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LISTING THE UPS AND DOWNS OF TV’S DECADE

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Things were never better for the television industry than they were when the sun rose on the 1980s.

Don't get me wrong. Nobody's going to refer to the 1979-1980 season as a Golden Era in quality programming. True, the season-long ratings winner was CBS's still-solid "60 Minutes." But the rest of the top 10 included "Three's Company," "That's Incredible," "Alice," "M*A*S*H," "Dallas," "Flo," "The Jeffersons," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "One Day at a Time."Other than "M*A*S*H," there's not a lot of Hall of Fame material there, if you know what I mean.

Still, television long-timers look back on the dawn of the decade in the same way that a toothless cat looks at a plump young mouse. With longing.

In those not-so-olden-but-definitely-golden days, the networks and their affiliate stations dominated the burgeoning television marketplace. Advertisers clamored for time to hawk their wares teletronically, most of them willing to pay any price to reach the huge audience The Big Three commanded. It was a day when even the third-place network - NBC - made huge profits, and owning a commercial TV station was pretty much a license to print money.

Independent television stations were the poor relations on the video block, more to be pitied than feared. Ditto public television. Cable TV was an insignificant annoyance. And the video cassette recorder was a high-tech toy that would never be available in more than just a handful of American homes.

Obviously, times have changed for an industry that enters the 1990s searching for new ways of doing business in an environment that has been completely altered. Networks and their affiliates now struggle to compete in a marketplace that has been saturated by strong, competitive independent stations, healthy cable services, a fourth commercial network and, when there's nothing else on TV, home video rentals. The advertising dollar is stretched so thin that frugality and austerity are the watchwords in a business that once gloried in its fiscal excesses. And with the growth of alternative viewing sources, viewers have more choices than they've ever had before, and are subsequently less faithful to one favorite channel or network than they used to be.

But how did we get from there to here? In a series of lists that begins on page 3, we'll look at the 1980s through television's glowing eye. We'll try to remind you of some of the high points - and the low points - that made the past decade one of the most interesting and eventful in television's 50-year history. Some of it will bring back fond memories. Some will revive old pain. The opinions are mine but the experiences were ours, and together they made television what it was.

And what it is.