1981 in American television

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For the American TV schedule, see: 1981-82 American 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.
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 in The Jeffersons.
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) launches 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 season four finale of Dallas, entitled "Ewing-Gate" aired.
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 operas 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.
October 12 CBS Cable is initiated.
November 1 The NBC soap opera The Doctors broadcasts its 5,000th episode.
November 2 Soap opera As the World Turns debuted 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 were delivered a surprise: despite maintaining good ratings, The Incredible Hulk was to be canceled immediately (Executive producer Kenneth Johnson tried to convince the network to buy six additional episodes so that CBS could fill season five, but it was refused.)
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 HBO begins broadcasting 24 hours a day full-time.
December 25 Chuck Woolery hosted his last episode of Wheel of Fortune after a salary dispute with series producer and creator Merv Griffin. The next Monday, December 28, Pat Sajak began 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
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
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

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


Date Name Notability
January 22 Beverley Mitchell Actress (7th Heaven)
January 28 Elijah Wood Actor (Tron: Uprising)
January 31 Justin Timberlake Singer and actor (The Mickey Mouse Club)
February 2 Emily Rose Actress (Haven)
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)
March 6 Ellen Muth Actress (Dead Like Me)
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 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)
May 15 Jamie-Lynn Sigler Actress (The Sopranos)
June 1 Amy Schumer Actress and comedienne (Inside Amy Schumer)
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 24 Summer Glau Actress (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sequestered)
August 4 Amanda Congdon Actress and video blogger (Rocketboom)
Abigail Spencer Actress (All My Children, Burning Love, Rectify)
August 21 Erin Kelly Actress (Beyond the Break)
August 25 Rachel Bilson Actress (The O.C.)
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 16 Alexis Bledel Actress (Gilmore Girls)
September 18 Jennifer Tisdale Actress
October 9 Zachery Ty Bryan Actor (Home Improvement)
October 16 Caterina Scorsone Actress (Missing, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice)
November 8 Azura Skye Actress (Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane)
November 9 Scottie Thompson Actress (NCIS, Trauma)
December 2 Britney Spears Singer (The Mickey Mouse Club)
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)


Date Name Age Notability
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)