1981 in American television

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For the American TV schedule, see: 1981–82 United States network television schedule.

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


Date Event
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 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.
April 1 Berlinda Tolbert and Michael Jonas Evans made their final appearance as Lionel and Jenny Willis Jefferson on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons.
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 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 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.
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.[3]
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.



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
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
September 28 Danger Mouse ITV
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[edit]

Date Show Debut
March 7 The Tim Conway Show 1980
April 16 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century 1979
April 20 Soap 1977
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
October 23 Card Sharks 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

Changes of network affiliation[edit]

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

Made-for-TV movies and miniseries[edit]

Title Network Date(s) of airing
Fallen Angel CBS February 24
Masada ABC April 5–8
Family Reunion NBC October 11 & 12
Skokie CBS November 17
Bill December 22

Television stations[edit]

Station launches[edit]

Date Market Station Channel Affiliation
April 6 Washington, D.C. WCQR 50 Independent
May 9 Greensboro, North Carolina WGGT-TV 48
June 1 Raleigh, North Carolina WKFT 40
June 15 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania WWSG-TV 57
August 22 Atlanta, Georgia WVEU 69
December 14 Tampa, Florida WFTS-TV 28

Stations changing network affiliation[edit]

Market Date Station Channel Prior affiliation New affiliation
Albany, New York September 28 WRGB 6 NBC CBS
Baltimore, Maryland August 30 WMAR-TV 2 CBS NBC
El Dorado, Arkansas/Monroe, Louisiana December 6 KTVE 10 ABC NBC


Date Name Notability
January 5 Brooklyn Sudano Actress (My Wife and Kids)
January 19 Bitsie Tulloch Actress (lonelygirl15, Grimm)
January 22 Beverley Mitchell Actress (7th Heaven)
January 24 Carrie Coon Actress (The Leftovers, Fargo)
January 28 Elijah Wood Actor (Tron: Uprising)
January 31 Justin Timberlake Singer (NSYNC) and actor (The Mickey Mouse Club, frequent Saturday Night Live host)
February 2 Emily Rose Actress (Haven)
February 5 Sara Foster Actress (90210)
February 6 Alison Haislip Actress and TV personality (Attack of the Show!, The Morning After, Battleground)
February 17 Joseph Gordon-Levitt Actor (Tommy Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun)
Paris Hilton Heiress and TV personality (The Simple Life)
March 2 Bryce Dallas Howard Actress (HitRecord on TV) and daughter of Ron Howard
March 6 Ellen Muth Actress (Dead Like Me)
March 22 Tiffany Dupont Actress (Greek)
March 27 Ashley Bank Actress
March 28 Julia Stiles Actress (Dexter)
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)
May 5 Danielle Fishel Actress (Boy Meets World, Girl Meets World)
Zach McGowan Actor (Black Sails, The 100)
May 15 Jamie-Lynn Sigler Actress (The Sopranos)
May 29 Chris Violette Canadian actress (Power Rangers S.P.D.)
Justin Chon Actor (Just Jordan)
June 1 Amy Schumer Actress and comedian (Inside Amy Schumer)
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 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 29 Dyana Liu Actress (Tower Prep)
August 4 Amanda Congdon Actress and video blogger (Rocketboom)
Abigail Spencer Actress (All My Children, Burning Love, Rectify)
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 29 Jay Ran Australian actor (Beauty & the Beast)
September 4 Beyoncé Singer and actress
September 8 Jonathan Taylor Thomas Actor (Home Improvement)
September 9 Julie Gonzalo Argentine-American actress (Veronica Mars, Eli Stone, Dallas)
September 15 Ben Schwartz Actor (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies, Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja)
September 16 Alexis Bledel Actress (Gilmore Girls)
September 18 Jennifer Tisdale Actress and sister of Ashley Tisdale
September 26 Christina Milian Actress (Grandfathered)
October 9 Zachery Ty Bryan Actor (Home Improvement)
October 12 Brian J. Smith Actor (Stargate Universe)
October 16 Brea Grant Actress (Heroes)
Caterina Scorsone Actress (Missing, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice)
October 22 Michael Fishman Actor (Roseanne)
October 30 Shaun Sipos Actor (Complete Savages)
November 8 Azura Skye Actress (Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane)
November 9 Scottie Thompson Actress (NCIS, Trauma)
November 18 Allison Tolman Actress (Fargo)
Christina Vidal Actress (Taina)
November 29 Kimberly Cullum Actress
December 2 Britney Spears Singer (The Mickey Mouse Club)
December 3 Brian Bonsall Actor (Family Ties, Star Trek: The Next Generation)
December 15 Michelle Dockery English actress (Downton Abbey, Good Behavior)
December 16 Krysten Ritter Actress (Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23)
December 27 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)
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)

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Network Switch Effective, Monroe News-Star-World, December 6, 1981