Mork from Ork
Mork and Mindy and Sanford and Son were two shows that, to me, really started to lay the groundwork for network television. Admittedly, I had never really seen either until recently but I found both funny and Sanford and Son to be more dramatic then I expected.
Mork and Mindy followed the exploits of Mork from Ork, and his interactions with Mindy, her family, and for some reason, the Fonz. Robin Williams was basically playing himself with an alien background. Williams spastic, improvisational tactics proved popular and during the shows 4 year run, vaulted him to super stardom and numerous movie roles.
Much of the humor came, not from the rapid fire impersonations and crazy scenarios, but the subtle, more adult comedy that Williams slipped in. It was similar to how Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers did things, innocuous sounding jokes that were actually quite mature, but moved too quickly.
Sanford and Son blended humor and heart during it’s run. Fred and Lamont Sandford would periodically switch the father and son dynamic, blurring the line depicting who was more mature. It was funny, true to the times (unlike the shows that preceded it) and seemed like a progenitor to the shows of today that manage to combine drama and comedy.
Tube of Plenty called this time the Elder Era and it’s easy to see why. Shows were growing up, depicting more adult, racially diverse, and taboo themes that are the norm for today.