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10 Funniest ’80s Sitcoms About Black Families

10 Funniest ’80s Sitcoms About Black Families
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At the start of the ’70s, the concept of making television shows that either starred Black actors or had a predominantly Black cast were uncommon at best. After a decade of hits like Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Jeffersons though, networks were all too happy to greenlight more series about Black characters and Black families.




RELATED: 10 Sitcom Characters With The Best Personalities

The ’80s would see Black sitcoms take the entire genre to new heights, just as the sitcom genre was beginning to seem like it was running out of ideas. Though one of the most popular sitcoms of the era is difficult to look back on due to the actions of its lead, it was still a great time for Black representation in television.

Updated on February 8th, 2023 by Sage Ashford: This list has been updated to include the many actors who brought life to the funniest sitcoms featuring Black families.


10 Gimme A Break! Balanced Wholesomeness With Clever Adult Humor

1981-1987


Focused on housekeeper Nell Harper taking care of a police chief’s three daughters, Gimme A Break! got its start on NBC in 1981. Like most sitcoms in the ’80s, the series tackled several serious issues while still finding the time to shove tons of laughs in every episode.

Gimme A Break! also balanced a sense of wholesomeness that could only come from the earnest ’80s with a bit of adult humor that would appeal to older audiences. Though the series never received top ratings, the show managed to run for an impressive six seasons before being canceled in 1987. The sitcom might not hold up today, but there was a reason it remained on air for as long as it did.

Starring:

  • Nell Carter
  • Dolph Sweet
  • Kari Michaelsen
  • Lauri Hendler
  • Lara Jill Miller
  • John Hoyt

9 Frank’s Place Saw An Ivy League Professor New Orleans Restaurant

1987-1988

The lead cast of Frank's Place


Frank’s Place took television producer Hugh Wilson and paired him with Tim Reid once again. The two made magic on WKRP in Cincinnati and sought to do the same thing with Frank’s Place. The series saw Tim Reid as Frank Parrish, a college professor at an Ivy League school who winds up managing his dad’s restaurant business in New Orleans.

Frank’s Place had sharp writing, clever characters that brought the setting to life, and great humor, but the series only ran for a single season. A mix of bouncing the show around from night to night and upsetting the higher-ups with the series finale led to the series being canceled in 1988. At least it was able to end before the show ever lost its magic.

Starring:

  • Tim Reid
  • Daphne Maxwell-Reid
  • Tony Burton
  • Virginia Capers
  • Robert Harper
  • Lincoln Kilpatrick


1982-1983

Felix and Oscar From The New Odd Couple

The Odd Couple was a hit series in the ’70s that focused on a pair of college friends who were forced to live together in their older years, yet had absolutely nothing in common. Although never a ratings hit, the show was popular enough for ABC to reboot it in 1982, this time with two Black actors as the leads.

RELATED: 10 Best Comedy Series of the 90s

The New Odd Couple featured Ron Glass of The Barney Miller Show as Felix Unger and Demond Wilson as Oscar Madison. Both of them were experienced sitcom actors and had amazing chemistry, making otherwise substandard scripts into solid episodes of television.

Starring:

  • Ron Glass
  • Demond Wilson
  • Sheila Anderson
  • Bart Braverman
  • Ronalda Douglas
  • Jo Marie Payton


7 Sanford Revived A Familiar Favorite With A New Cast

1980-1981

Sanford's two main characters Fred and Evelyn

The original Sanford and Son series ended largely because of ratings, but also because Redd Foxx wanted to pursue other things. In 1980, NBC sought to revive the series with a sequel known only as Sanford. Though they couldn’t recover Demond Wilson to play Lamont Sanford, much of the supporting cast returned for guest spots.

In Lamont’s place as partner of the show was Cal Pettie, played by Dennis Burkley. While the series never found the rating success Sanford and Son did, Sanford features Fred Sanford at his most caustic, slinging out some of his best and meanest jokes. While that can be a tiresome trope in the modern era, it was still novel in the ’80s.


Starring:

  • Redd Foxx
  • Dennis Burkley
  • Nathaniel Taylor
  • Marguerite Ray
  • LaWanda Page
  • Clinton Derricks-Carroll

1984-1992

Cast of The Cosby Show

Going back to rewatch The Cosby Show can be difficult, and even impossible for some, given what became clear about the lead actor in the role. However, while Bill Cosby’s deplorable behavior detracts from the wholesomeness of the Heathcliff Huxtable character, his work and his character weren’t the only thing that mattered to the show.

The Cosby Show was more than just Heathcliff, but rather focused on the Huxtable family in its entirety. It featured some of Black America’s best and brightest actors from the past and present and provided a positive image of a Black family at a time when it was most needed.


Starring:

  • Phylicia Rashad
  • Lisa Bonet
  • Malcolm Jamal-Warner
  • Tempestt Bledsoe
  • Keshia Knight Pulliam
  • Sabrina Le Beauf

5 Webster Focused On A Clever Young Child With A New Family

1983-1987

An image of Webster hugging his adopted parents George and Katherine Papadopolis from the sitcom Webster.

Webster got its start on ABC in September 1983, focusing on a young Black child named Webster who’d lost his parents only to be taken in by his godfather, a former NFL pro. Despite feeling like a carbon copy of a certain other show with a precocious young Black child adopted by an upper-class white family, Webster was a hit with children and ran for six seasons and 150 episodes.

Even though Webster was supposed to be about George Papadopolis and his wife Katherine’s marriage, much of the series focused instead on Webster’s shenanigans. This was common for the ’80s and ’90s, which frequently saw breakout characters take over the show’s storylines.


Starring:

  • Emmanuel Lewis
  • Susan Clark
  • Alex Karras
  • Henry Polic II
  • Eugene Roche
  • Cathryn Damon

1985-1988

Raj, Rerun, and Dwayne From What's Happening Now

What’s Happening Now!! is one of the earliest examples of a successful reboot for a sitcom. Though the original series was never a hit in the ratings, lead actor Earnest Thomas was spurred on by the success of the reruns to get ABC to revive the series. In 1985, the series returned with the same three main kids from the original, but this time all of them were adults.

The appeal was clear: though they’d all gotten successful jobs, they were still the same close friends they were before. What’s Happening Now!! lasted about as long as the first series, running three seasons and stopping in 1988.


Starring:

  • Ernest Thomas
  • Anne-Marie Johnson
  • Haywood Nelson
  • Fred Berry
  • Shirley Hemphill
  • Danielle Spencer

3 227 Focused On The Dynamics Of An Apartment Complex

1985-1990

The cast of 80s sitcom 227

In 1985, NBC brought the apartment-based sitcom 227 to television. Combining a mix of well-established actors like Marla Gibbs and Hal Williams with up-and-coming stars like Jackée Harry and Regina King, 227 was an immediate hit. Most of the focus was on Gibbs’ character Mary Jenkins and her husband Lester raising a family.

RELATED: 10 Best Underrated Coming-Of-Age Sitcoms

However, Mary was also a notorious gossip, who often found herself pulled into everyone else’s business in the apartment. While 227 rarely makes any top sitcom lists, it was a hit with Black audiences, likely because of the united family unit combined with the realness of the characters.


Starring:

  • Marla Gibbs
  • Hal Williams
  • Alaina Reed Hall
  • Jackée Harry
  • Regina King
  • Helen Martin

2 Amen Became A Hit Thanks To Its Brilliant Core Cast

1986-1991

The Cast Of Amen

Starting barely a year after The Jeffersons ended, Amen was a series that took advantage of Sherman Hemsley’s incredible charisma and popularity. With one of the most iconic theme songs of the ’80s, Amen focused on Hemsley as Deacon Earnest Frye, a man in charge of the First Community Church of Philadelphia.

Frye was a big fan of scheming to make money, which often ran counter to the wishes of First Community’s pastor, Reuben. Amen managed to give a look into Black churches without making them a caricature and quickly turned into a ratings success for much of its run on television.


Starring:

  • Sherman Hemsley
  • Clifton Davis
  • Anna Maria Horsford
  • Roz Ryan
  • Jester Hairston
  • Barbara Montgomery

1 A Different World Became Far More Than Just Another Spin-Off

1987-1993

lisa-bonet-different-world-header

A Different World makes up for how difficult it is to go back and re-watch The Cosby Show. Meant originally as a spin-off vehicle for Lisa Bonet’s Denise Huxtable, A Different World turned into a series with its own identity. Especially when the actress left after season one and the rest of the cast was forced to stand on their own.

Set at the fictional HBCU Hillman College, A Different World introduced fans to stars like Marisa Tomei and legendary voice actress Cree Summer. The series’ appealed to audiences of all ages, but the uniqueness of a Black academia setting made it stand out from anything else on air. Like most sitcoms of the time, it was also never afraid to tackle difficult social issues, but it never lost its sense of humor doing so.


Starring:

  • Marisa Tomei
  • Dawnn Lewis
  • Jasmine Guy
  • Sinbad
  • Kadeem Hardison
  • Darryl M. Bell

NEXT: 10 Best Canadian Sitcoms



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