Bearish 1970s TV Shows

The early and mid-1970s were characterized by increased negativity in social mood as evidenced by several bear markets in stocks and heightened social and political turmoil. This turbulence was highlighted by widespread Vietnam war protests, intense struggles for racial and gender equality, and the Watergate scandal. President Richard Nixon’s resignation in disgrace came less than two months from the bottom of the severe 1973-74 bear market that cut the value of stocks in half.

The decline in social mood introduced controversial social issues to network television. The landmark All in the Family broke new ground by injecting social issues previously considered off-limits on primetime TV: racism, homosexuality, rape, and impotence. Politically sensitive topics were presented in an unprecedentedly direct manner. This show, produced by Norman Lear, was the number one rated series for five years beginning in 1972.

The main character was the bigoted, outspoken patriarch Archie Bunker. He engaged in cultural and generational clashes with his daughter, son-in-law, and anyone else who did not share his close-minded and sometimes buffoonish opinions. He railed against Vietnam peace protestors, equal rights for women and minorities, and progressive ideas.

Archie Bunker was a stark contrast to the wise patriarch of the bull market Bonanza and the tempered and circumspect Marshall Dillon of Gunsmoke—authority figures and social institutions are more likely to be respected during bull markets, both on TV and in real life. Positive social mood generates trust and even reverence for authority; negative mood engenders skepticism and cynicism.

After five consecutive years in the top spot, All in the Family dropped out of the Nielsen top ten following the improved mood of the 1975-76 bull market. True to form, the show then climbed back into the top ten for two final years during and immediately after the 1977-78 bear market in the Dow.

Bob Prechter has noted that complex anti-heroes emerge during bear markets, and heroes become more conflicted. The TV superhero of the late 1970s was The Hulk, who had a severe anger management problem and whose main motivation was revenge. In contrast, Superman was a traditional heroic figure during the bull market of the 1950s series, Adventures of Superman. The actor George Reeves' Superman was never worried or upset, but always confident of bringing "truth, justice, and the American way," as each episode's introduction blared. The Superman of the mid-1990’s bull market Lois and Clark was also a conventional hero. But the young Superman of Smallville that premiered in 2001, in the middle of a major bear market, was brooding and beset by crippling angst.