We'll Give You Three Characters, You Guess the '80s TV Show



By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: CBS

About This Quiz

The 1980s were when television began to reflect America as it really was -- racially diverse, politically divided, emotionally complex. In about 30 years, America went from TV shows that had to show married couples sleeping in separate twin beds to 1984's "Something About Amelia," a TV movie which depicted sex abuse in a suburban family. OK, most '80s TV wasn't *that* grim, but in shows from "St. Elsewhere" to "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law," viewers began to see corrupt cops, flawed doctors and imperfect parents. And they saw characters getting divorced, having affairs and struggling to pay the bills. Yet these issues weren't rare problems that preceded a character being written off the show; they were part of larger story arcs that included love, forgiveness and redemption. 

And, often, laughs. Shows like "Cheers" reliably provided a chance to kick back with "friends" at the end of a long day. Or, if you just needed campy fun, you were in luck. The 1980s were the heyday of the nighttime soap: "Dallas" was the champion, quickly spawning imitators like "Dynasty," "Falcon Crest" and "Knots Landing."

Return with us now to the second Golden Age of television, the 1980s. We'll give you the characters; you tell us the show. Good luck!

Bobby, Pam, Miss Ellie:

"Dallas" captivated viewers who'd previously thought soap operas were only for the daytime and for bored homemakers. The undeniable central character was the wily J.R. Ewing. His brother was Bobby, Pam was Bobby's wife (the daughter of a rival oilman), and Miss Ellie was the family matriarch.


Michael, KITT, Devon:

Of *course* the car counts as a character! That was "KITT," short for "Knight Industries Two Thousand." Michael Knight was the show's beefcake lead, and Devon the mission coordinator for all Michael and KITT's exploits.


Sam, Diane, Norm:

Of course, this is "Cheers," with former ballplayer Sam Malone as bartender, refined intellectual Diane as barmaid, and Norm propping up the bar. The show's success spawned the spinoff hit "Frasier."


Ponch, Jon, and Sgt. Getraer:

Some aspects of 1970s TV died hard in the early '80s, like the fondness for Italian-American characters with "-arino" or "-erello" last names. Witness colorful Frank "Ponch" Poncherello, who rode as a California Highway Patrol officer with milder-mannered Jon Baker. Erik Estrada, who played Ponch, was such a favorite with fans he apparently became a favorite of the writers and producers, too. Larry "Jon" Wilcox eventually left the show due to this perceived slight.


Blanche, Rose, Dorothy:

This show bucked demographic wisdom by casting four AARP-aged women as its leads (Sophia was added later, played by Estelle Getty). The risky move paid off, as "The Golden Girls" ran for seven years and is still in syndication.


Cliff, Clair, Theo:

Yes, in the 1980s Bill Cosby was America's dad, who could do no wrong. The less said about this, the better.


Bo, Luke, Uncle Jesse:

Of course, it's "Dukes of Hazzard." The show revolved around the lives of three cousins -- Bo, Luke and Daisy -- and their Uncle Jesse. Technically, they were moonshiners, as the show was based on a movie that made the illegal-alcohol angle explicit. But since the show quickly became a kids-and-family show, that angle was dropped, leaving a lot of people wondering what the Dukes actually did for a living.


Jessica, Dr. Hazlitt, Sheriff Tupper:

This beloved series followed mystery author Jessica Fletcher as she solved real mysteries in Cabot's Cove. She was helped by Hazlitt and Tupper in these efforts. "Murder, She Wrote" is a classic example of a "cozy" mystery format (amateur detective, minimal violence), as opposed to "hardboiled," which is the more common crime genre on TV.


Picard, Riker, Wesley:

The Enterprise traveled the galaxy once again in this first of several Star Trek reboots. Captain Picard was played by Patrick Stewart (you might have heard of him). Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker, is now an accomplished director. And Wil Wheaton, saddled with the almost-universally-disliked role of boy wonder Wesley Crusher, is now beloved for his self-parodying cameos on "The Big Bang Theory." All's well that ends well!


B.A. Baracus, Hannibal, Faceman:

This series cashed in heavily on the popularity of Mr. T (B.A. Baracus) after "Rocky III" and Dirk Benedict (Faceman) after "Battlestar Galactica." Otherwise, this 70s-style show, featuring over-the-top violence with no apparent consequences, might have felt dated to audiences hungry for more sophisticated content.


Crockett, Tubbs, Castillo:

The story goes that NBC president just wanted a show about "MTV cops," but "Miami Vice" was a lot more than that. It capitalized on the border-town feel of Miami in the '80s, home to many immigrant communities and a newly booming cocaine trade. "Miami Vice" is a classic example of the right idea at the right time.


Higgins, T.C., Rick:

This was the show that launched a thousand Tom Selleck posters. He played Thomas Magnum, while Higgins managed the Hawaii estate he lived on (for the never-seen owner, Robin Masters). T.C. and Rick were Magnum's close friends.


Arnold, Willis, Kimberly:

Arnold and Willis were two teenagers who moved from Harlem to Park Avenue, to live with their late mother's former employer. Kimberly was the daughter of the Park Avenue businessman. Sadly, child stardom was hard on all three young actors, especially Dana Plato (Kimberly), who robbed a convenience store and made an erotic film before her death at age 34.


Furillo, Davenport, Esterhaus:

"Hill Street Blues" was perhaps the first cop show with an ensemble cast, and which showed police work as happening within a larger hierarchy. People still quote the show's iconic line, "Let's be careful out there."


Christine, Mary Beth, Lt. Samuels:

Christine and Mary Beth were Cagney and Lacey, respectively. Cagney was a single woman with working-class roots; Lacey was married and a mother.


Tony, Angela, Samantha:

Tony Danza was Tony Micelli, live-in housekeeper to divorced ad executive Angela Bower. Is it us, or is the title kind of sexist? Angela owns the house; she pays Tony's wages. There's no question who's the boss here!


Latka, Louie, Elaine:

This show had a fine ensemble cast and an irresistibly hummable jazz theme. The show's standout was Danny DeVito as Louie, the irascible dispatcher.


David, Maddie, Agnes:

David and Maddie (Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd) ran the Blue Moon Detective Agency; Agnes was the receptionist. This was the show that brought Bogie-and-Bacall style banter to television.


Hammer, Doreau, Trunk:

This series gave the "maverick cop" genre a badly needed send-up. Inspector Sledge Hammer showers with his gun and has a personnel file that has to be transported in a wheelbarrow. Sadly, the show only lasted two seasons.


Colt, Howie, Jody:

Former "Six Million Dollar Man" Lee Majors was Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter. Howie and Jody, also stunt workers, assisted him in his endeavors.


Mike, Carol, Ben:

This was the show that launched Kirk Cameron, who played Mike. Mike, Carol and Ben were all children of Dr. Seaver and his wife, Maggie, in this fairly traditional family sitcom.


McKenzie, Becker, Kelsey:

This was another Steven Bochco powerhouse. McKenzie was a senior partner in the show's law firm, and Becker and Kelsey were lawyers in the same firm: McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak.


Westphall, Samuels, Fiscus:

These were all doctors at St. Eligius Hospital. Some soon-to-be-famous actors scrubbed in during the show's run, including Howie Mandel as Dr. Fiscus, David Morse as Dr. Morrison, and Denzel Washington as Dr. Chandler.


Willie, Kate, Lynn:

"ALF" stood for "Alien Life Form." Will, Kate and Lynn were the suburban dad, mom and daughter who took ALF into their home, with son Brian finishing the family. ALF's home planet exploded, he explains, "when we all plugged our hair dryers in at the same time." We find that back story oddly plausible -- really, should it require 1600 watts to dry hair?


Angus, Pete, Jack:

Angus MacGyver was a former bomb technician and, more generally, a genius who made machines and weapons out of nearly anything at hand. He was also anti-gun -- rare in the 1970s, but an attitude that would become increasingly popular as gun control became a larger issue in American life.


Julia, Suzanne, Charlene:

This show was about an interior design firm in Atlanta. Julia and Suzanne were the Sugarbaker sisters; Charlene was their office manager.


Alex, Steve, Elyse:

Don't be confused: "Family Ties" was the 1980s; "Family Matters" the 1990s. Alex P. Keaton, the young Reagan-era conservative, was a breakthrough role for Canadian actor Michael J. Fox.


Stone, Sullivan, "Bull":

"Night Court" was an enjoyable way to spend a half-hour in the company of seasoned character actors: Harry Anderson as Judge Stone, Markie Post as public defender Sullivan, and John Larroquette as the oily Dan Fielding. But it was the shaven-headed bailiff "Bull," played by Richard Moll, who stole a lot of viewers' hearts.


Larry, Balki, "Twinkie":

If we're honest, "Perfect Strangers" wasn't the most original idea. It was basically "The Odd Couple" done with the "Latka" character from "Taxi." So why'd it work so well? The two leads had great chemistry, with Mark-Linn Baker playing a straitlaced Midwesterner against Bronson Pinchot's infectiously lovable European immigrant "Balki."


Ricky, Edward, Kate:

Ricky Stratton was played by Ricky Schroder, who meets his wealthy father Edward Stratton for the first time at age 14. Kate is Edward's personal assistant and love interest. Fun fact: After many years of being dogged by his image as a squeaky-clean child actor, Rick Schroder landed a starring role on gritty "NYPD Blue." So much for "no second acts in America"!


Jim, Frank, Corky:

We left out the title character as a dead giveaway. Murphy Brown was a hard-hitting TV journalist; the three characters listed above were all her colleagues/rivals.


Colleen, Cherry, K.C.:

America did a lot of "processing" of the Vietnam War in the '80s (consider movies like "Platoon" and "Born of the Fourth of July"). "China Beach" was one such show, chronicling the experiences of Army nurse Colleen McMurphy and her colleagues at the "China Beach" medical facility.


Henry, Cherie, Betty:

Soleil Moon Frye was the title character, an abandoned child taken in by widower Henry. Cherie was Punky's friend in the same building, while Betty was Cherie's aunt.


Rick, Dee Dee, Capt. Cain:

Rick was Rick Hunter, who gave the show its name. "Hunter" was a classic "hardboiled" cop show, with plenty of cynicism and violence. Even if you don't remember the show, you've probably used Hunter's catchphrase, "Works for me."


Holt, Krebs, Foxe:

Laura Holt was the female PI who overcame sexism in her line of work by inventing "Remington Steele," a fictitious male PI who supposedly ran her agency. Pierce Brosnan played the con man who acted the part of Steele for her.


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