1. September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks
The image of planes crashing into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the eventual collapse of both buildings is forever etched into the memories of millions of people all over the world. Over 3000 individuals lost their lives in the worst terror attack ever perpetrated on American soil and television captured each terrible moment of this unforgettable event.
2. Apollo Moon Landing in 1969
All three networks covered the moon landing for nearly two days in glorious black and white, for the most part. CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite could barely contain his excitement, exclaiming, “Oh boy!” as he and the rest of the world watched Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the moon.
3. The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show
In 1964, four long-haired Liverpudlians appeared on one of America’s most popular variety programs. It was their first visit to the States and the first time they had been heard by a mainstream audience. However, hundreds of swooning girls screaming at unbelievable decibel levels drowned out the Beatles’ performance, leaving parents worried about their daughters succumbing to “Beatlemania”.
4. The Resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974
One year after stating ” I am not a crook”, the 37th President of the United States Richard Nixon officially resigned his position as the nation’s head honcho due to his involvement with the Watergate scandal and forever cemented his reputation as the most dishonest president in history. Before leaving Washington, D.C., Nixon turned to the press, flashed his now famous “V” sign with his right hand and left Gerald Ford to clean up his mess.
5. Charles and Diana’s Royal Wedding (1981)
Riveted by the pomp and circumstance of the wedding of the century, the world watched as Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer joined in royal wedlock at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. Nearly 800 million people ooh-ed and aaah-ed at the opulence of the wedding, Diana’s lavish dress and the wedding party comprised of over 2000 people.
6. Who Shot J.R.?
One of the 1980’s many catchphrases, “who shot J.R.?” referred to the long-anticipated season ending Dallas episode. Played by Larry Hagman, J.R. Ewing was the man everybody loved to hate so having somebody shoot him seemed inevitable. But who shot him? The murderer was not revealed until the opening show of the fourth season, which became one of the most watched prime-time programs ever aired.
7. Sammy Davis, Jr. Gives Archie Bunker a Kiss (1972)
When Sammy Davis, Jr. leaves a briefcase in Archie Bunker’s cab, he must visit the Bunker home on 704 Hauser Street in Queens to retrieve it. True to character, Archie cannot help but reveal his bigoted nature to Sammy Davis, who leaves the Bunker household with more than his briefcase. The expression on Archie’s face as Mr. Davis plants one of the funniest smooches in TV history on his cheek is priceless.
8. The L.A. Riots in 1992
The acquittal of several Los Angeles policemen over the severe beating of Rodney King incited a six day riot in one of L.A.’s most violent and economically depressed neighborhoods. The fact that the beating was caught on video made the acquittal even more ludicrous to the residents of south Los Angeles, where tensions between law enforcement and its predominantly African-American population residents had been volatile for years.
The California National Guard and Camp Pendleton Marines were ordered to assist police but not in time to prevent 53 deaths and 2000 injuries.
9. “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”
After 11 years and hundreds of episodes later, M*A*S*H aired its final episode on CBS, an unforgettable, 135 minute episode watched by 125 million people. The show remained one the highest rated TV programs ever until a mega-audience tuned in to Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
10. “Keep the Camera Above His Waist”!
Sneering, sexy and sounding like a black singer, Elvis Presley appeared twice on Ed’s show, who thought that “Presley wasn’t fit for family viewing” but knew the teen idol from Mississippi was a huge audience draw.
However, Sullivan received enough objections from the parents of adoring teenagers regarding Elvis’s “lewd” style of dancing on stage that Presley’s third appearance showed the singer only from the waist up as he warbled “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel”.
11. The Death of John F. Kennedy
Housewives spending another afternoon watching As the World Turns had their normal routine interrupted when CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite intervened with the stunning news of President Kennedy’s assassination and death on November 22, 1963.
Visibly upset, Cronkite was nearly in tears as he read the announcement in a shaky voice: “From Dallas, Texas, a flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at one p.m., central standard time, two o’clock eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago.”
12. Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster (1986)
Seventy-three seconds after leaving the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven members aboard the shuttle. Seen by millions of television viewers as well as thousands of people watching at a safe distance from the launch site, the disaster was later found to be the result of an O-ring seal failing immediately after lift-off.
13. Casey Anthony’s Murder Trial Verdict (2011)
Accused of killing her own daughter because she did not want the responsibility of being a mother, Casey Anthony’s unexpected acquittal of murder charges kept people glued to their televisions on the afternoon of July 5, 2011. The jury took ten hours to reach a decision of innocent on murder, manslaughter and child abuse charges but guilty on misdemeanor charges of providing false information to police officers.
14. Death of John Lennon
On a cold December day in 1980, a mentally ill man named Mark David Chapman shot ex-Beatle John Lennon outside his apartment building in New York City as he was returning from the Record Plant Studio accompanied by his wife Yoko Ono.
Minutes after regular programming was interrupted by network news anchors, large crowds gathered outside the Dakota (Lennon’s home) and Roosevelt Hospital where he died shortly after his arrival.
15. Hurricane Katrina
One of the deadliest hurricanes to hit land in the history of the U.S., Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans on August 29, 2005 as a category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of nearly 130 miles per hour.
After Katrina moved away from New Orleans, television cameras captured scenes of horrific damage caused by an inadequately established levee system that failed to hold back the storm surge. Thousands of people died and thousands more suffered for days due to a disgracefully substandard response from FEMA.
16. O.J. Simpson’s Murder Trial and Verdict (1995)
Often called the trial of the century, ex-footballer O.J. Simpson’s murder trial was a tabloid reporter’s dream. No need to exaggerate the story to sell to magazines – there was enough melodrama and theatrics in this courtroom to satisfy anyone’s craving for the bizarre.
From O.J.’s fleeing and eluding the police in that infamous white Bronco to his “not guilty” verdict that stunned the nation, this trial continues to fascinate and anger people 20 years later.
17. Detroit Riots of 1967
One of the worst civil disturbances in the U.S. occurred on a hot, summer night in Detroit on July 23, 1967, when police raided an unlicensed bar on the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard.
The ensuing confrontation among patrons of the bar, observers and law enforcement resulted in a televised riot that lasted five days before then-Governer George Romney called in the state’s National Guard and President Lyndon Johnson ordered Army troops to restore peace. Over 7000 arrests were made during the riot, with 43 people dying and over 2000 buildings succumbing to raging fires.
18. Lucille Ball:”Spoon Your Way to Health” (1952)
In this classic I Love Lucy episode, Lucy appears in a commercial for a “tonic” called Vitameatatvegemin which, unknown to her and the audience, contained a lot of alcohol. After several spoonfuls, Lucy gets drunk on the elixir and gives one of the funniest monologues ever heard on a TV sitcom. Do you “pop” out at parties?
19. Star Trek and the First Interracial Kiss (1968)
Captain Kirk and Uhuru are taken captive by people who can make people do things against their will – kissing each other being one of them. This groundbreaking episode featured TV’s first interracial kiss – a distinctly dispassionate one – between a white man and a black woman.
20. Muhammed Ali vs Joe Frazier (1975)
The “Thrilla in Manilla” heavyweight championship fight between Ali and Frazier (so-called because it took place in the Philippines) was the first time a sports event was seen on cable television, specifically a channel called HBO, which allowed subscribers to see the match as it happened. Brutal and exciting, Ali won the fight after 15 rounds when Frazier’s manager had to take the battered Joe out of the ring.
21. The Tragedy of the Columbine School Shooting (1999)
Viewers watched in disbelief and horror on April 20, 1999 as news channels reported the massacre of one teacher and 12 students by Columbine seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who committed suicide before the police had a chance to take them into custody.
22. Baby Jessica’s Rescue (1987)
It was the “feel-good” news event of the 80’s – an 18 month old girl falls into a 22-foot well in the backyard of a relative’s home and is rescued two days later by local firefighters. CNN’s coverage of the event culminated in the now-iconic image of a rescuer pulling a dirty but alive Jessica up from the deep well.
23. Roots (1977)
Remembered for its in-depth exploration of pre-Civil War slavery and the plight of Africans ripped from their homeland, Roots was television’s first miniseries and aired over the course of six nights, garnering nearly 80 percent of viewers.
Written by Alex Haley, Roots was the story of Haley’s ancestors, specifically Kunta Kinte, the young black slave who refused to give up his real name for a slave name.
24. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
President Reagan asked Soviet Union leader Gorbachev to reunify East and West Germany in 1985 and two years later, Gorbachev did just as he was commanded by Reagan. East Germans poured into West Germany on the evening of November 10, 1989, eager to escape the repressive regime of their Communist government.
25. Streaking at the Oscars (1974)
The man’s name was Robert Opel but that night at the Academy Awards, as David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor, television audiences learned more about him than just his name when he ran behind Niven naked and flashing the peace sign.
Niven’s charming appraisal of the situation made it even more memorable: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen… But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
26. Television’s First War and the Fall of Saigon (1975)
Beginning in 1965, viewers witnessed the horrors of war for the first time on a daily basis, which helped make the Vietnam War the most unpopular war in U.S. history.
They also watched in horror as people frantically ran for the safety of helicopters taking them out of Saigon, now overrun with Viet Cong soldiers, and listened to television reporters report the end of a senseless, bloody conflict no one had wanted in the first place.
27. Hank Aaron’s 715th Home Run
Everybody just knew he was going to do it on the night of April 8, 1974 – and half the nation watched and cheered when Atlanta Brave’s outfielder “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in Atlanta, Georgia with his 715th career home run.
28. The Bombing of Baghdad in 1991
Caught on night vision cameras and looking like some frightening, apocalyptic event, the bombing of Baghdad (Operation Desert Fox) demonstrated the power of a smart weapons attack guided by the expert planning and military superiority of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Filmed from a hotel located in Baghdad, the capital of Iraqi, the bombing of the city entailed the use of 250 laser-guided bombs and nearly 90 cruise missiles over the course of 43 days.
29. Tianamen Square: one man against one tank (1989)
Demonstrations against the oppressive Chinese government culminated in the troops armed with assault rifles opening fire on students protesting in Beijing’s Tianamen Square. A news reporter captured the essence of the fight for basic human rights when the image of a lone man standing in front of a huge tank appeared on television and in newspapers.
30. Martin Luther King’s Speech (1963)
The famous “I have a dream” speech given by Dr. King shortly before his assassination remains one of the most famous and influential speeches in American history. One year later, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in law that promoted and legalized King’s message of tolerance, peace and equality for U.S. citizens, regardless of color or ethnicity.