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.
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.
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.