The Most Popular TV Episodes of the 1980s

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Every decade of television is important to the medium’s overall evolution, and the 1980s were no exception. However, it was also a decade in which the majority of American shows played it relatively safe in terms of storytelling choices. Despite plenty of exceptions to the rule – most of which aired on the budding FOX network – domestic TV arguably wouldn’t get its edge back until the following decade.

To determine the best TV episodes of the 1980s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed audience ratings from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon. Episodes that aired between 1980 and 1989 were ranked based on their audience ratings as of February 2023. Only episodes with at least 5,000 user ratings were considered. In the case of a tie, the episode with the greater number of user votes was ranked higher.

Perhaps as a result of the comparative dullness of American television in the 1980s, a slew of the highest-rated TV episodes from that era come to us from overseas. The foremost examples are the Japanese anime smash “Dragon Ball Z” and the UK sitcom “Blackadder,” the latter of which touched down on a different historical era with each season. Co-created by and starring Rowan Atkinson, “Blackadder” is now considered one of the best programs in the history of British television. (Here’s a list of the most popular TV comedies, according to IMDb.) 

The British cult sci-fi series “Red Dwarf” likewise offered some of the decade’s highest-rated TV episodes. Back here on domestic soil, shows such as “Miami Vice” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” achieved a similar feat. Let’s also not forget that a little series called “M*A*S*H” dropped its historic finale in 1983. And at the end of the decade, pilot episodes of “Twin Peaks” and “The Simpsons” pointed the way forward. (These are the best TV pilots of all time.)

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