Remember those days when synth music was the rage, and you watched shows on a tube TV? Remember when the first Apple Macintosh was released? Well, maybe you’re not old enough to remember, but those were the 1980s–and they were the days when Black TV sitcoms came into their own.
The ’80s Black sitcoms were groundbreaking in that they portrayed the issues in daily life that Black viewers faced and showed everyday people in everyday situations. As these ’80s Black sitcoms became more and more popular, the Black actors and Black actresses who starred in them became household names.
Below we have listed ten of the best Black sitcoms of the ’80s. These shows may not be remembered by younger folks amongst us, but they can be enjoyed by us all. Read on!
#1 – “227”
In an apartment building located at 227 Lexington Place in Washington DC, a housewife named Mary Jenkins, along with her husband and daughter, go about their daily work and meet a variety of friendly and not-so-friendly neighbors. The show centers around Mary and the other women who live in the building, including the diva Sandra, the feisty Pearl, and the reasonable Rose.
“227” aired between 1985 and 1990 but was unfortunately canceled because of declining ratings. It starred Marla Gibbs, Helen Martin, Hal Williams, and a young Regina King in her first TV role.
#2 – “Gimme A Break!”
This 80s Black sitcom ran for six years between 1981 and 1987, starring a woman named Nell Harper who becomes a housekeeper for the Kanisky family as a favor for her late friend, Margaret, who was the wife of police chief Carl Kanisky. The family has three teenage daughters and a foster son, with Nell taking on a parental role toward the rowdy kids.
Starring Nell Carter, Telma Hopkins, and Rosetta LeNoire, “Gimme a Break!” was a hit show and even featured guest appearances by celebrities like Whitney Houston and Sammy Davis Jr.
#3 – “Amen”
Another long-running show, “Amen”, ran between 1986 and 1991. It centers around Deacon Ernest Frye, an opinionated and rather unethical man who works as a lawyer when not performing church business. At Philadelphia’s First Community Church, the new head, Rev. Rueben Gregory, has a hard time dealing with him.
The show starred Sherman Hemsley, Clifton Davis, and Anna Maria Horsford. Unlike other shows, it addresses some serious subjects, albeit with a humorous note, including teenage pregnancy, mental health, and addiction. It’s set in Sherman Hemsley’s hometown.
#4 – “The Jeffersons”
One of the most well-known and longest-running Black sitcoms of the ’80s is “The Jeffersons”. This show ran for ten years, between 1975 and 1985.
“The Jeffersons” of the show’s title are a family that has become rich thanks to George’s successful ownership of several dry cleaning establishments. The family moves into a luxury high-rise apartment and gets to know the other tenants. Sometimes George is loud and opinionated, but his wife, Louise, can always keep him in check.
As in the show previously mentioned, “The Jeffersons” also starred Sherman Hemsley in the lead role. Alongside Hemsley are Isabel Stanford, Roxie Roker, and Marla Gibbs.
#5 – “A Different World”
The show, “A Different World”, aired between 1987 and 1993 and was one of the most popular Black sitcoms of the ‘80s and the ‘90s. It was the first show to portray Black college students at an HBCU. The fictional Hillman College is the setting for the show, which follows a group of students and their campus lives.
It stars Lisa Bonet, Kadeem Hardison, and Jasmine Guy. “A Different World” was created as a spin-off of “The Cosby Show” and touched on certain topics that were not considered as family-friendly as the latter.
#6 – “Benson”
In “Benson”, which aired between 1979 and 1986, the former butler of Jessica Tate, Benson DuBois, becomes the head of household affairs for the governor. As the show goes on, he works his way up to becoming the state’s budget director, then lieutenant governor, and, in the end, a candidate for governor.
“Benson” stars Robert Guillaume in the lead role, which earned him an Emmy Award in 1985 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
#7 – “The Cosby Show”
“The Cosby Show” is a household name in and of itself. Airing from 1984 to 1992, it was the biggest hit of the 1980s and is often listed not just among the greatest Black TV shows of all time, but among the best overall TV shows of all time. The show focuses on a successful doctor, Heathcliff Huxtable, and his wife, Claire, a lawyer, along with their four daughters and one son. The 201 episodes follow the family’s everyday life.
Starring (the now defamed) Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, and Keshia Knight Pulliam in the lead roles, this heralded show features the most memorable all-Black cast of the 80s Black sitcoms.
#8 – “What’s Happening Now!!”
As a sequel to “What’s Happening!!”, the show “What’s Happening Now!!” ran between 1985 and 1988. It follows the lives of the main characters in the original show, who were teenagers and children, as they now live their adult lives. The show received great ratings, which is unusual for a sequel, and is remembered as one of the best sitcoms of the era.
It starred Ernest Thomas, Haywood Nelson, and Shirley Hemphill, as well as many other Black actors and actresses.
#9 – “Melba”
“Melba” only ran for a few months, but it should be mentioned in this list. The show centers around the newly divorced Melba, her young daughter, and Melba’s mother, Rose, as they live their lives in New York. It portrays Melba’s life as she spends time with her friend, Susan, and as she works at a visitors center in New York City during the 80s.
The show stars Melba Moore, Barbara Meek, and Jamilla Perry.
#10 – “Sanford”
Another sequel show, “Sanford”, is the sequel to “Sanford and Son”, the famous Black sitcom of the 1970s, which focused on a junk dealer, Fred, and his son, Lamont. “Sanford” continues the story but is entirely focused on Fred. The show was canceled after two seasons, but Fred Sanford is still considered one of the funniest TV characters ever to emerge from the Black sitcoms of the 80s.
Redd Foxx stars in the lead role, along with Marguerite Ray, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, and Nathaniel Taylor.
Want More Black TV Shows?
Do these ’80s Black sitcoms make you want even more Black TV shows to watch right now? Look no further! Check out our curated catalog of Black TV shows & movies today!
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