Major TV debuts from the year you were born
Major TV debuts from the year you were born
As the landscape of TV continues to shift, it’s always a good time to pause and look at the medium’s history. Although the latest buzzy Netflix show dominating everyday conversations is normal, television is one of the youngest art forms around. The first American TV station began broadcasting in 1928, but television didn’t really start growing into the influential, widespread phenomenon that it is now until the 1950s.
Since there were initially only three major TV networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—popular television was limited to a strict number of channels and studios for decades. The advent of cable television and streaming services has allowed more and more diverse forms of TV storytelling to be made. The most popular show that aired in 2012 when an 8-year-old was born looks vastly different than the most popular show that aired in 1965 when a 55-year-old was born.
Some of the older TV shows obviously still hold a place in American culture and television history today. For example, “The Twilight Zone” forever shaped the anthology series, as well as how the genres of science fiction and suspense unfold within the medium. However, pinpointing every major show that’s come out since TV took off can be a time-consuming task.
Stacker conducted manual research to compile a list of notable television debuts from the past 70 years, listing one show for each year and using a variety of unique sources. When selecting TV shows to add, Stacker looked for series that were not just popular when they were airing, but remain influential and iconic in pop culture to this day.
Read on to find out which major TV show debuted the same year that you were born, from the 1950 comedy hour “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” to the 2019 HBO drama “Watchmen.”
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1950: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
This early TV comedy turned its titular married couple into one of the most respected duos in Hollywood. George played the straight, serious husband, while Gracie and their neighbor Blanche, played by Bea Benaderet, frequently annoyed him with their mischief.
1951: I Love Lucy
Real-life comedy couple Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball starred in “I Love Lucy” as bandleader Ricky and his feisty, troublemaking wife Lucy. The show made the pair major Hollywood stars, and is generally regarded as one of the most influential sitcoms ever made.
1952: Guiding Light
“Guiding Light,” which began as a radio show, followed the trials and tribulations of the Bauer family in the fictional Midwestern town of Springfield. The show aired until 2009, and is the longest-running soap opera—and one of the longest-running dramas—of all time.
1953: The Danny Thomas Show
“The Danny Thomas Show” revolved around nightclub singer Danny Williams, played by Danny Thomas, who struggled to balance his career and dysfunctional family life. The show was originally named “Make Room for Daddy,” but was renamed ahead of its fourth season. When actress Jean Hagen, who played Danny’s wife Margaret, departed the series after the third season, writers chose to kill off her character rather than show the two getting a socially unacceptable divorce, making Margaret the first major sitcom character to die.
One of American pop culture’s most famous dogs was introduced in 1954. “Lassie” ran until 1973, showcasing the adventures of its titular collie and her various human and animal companions.
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1955: Alfred Hitchcock Presents
When horror pro Alfred Hitchock created this anthology, he already had 30 years of filmmaking experience under his belt. The show’s opening was particularly well known, as he introduced a mystery thriller story, as “Funeral March of a Marionette” played in the background.
1956: As the World Turns
Created as a spinoff of the soap opera “Guiding Light,” this soap concerned itself with the intrigue between families in the Midwestern town of Oakdale. It ran until 2010, and current Hollywood stars like Meg Ryan, Amanda Seyfried, and Julianne Moore started their careers on the show.
1957: Perry Mason
This CBS series followed its titular lawyer, played by Raymond Burr, who defended innocent people in Los Angeles. “Perry Mason” was one of Hollywood’s first one-hour TV shows, and was recently rebooted as an HBO drama starring Matthew Rhys. The series was adapted from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective books.
1958: The Rifleman
“The Rifleman” tells the story of Western rancher Lucas, played by Chuck Connors, and his young son Mark, played by Johnny Crawford. The series was named after Lucas’ signature weapon, and was one of the first major TV shows to focus on a single parent.
1959: The Twilight Zone
This iconic Rod Serling-hosted anthology combined a number of genres, from sci-fi to horror, and each episode took on themes of prejudice and morality, often with an unexpected twist. The original series ran for more than 150 episodes and inspired multiple reboots, including a 1983 Steven Spielberg-produced film.
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1960: The Bugs Bunny Show
Yes, this beloved anthology cartoon has been around for 60 years. Bugs, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang also appeared in the 1996 hit Michael Jordan vehicle “Space Jam,” and in an HBO Max reboot launched in 2020.
1961: The Dick Van Dyke Show
Dick Van Dyke starred in this CBS comedy as a TV writer who went on a series of misadventures with his family and coworkers. Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Matthews, and Rose Marie also appeared in major roles.
1962: The Beverly Hillbillies
“The Beverly Hillbillies” followed the Clampetts, a redneck family that moved to Beverly Hills after discovering oil on their property that made them rich overnight. The show enjoyed high viewership throughout its nine seasons, and 16 of its episodes rank among the most-watched TV episodes ever.
1963: Doctor Who
This BBC show, which depicted the time-traveling adventures of an alien Time Lord known as “the Doctor,” is one of the most well-known British TV shows of all time. Since the main character could regenerate into different forms, the part has been played by numerous actors over the years. However, William Hartnell played the first version of the Doctor.
1964: Gilligan’s Island
“Gilligan’s Island” began as seven stranded people became castaways on an island after a shipwreck. Much of the sitcom’s humor was derived from the ensemble’s squabbles over how best to survive in a new life. The show’s iconic theme song, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle” was once voted the greatest theme song of all time in a Yahoo TV reader poll.
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1965: Days of Our Lives
In “Days of Our Lives,” the personal and professional lives of middle- and upper-class families in the town of Salem get tangled in immeasurable ways. As of November 2020, almost 14,000 episodes of the series have aired on NBC.
1966: Star Trek
The iconic pop cultural touchstone “Star Trek” began in 1966, as the crew of the USS Enterprise first set out to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” Iterations of the popular sci-fi show are still airing today, and it has led to numerous films and spinoffs.
1967: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
Dick and Tom Smothers hosted this CBS variety show, which often poked fun at recent news and topics of the day through satire. It was canceled after two years when the network accused the brothers of breach of contract, but they successfully sued and received a settlement of almost $1 million.
1968: 60 Minutes
For more than five decades, the CBS television news magazine has spent an hour delving into controversial issues thanks to reporter-centric journalism. When the show began, it was hosted by Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace.
1969: The Brady Bunch
This instantly recognizable sitcom told the story of the Bradys, a large blended family with six children. The series’ popularity led to multiple spinoffs, as well as the 1990s satirical movies “The Brady Bunch Movie” and “A Very Brady Sequel.”
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1970: The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Mary Tyler Moore starred as Mary Richards in this 1970s comedy, playing a woman who navigates the male-dominated Minneapolis news station where she works and figures out life on her own terms. The series is celebrated for paving the way for independent leading women in mainstream American TV, and holds the record for the most Emmys for outstanding writing for a comedy series.
1971: Sanford and Son
“Sanford and Son” centers on the misadventures of junk-dealing widower Fred Sanford, played by Redd Foxx, and his long-suffering, more progressive son Lamont, played by Demond Wilson. Based loosely on the British comedy “Steptoe and Son,” the hit show is considered a landmark precursor to other popular network sitcoms starring African American families.
The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine, and that’s certainly a true sentiment in Fox’s smash hit war comedy “M.A.S.H.” Originally an Oscar-nominated 1970 movie, this iteration followed Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda, and the rest of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit, as they used humor to cope with their time in the Korean War.
1973: The Young and the Restless
For more than four decades, this CBS soap opera has focused on the conflict between various families in Genoa City, Wisconsin. The show exists in the same universe as “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which debuted in 1987. In 2018, “The Young and the Restless” celebrated 30 consecutive years as the #1 daytime soap.
1974: Happy Days
In “Happy Days,” teenager Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard, struggled through the highs and lows of adolescence in Milwaukee during the 1950s and 1960s. The show is particularly well-remembered because of supporting character Fonzie, played by Henry Winkler, a dropout greaser who often showed up to help the Cunninghams in unexpected ways.
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1975: The Jeffersons
Originally created as a spinoff of “All in the Family,” this series centered on a recently wealthy African American family named the Jeffersons, as they moved into a luxury apartment building and learned to live near their eccentric neighbors. The comedy was one of the first major American shows to feature a prominent interracial leading couple, and one of the longest-running series with a predominantly Black cast.
1976: Charlie’s Angels
In this iconic example of 1970s “jiggle TV,” a trio of women—Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, and Jaclyn Smith—fight crime in the name of a Los Angeles detective agency, as directed by their unseen boss Charlie, as voiced by John Forsythe. The show’s popularity led to a number of reboots and spinoffs, mostly recently an Elizabeth Banks-directed 2019 film of the same name.
1977: Three’s Company
Based on the British comedy “Man About the House,” this ABC sitcom followed three roommates in Santa Monica, California, played by Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, and John Ritter. The show was particularly known for its recognizable theme song, “Come and Knock on Our Door.”
In the soap opera “Dallas,” a wealthy Texas oil family known as the Ewings engaged in dirty schemes and blackmail among themselves and a rival family named the Barnes. The show aired for more than 350 episodes, making it one of the longest-running scripted dramas ever made in the United States.
1979: Dukes of Hazzard
“Dukes of Hazzard” follows Bo Duke, played by John Schneider, and Luke Duke, played by Tom Wopat, two Georgia cousins who dodge the rules and run moonshine in their rural hometown. The show is based on the 1975 action comedy “Moonrunners,” and the characters’ 1969 Dodge Charger is a particularly well-known element of the series as a whole.
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1980: Magnum, P.I.
Tom Selleck starred in “Magnum, P.I.” as Thomas Magnum, a detective who investigated bizarre crimes in Oahu, Hawaii. The crime drama was one of the most popular shows in America early on in its run, and a CBS reboot of the show premiered in 2018.
Originally conceived as a rival to the CBS drama “Dallas,” this series centered on the antagonistic relationships between the Carringtons and Colbys, two wealthy Denver families who made a living in the oil business. Although the show was canceled after nine seasons, a CW reboot of the show has been airing since 2017.
“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name,” and over the course of 11 seasons, Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson, and the other quirky characters of “Cheers” did just that at the show’s Boston bar. Today anyone who wants to reminisce can visit the beloved Cheers on Beacon Hill, the establishment that inspired the show.
1983: The A-Team
In “The A-Team,” four Vietnam War veterans—George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, and Mr. T—escaped from a military prison after being locked up for a crime they didn’t commit. As military agents attempted to catch them, the men dedicated their lives to doing good deeds while on the run. The premise was later turned into a 2010 film of the same name.
For more than 35 years, the current iteration of “Jeopardy!” has been bringing stimulating trivia into millions of American homes. Originally hosted by Art Fleming and John Harlan in its previous versions that started in 1964, the late Alex Trebek took over in 1984 as the syndicated game show’s famous host until his death in 2020.
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1985: Golden Girls
“Golden Girls” provided a look into the rambunctious lives of four older, but young-at-heart women—played by Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty—living together in Florida. It also happens to be one of the only shows in which all of the principal actors won Emmys for their work on it.
1986: The Oprah Winfrey Show
“The Oprah Winfrey Show," which aired for 25 years until 2011, still stands as one of the highest-rated American daytime talk shows. The series featured countless memorable episodes, from an interview with Ellen DeGeneres after she first came out as being gay to an “Islam 101” episode to debunk false myths spread after 9/11.
1987: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Set nearly a century after the original “Star Trek’s” conclusion, this series reboot follows the explorations of a new crew aboard the USS Enterprise, still led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played once again by Sir Patrick Stewart. The “Next Generation” cast also went on to star in four in-universe movies while the show was airing.
For almost a decade, ABC’s “Roseanne” brought the joys and struggles of a working-class Illinois family to network TV. It later had a short-lived revival in 2018.
1989: The Simpsons
This satirical cartoon comedy about the Simpsons, an American family living in the fictional city of Springfield, holds the record for the longest-running scripted primetime series in U.S. history. In 1999, Time magazine hailed it as the best TV show of the 20th century.
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1990: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Will Smith established himself as an A-list star over six seasons of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He played a fictionalized version of himself, a Philadelphia teenager who’s sent to live with his more conservative, upper-class relatives in California.
1991: Home Improvement
Inspired by star Tim Allen’s own comedy routines, “Home Improvement” centered on the Taylors, an everyday family in Detroit. The show lasted eight seasons, launching Allen’s onscreen career and becoming one of the defining sitcoms of the 1990s.
1992: The Larry Sanders Show
Set behind the scenes of a fictional late-night talk show, “The Larry Sanders Show” often guest-starred real celebrities playing dramatized versions of themselves. It was one of HBO’s first critically acclaimed series, and inspired the “walk and talk” technique later found in shows like “House” and “The West Wing.”
One of the longest-running spinoffs ever made, “Frasier’s” titular character, played by Kelsey Grammer, was first introduced on “Cheers” before his character headed to Seattle to work as the psychiatrist host of a radio show. The critical darling won 37 Primetime Emmys, a record for scripted television that was only recently broken by “Game of Thrones.”
“Friends” told the story of six 20-somethings navigating life and love in New York City, and became a worldwide phenomenon over the course of its 10 seasons. An unscripted reunion special from HBO Max is set to film in March 2021.
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1995: Xena: Warrior Princess
Originally greenlit as a spinoff of the TV series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” this fantasy series follows Xena, played by Lucy Lawless, a powerful warrior who seeks to resolve her past wrongs by helping those in need. “Xena: Warrior Princess” gained a particularly strong cult following, with TV Guide naming it one of the top cult shows ever made.
1996: Everybody Loves Raymond
Ray Romano starred in this long-running sitcom as Raymond Barone, a sports writer with a comically dysfunctional family. In October 2020, the cast reunited for a reunion special to raise money to fight myeloma, the disease that claimed the life of one of the show’s late stars, Peter Boyle.
1997: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Created by Joss Whedon, this quippy teen drama featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, the latest in a long line of women known as Slayers. It was her destiny to fight vampires and other evil forces, although she fought to live a normal high school life in the meantime.
1998: Sex and the City
Based on Candace Bushnell’s 1997 book of the same name, this New York City-set comedy detailed the platonic and romantic lives of four female friends in Manhattan. The show’s success led to two spinoff movies, as well as a prequel series called “The Carrie Diaries.”
1999: The Sopranos
In “The Sopranos,” New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, struggled to balance his family responsibilities with his life of organized crime. The HBO series won multiple Emmys during its six-year run, becoming a largely influential piece of media that Rolling Stone named the best TV show of all time.
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2000: Gilmore Girls
Known for its fast-paced dialogue and colorful cast of characters, “Gilmore Girls” followed single mom Lorelai, played by Lauren Graham, and her daughter Rory, played by Alexis Bledel, who maintained a close bond as they navigated life in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The show returned for a four-part Netflix revival in 2016 called “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.”
Although many medical shows are tense dramas, “Scrubs” featured plenty of slapstick humor as its main cast of young doctors slowly became pros at the hospital where they worked. The show ran for a whopping nine seasons, and stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison currently recap the show on their podcast, “Fake Doctors, Real Friends.”
2002: The Wire
Set in Baltimore, “The Wire” approached crime and corruption in the city through the eyes of cops and drug dealers. Each season focused on a different issue, from illegal drug trade to Baltimore’s seaport systems.
2003: Arrested Development
“Arrested Development” centered on the Bluths, a wealthy family adjusting to the real world after their real estate empire crumbled and their patriarch is sent to jail. Although Fox canceled the comedy after three seasons, it later aired a fourth and fifth season on Netflix. The show is often credited with influencing other single-camera comedies, like “Community” and “30 Rock.”
“Lost” began as a plane flying from Sydney to Los Angeles crashed on a remote island, stranding survivors in a mysterious place with strange supernatural elements that were slowly revealed. It’s often regarded as one of the best TV shows ever made, as well as one of the most expensive.
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2005: The Office
Remade from the original United Kingdom comedy of the same name, this mockumentary-style comedy followed a dysfunctional group of employees at Scranton’s Dunder-Mifflin Paper Co. It grew into a huge hit as it aired from 2005 to 2013, and has found even more fans since hitting Netflix.
2006: Friday Night Lights
Adapted from H.G. Bissinger’s 1990 book “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” this NBC drama revolved around a small-town Texas football team and its coach, played by Kyle Chandler. The show was based on a 2004 film of the same name, and received multiple Emmy nominations during its five-year run.
2007: Mad Men
Set in Manhattan during the 1960s and 1970s, “Mad Men” chronicled the morally gray life of advertising director Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, as well as the cultural shift that America went through during those decades. The drama was the first basic cable show to win outstanding drama series at the Primetime Emmy Awards, and is a prime example of the 21st century’s Golden Age of Television.
2008: Breaking Bad
In AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” chemistry teacher Walter White began making meth to support his family after his cancer diagnosis. The show’s success led to the prequel spinoff series “Better Call Saul,” which was recently renewed for a sixth and final season.
2009: Parks and Recreation
The political mockumentary “Parks and Recreation” centered on the public officials of the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, and the misadventures they encountered as they tried to make their town a better place. A reunion episode aired in April 2020, and real-life politicians like Joe Biden and Michelle Obama appeared on episodes of the series.
2010: The Walking Dead
Adapted from Robert Kirkman’s comic books of the same name, “The Walking Dead” follows survivors’ attempts to remain alive in the midst of a deadly zombie apocalypse. The show’s long-term success has sparked multiple spinoff series, and when its third season aired, the apocalypse drama became the first cable TV series to garner the highest viewership of any fall show.
2011: Game of Thrones
HBO’s groundbreaking fantasy series “Game of Thrones” was based on George R.R. Martin’s book series, and detailed warring families’ quests to seize power of the fictional continent of Westeros. Although it received criticism for its final season, the show is often regarded as one of the best shows of all time, and received a record 59 Emmys.
Loosely inspired by creator and star Lena Dunham’s own life, “Girls” centered on the lives of four 20-something women in Brooklyn, after main character Hannah’s parents cut her off. The acclaimed comedy has been praised for depicting the imperfect lives of millennials, but criticized for its privileged outlook and lack of diversity.
2013: Orange Is the New Black
Adapted from Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir, “Orange Is the New Black” followed the lives of female inmates at a low-security federal prison. As of 2016, the dramedy became Netflix’s most-watched original series.
2014: BoJack Horseman
“BoJack Horseman’s” titular protagonist is an anamorphic horse who, after fading from stardom as the lead of a 1990s sitcom, hopes to regain his place in the spotlight through a ghost-written memoir. The show has been praised for its explorations of mental illness and addiction, and in 2020, IndieWire named it the greatest animated TV show ever made.
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2015: Better Call Saul
Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, was first introduced as a shifty lawyer in AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” but this prequel series fully delves into the character’s origins. The spinoff has received 23 Emmy nominations, and was recently renewed for a final sixth season.
2016: Stranger Things
Drawing from ’80s sci-fi tropes, the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things” opens as a young boy, played by Noah Schnapp, disappears in a small Indiana town, prompting its residents to discover supernatural threats that tie back to a young girl, played by Millie Bobby Brown, with mysterious abilities. A fourth season is set to debut in 2021.
2017: The Handmaid’s Tale
Adapted from Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” imagines a dystopian America theocracy where most women are forced into sexual servitude and stripped of their rights. The Hulu show became the first streaming series to win a Primetime Emmy for outstanding series, thanks to its complex explorations of gender, religion, and power.
“Succession” portrays members of the wealthy Roy family, who fight for control of the powerful yet corrupt media empire that patriarch Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, built. The series won the Emmy for best drama series in 2020, and a third season of the popular HBO drama will air in 2021.
Billed as a “remix” of the 1986 comic series of the same name, “Watchmen” depicts an alternate reality 2019, where Tulsa police detective Angela Abar, played by Regina King, investigates a white supremacist organization linked to the death of her friend, while uncovering secrets about her own family’s past. The show was praised for its explorations of generational trauma and systemic American anti-Blackness, and won 11 Primetime Emmys in 2020—the most for any show that year.
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