The 1960s were a time when TV shows tried hard to have a sense of fun, even if the whole world was in a so-called “Cold War.” Some were fantastic and escapist, and some did try to address the social issues of the time. Many of the characters from these shows have become legends. Can you name the TV shows just from hearing their characters' names? Let's see if you can do this!
With so many of these wonderful shows being rediscovered by newer generations today, it's such a trip down memory lane to recall all of them. There were many groundbreaking shows during that era, in terms of what they presented. You can look at the content and see how they tackled certain social and civic themes back then. You can also see how they keep on reinventing and improving the structures and narratives, as well as the manner of presentation. The production values may not be that smooth or polished in some of these shows, but they definitely contain characters that have etched their way into the pop culture consciousness of the world.
So, are you ready to name these characters? Grab a TV dinner, switch channels and see!
“Bewitched” seems at first to be a “normal” family comedy with a bit of a twist, but the show was unusual in that the lead female character was aggressive when it came to taking action - not like the housewife roles of the times at all. Here’s an interesting side note: the animated opening for the show was made by Hannah-Barbera, so it was no surprise that Samantha would also appear in “The Flintstones.”
“Gilligan’s Island” was set on an island just near enough to hear AM radio stations from Honolulu. The castaways survived on fish and coconut cream pie. The funny part is, they always had guests on their island, but they never got off of it!
“I Dream of Jeannie” was about a genie who could grant wishes. Genie Jeannie’s iconic costume is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution. As uptight as it sounds, executives and censors decided that Jeannie's navel should not be exposed.
The premise of “The Beverly Hillbillies” was a social what-if experiment. The Clampett family members were portrayed as simple, perhaps uneducated, but they had an honesty and moral standing that would sometimes cause funny situations in Beverly Hills. This show’s humor relied heavily on the cultural divide between rural and city folk, complete with double entendres.
“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” used a popular story idea of how rural folk differed from those in the city. In this case, while private first class Gomer Pyle may not have been the best soldier for action, his charm and good nature made him perfect as the sociable face of the Marine Corps. The show was so influential and popular that the real U.S. Marine Corps gave an honorary promotion two times to the character.
“Hogan’s Heroes” was an unlikely comedy show, where the inmates of a World War II POW camp actively worked to undermine German operations, without the camp commander knowing it. Aside from the unusual setting of the show, one of the lead team characters was one Sergeant Kinchloe, played by Ivan Dixon. Casting an African-American actor for the role was a big step forward at the time.
“Get Smart” was a parody on movies and TV shows in the spy genre. Agent Maxwell Smart was actually incompetent, but he was always lucky enough to save the day. The show also featured gags like ridiculous spy gear, such as the cone of silence and a variety of shoe phones.
“The Avengers” was a TV show about British spies, but the push-and-pull between the formal, gentlemanly John Steed and his fashionably-clothed action-girl partners had sexual undertones. The TV show also veered from serious spy plots to escapist science fiction.
The 1960s “Batman” TV series planted a very kid-friendly version of the Caped Crusader in many people’s minds. With running jokes like naming all his gear after himself – the Batmobile, the Bat-computer, the Batcave – and Robin’s “Holy blankity-blank, Batman” comments, “Batman” became a pop culture icon.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” was a bit of a meta comedy, as it was about the behind-the-scenes hi-jinks of comedy writers. Carl Reiner, the producer, based the show on his own experiences as a TV writer, while Alan Brady, the fictional actor in the fictional show that Petrie worked for, was said to be a mix of Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason.
“The Munsters” was one of the off-beat family sitcoms of the time, since it featured classic movie horror “monsters” living as one family. It was also one of the few 1960s TV shows that had scenes of a married couple in bed!
“Star Trek” was one of the TV shows in the 1960s that addressed current events, if only through symbolism. For example, the Klingons and Romulans were alien races that were locked in a fragile peace with the human-dominated Federation - this mirrored the fact that the U.S.A. was in a “cold war” with the U.S.S.R. and China at that time.
“Mister Ed” was part of a wave of TV shows that had pets as the lead or co-lead characters. However, in this case, the horse named Mr. Ed had conversations with his owner, Wilbur Post. It was never explained why he could talk to Wilbur, or why he only talked to Wilbur.
“My Favorite Martian,” though it may look campy today, is listed as one of the most popular science-fiction comedy shows of the time. Uncle Martin, the show’s lead character, was an exoanthropologist (studying other alien races), and he also happened to be an inventor, making many devices that would figure into the plots of the show’s episodes.
“The Addams Family” started life as a series of cartoons made by Charles Addams for "The New Yorker." The original idea was to portray an incredibly weird and disturbing family as a loving, close-knit one. Gomez and Morticia Addams, for example, are known for being a bit too passionate about their marriage.
“Lost in Space” is a loose interpretation of the classic shipwreck novel “The Swiss Family Robinson.” Unlike the source material, though, this futuristic family had their antagonist, Dr. Smith, living with them. Funny enough, the villain became the most popular character from the show.
“McHale’s Navy” was about Lt. Commander McHale, played by Ernest Borgnine, and his wacky crew trying to keep out of trouble. It’s a funny take on the idea of having a combat-effective crew of misfits. And as for the character Captain Binghamton, he was nicknamed “Old Leadbottom,” because he was shot in the backside in the past.
“Rawhide” may have been set in the old cowboy days, but that didn’t stop the show from tackling controversial topics. These topics included drug addiction, racism and the lingering effects of war (in this case, the Civil War). The show also featured old Western myths and ghost stories.
While “The Fugitive” has some elements in it that could be traced to the cowboy Westerns, it should be noted that the unrelenting pursuit by Lt. Gerard is a clue that the show is also influenced by the classic "Les Miserables." It should also be noted that this was one of the few shows at the time that had a definite ending that tied up as many loose ends as possible.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was a spy-fiction show that eventually tackled science-fiction themes as well. The show also had a thing for innocuous shops being used as entrances to the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, another emphasis on how the TV show’s world would always have the dark and dirty espionage underworld waiting just behind “normal life.”
“The Flintstones” has been seen as a cartoon version of “The Honeymooners,” with Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden character changed into Fred Flintstone. As for Barney Rubble, Fred Flintstone’s best friend, it’s interesting to note that in the original series, it’s never clear if he works alongside Fred in the gravel pit or not.
“Flipper” was an aquatic “hero pet” show. Five different dolphins portrayed Flipper, and Flipper’s voice was a modified recording of a kookaburra bird. The humans on the show were pretty good, too, with Luke Halpin, the actor portraying Sandy, doing almost all of his own stunts.
“The Prisoner” was a philosophical spy-fiction show, where individualism was played off against collectivism. True to the genre, many details are left unsaid about the background of the characters, including Number Six himself. As it is, it seems that the whole village he’s in is designed to extract information from him.
“Dr. Kildare” was one of the early medical fiction shows that triggered the creation of even more medical or hospital-based TV series. But since this was a medical show, in part, the producers and writers consulted with the American Medical Association. The show became so popular that one way they advertised was to have airport public address systems page Dr. Kildare as if he were a real doctor, and that he was needed.
“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” was a sea-based action show with a twist, in that the show was about people in a near-future nuclear submarine, saving the world from all sorts of threats. In the beginning, many of the threats reflected the early cold war concerns, so foreign governments were usually the villains.
“Dark Shadows” was a gothic soap opera, an unusual combination for the 1960s adult demographic. However, teenagers and even younger viewers became part of the viewing audience, and so for a time, the show became very popular. Barnabas Collins, the vampire, is unusual in that he is an early version – if not the first instance – of a reluctant vampire, one the audience could feel sympathy for.
“The Green Hornet” was a superhero show based much in the vein of "Batman," but with the genre played straight and serious. Kato, Green Hornet’s sidekick, was played by the legendary Bruce Lee, and he sometimes functioned as the Green Hornet’s person of mass destruction against enemies.
“The Time Tunnel” was a science-fiction TV show that operated on the premise that time travel was possible. However, there was a down-to-Earth reason why the time machine was used: they had to convince a senator that the project was worth continuing. If you look at the “historic” footage used in the show, it's taken from many period shows and movies that 20th Century Fox made.
“The Jetsons” was a successful mix of science fiction and the family sitcom, all rolled into a neat cartoon format. While the storylines were sometimes seen as cheesy or predictable, the show itself portrayed future technology with some accuracy, such as the popularity of large flat video screens and the rise of robots taking over jobs.
“The Wild Wild West” was a mix of the Western and scientific themes, and was an answer to the ongoing rise of spy fiction. Aside from the action scenes, the show was famous for incorporating “steampunk” elements and devices into the show, mostly because the gadgets that West and Gordon used were “retro versions” of future devices.
“Combat!” was a war-themed TV show set during World War II, with an episode establishing that the show’s events supposedly happened in June 1944 and the months after that. The producers emphasized grittiness and realism, to the point that the actors weren’t allowed to shave during shooting days. Even the Allied and German uniforms were as accurate as they could manage.
“Thunderbirds” was basically a puppet show that used marionettes. However, what made it stand out was the science fiction and rescue theme, combined with advanced puppet figure technology and well-designed scale model sets.
“The Saint” was an addition to the spy-fiction genre, with an interesting twist. The main character was a modern-day Robin Hood who targeted criminal organizations, or who helped those who were victims or targets of such. The Saint drove a Volvo P1800, and sales for the car went up when the show became very popular.
“I Spy” was a combination-theme TV show, mixing spy fiction with the buddy or buddy-cop idea. It was also a landmark TV show in that it featured an African-American as a lead actor, without obviously addressing it. The show’s globe-trotting episodes were usually filmed on location around the world, instead of on a set.
“The Flying Nun” was a TV show that focused on the life and adventures of a community of nuns in Puerto Rico. What sold the show was exactly what was on the title: one of them, Sister Bertrille, had a mysterious ability to fly. Strangely enough, Sister Bertrille herself did not think of it as a miracle, saying that it was a combination of her light body weight, her habit (called a cornette, with large, starched wing-like segments at the sides of her head), and a few other reasons.