7 super TV shows somehow turning 50 years old in 2021

Columbo, Archie, Cannon and Cornelius all made their series debut in 1971.

Images: The Everett Collection

It seems like only yesterday that we were watching these characters on our television screen. Well, in most cases, it literally was yesterday, as these seven new shows from 1971 launched characters and careers that continue to air on television. Even Spider-Man made his live-action debut that year in an unlikely place. Did you know that?

Elsewhere, you have household names like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Archie Bunker all entering television in 1971. Let's take a look at some influential shows celebrating a 50th birthday in 2021.

1. Columbo


Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo was no stranger to television in 1971. Falk made his debut as the detective in the 1968 made-for-TV movie Prescription: Murder. Yet, three years would pass before NBC dusted off the raincoat for another pilot film in March 1971, "Ransom for a Dead Man," and, at last, a full series order months later. The clever crime tales would run for most of the decade on the network, for seven seasons through 1978. A decade later, ABC and Falk would revive the character, as Columbo continued to say, "Just one more thing…" until 2003.

2. All in the Family


Nobody had ever seen a character like Archie Bunker on television before, though many probably knew characters like the Bunkers in real life. That was Norman Lear's visionary goal with this boundary-busting sitcom. The blue-collar family paved the way for the Simpsons, the Bundys, the Conners… etc. And, it spawned several hit spin-offs, including The Jeffersons, Maude and Good Times. The Seventies — and modern — family sitcom in many ways began here.

3. Soul Train


Not to brag, but Soul Train began on WCIU-TV, our very own local Chicago station. Back in those days, The U was a UHF upstart, and this Black spin on American Bandstand began in a studio at the Chicago Board of Trade in 1970. A year later, it went syndicated and a new generation of line dancing was born. The musical showcase and its suave host, Don Cornelius, relocated to Los Angeles not long after. Soul Train kept on chugging for 35 years, helping popularize disco, hip-hop and so much more.

4. Cannon


Cannon featured one of the least likely and most lovable private detectives of Seventies television. As Cannon, William Conrad cruised around in a land yacht solving crimes. Cannon had an appetite for the finer things in life — and justice. Besting bad guys with a bump of his belly or a well-placed karate chop, this tough guy delivered action with a little levity. Actually, the comedy elements of Cannon are underrated. Premiering in the spring of 1971, Cannon pulled in big ratings. It was such a hit that Filmation even considered a Young Cannon cartoon. Alas, that never came to fruition. But we did get five stunt-filled seasons of Cannon.

5. The Electric Company


You may not know her name, but Peggy Charren was responsible for bringing some of our favorite childhood programs to life. Thanks to her persistence, we grew up with shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company instead of corporations like Mattel and Hasbro. And, remember, Spider-Man made his first live-action appearance alongside on Electric Company… alongside young Morgan Freeman, a.k.a. "Easy Reader." Gee, wouldn't it be great if someone brought back shows like this?

6. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour


In the 1970s, Sonny Bono and Cher were known as more than mere musical performers. They had popular music and a hit variety show, but they weren't necessarily adored by the critics. After multiple nominations, their variety show finally took home an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in 1972. Cher constantly showed off her enviable abs — navel included. This led to People magazine dubbing her the "Pioneer of the Belly Beautiful." She said, "All I know is I got in trouble for showing my belly button, and every time I turned around after I went off the air, all you saw were Cheryl Ladd's boobs." Fair point, Cher.

7. Sabrina the Teenage Witch


Based on the popular Archie Comics character, this original TV version of Sabrina aired from 1971 to 1974 on CBS. Dubbed "the grooviest teenage witch," Sabrina was known for her fashion sense and dance moves. If only we could have been like her in high school! She made her debut just as Bewitched was entering its final season, ensuring witches had a firm place in pop culture.

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Newyorkcitygal 41 months ago
Please add All in the Family to the line up for 2021.
I think another network has the rights to AITF
Dario NathanMilliron 40 months ago
That's GetTV that has it.
no all in the family we need ateam woody woodpecker the muppet show the fall guy matt houston pink panther the superfriends the transformers jabberjaw speed racer the wacky racers wally the gator the musters tales from the darkside freddys nightmare friday the 13th fonz and the happy days gang cartoon fat albert the care bears jonny quest dallas tv series 6 million dollar man knight rider magum p.i texas walker ranger tales of the golden monkey mork and mindy 3s company soap family ties heathcliff thundercats voltron tranor z spiderman 1967 soul train american bandstand
jaelinsmith40652 41 months ago
Happy 50th Anniversary All of you TV Shows
JuliaWilliams 41 months ago
2021 also marks the 50th anniversary of the tv movie Brian's Song, which, in my opinion, became the standard by which television movies would be measured.
Greg 41 months ago
MeTV, Don’t forget about McMillan and Wife, also premiered in 1971 in the “Wheel Series” on the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie, along with Columbo.
Rick 41 months ago
Nitpick, but that's what trivia is all about: The Electric Company debuted in 1971, but Spiderman didn't appear on the Electric Company until season 4, in 1974: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spidey_Super_Stories . Nevertheless, he was the first live-action Spidey ever.
Tampammm 41 months ago
I grew up before Sesame Street or The Electric company.

My shows were more like Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Bozo the Clown, and The Mickey Mouse Club. I actually much preferred them.
Pacificsun Tampammm 41 months ago
Yes, they had a certain authenticity about them. Hard to explain, but something about live action (character) actors bringing the personality to life. Remember the women hosts of those local channel playrooms, where parents could bring their kids to the studios, like Miss Nancy (KTVU - Bay Area). I watched all of that as a kid too.

Good to read your comment. It's been a couple of years now since the Fan Club Cafe. But we appreciated your participation!
MarkSpeck 41 months ago
I may be a bit nit-picky here, but Cannon as a proper series debuted in the FALL of 1971. The pilot film aired in the Spring of 1971.
cubman 41 months ago
All in the Family is just as relevant or even more now than in the 1970's. What a great show with an amazing cast.
Pacificsun cubman 41 months ago
Well I wonder about that. I don't think people could ever be as vocal now, as Archie Bunker characterized in the 70's. In fact some of that would be considered "hate speech" if it were verbalized in public. But the show did open the door to frank discussions, and the necessity for openness and tolerance. And showed bigots for who they were. And in "Archie's" case, just plain dumb.
MissouriGirl83 Pacificsun 41 months ago
Yes sadly enough they would definitely call it hate speech these days unfortunately. I miss the good old days when people didn’t get all bent out of shape about freedom of speech. It was all done in good fun and we actually laughed about it then but people are just too damn uptight nowadays.
Jeffrey Pacificsun 41 months ago
I liked your comment up to the point you called Archie "dumb". Why did you feel the need to insult the character? It was a comedy after all. The world is a very diverse place with many different beliefs and views. Let's try to be a little more tolerant of others and not so quick to label everyone with insults because they don't agree with us.
Pacificsun Jeffrey 41 months ago
Well we can narrow down the application of dumb to a specific area. With which few would disagree. Namely the lack of respect he (meaning the character as written) showed towards his wife. Anybody out there disagree with that statement? I don't think it's very "smart" to blast your wife for how she feels or says, or perhaps in defense of her daughter and son-in-law. Wasn't Archie's typical phrase: "Stifle it Edith!" It somehow treated her in a submissive way. And, at least as how it was written, gave the impression that (the character of) Edith's feelings were hurt more than once. Now if you think that's a smart behavior to show towards an equal spouse, enjoy your freedom to think that way. But I'm not sure everyone would agree.

And that is how I meant the example. Which is a far cry from the application of (or true meaning) of "Freedom of Speech" as it was intended by our Founding Fathers. Which nobody in this day would recognize if it bounced off their head.

RedSamRackham Jeffrey 41 months ago
* Yet Meathead's ultra-liberalism was at times equally annoying/"dumb" :/
Altitude5280 41 months ago
What does “Somehow Turning 50” supposed to mean?

Pacificsun Altitude5280 41 months ago
That it's hard for some of use to believe a half a century has gone by from the airing of shows that we've continued to enjoy as classic TV.
Pacificsun Pacificsun 41 months ago
"us" (not use).
Moverfan Altitude5280 41 months ago
I think it's a polite way to say "When the hell did THIS happen?"--I know that's how I felt when I turned 50!
JoeSHill 41 months ago
Okay, MeTV, I'll give you people some correction about the shows you listed in this article- first, "SABRINA" made her TV debut in Fall 1969 on CBS's "THE ARCHIE COMEDY HOUR". when CBS reintroduced the character, it was in her Fall 1970 solo series, "SABRINA AND THE GROOVY GOOLIES" which introduced viewers to The Groovy Goolies on CBS's 1970-71 TV season. In Fall 1971, both "SABRINA" and "THE GROOVY GOOLIES" were aired by CBS as two half-hour shows dividing their original hour format in Fall 1970. as for "CANNON" (1971-1976), this was Quinn Martin's very first TV series for CBS after a successful decade at ABC, and "CANNON" two years after its 1971 debut also spun off "BARNABY JONES" (1973-1980, from the "Requiem For A Son" two-parter)) As for "THE ELECTRIC COMPANY" (1971-1977) it made its PBS debut in December 1971 (or October of that year) with a cast headed by Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Scott Winant, Judy Graubart, Chip Fields, and Morgan Freeman. 1971 also saw the debut of ABC-TV's "CURIOSITY SHOP" that was created by Chuck Jones, then, Vice President of Children's Programming at ABC for their Fall 1971 Saturday Morning lineup. popular adolescent actress Pamelyn Ferdin was one of the several children (along with Kerry MacLane and Jerelyn Fields) who hosted this 17 episode run series that ABC later moved over to Sunday mornings, where it ran until September 9, 1973. getting back to "SABRINA", when Filmation Associates was producing the cartoon series, Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott had first tried to secure the rights to do an animated "BEWITCHED" cartoon series, but, as many of you already know, that it was Hanna-Barbera Productions who created the animated credit openings of the popular ABC/Screen Gems series, but the people at Archie Comics Publications recommended a character that they first introduced in 1963 called "Sabrina"-and the rest was history!
Wiseguy JoeSHill 41 months ago
Really don't understand where this two-part Barnaby Jones inaccuracy comes from. Some sources say part 1 was on Cannon and part 2 was on Barnaby Jones (or was that the other way around? Doesn't matter because it's not true.) Barnaby Jones premiered with a single episode "Requiem for a Son." It did not continue from anywhere or continue anywhere else. William Conrad guest-starred as the already established Cannon character but Cannon and Barnaby Jones did not know each other at the start of this single-episode premiere.
It was a crossover event not a spinoff.
Mike Wiseguy 39 months ago
This is What ACTUALLY Happened:

"Requiem For A Son" started out as an episode of CANNON - with Buddy Ebsen as guest star; this is what's called a "backdoor pilot", for possible consideration of later use as a series.
But in January of '73, CBS suddenly had an hour fall open on Sunday nights.
Fred Silverman, who was running CBS at the time, called Quinn Martin and told him to fast-track BARNABY JONES as a weekly; the existing CANNON episode would be altered to fit.
When BARNABY went on, the consensus was: stopgap, six to eight shows and out.
That BARNABY became an honest-to-my-grandma HIT - that surprised CBS more than anybody else.
... and that it went on to an eight-year run surprised them even more ...

All Hits Are FLUKES.
KevinButler 41 months ago
The only shows worth remembering here are"Sabrina The Teenage Witch" and "Cannon".
UTZAAKE 41 months ago
3. Winter Saturday afternoon pastimes in the 1970s (in no particular order): American Bandstand, Soul Train, Pro Bowlers Tour, Wide World of Sports, a college basketball telecast, a Blondie and/or Marx Brothers movie, maybe a high school basketball game broadcast by Greg Gumbel.
6. "...And every time I turned around after I went off the air, all you saw were Cheryl Ladd's boobs." Not true. Now if Cher was talking about Cheryl's daughter Jordan and Broken Lizard's Club Dread...
David UTZAAKE 41 months ago
Greg Gumbel's younger brother, Bryant began his television career as a sportscaster in October, 1972 working for KNBC in Los Angeles and in 1973 he told his older brother that WMAQ-TV in Chicago was holding auditions for a sports announcer. Because Bryant Gumbel made his National TV debut before his older brother did, most people think Greg Gumbel is the younger one.
daDoctah 41 months ago
One of the best things about the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was the stable of regular supporting players, which over time included not only Steve Martin and Teri Garr, but Ted Ziegler (perhaps the funniest TV star ever who never got his own show), Peter Cullen (later the voice of Optimus Prime), Murray Langston (later the Unknown Comic), Freeman King and the ubiquitous Billy Van. Most of the cast transferred over as a group to the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show after Sonny & Cher split up.
MarkSpeck daDoctah 41 months ago
Was his name Billy Van...or did you mean BOBBY Van?
CinCin1 MarkSpeck 41 months ago
I was thinking the same thing.
Wiseguy MarkSpeck 41 months ago
Billy Van and Bobby Van are/were two different people.
Wiseguy daDoctah 41 months ago
Most of the cast also moved over to the Sonny solo show in fall 1974, "The Sonny Comedy Revue," which was probably known to more people than the Hudson Bros. series at the time since it was a prime-time series.
jaelinsmith40652 41 months ago
Soul Train is a wonderful Black Television Show, Columbo a very amazing show. And also Cannon.
Moverfan 41 months ago
Two favorite shows from back then--The Electric Company and Longstreet (make of that what you will). I could already read quite well, thank you--my mom said I taught myself starting around the age of two--so I was more into the entertainment value of The Electric Company than anything--I know the guy who played Fargo North, Decoder went on to be the longest-sitting President of one chapter of SAG in New York. And I suppose the reason I don't remember Bruce Lee appearing on Longstreet is rather simple...I was NINE!
Beta6 Moverfan 41 months ago
As an adult- though young I loved the Electric Company with my kids and I sure remember the Spiderman appearances.
NathanMilliron Beta6 41 months ago
so did I. I hope MEtv at least mentions ZOOM's 50th anniversary come 2022.

My first two crushes (Tracey from Seasons 4's
Gang of Ten" and Nell from Season 5) were girls featured on ZOOM.
lynngdance 41 months ago
Okay this one is sort of a stretch but here it goes!

51 years ago The legendary Beatles broke up, but that doesn’t mean they disappeared off the face of the earth! They had AMAZING solo careers, and still do! For instance Ringo Starr released this song just the other day. It’s called Here’s To The Nights. (Yes I know this sounds like I’m his promoter or something but I’m REALLY excited about his new song and want everyone to know about it 😆)

Here’s To The Nights - Ringo Starr
lynngdance lynngdance 41 months ago
(By the way there might be an advertisement at the beginning but just wait for it to end)
lynngdance lynngdance 41 months ago
Oh and also it features Steve Lukather, Sherryl Crow, Joe Walsh, and PAUL MCCARTNEY!!!!! 😁😄🤪😀
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