
Ewoks, a tribe of cute, cuddly, teddy bear-like creatures, weren’t especially popular when they made their debut in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Yet despite that, they were granted their own cartoon series in 1985. It had a toy line to go with it, of course, but only a few episodes were ever released on video. In fact, the whole show seems to have been more or less forgotten about – even by Lucasfilm.
14. Lime Street
Lime Street, which aired in 1985, is primarily notable because of one of its young stars. Samantha Smith, a schoolgirl anti-nuclear-war activist in real life, was cast on the show as a daughter of Robert Wagner’s main character. But after only a few episodes had been shot, Smith was killed in a plane crash. The show never recovered, and the program was canceled.
13. Finder of Lost Loves
In 1984 Aaron Spelling Productions, the company behind such hits as Dynasty and Melrose Place, released a show called Finder of Lost Loves. It did pretty much what it said on the tin: the main character was a detective who reunited people with former lovers. But the most memorable aspect of the series was probably its theme song, sung by Dionne Warwick and Luther Vandross.
12. Foley Square
Foley Square was another Margaret Colin show. This one had a feminist bent, with its creator, Diane English, aiming to show the world from a female perspective. Unfortunately, though, the show wasn’t really all that good. The series therefore only lasted from December 1985 to April 1986. But English went on to create Murphy Brown, so all’s well that ends well.
11. Mighty Orbots
There were seemingly a tremendous amount of robots running around ’80s television. Another faction of these were the Mighty Orbots, who popped up on Saturday mornings from September to December 1984. They only ever made 13 episodes, but the parts formed a coherent story when put together, and unlike a lot of cartoons at the time the series actually had a proper ending.
10. The White Shadow
The premise of The White Shadow seems terribly clichéd now – white teacher takes job at diverse, poverty-stricken school – but it actually did do some good in its day. The series had the first ensemble cast to be primarily made up of black actors, in fact, even if the main character was white. Though it’s mostly forgotten now, the show also proved to be the forerunner for dramas that tried to tackle difficult issues. It lasted three seasons from 1978 to 1981.
9. Drak Pack
Drak Pack was another Hanna-Barbera animation, albeit one created by the company’s Australian offshoot. It focused on the adventures of Drak Jr., Howler and Frankie, young relations of the most famous horror movie monsters. That’s a cool premise, but the series only lasted from September to December 1980 in the end. It seemingly couldn’t compete with that other supernatural-themed cartoon, Scooby-Doo.
8. Our Family Honor
Our Family Honor had a great cast – Michael Madsen, Ray Liotta – and an action-packed story of cops against mobsters. Unfortunately, the series was also rather clumsy and clichéd, so it didn’t last very long: it started airing in September 1985 and was done by January 1986. Oh, and it was canceled on a cliffhanger, probably very much disappointing the fans it did have.
7. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
As the title suggests, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was a vehicle for Bill Cosby and his various talents. He voiced several of the characters, in fact, and appeared in live-action segments. The show actually lasted from 1972 to 1985 too, but Cosby’s high-profile downfall and prison sentence pretty much ensure that it will never see the light of day again.
6. Eisenhower and Lutz
The New York Times gave bad-lawyer sitcom Eisenhower and Lutz a positive review when it came out in March 1988, calling it “very funny” and “one of the more promising comedy efforts of the season.” Audiences appeared not to agree, though. The show only lasted until June when it was canceled after just 13 episodes.
Vega$’ unusual title probably didn’t help its case much, but by all accounts it was actually a pretty good show. From 1978 to 1981, Robert Urich played private investigator Dan Tanna, who took on difficult cases in and around Las Vegas. Future movie stars, including Melanie Griffith and Kim Basinger, popped up in the series too, but that wasn’t enough to save it.
In 1988 critics sang the praises of new cop show Hooperman. They said it was fresh and original, and it was also perhaps the first real “dramedy” ever. John Ritter played the title character, and actors such as Mark Hamill, Don Cheadle and Miguel Ferrer showed up as guest stars. The series actually lasted for 42 episodes but seemed to completely vanish into the TV void after cancellation.
3. Just the Ten of Us
Just the Ten of Us was a Growing Pains spin-off, but it’s nowhere near as well remembered as its parent show. The series did actually run for a respectable time – from 1988 to 1990 – but was then forgotten. Curiously, though, a Twitter account popped up in 2017 offering music videos and movie trailers set to the Just the Ten of Us theme song.
2. Square Pegs
Square Pegs, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, got off to a fantastic start when it aired in 1982. Critics loved the series, in fact, and lauded its stark appraisal of teenage-hood. Unfortunately, though, it was real-life bad teen behavior that led to the show’s cancellation the following year. So when reports of underage drug-taking on the set broke, the whole production was shut down.
Kissyfur was a cute – or maybe twee – cartoon show about a bear and his father. It had a lot of heartfelt life lessons for children in there, and the series ran from 1986 to 1990. But it apparently hasn’t aged particularly well. In 2014 the website io9 counted it among its “12 Cartoons From The 1980s No One Will Ever Have Nostalgia For.” Ouch.