The Sitcom ruled the airwaves in the 80s. Of all the 80s TV shows that were popular, no genre consistently topped the ratings like the sitcom did. In the early 80s, tv shows like Threes Company, One Day at a Time, Taxi, and Different Strokes were extremely popular. In the mid 80s, Growing Pains, Newhart, The Golden Girls, Cheers, Who's the Boss?, and Family Ties led the way. Later in the 80s, Roseanne, Alf, and Nightcourt brought laughs into the living rooms of a large amount of American households.
Of all the sitcoms, the champion had to be the The Cosby Show. From its first airing in 1984, the Cosby Show was always at the top of the 80s television charts. Not only was it the most popular sitcom of the 80s, but it almost single handedly revived the fortunes of its network, NBC, which previously had languished at the bottom of the ratings. The Cosby show featured the Huxtable family, with Bill Cosby playing the role of Dr. Cliff Huxtable. A lot of the show's subject matter was based on Cosby's stand up comedy routine. This opened the door for the likes of Roseanne, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, and Ray Romano to have similar success with shows based on their comedy.
In the early to mid 80s, the television soap opera made a big push into prime time. The 80s TV Show Dallas was the prime instigator in the soap take over of prime time. Dallas actually premiered in 1978, but it's "Who Shot J.R." episode in 1980 was the show that really ushered in the heyday of the prime time soap. The show was one of the most look forward to tv shows in television history. It was the resolution of the previous season's cliff hanger involving the shooting of the favorite villain of the show: J.R. Ewing. Throughout the summer of 1980, "Who Shot J.R." dominated american pop culture. There were t-shirts proclaiming "I shot J.R." being sold, there were magazine specials discussing all of the potential suspects, it was a pop culture phenomenon. The actual show ended up being the highest rated television show in US history, but was later eclipsed by the final episode of M*A*S*H.
Following up on the success of Dallas, the 3 networks dished off a bunch of soaps for their prime time viewing audience. There was a Dallas spin off called Knots Landing, which followed the exploits of Gary Ewing in California. Other families America loved to follow were the Carrington's of Dynasty and the Channings of Falcon Crest. Other soap style shows included Hotel and LA Law.
The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were ABC's one two punch on Saturday nights for a good portion of the early 80s. Until Fantasy Island's final season in 1984, the two shows led the ratings for Saturday night viewers. Aaron Spelling's The Love Boat was an hour long show that involved different couples each week finding love on a cruise ship. The couples were played by well known guest stars and included everyone from Alan Thicke to Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Fantasy Island was another show that involved having guest stars appear each week. This time they were people who paid to have their fantasies produced for them on a mysterious pacific island. Ricardo Montalbán played their host, Mr Roarke, who would get his employees ready to welcome the guests to the island with the famous line "smiles everyone, smiles". And of course there was his assistant Tattoo, played by Hervé Villechaize, who would let everyone know the plane is coming in by ringing the bell in the bell tower while yelling "Ze Plane! Ze Plane!".
If you were a fan of action series with great car chases and stunts, there were plenty of 80s TV Shows to choose from. The A-Team was a popular show that involved huge gun battles every week with no one seeming to get shot. The Dukes of Hazzard had the prerequisite car chase every week, usually involving the bumbling sheriff Rosco P Coltrane trying to apprehend the Duke Brothers. The Fall Guy was actually about a stunt man turned bounty hunter, so there were plenty of great action stunts there each week. The Greatest American Hero was always good for some great comedy/action scenes involving star William Katt's adventures in trying to get the super hero suit he was given by space aliens to work properly. And if you were in to high-tech machinery, you could always watch David Hasselhof and his talking car in Knight Rider or Jan-Michael Vincent and his high-tech helicopter in Airwolf.
There were many great detective/police shows in the 80s. If you were into the more traditional police/court dramas you would have Hill Street Blues, In the Heat of the Night, Matlock, Miami Vice, or Cagney & Lacey to watch. There was also the espionage centered Scarecrow and Mrs. King if you were into spy shows. If you enjoyed the private detective genre, you could choose from Murder She Wrote, Riptide, Simon & Simon, Hart to Hart, or Moonlighting.
The top detective show of the 80s had to be Magnum, P.I., which starred Tom Selleck as the part time private investigator. While Magnum's main job was as a security consultant for famed writer Robin Masters, he spent most of his time doing P.I. work. The fringe benefits of working for Masters, included living in the guest house of Master's lavish Hawaiian estate and access to his red Ferrari 308GTS. Magnum P.I. ran from 1980-1988 and consistently ranked high in the nielsen ratings.