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.

For the American TV schedule, see: 1981-82 American network television schedule.


Date Event
February 20 Comedian Andy Kaufman disrupts sketches and starts a brawl while broadcasting during ABC's sketch series Fridays.
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. ABC News was flooded with unconfirmed reports following the assassination attempt 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 attempt continued for hours on the big three networks, and for two days on CNN. As a result of the assassination attempt, the Academy Awards were postponed for a day.
April 1 Berlinda Tolbert and Michael Jonas Evans makes their final appearance as Lionel and Jenny Willis Jefferson in the seventh (1980–1981) year, of The Jeffersons, also departing with Tolbert and Evans, Paul Benedict makes his final appearance as the British neighbor of George and Louise, Harry Bentley, Benedict returns to the series during 1983.
April 11 Van Halen's main guitarist Eddie Van Halen marries One Day at a Time actress Valerie Bertinelli.
April 12 The Alpha Repertory Television Service (also known as ARTS) is initiated right after the Nickelodeon time period.
April 21 "Weird Al" Yankovic makes his first television appearance on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.
May 1 The fourth season finale of Dallas, entitled "Ewing-Gate", ends with a woman found dead.
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.
September 7 During the course of the year, all soap opera programs produced by Procter & Gamble change title sequences and theme songs. Another World, Guiding Light, Search for Tomorrow, and The Edge of Night all have new title sequences.
September 21–25 Fourth September week when soap opera supercouple Victor and Nikki Newman first meet each other on The Young and the Restless.
October 12 CBS Cable is initiated.
November 1 The NBC soap opera The Doctors broadcasts its 5,000th episode.
November 2 American 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 Series ESPN televises its first live flag-to-flag NASCAR race, the Atlanta Journal 500.
November 9 The cast and crew had begun work on episodes for the series The Incredible Hulk's fifth season on CBS when the network's manager of programming, Harvey Shepherd, delivered a surprise: despite maintaining good ratings, The Incredible Hulk was to be canceled immediately. Author Frank Garcia, while interviewing Johnson, learned that CBS executive Harvey Shepherd disliked The Incredible Hulk and felt that there "wasn't a full season left in it", thus putting an end to David Banner's struggles. Producer Kenneth Johnson tried to convince Sheppard to buy six additional episodes so that CBS could have a half-season of new episodes but he refused. The series was canceled so suddenly that Johnson never had a chance to film an Incredible Hulk series finale which would feature David on trial for the murder of Elaina Marks. Several scripts including "David Banner, RIP", and "Killer On Board" were never filmed. The notice was so quick and so sudden that Johnson and Corea were unable to film a proposed two hour finale in which David was brought to trial for the murder of Elaina Marks. Production officially halted during the summer of 1981.
November 16–17 Luke and Laura's wedding for series 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 24 Premium cable company HBO begins broadcasting its 24-hour programming.
December 25 Chuck Woolery hosts his last episode of the game series Wheel of Fortune after a salary dispute with series producer and creator Merv Griffin. Pat Sajak becomes host the next Monday, December 28. He hosts the daytime Wheel until 1989.; Sajak hosts the nighttime Wheel to this day.


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
April 6 Private Benjamin CBS
April 9 Checking In
May 16 SCTV Network 90 NBC
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
Trollkins CBS
The Kwicky Koala Show
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

Made-for-TV movies and miniseries[edit]

Family Reunion
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
A Town Like Alice
Brideshead Revisited

Television shows[edit]













Ending this year[edit]

Date Show Debut
March 7 The Tim Conway Show 1980
April 16 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century 1979
April 20 Soap 1977
August 19 Charlie's Angels 1976
August 20 The Waltons 1972
August 29 Eight is Enough 1977
October 23 Card Sharks 1978
November 30 The Mike Douglas Show 1961

Changes of network affiliation[edit]

Show Moved from Moved to
Walt Disney anthology series NBC CBS


Date Name Cinematic Notability
January 22 Beverley Mitchell actress (7th Heaven)
January 28 Elijah Wood actor
January 31 Justin Timberlake singer and actor, originally appeared on a version of (The Mickey Mouse Club) in the US.
February 8 Ralf Little actor
February 17 Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Paris Hilton heiress and television personality in the United States.
April 28 Jessica Alba US actress
May 5 Danielle Fishel actress
May 15 Jamie-Lynn Sigler
Samantha Noble Australian actress
August 7 Dan Griffin television producer.
August 25 Rachel Bilson actress
September 4 Beyoncé Knowles singer and actor. (Destiny's Child)
September 8 Jonathan Taylor Thomas US actor/comedian (Home Improvement)
October 9 Zachery Ty Bryan
November 8 Azura Skye US actress
December 2 Britney Spears singer, originally appeared on a version of (The Mickey Mouse Club) in the US.


Date Name Age Notability
April 26 Jim Davis 72 actor (Jock Ewing) on (Dallas)
June 9 Allen Ludden 64 game show host
August 1 Paddy Chayefsky 58 writer
September 27 Robert Montgomery 64 actor
November 25 Jack Albertson 74