The Most Popular TV Show the Year You Were Born
In the days before DVR, TV lovers had to practice dedication—yeah, being in front of a television at a certain time—to catch their favorite shows. Although the way we watch television has changed over the years, the most popular series remain timeless in pop culture—especially considering how easy it is to binge them in their entirety these days. No matter if you watched them live or are just discovering them for the first time, these are the most popular TV shows over the past four decades.
1979: All in the Family
When All in the Family debuted on television in 1971, the Bunkers were a stark contrast to families portrayed on sitcoms like Happy Days or The Brady Bunch. The show reminded people of their own imperfect families and had a lasting impact on the trajectory of television.
1980: Charlie's Angels
Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Shelley Hack were the original three angels—a group of bombshell spies who carried out missions for their mysterious and unseen boss, Charlie. The show ran from 1976 to the early '80s and was one of the biggest hits on television.
The comedy series about an army medical team during the Korean War became a smash hit during the '70s and ran for 11 seasons. Now on to the real question: Were you a Hawkeye or a Radar?
1982: Knight Rider
The '80s, at times, were...kind of cheesy. Case in point: David Hasselhoff's show, Knight Rider. The program followed a man, Michael Knight, who with the help of his robotic car, fought social injustice across the country for a secret agency.
Since it first premiered in the early '80, Cheers has been known for having one of the greatest ensemble sitcom casts of all time. It was popular up until it ended in 1993 and launched the career of several of the leading actors, including Kristie Alley, Woody Harrelson, Ted Danson, and Kelsey Grammar.
1984: Miami Vice
Miami Vice was not just a television show about two undercover detectives, it was a lifestyle. The fashion choices of stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael influenced fashion for the next few years, with people copying everything from their colored suits and t-shirts to their facial hair. The show ran until 1990, but peaked in popularity in the '80s.
1985: The Dukes of Hazzard
The Dukes of Hazzard left its mark over the course of six years, as Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke are still well-known figures in pop culture today. The character's endless adventures in their hot rod (nicknamed the General Lee) was so popular, a movie remake was released in 2005, starring Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, and Jessica Simpson.
1986: The A-Team
Mr. T, Dirk Benedict, George Peppard, and Dwight Schultz formed The A-Team, four ex-special forces officers who band together to outrun the military police. The action-packed show was on the air for five seasons and was canceled in 1987.
1987: Married... with Children
Married... with Children premiered on television in 1987 and ran for 10 years, over the course of which viewers fell in love with characters you weren't necessarily supposed to like. Ed O'Neill starred as Al Bundy, the stereotypical former football player who hates his life and the show followed him and his dysfunctional family's antics.
1988: Magnum P.I.
Tom Selleck single-handedly inspired the mustache craze of the mid-'80s after debuting his signature look on Magnum P.I. The show, about a young private investigator who works in security on an estate in Hawaii, ran for eight seasons.
1989: Who's the Boss?
By 1989, this popular sitcom had been on the air for five years and was in it's peak popularity. Viewers got a kick out of watching Tony Danza's character and Judith Light's character clash while trying to live under the same roof, work together, and raise the children.
Seinfeld was the biggest show on NBC in the early '90s. The sitcom about four friends living, working, and dating in New York City was built around stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer gave us some of the most hilarious moments in TV history and are just as relevant today as they were then.
The concept of Baywatch was simple: attractive lifeguards running down the beach for the sake of a dramatic storyline. The show ran for an impressive 11 seasons and some of Hollywood's biggest names starred in it, including David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.
1992: Law and Order
Honestly, can you remember a time without countless Law and Order spin-offs? The show that started it all premiered in 1992 and starred the original ensemble cast of Jerry Orbach, Angie Harmon, Sam Waterston, and Jesse L. Martin.
1993: The X-Files
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson starred as FBI agents in The X-Files from 1993 to 2003. The science fiction show was the longest running series of it's genre in network history and continues to draw a cult following through streaming services like Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Friends debuted in 1994 on NBC and was an instant hit. The comedy sitcom following a group of six friends in New York City is one of the most successful series in television history—which is why each cast members earned $1 million per episode during the final season.
1995: The Simpsons
This mature animated series follows Bart and Marge Simpson and their two children as they live their life in their hometown, Springfield. The series debuted 1989 and is the longest-running animated comedy on air with the 31st season airing in 2019.
1996: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Let's be real, can you even consider yourself a child of the '90s if you don't know the lyrics to this show's theme song? The comedy was Will Smith's breakout role and remains an icon in pop culture.
1997: South Park
South Park premiered in 1997 and instantly became a hit for it's crude and blunt humor poking fun at current events. If you were a male teenager during this time period, you probably watched this show—and if you were younger, you probably weren't allowed to.
1998: That '70s Show
This sitcom harkened back to simpler times in the 1970s and followed a group of teenagers growing up in Wisconsin. The show's cast included rising stars, like Ashton Kutcher, Wilmer Valderrama, Topher Grace, Danny Masterson, and Laura Prepon.
1999: The Sopranos
The show to watch in 1999 was The Sopranos—a drama following New Jersey mob boss, Tony Soprano, and his associates. The critically-acclaimed series was on the air for six seasons and continues to draw a fan base today.
2000: The West Wing
By 2000, networks shifted their focus from goofy sitcoms to drama series and one of the biggest hits was Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing. The political drama followed cutthroat political advisors and revealed the sometimes ugly side of politics. During the show's six season run, the cast earned countless awards and were some of the biggest names on primetime.
2001: Family Guy
Seth MacFarlane created the funny, albeit incredibly politically incorrect, world of Peter Griffin in Family Guy. The show debuted in 1999 and is still going strong today in its 13th season.
2002: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
Among all the Law and Order spin-offs, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has been by far the most popular—it was just renewed for a 21st season. The series debuted in 1999 and follows an elite detective squad known as the Special Victims Unit. Say it with us now: These are their stories, dun-dun.
2003: Curb Your Enthusiasm
The co-creator of Seinfeld, Larry David, wrote and starred in this HBO comedy, which debuted back in 2000. By 2003, watching the predicaments Larry got himself into week after week became must-see television.
Reality TV was still a relatively new concept when CBS cast a group of impeccably fit twenty-somethings to compete in a remote location for money—and audiences couldn't get enough of it. It's still on the air today (in season 40!), but it reached peak viewership in the mid-2000s.
2005: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
If you like watching people with big egos and slightly warped views on the world get themselves into trouble, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is for you. The series has remained one of Fox's most popular shows for 14 seasons and has a rabid and loyal fanbase.
Mark Wahlberg co-created this HBO comedy that follows a group of guys navigating the rising fame of their friend, Vince Chase—oh, and it was inspired by Wahlberg's life. The show was a huge success, ran for 8 seasons, and was turned into a blockbuster film.
One of the biggest subgenres of late 2000s television was all about following the lives of successful, yet dysfunctional men. The raunchy, funny, and sometimes dramatic Showtime series Californication did just that.
2008: Mad Men
Jon Hamm almost quit acting before he landed the role as Madison Avenue ad man, Don Draper, in Mad Men. Thankfully he didn't, because fans loved following the '60s drama unfold and the show is considered one of the best television programs ever.
In 2009, the medical comedy Scrubs was in its 7th, and second to last, season—and was still one of the funniest sitcoms on television. The Comedy Central show starred Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, and Donald Faison for nine years and went into syndication afterward.
The premise of this show (no spoilers, we promise) has been described as mind twisting. The series followed a group of strangers who survived a plane crash and were left stranded on a desert island. The finale aired in 2010 and left fans reeling.
2011: 30 Rock
Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live to write and star in the comedy series 30 Rock and it definitely paid off. The show ran for seven seasons, was one of the most popular comedies at the time, and her character, Liz Lemon, remains iconic to this day.
2012: Breaking Bad
After AMC released Breaking Bad, the story of a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, it ruled the airwaves for five seasons. The show ended in 2013, but it was just announced that a film picking up from where Walter White and the other characters left off is in the works.
2013: Arrested Development
Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Tony Hale, and Portia de Rossi play four trust fund kids from Newport, California in this hilarious comedy about their dysfunctional family during a time of crisis. The quirky sitcom was canceled in 2006, but the show's cult following resulted in three more seasons, which were released in 2013, 2018, and 2019.
When 24's final season aired in 2014, fans participated in the pop culture phenomena by diligently tuning in for every single episode. The final saga of agent Jack Bauer did not disappoint and the show is still highly regarded today.
2015: Silicon Valley
HBO's comedy series, Silicon Valley, is a satire of the tech world in Palo Alto and the absurdity of the business from behind the scenes. After premiering in 2014, it blew up and became one of the network's top comedies.
Another HBO satire that caught the attention of audiences stars television royalty, Julia Louise Dreyfus. The show follows Vice President Selina Meyer and her incompetent staff as they navigate D.C. in an attempt to advance her political career.
Viewers were left mystified by the sci-fi western, Westworld, when it debuted in 2016. The show became one of the most watched series on HBO after it's first season and it's upcoming third season is highly anticipated.
Succession's first season came out in 2018 and, though it was a slow build, it generated a lot of buzz afterward. The second season was just released on the streaming service and has received rave reviews.
2019: Game of Thrones
It's impossible to talk about 2019 without acknowledging Game of Thrones. Every Sunday night during season 8, fans retreated to their homes to watch the newest episode and—although some viewers weren't too happy—it was a cultural event that has become increasingly rare in these streaming days.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.