Sci-Fi Seven: The Best of ’70s and 80’s TV
Things got wild for science fiction in the ’70s and ’80s. From space aliens and robots to scary stories and superheroes, the era showcased a fantastic amount of crowd-pleasing innovation.
Check out these seven TV shows that changed the face of sci-fi forever!
(For seven influential sci-fi series from the ’50s and ’60s, check out the previous installment of the Sci-Fi Seven: TV Shows from the 1950s-1960s.)
Night Gallery, an NBC show running from 1970 to 1973, was a successor to The Twilight Zone. That could be said for many programs, but this one was different. It directly tied into the Zone through the man himself – the incomparable Rod Serling.
The sci-fi icon introduced every installment, showing off his impressive skills as a storyteller. In addition, he wrote numerous episodes, and these were as well received as his Twilight Zone creations. Night Gallery focused more on horror than sci-fi, and it did it very well. Episodes like “Midnight Never Ends” and “The Caterpillar” are sure to please fans of the macabre.
Battlestar Galactica was ABC’s answer to Star Wars. George Lucas’s fantasy world had captured the hearts of millions, and movie and TV studios were eager to cash in on the “space opera” craze. But Galactica, though somewhat inspired by Star Wars, isn’t a total ripoff. It’s gone on to become a successful franchise in its own right, featuring an intelligent story about a society lost in space.
Interestingly, the show centered around humans from another part of a galaxy traveling to a mythical planet known as Earth. The premise touched on some interesting topics, such as the idea that humanity may have evolved elsewhere in the universe. The journey wouldn’t be complete without conflict – the humans are chased by an evil race of cyborgs known as the Cylons. These villains have become iconic, as have several other aspects of the show.
The original show aired from 1978 to 1979, reviving for 10 episodes a year later as Galactica 1980. Over the next few decades, it was followed by several reboots and re-imaginings.
The Six-Million Dollar Man
The Six-Million Dollar man mixed spy thriller and sci-fi to wonderful effect. An astronaut named Steve Austin (Lee Majors) is seriously injured while testing advanced machinery. He is then fitted with bionic implants that give him fantastic strength and agility.
Based on a novel called Cyborg, the franchise started out in the early 1970s with some made-for-TV movies before becoming a serialized show in 1974. It lasted five seasons, and it was so popular that three more TV movies were released in the ’80s.
Even though there have not been any major releases since then, the series remains fresh in the minds of nerds all over the world.
The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone came back in 1985. Just like the original series, the reboot juxtaposed darkness and levity through deep storytelling about horror and humor. Though not as iconic as the original, the ’80s Twilight Zone was still memorable. Not many people liked the show upon release, but fans have warmed up to it since then.
Some episodes, like “The Shadow Man” and “Personal Demons” were genuine nightmare fuel, and others featured great performances from actors who would go on to become A-listers (Bruce Willis in the first episode, “Shatterday”).
The Incredible Hulk
One of the first live action superhero shows was about a big green monster played by Lou Ferrigno – The Incredible Hulk. It pioneered the way Marvel comics were transposed into TV serials, and it’s still regarded as one of the best.
The series ran on CBS from 1978 to 1982. It follows the basic premise of the original comics – a mild-mannered scientist turns into a powerful brute when angered. But the producer, Kenneth Johnson, sought to make it as different from the comics as possible, so there were several notable changes.
Dr. Bruce David Banner (Bob Bixby) is a medical doctor rather than a physicist, and his Hulk origin story is quite different. In the show, the death of Banner’s wife in a car crash propels him to study superhuman strength, regretting that he wasn’t strong enough to save her. A gamma radiation experiment transforms him into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno).
Another big difference is the fact that Banner hitchhikes across the country in his loneliness. He shows a generous spirit along the way, helping countless people struggling with various problems. This format was later used in shows like Highway to Heaven.
The Incredible Hulk is, in a word, incredible. The show’s writing, acting, and emotion make it a crown jewel in the world of science fiction.
Doctor Who (70s-80s)
Doctor Who is complicated. It’s an absolutely huge franchise that started in 1963 on the BBC network, flourishing in the ’70s and ’80s. The stories have continued to this day, changing often to better suit the eras in which they are released.
The original idea came from producer Sydney Newman. The show centered on a mysterious alien known as The Doctor, originally portrayed by William Henry Hartnell. This character travels through time and space in a machine known as a TARDIS, which looks like a British police box to human eyes. The Doctor goes on constant adventures while exploring the universe, often fighting evil forces.
Doctor Who is one of the most important franchises in the history of nerd-dom. The fact that it just keeps going and going (with a long break from 1989 to 2005) as a series is a testament to its power. So far, 13 actors have taken on the lead role. The ’70s and ’80s actors included Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
He did it. Gene Roddenberry actually continued a long-dormant TV show with a spin-off even better than the original. That’s how many fans feel about Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Running on CBS from 1987 to 1994, the show featured an all new Enterprise with an all new crew led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. A bald, cultured, and incredibly moral captain had taken the place of the iconic Captain Kirk, and Trekkies were furious at first. But they came around, realizing that this new show was deeper, more intelligent, and more exciting than the first Star Trek.
It wasn’t just Picard who made an impact. The whole cast was likable and interesting, and the fact that the show lasted for seven years gave the showrunners a lot more room to play around with story arcs and character development.
As shown by the popularity of the newest Picard series on CBS All Access, the world of TNG will remain an important part of pop culture for decades to come.
Which sci-fi series from the ’70s and ’80s was your favorite? Let Your Geek Sideshow and tell us in the comments!