Jimmy Carter And The Lost World Of 1970s TV

Perhaps the only TV show that can be said to have resulted directly from the turbulence of the Jimmy Carter era was “Nightline.”

The ABC News show was launched on November 8, 1979 -- four days after the start of the Iran hostage crisis -- to cover it every day, and in the process, take ownership of what would turn out to be the biggest story of its era.

The story put “Nightline” and its anchorman Ted Koppel on the TV map, raised the profile of ABC News and established ABC as a player in late-night TV, competing directly with Johnny Carson on NBC and later Jay Leno and David Letterman.

But elsewhere on TV during the Carter years, the shows were decidedly less serious.

James Earl Carter was the 39th president of the United States. A Democrat from Georgia, he served a single term from January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981.

He is in the news following the announcement over the weekend that he has entered hospice care and is bravely, and probably graciously, awaiting the end, surrounded by his family.

At age 98, he is the longest-living president in U.S. history. Elected at age 52, it has been 46 years since he was inaugurated in 1977. 

His term began in the middle of the 1977-78 TV season. When the season ended later in the year, the top-rated show in America was “Laverne & Shirley,” starring Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall (pictured above). It would remain in that position the following season (1978-79).

Producers Aaron Spelling and Garry Marshall were the kings of prime time during the Carter years. “Laverne & Shirley” was a Marshall show, spun off from another one, “Happy Days.”

“Mork & Mindy” was also spun off from “Happy Days” and made Robin Williams a star. For the 1978-79 season, the three shows were ranked first (“Laverne & Shirley”) and third (“Happy Days” and “Mork & Mindy” were tied).

Sandwiched between them and ranked second was “Three’s Company” (not a Garry Marshall show).

Although Aaron Spelling’s shows were not ranked as high, he had far more shows during the Carter era. The list included “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Family,” “Vega$” and “Hart to Hart.”

The average price of a 30-second commercial during the four Super Bowls of the Carter administration was $211,075. The average viewership in those years for Super Bowls XII-XV was 74.5 million.

Three days after Carter’s inauguration, “Roots” premiered on ABC and made television history. 

Cable TV’s first generation of major networks were born during the Carter administration, including CNN, Nickelodeon and USA Network.

In other TV milestones of the era, Walter Cronkite announced in February 1980 that he would retire the following year, and in March 1980, somebody shot J.R.

The current events of the Carter years were portrayed on our TV newscasts as tumultuous and chaotic.

Sounds familiar, right? Some things never change.

1 comment about "Jimmy Carter And The Lost World Of 1970s TV".
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  1. Don Seaman from Wayne Lifestyle Magazine, February 22, 2023 at 11:19 a.m.

    And then there was that "inspired" opportunistic abomination that showed up in Primetme soon after, "Carter Country". Luckily, Nightline found longer-lasting relevance. 

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