Top 10 Memorable Television Characters of the 1970s

Script written by Nathan Sharp The 1970s saw many unforgettable TV characters, all of whom influenced the medium for years to come. Join WatchMojo.comsuggest down our picks for theTop 10 Memorable Television Characters of the 1970s. For this list, we're looking at those characters that made a critical and cultural impact, and became synonymous with '70s TV culture. Special thanks to our user Meng Lee for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Memorable Television Characters of the 1970s


The 1970s saw many unforgettable TV characters, all of whom influenced the medium for years to come. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 memorable TV characters of the 1970s.

For this list, we’re looking at those characters that made a critical and cultural impact, and became synonymous with ‘70s TV culture. To be eligible, the show must have started in 1969 or later, as the characters in question would have made their impact in the '70s. The characters must also be live-action, so you won’t be seeing any cartoons or puppets — we’re talking to you, Kermit the Frog.

#10: Basil Fawlty
“Fawlty Towers” (1975-79)

Basil, the owner of the titular hotel in Torquay, England, is rude, pessimistic, and generally not a very nice person. But we love him all the more for it. Basil often aspires to be of a higher class than the one to which he actually belongs, which often results in hilarious interactions with his guests. He’s also constantly overstepping his bounds, making for some truly cringe-worthy moments. One of England’s most iconic comedy characters, John Cleese’s Basil has earned that distinction, despite the fact that only 12 episodes of “Fawlty Towers” were made, proving his value and importance to the television medium.

#9: Capt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce
“M*A*S*H” (1972-83)

One of the funniest and most tragic characters on this famous wartime comedy/drama, Hawkeye is hilarious but also deeply human. As Chief Surgeon of an army unit in the Korean War, it’s only natural that the traumatic events affect Hawkeye, a truth that is perhaps best seen in the show’s highly watched finale when he suffers a mental breakdown. But, while Hawkeye provides the saddest moments of the show, he also some of the biggest laughs, as he often makes the best of his situation by pulling pranks and making wisecracks. This combination makes him one of the most unique and memorable characters in television history.

#8: Arnold Jackson
“Diff’rent Strokes” (1978-86)

Arnold Jackson proved to be the breakout character on the famous sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” which shot actor Gary Coleman into superstardom. The youngest child and main character of the series, Arnold often acts selfish, or devises schemes to get what he wants – by the end of the episode, of course. Which, you’d think would get annoying, but nope! His outrageous plans and selfish attitude are always sidesplitting. His catchphrase [“What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”] has even entered into the pop culture canon, becoming one of the most famous lines in any sitcom and cementing Arnold’s place in TV history.

#7: Mary Richards
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77)

Over the better part of the entire decade, Mary Tyler Moore made headlines across the country as Mary Richards, a news producer at a sagging Minneapolis TV news station. She won three Emmy awards during her stint, becoming a star and solidifying her already established name as one of the greatest actresses working in television. Mary was both charismatic and flawed, creating a fully developed character during the show’s run and one of TV’s most iconic females. She was one of, if not the first, strong, independent career woman of television, and her place in TV history is stronger because of it.

#6: J. R. Ewing
“Dallas” (1978-91)

Considered one of TV’s most iconic characters, J.R. was the breakout star of the popular show “Dallas,” and became not only a central figure but also a central bad guy. As head of the Ewing clan, he was a wealthy, often egocentric and usually self-serving oil tycoon, who amoral choices resulted in some of the show’s most famous stories. One of the most well known storylines in TV history dealt with the shooting of J. R. by an unknown assailant, a cliffhanger that became a pop culture phenomenon. Despite his many, many flaws, he was still one of television’s most beloved characters, proving that audiences love a good villain – or at least love to hate him.

#5: Jack Tripper
“Three’s Company” (1977-84)

Played by the late, great John Ritter, Jack Tripper was the third in TV’s most memorable threesome of roommates – as well as one of the goofiest characters on television at the time. Much of Jack’s humor derived from his clumsiness, as he’s often bumping into things, falling over things and just generally providing the physical comedy. He also pretends to be gay when his landlord is around, which not only brought the show some of its most laugh-out-loud moments, but also served as a political statement about straight people and homosexuals in the ‘70s. Ever the sweet man, Jack was always good for a laugh.

#4: George Jefferson
“The Jeffersons” (1975-85)

Owner of several dry cleaning stores in the Big Apple, George and his wife Louise – lovingly referred to by her husband as Weezy – were originally characters on “All in the Family” before they moved on up to their own spinoff series. While George was amusing as a character himself, he also acted as a vessel for political statements about African Americans in 1970s America. Racism was – at times – one of the show’s main topics, with some earlier episodes even going so far as to include now-taboo racial slurs. It was an ambitious undertaking, but thanks to George’s affable demeanor, he provided television with a revolutionary and unforgettable character, and helped usher in a decade of progress for African Americans.

#3: Fred G. Sanford
“Sanford and Son” (1972-77)

Fred Sanford is perhaps one of the grouchiest men in all of television, but he’s all the more memorable for it. With an attitude that’s borderline despicable and definitely sarcastic, this cantankerous widower makes it his life’s work to crush his son Lamont’s dreams in order to keep him in the family junk yard biz, even going so far as to fake an illness to guilt him into staying home. He can also be incredibly racist, specifically towards his Puerto Rican neighbor and son’s Asian friend. That said, his attitude makes him who he is, and he became one of the most unique and popular characters on television because of it.

#2: Archie Bunker
“All in the Family” (1971-79)

Originally intended to be strongly disliked by audiences, Archie Bunker – husband of Edith, father of Gloria and father-in-law to Meathead – soon became a breakout TV star and an American cultural icon. His extreme, often intolerant, views – including his stances on race and sex – were intended to be a parody of right-wing conservatism, but instead became a hit with American audiences – go figure. His influence spread far beyond the screen, however, to real-world politics, with the term “Archie Bunker Vote” being coined to refer to Caucasian, blue-collar male voters. His famed armchair is even in the National Museum of American History! To call Archie Bunker a cultural icon is putting it mildly.

Before we look at our most memorable character, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Mike Brady
“The Brady Bunch” (1969-74)
- Tattoo
“Fantasy Island” (1977-84)
- Laverne De Fazio
“Laverne & Shirley” (1976-83)
- Mork
“Mork & Mindy” (1978-82)

#1: Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli
“Happy Days” (1974-84)

Considered the coolest cat on television possibly ever, Fonzie was originally written as a minor character before enthusiastic fan reception bumped him up to a starring role. Complete with his leather jacket, smokes, sleek hair, and womanizing, Fonzie quickly became TV’s signature cool guy and a pop culture sensation. His trademark catchphrase is still known today, as is his famous Fonzie touch. Memorable enough to merit a statue in his likeness that presides over Milwaukee, Fonzie was not only a popular TV character, but also a significant cultural icon. And if you don’t like it, you can sit on it.

Do you agree with our list? What TV character from the 70s is your favorite? For more ranked top tens published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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