Saturday, July 27, 2013

Classic Retro TV Nights

For most people an evening spent watching old television shows is something that is settled for, when more exciting activities are too costly or unavailable. But for those of us who love this stuff, it’s an entertainment option we not only prefer even when other opportunities present themselves, but also something we look forward to, sometimes all day.

Comfort TV fans all have their preferences when it comes to classic TV viewing. Some like to marathon episodes from one show, while others mix and match at random. More ambitious fans may create theme nights built around a specific writer or actor or subject.

For me, one of my favorite Comfort TV activities is to recreate an evening of television from 30 or 40 years ago. It’s a way to vicariously travel back into the past and watch the programs that people watched back then, in the order in which they watched them.

If you’d like to try it, and you have access to the DVDs or a good streaming service, here are some noteworthy retro TV nights that will bring back memories, and renew your appreciation for the consistency of quality that we used to take for granted from our television networks.

CBS: Saturday, 1973

All in the Family
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Bob Newhart Show
The Carol Burnett Show

This is, and most likely always will be, the best night of television ever scheduled. Spend an evening with episodes of these five classic series, all now ranked at or near the top of their respective genres, and you’ll wonder why anyone would go out on Saturday nights in 1973.

ABC: Thursday, 1964

The Flintstones
The Donna Reed Show
My Three Sons
Peyton Place

What makes this lineup interesting is how these shows now seem to belong to different television eras. The Donna Reed Show has a 1950s vibe, while Bewitched is definitely a classic ‘60s series. The Flintstones could have emerged from any decade, though most wouldn’t connect them historically with the year the Beatles invaded America. And Peyton Place looked forward to a time when the medium was open to more mature content. 

NBC: Thursday, 1985

The Cosby Show
Family Ties
Night Court
Hill Street Blues

One of the preeminent “must-see TV” nights of the 1980s, with some logical symmetry in the pairing of two family sitcoms followed by two workplace sitcoms, each with escalating maturity in subject matter, and capped by one of the decade’s best dramas. 

ABC: Friday, 1971

The Brady Bunch
The Partridge Family
Room 222
The Odd Couple
Love American Style

Great memories here for late Baby Boomers like myself. Room 222 has not been as widely syndicated over the years as the other sitcoms in this standout ABC lineup, but it’s a brilliant show worth rediscovering on DVD. The weakest link here is Love American Style, though the diverse guest-star lineups help to offset its sophomoric sensibilities. 

CBS: Wednesday, 1965

Lost in Space
The Beverly Hillbillies
Green Acres
The Dick Van Dyke Show

What seems eclectic at first actually makes perfect sense. Lost in Space and Beverly Hillbillies both deal with families coping outside of familiar environments. There’s an obvious rural connection between Hillbillies and Green Acres, and while the latter might seem incompatible with The Dick Van Dyke Show, it was actually a much smarter series than it seemed at first glance. 

ABC: Tuesday, 1977

Happy Days
Laverne & Shirley
Three’s Company

Here’s an ideal retro lineup after a tough day at work, when all you want is to set your brain to autopilot and take in some lighter TV fare that does not require careful attention. 

And for those that really want to recreate a retro TV night as closely as possible, if you have access to YouTube streaming on your television you can fill the gaps between episodes with commercials from the same era, or perhaps network bumpers or promos. See you in the '70s!


  1. Great post! I vividly remember those CBS Saturday and ABC Tuesday line-ups, and in high school, we used to beg our teachers not to give us homework on Thursday nights so we could watch the NBC shows. Surprisingly, our teachers often went along with this!

  2. Thanks so much for your post- you had nicer teachers than I did.

    I have bookmarked your blog and look forward to spending an evening with your Family Affair reviews, as that is also one of my favorite classic TV shows.



  3. Yes! We don't go quite as far as to do it by a given year or network, but we do try to stick with certain shows on the night they frequently aired.

    Hawaii Five-O (CBS, 1968)

    Route 66 (CBS, 1962)
    The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (NBC, 1966)
    The Saint/The Avengers (A&E ran them on Fridays)

    Perry Mason (CBS, 1962)
    Mission: Impossible (CBS, 1966)
    Mannix (CBS, 1968)

    The F.B.I. (ABC, 1967)
    British Miniseries (Masterpiece Theatre)
    What's My Line?(CBS, 1960)

    I'm glad to know we're not the only ones who do something like this!