The 1980s is one of the most easily recognizable eras in all things pop culture. This is especially true for Black Americans. Unforgettable music, fashion, movies and more were birthed by the community during this time and are still loved by millions across generations. Another iconic sector of entertainment media that thrived during this time were Black sitcoms. While the 90s and 2000s are even more known for their sitcoms, 80s Black sitcoms set the groundwork for many of them by breaking barriers and being the first of their time. 

Many of these shows highlighted the experiences of Black American families in a lighthearted tone that was not seen previously. Additionally, the shows were not only funny, but also touched on important topics like race, class and family dynamics in very entertaining ways. This list of 80s Black sitcoms includes shows that almost anyone could recognize to short-lived shows that still made their mark. Here is a list of some of the most iconic 80s Black sitcoms ranked based on their IMDb score. 

Webster (1983-1989) 

IMDb: 5.7/10

Webster, a sitcom that aired from 1983 to 1989, revolves around the endearing character George Papadopolis, a young African American boy played by Emmanuel Lewis, who is adopted by a wealthy white couple, George and Katherine Papadopolis, portrayed by Alex Karras and Susan Clark. The show follows the humorous and heartwarming experiences of the Papadopolis family as they navigate the challenges of raising a precocious child. George, a former NFL player, and Katherine, a socialite, bring a mix of humor and warmth to the series. Webster explores themes of family, love and cultural differences while showcasing the unique dynamics of an unconventional family. The show was well-received for its charming cast and its ability to tackle serious topics with a lighthearted touch.

What’s Happening Now!! (1985-1988) 

IMDb: 6.2/10

What’s Happening Now!! is a sitcom that aired from 1985 to 1988 and is a sequel to the popular 1970s series What’s Happening!!. The show picks up with the original characters—Raj, Dwayne and Rerun—now adults facing the challenges of life in Los Angeles. Raj (Ernest Thomas) is a law student, Dwayne (Haywood Nelson) is a computer programmer and Rerun (Fred Berry) is trying his hand at various jobs. The series continues to explore their friendships, family relationships and the humorous situations they find themselves in. While What’s Happening Now!! didn’t achieve the same level of success as its predecessor, it provided fans of the original show with a glimpse into the characters’ adult lives and the changes that had occurred since the 1970s.

Family Matters (1989-1998)

IMDb: 6.6/10

Family Matters, a sitcom that premiered in 1989 and continued into the 1990s, focuses on the Winslow family, living in Chicago. The series initially revolved around police officer Carl Winslow, played by Reginald VelJohnson, his wife Harriette, portrayed by Jo Marie Payton, and their three children. However, the breakout character of the show became Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White, a nerdy neighbor who accidentally became a cultural phenomenon. Urkel’s quirky catchphrases, distinctive fashion and his unrequited love for the Winslows’ daughter, Laura, brought a comedic and endearing element to the series. Family Matters is remembered for addressing family dynamics, social issues and, of course, the iconic character of Steve Urkel, making it a beloved part of 1980s and 1990s television that is remembered and loved now.

Gimme a Break! (1981-1987)

IMDb: 6.4/10

Gimme a Break! is a sitcom that aired from 1981 to 1987, featuring Nell Carter in the lead role as Nell Harper. The show follows Nell as she takes on the responsibilities of housekeeper and caretaker for the Kanisky family after their mother’s passing. The Kanisky family consists of a widowed police chief, Carl (played by Dolph Sweet), and his three daughters. Nell, a sassy and no-nonsense character with a big heart, adds humor and warmth to the series as she balances her duties in the Kanisky household. Gimme a Break! addresses themes of family, love and the challenges of single parenthood, making it a heartwarming and comedic addition to 1980s television. Nell Carter’s performance earned her critical acclaim, and the show was praised for its blend of humor and touching moments.

Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1986)

IMDb: 6.6/10

Diff’rent Strokes, a popular sitcom that aired from 1978 to 1986, is centered around two African American brothers from Harlem, Arnold and Willis Jackson, played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, who are adopted by wealthy businessman Philip Drummond, portrayed by Conrad Bain, after their mother, Drummond’s housekeeper, passes away. The show explores the cultural and socioeconomic differences between the two worlds the boys come from, providing a mix of humor and life lessons. The catchphrase “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” became iconic, and the series addressed various social issues, including race, class, and family dynamics. Diff’rent Strokes was known for its humor, memorable characters and its ability to tackle serious topics in a sitcom format.

227 (1985-1990) 

IMDb: 6.7/10

227, which aired from 1985 to 1990, is a sitcom that revolves around the daily lives and interactions of the diverse residents in a Washington, D.C. apartment building, specifically apartment 227. Marla Gibbs stars as Mary Jenkins, the witty and opinionated housewife, who becomes involved in the neighborhood gossip and shenanigans. The show humorously explores themes of friendship, family and community, providing a snapshot of urban life during the 1980s. With a mix of relatable characters and socially relevant storylines, 227 contributed to the representation of Black Americans on television during that era and garnered popularity for its humor and genuine portrayal of community dynamics.

Charlie & Co. (1985-1986)

IMDb: 6.8/10

Charlie & Co. is a sitcom that aired in 1985 starring Flip Wilson in the lead role as Charlie Richmond, a successful lawyer and father of three, who decides to move his family from California to New York City to start his own law firm. The show explores the challenges and comedic moments that arise as Charlie balances his professional life with the responsibilities of being a husband and father. With a predominantly Black cast, including Gladys Knight as Charlie’s wife, Diana, Charlie & Co. aimed to provide a positive representation of a successful Black family in a sitcom setting. While the series featured strong performances and humorous situations, it had a short run, lasting only one season before being canceled. Despite its brevity, Charlie & Co. is remembered for its attempt to showcase a Black family in a more upscale and professional environment.

Amen (1986-1991) 

IMDb: 6.8/10

Amen aired from 1986 to 1991 and is a sitcom that centers around the lively and humorous dynamics within a Philadelphia church community. Sherman Hemsley stars as Deacon Ernest Frye, a sharp-tongued church official, and the series explores the challenges and comedic situations that arise in his interactions with other members of the church. Clashes with the headstrong and ambitious new pastor, played by Clifton Davis, add to the humor, as do the relationships among the church staff and congregation. Amen is known for its blend of humor and moral lessons, using the church setting as a backdrop to address various social issues and values. The show was well-received for its unique premise and the charisma of its lead actors.

A Different World (1987-1993)

IMDb: 7/10

A Different World, which aired from 1987 to 1993, is a spin-off of The Cosby Show and follows the experiences of Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet, as she navigates college life at the fictional Hillman College. The series explores a wide range of social and cultural issues, including race, relationships and personal growth. Over its run, the show evolved to focus on a diverse group of characters, including Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) and Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy), who became central figures. A Different World is celebrated for its realistic portrayal of college life, its emphasis on Black American culture, and its willingness to address important social issues of the time, making it a significant and influential sitcom of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Cosby Show (1984-1992) 

IMDb : 7.4/10

This is probably the most widely known 80s Black sitcom. The Cosby Show, which aired from 1984 to 1992, is a groundbreaking and iconic Black sitcom of the 1980s. Created by and starring Bill Cosby, the show portrayed an affluent African American family, the Huxtables, living in Brooklyn. Bill Cosby played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, an obstetrician, and Phylicia Rashad portrayed his lawyer wife, Clair. The series focused on the joys and challenges of family life, depicting positive role models and breaking stereotypes. The Cosby Show was celebrated for its humor, warmth and realistic portrayal of a successful African American family, making it a trailblazer in diversifying television and achieving widespread popularity during its run. Though the show will always remain nostalgic for many, its creator and main star’s actions leave a stain on its reputation. 

The Redd Foxx Show (1986)

IMDb: 7.5/10

The Redd Foxx Show, also known as “The Royal Family,” is a sitcom that aired in 1991, just before the legendary comedian Redd Foxx passed away. The series features Redd Foxx as Al Royal, the patriarch of a working-class Black American family living in Baltimore. Al Royal is a widower who runs a plumbing business and deals with the everyday challenges of family life. The show explores the dynamics of the Royal family as they navigate relationships, business endeavors and comedic situations. While Redd Foxx brought his signature humor to the role, the series faced challenges, including Foxx’s untimely death during its production. After Foxx’s passing, the show attempted to continue with a new storyline centered around Al’s brother, played by Della Reese, but it was ultimately short-lived, lasting only a single season. The Redd Foxx Show is remembered for Foxx’s comedic talent and his contribution to the sitcom genre.

The Jeffersons (1975-1985)

IMDb: 7.5/10

Here is another 80s Black sitcom that many generations know and love. The Jeffersons, a classic sitcom that aired from 1975 to 1985, follows the lives of George and Weezy Jefferson, an affluent African American couple who achieve success and move from Queens to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. George, played by Sherman Hemsley, owns a chain of dry-cleaning stores, while Isabel Sanford portrays Weezy, his witty and charming wife. The show, created as a spin-off of All in the Family, broke ground as one of the first television series to depict an upper-middle-class African American family. The Jeffersons addressed issues of race, class and social mobility while providing humor and entertainment. The series received acclaim for its memorable characters, sharp writing and its contribution to changing the landscape of television by portraying successful Black characters in leading roles.

Frank’s Place (1987-1988) 

IMDb: 8.6/10

Frank’s Place, a sitcom that aired from 1987 to 1988, is a unique and critically acclaimed series that follows Frank Parrish, played by Tim Reid, a Boston college professor and successful chef who unexpectedly inherits a restaurant in New Orleans from his estranged father. The show explores themes of cultural identity, community and race as Frank navigates the vibrant and diverse world of his new surroundings. Frank’s Place received praise for its sophisticated humor, rich character development and its commitment to depicting the cultural and social complexities of New Orleans. Despite its short run, the series has maintained a positive legacy as a groundbreaking show that pushed the boundaries of sitcom conventions in its exploration of serious and thought-provoking themes.