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1981 in American television

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The year 1981 in television involved some significant events. Below is a list of television-related events during 1981.


Date Event
February 14 Funky 4 + 1 perform "That's the Joint" on NBC's Saturday Night Live. This makes them the first hip hop act to perform on primetime (late night) television. Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry hosts (and performs on) this episode, shortly after the release of "Rapture", which later hits the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart as the first number-one song to feature rap vocals.
February 20 Comedian Andy Kaufman disrupts sketches and starts a brawl while broadcasting during ABC's sketch series Fridays, an occurrence that was later disclosed to have been entirely staged.[1]
February 21 During an improvised segment at the end of a Saturday Night Live telecast on NBC hosted by Charlene Tilton, Charles Rocket uses the word "fuck". As a result of the ensuing controversy he is fired, along with producer Jean Doumanian and most of his fellow cast members, bringing an early end to a season that had been heavily criticized and sunk in the ratings.[2]
March 1 Miracle on Ice, a hastily made docudrama about the United States men's national ice hockey team's improbable gold medal victory in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York from the year prior airs on ABC. The film stars Karl Malden as head coach Herb Brooks, Steve Guttenberg as goaltender Jim Craig, and Andrew Stevens as captain Mike Eruzione. This wouldn't be the last time that the event known as the "Miracle on Ice" would be depicted in a film as 23 years later, Disney would release Miracle, which was this time starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks.
March 6 After a 19-year run, Walter Cronkite resigns as main anchorman of The CBS Evening News and is succeeded the next Monday by Dan Rather.
March 30 An assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., in which the President and several other people were wounded, interrupted programming on the three major networks and CNN at 2:42 PM. Millions of viewers worldwide witnessed footage of the shooting and the chaos that followed. ABC News was flooded with unconfirmed reports, which pestered the chief anchor Frank Reynolds, one of which falsely stated that the President's press secretary James Brady had died in the shooting. This was also reported by CBS News and ABC News. Coverage of the assassination attempt continued for hours on the big three networks, and for two days on CNN. As a result, the Academy Awards were postponed for a day.
NBC broadcasts its final NCAA Division I Basketball Championship Game, having done so since 1969. The tournament would move to CBS the following year. Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire called the game for NBC.
April 1 Berlinda Tolbert and Michael Jonas Evans made their final appearance as Lionel and Jenny Willis Jefferson on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons as series regulars.
April 11 Van Halen's lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen marries actress Valerie Bertinelli, who appears on the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time.
April 12 The Alpha Repertory Television Service (also known as ARTS) launches right after the Nickelodeon time period.
April 21 "Weird Al" Yankovic makes his first television appearance on NBC's The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.
May 1 The season four finale of Dallas, entitled "Ewing-Gate", airs on CBS.
June 24 The series finale of Charlie's Angels airs on ABC.
June 30 Fred Silverman is dismissed as president of NBC, after failing to improve that network's third-place rating, and is replaced by Grant Tinker.
July 4 Showtime ends its part-time status and inaugurates a 24/7 schedule.
August 1 The MTV network debuts on cable television, playing music videos 24 hours a day. "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles was the first video broadcast on the network.
August 9 Following a two-month long players strike, Major League Baseball resumes with the All-Star Game from Cleveland on NBC. During the strike (which began on June 12 and lasted through July 31),[3] NBC used its Saturday Game of the Week time-slot to show a 20-minute strike update, followed by a sports anthology series hosted by Caitlyn Jenner (then Bruce)[4] called NBC Sports: The Summer Season.[5][6]
August 30 In Baltimore, Maryland, CBS affiliate WMAR-TV swaps affiliations with NBC affiliate WBAL-TV, marking the first affiliation switch in that city. CBS cites weak ratings for WMAR-TV's newscasts and heavy preemptions of network programming for programs of local interest as the reason they chose to switch affiliations.
September 7 During the course of the year, all soap operas produced by Procter & Gamble change title sequences and theme songs. On this day, new title sequences debut for Another World on NBC, Guiding Light and Search for Tomorrow, both on CBS, and The Edge of Night on ABC.
September 28 WRGB in Schenectady, New York, NBC's first television affiliate, ends its 42-year relationship with the network (dating back to its days as experimental station W2XB) and swaps affiliations with CBS affiliate WAST, who changes its call letters to the current WNYT to mark the new affiliation.
October 12 CBS Cable is initiated.
October 30 John Carpenter's 1978 horror film Halloween makes its broadcast network television premiere on NBC (the same day that its first sequel was released in theaters and the day before star Donald Pleasence guest hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live). To fill the two-hour time slot, Carpenter filmed twelve minutes of additional material during the production of Halloween II. The newly filmed scenes[7] include Dr. Loomis at a hospital board review of Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis talking to a then-6-year-old Michael at Smith's Grove, telling him, "You've fooled them, haven't you, Michael? But not me." Another extra scene features Dr. Loomis at Smith's Grove examining Michael's abandoned cell after his escape and seeing the word "Sister" scratched into the door. Finally, a scene was added in which Lynda comes over to Laurie's house to borrow a silk blouse before Laurie leaves to babysit, just as Annie telephones asking to borrow the same blouse. The new scene had Laurie's hair hidden by a towel, since Jamie Lee Curtis was by then wearing a much shorter hairstyle than she had worn in 1978.
November 1 The NBC soap opera The Doctors broadcasts its 5,000th episode.
November 2 The CBS soap opera As the World Turns debuts a new opening sequence and theme song for the first time in its 25-year history.
November 8 ESPN televises its first live flag-to-flag NASCAR race, the Atlanta Journal 500.
November 9 The cast and crew of The Incredible Hulk are delivered a surprise: despite maintaining good ratings, The Incredible Hulk is canceled immediately, despite executive producer Kenneth Johnson's attempts to convince CBS to buy six additional episodes to fill season five.
November 16–17 Luke and Laura's wedding on the ABC soap opera General Hospital becomes one of the most watched weddings in American television history, second only to the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.
December 6 NBC affiliate KARD in West Monroe, Louisiana and ABC affiliate KTVE in El Dorado, Arkansas swap affiliations.[8]
December 10 KJAA in Lubbock, Texas signs on the air as an independent station. It adopts its current call letters KJTV in 1985 and becomes a charter Fox affiliate the next year.
December 18 KVEO-TV in Brownsville, Texas signs on the air, returning primary NBC service to the Rio Grande Valley market for the first time since KRGV-TV in Weslaco left the network in 1976 to become a full-time ABC affiliate.
December 24 HBO begins broadcasting 24 hours a day full-time.
December 25 Chuck Woolery hosts his last episode of the NBC game show Wheel of Fortune, quitting after a salary dispute with series producer and creator Merv Griffin. The next Monday, December 28, Pat Sajak begins hosting.


Debuting this year

Date Show Network
January 12 Dynasty ABC
January 15 Hill Street Blues NBC
January 16 Harper Valley PTA
Nero Wolfe
January 31 Walking Tall CBS
February 2 The Gangster Chronicles NBC
February 6 The Brady Brides
March 18 The Greatest American Hero ABC
April 6 Private Benjamin CBS
April 9 Checking In
May 16 SCTV Network 90 NBC
August 1 MTV
September 10 Best of the West ABC
September 12 Goldie Gold and Action Jack
The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! NBC
The Smurfs
Space Stars
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
The Kwicky Koala Show CBS
Spider-Man Syndication
September 14 Entertainment Tonight
October 7 Mr. Merlin CBS
October 9 Behind the Screen
October 10 Laverne & Shirley in the Army ABC
October 24 Fitz and Bones NBC
October 25 Today's F.B.I. ABC
October 26 Battlestars NBC
October 28 Love, Sidney
October 29 Gimme a Break
Lewis & Clark
November 1 Code Red ABC
November 3 Father Murphy NBC
November 4 The Fall Guy ABC
November 11 Shannon CBS
November 13 Strike Force ABC
November 15 This Week
November 20 McClain's Law NBC
November 24 Simon & Simon CBS
November 27 Darkroom ABC
November 28 Open All Night
December 1 Bret Maverick NBC
December 4 Falcon Crest CBS
You Can't Do That on Television Nickelodeon

Ending this year

Date Show Debut
March 7 The Tim Conway Show 1980
April 10 Hollywood Squares (returned in 1983) 1966
April 16 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century 1979
April 20 Soap 1977
May 23 Eight Is Enough
June 10 The Muppet Show 1976
July 21 Flo 1980
August 19 Charlie's Angels 1976
August 20 The Waltons 1972
August 29 Eight is Enough 1977
September 1 CBN Satellite Service
October 23 Card Sharks (returned in 1986) 1978
October 24 Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (returned in 1984) 1972
October 31 Super Friends (returned in 1983) 1973
November 30 The Mike Douglas Show 1961
December 5 Heathcliff 1980

Changing networks

Show Moved from Moved to
Walt Disney anthology series NBC CBS
SCTV Syndication NBC

Made-for-TV movies and miniseries

Title Network Date(s) of airing
Fallen Angel CBS February 24
Miracle on Ice ABC March 1
Masada April 5–8
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island NBC May 5
Return of the Beverly Hillbillies CBS October 6
Family Reunion NBC October 11 & 12
Skokie CBS November 17
Bill December 22

Television stations

Station launches

Date City of License/Market Station Channel Affiliation Notes/Ref.
January 13 Cleveland, Ohio WCLQ-TV 61 Independent
Detroit, Michigan WRHT 31
January 26 Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas KTWS-TV 27
February 8 Clarksburg, West Virginia WLYJ 46 Religious independent
February 15 Jacksonville, Florida WAWS-TV 30 Independent
March 6 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma KTBO-TV 14 TBN
March 18 Tulsa, Oklahoma KGCT-TV 41 Independent
April Santa Rosa, California KFTY 50 Currently licensed to Fremont, California
April 6 Poughkeepsie/New York City, New York WFTI-TV 51 Now licensed in Jersey City, New Jersey
Washington, D.C. WCQR 50
May 5 Lake Charles, Louisiana KLTL-TV 18 PBS Part of Louisiana Public Broadcasting
May 8 Albuquerque/Santa Fe, New Mexico KGSW-TV 14 Independent
May 9 Greensboro, North Carolina WGGT-TV 33
May 13 Lafayette, Louisiana KLPB-TV 24 PBS Part of Louisiana Public Broadcasting
May 29 Princeton/Atlantic City, New Jersey WWAC-TV 44 Independent
May 31 San Jose, California
(San Francisco/Oakland, California)
June 1 Fayetteville/Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina WKFT 40
June 15 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania WWSG-TV 57
July 13 WRBV 65
August 16 Marion, Illinois WDDD-TV 27
August 22 Atlanta, Georgia WVEU 69
September 1 Columbia, South Carolina WCCT-TV 57
September 18 Chicago, Illinois WFBN 66
October 11 Reno, Nevada KAME-TV 21
October 18 Boise, Idaho KTRV 12
November 1 Salinas/Monterrey, California KCBA 35 SIN
November 20 San Jose, California K42DT 42 TBN
November 21 KECH 22 Independent
December 4 Seaford/Dover, Delaware
(Salisbury, Maryland)
WDPB 64 PBS Satellite of WHYY-TV/Wilmington, Delaware
December 7 North Pole/Fairbanks, Alaska KJNP-TV 4 Independent
December 10 Lubbock, Texas KJAA 34
December 14 Tampa, Florida WFTS-TV 28
December 18 Brownsville, Texas
(McAllen/Harlingen, Texas)
Raleigh, North Carolina WLFL 22 Independent

Network affiliation changes

Date City of License/Market Station Channel Old affiliation New affiliation Notes/Ref.
August 30 Baltimore, Maryland WMAR-TV 2 CBS NBC
September 28 Albany, New York WRGB 6 NBC CBS
December 6 El Dorado, Arkansas
(Monroe, Louisiana)
West Monroe/Monroe, Louisiana
(El Dorado, Arkansas)
Unknown date Cheyenne, Wyoming KGWN-TV 5 ABC CBS
Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Brownsville/Harlingen/McAllen, Texas)
XHRIO-TV 2 English independent Spanish independent
Scottsbluff, Nebraska KSTF 10 ABC CBS

Station closures

Date City of License/Market Station Channel Affiliation First air date Notes/Ref.
Unknown date Berlin, New Hampshire WEDB-TV 40 PBS April 30, 1969 Part of the New Hampshire Public Television network
Hanover, New Hampshire WHED-TV 15 PBS April 11, 1968


Date Name Notability
January 1 Eden Riegel Actress (All My Children, The Young and the Restless), voice actress (Stitch!, The Lion Guard)
January 5 Brooklyn Sudano Actress (My Wife and Kids)
January 8 Genevieve Cortese Actress (Wildfire)
January 17 Ray J Singer and actor (Moesha)
January 19 Bitsie Tulloch Actress (lonelygirl15, Grimm)
January 22 Beverley Mitchell Actress (7th Heaven)
January 24 Carrie Coon Actress (The Leftovers, Fargo)
January 25 Alicia Keys Singer, songwriter and actress (The Voice)
January 26 Colin O'Donoghue Irish actor (Once Upon a Time)
January 28 Elijah Wood Actor (Wilfred, Tron: Uprising, Over the Garden Wall)
January 31 Justin Timberlake Singer (NSYNC) and actor (The Mickey Mouse Club, frequent Saturday Night Live host)
February 2 Emily Rose Actress (Haven)
February 3 Alisa Reyes Actress (All That, The Proud Family)
February 5 Sara Foster Actress (90210)
February 6 Alison Haislip Actress and TV personality (Attack of the Show!, The Morning After, Battleground)
February 10 Uzo Aduba Actress (Orange Is the New Black, Steven Universe)
Stephanie Beatriz Argentine-born American actress (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
February 11 Kelly Rowland Singer (Destiny's Child) and actress
February 17 Joseph Gordon-Levitt Actor (Tommy Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun)
Paris Hilton Actress and TV personality (The Simple Life)
February 20 Majandra Delfino Actress and singer (Roswell)
February 23 Josh Gad Actor (1600 Penn)
March 1 Adam LaVorgna Actor (7th Heaven)
March 2 Bryce Dallas Howard Actress (HitRecord on TV) and daughter of Ron Howard
March 6 Ellen Muth Actress (Dead Like Me)
March 11 David Anders Actor (Alias, Heroes, The Vampire Diaries, Once Upon a Time, iZombie)
LeToya Luckett Singer (Destiny's Child) and actress
March 22 Tiffany Dupont Actress (Greek)
March 27 Ashley Bank Actress
March 28 Julia Stiles Actress (Dexter)
March 30 Katy Mixon Actress (Eastbound & Down, American Housewife)
April 2 Bethany Joy Lenz Actress (Guiding Light, One Tree Hill) and singer
April 6 Eliza Coupe Actress (Scrubs, Happy Endings, Benched)
April 8 Taylor Kitsch Actor (Friday Night Lights)
April 13 Courtney Peldon Actress (Harry and the Hendersons, Boston Public)
April 28 Jessica Alba Actress (Dark Angel)
April 30 Kunal Nayyar British-Indian actor (The Big Bang Theory, Sanjay and Craig)
May 2 Robert Buckley Actor (One Tree Hill)
May 3 Farrah Franklin Singer (Destiny's Child) and actress
May 5 Danielle Fishel Actress (Boy Meets World, Girl Meets World)
Zach McGowan Actor (Black Sails, The 100)
May 8 Stephen Amell Canadian actor (Arrow)
May 15 Jamie-Lynn Sigler Actress (The Sopranos)
May 16 Joseph Morgan English actor (The Vampire Diaries)
May 23 Tim Robinson Actor and comedian (Saturday Night Live)
May 29 Chris Violette Canadian actor (Power Rangers S.P.D.)
Justin Chon Actor (Just Jordan)
June 1 Amy Schumer Actress and comedian (Inside Amy Schumer)
Johnny Pemberton Actor (Pickle and Peanut, Superstore, Son of Zorn)
June 4 T.J. Miller Actor (Gravity Falls, Silicon Valley)
June 6 Johnny Pacar Actor (Flight 29 Down)
June 7 Larisa Oleynik Actress (The Secret World of Alex Mack, Winx Club)
June 9 Natalie Portman Actress (Saturday Night Live host in 2006)
June 24 Vanessa Ray Actress (As the World Turns, Blue Bloods)
July 5 Ryan Hansen Actor (Veronica Mars)
July 15 Taylor Kinney Actor (Chicago Fire)
July 16 Michelle Morgan Canadian actress (Heartland)
July 21 Chrishell Stause Actress (All My Children, Days of Our Lives, Youthful Daze)
July 24 Summer Glau Actress (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sequestered)
July 28 Billy Aaron Brown Actor (8 Simple Rules)
July 29 Dyana Liu Actress (Tower Prep), voice actress (Fanboy & Chum Chum, Pig Goat Banana Cricket)
July 30 Lisa Goldstein Actress (One Tree Hill)
Brandon Scott Actor (This Is Us, Dead to Me, 13 Reasons Why)
Lisa Wilhoit Actress (My So-Called Life, Family Guy)
August 4 Amanda Congdon Actress and video blogger (Rocketboom)
Meghan Markle Actress (Suits)
Abigail Spencer Actress (All My Children, Burning Love, Rectify)
August 5 Jesse Williams Actor (Grey's Anatomy)
August 8 Meagan Good Actress (Cousin Skeeter)
August 21 Erin Kelly Actress (Beyond the Break)
August 24 Chad Michael Murray Actor (Gilmore Girls, Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, Chosen, Agent Carter)
August 25 Rachel Bilson Actress (The O.C., Hart of Dixie)
August 27 Karla Cheatham Mosley Actress
August 29 Jay Ryan Australian actor (Beauty & the Beast)
September 3 Adam Jamal Craig Actor (NCIS: Los Angeles)
September 4 Beyoncé Singer (Destiny's Child) and actress
September 8 Jonathan Taylor Thomas Actor (Home Improvement)
September 9 Julie Gonzalo Argentine-American actress (Veronica Mars, Eli Stone, Dallas)
September 12 Hosea Chanchez Actor (The Game)
September 15 Ben Schwartz Actor (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies, Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, DuckTales, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pinky Malinky)
September 16 Alexis Bledel Actress (Gilmore Girls)
September 18 Jennifer Tisdale Actress and sister of Ashley Tisdale
September 20 Mandy Bruno Actress (Guiding Light)
September 21 Jerrika Hinton Actress (Grey's Anatomy)
Nicole Richie Actress and TV personality (The Simple Life)
September 22 Ashley Eckstein Actress (That's So Raven, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Sofia the First, Ultimate Spider-Man, Star Wars Rebels)
September 25 Lee Norris Actor (Boy Meets World, One Tree Hill, Girl Meets World)
Dan Mintz Voice actor (Bob's Burgers)
September 26 Christina Milian Actress (Grandfathered)
September 28 Melissa Claire Egan Actress (All My Children, The Young and the Restless)
September 29 Kelly McCreary Actress (Grey's Anatomy)
October 3 Seth Gabel Actor (Fringe, Salem)
October 9 Zachery Ty Bryan Actor (Home Improvement)
October 12 Brian J. Smith Actor (Stargate Universe)
Dan Oster Comedic actor (Mad TV)
October 16 Brea Grant Actress (Heroes)
Caterina Scorsone Actress (Missing, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice)
October 18 Gabrielle Dennis Actress (The Game, Blue Mountain State, Rosewood)
October 22 Michael Fishman Actor (Roseanne)
John Boyd Actor (24, Bones)
October 30 Shaun Sipos Actor (Complete Savages)
November 1 Matt Jones Actor (Breaking Bad, Mom), voice actor (Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil, Sanjay and Craig, Pig Goat Banana Cricket)
LaTavia Roberson Singer (Destiny's Child)
November 8 Azura Skye Actress (Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane)
November 9 Scottie Thompson Actress (NCIS, Trauma)
November 11 Susan Kelechi Watson Actress (Louie, This Is Us)
November 14 Vanessa Bayer Actress (Saturday Night Live)
November 18 Allison Tolman Actress (Fargo)
Christina Vidal Actress (Taina)
Nasim Pedrad Actress and comedian (Saturday Night Live, Scream Queens)
November 29 Kimberly Cullum Actress
John Milhiser Actor and comedian (Saturday Night Live)
December 2 Britney Spears Singer (The Mickey Mouse Club)
December 3 Brian Bonsall Actor (Family Ties, Star Trek: The Next Generation)
December 13 Chelsea Hertford Actress (Major Dad)
December 15 Michelle Dockery English actress (Downton Abbey, Good Behavior)
December 16 Krysten Ritter Actress (Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, Jessica Jones)
December 27 Jay Ellis Actor (The Game, Insecure)
Emilie de Ravin Actress (Roswell, Lost, Once Upon a Time)
December 31 Ricky Whittle English actor (The 100)


Date Name Age Notability
January 25 Adele Astaire 84 Actress
April 26 Jim Davis 71 Actor (Jock Ewing on Dallas)
June 9 Allen Ludden 63 Game show host (Password)
July 3 Ross Martin 61 Polish-born actor (Artemus Gordon on The Wild Wild West)
August 1 Paddy Chayefsky 58 Writer (Marty)
September 27 Robert Montgomery 77 Actor, host (Robert Montgomery Presents)
November 25 Jack Albertson 74 Actor (Chico and the Man)
November 29 Natalie Wood 43 Actress (The Pride of the Family, The Public Defender)

See also


  1. ^ LaBrecque, Jeff (August 5, 2013). "'Fridays': What really happened the night Andy Kaufman melted down on live TV". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  2. ^ "How Bad Can It Be? Case File #23: Saturday Night Live's aborted 1980-81 season". A.V. Club. September 5, 2012. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  3. ^ "BASEBALL STRIKE FORCES TV TO IMPROVISE". The New York Times. June 27, 1981.
  4. ^ Leibovitz, Annie (June 1, 2015). "Introducing Caitlyn Jenner". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  5. ^ "Networks bracing for baseball strike". Gainesville Sun. July 30, 1994.
  6. ^ Hadley, Mitchell (August 2, 2014). "This week in TV Guide: August 1, 1981". It's About TV!.
  7. ^ NBC Commercials/Extra Scenes - Halloween (Oct. 30, 1981) on YouTube
  8. ^ Network Switch Effective, Monroe News-Star-World, December 6, 1981
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1981 in American television
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