100 monumental moments from TV history
The medium of television expands and evolves year after year, with technological advances and changing societal norms affecting the overall utility of the format. In the earliest days of television broadcasting, companies used the medium to provide entertainment to households while also disseminating information through news programs. While this purpose holds to this day, the scope and scale of television has exponentially grown.
What started with just a handful of television channels turned into hundreds of television channels and thousands of shows covering a multitude of fields, cultures, and other aspects of society. And with streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu alongside internet platforms like Facebook and YouTube, viewing audiences have never been wired in more to television.
With the advent of live television and 24-hour news cycles, people from home have witnessed historical moments on their screens as they’ve happened. These include coverage of international wars, royal weddings, political assassinations, record-breaking sports events, scientific breakthroughs, and celebrity mishaps. Because these events are caught on camera for the world to see, certain moments and images have forever been stuck in the public consciousness.
At the same time, entertainment shows have also provided their own noteworthy milestones. Some television shows have introduced new formats and ideas that have changed the landscape of the industry. Scripted shows have put out episodes that challenged societal standards, or shook up preconceptions of what dramas or sitcoms could portray. Examples include the depiction of a societal taboo or an unusual creative decision, like the killing off of a main character.
These moments, both scripted and unscripted, have spurred on conversations and discourse among viewers. Television dramas still inspire watercooler discussions, reality shows pique interest and create gossip, and some of the real-life events shown on screen are celebrated or scrutinized in controversy.
Several news and entertainment websites and publications have reported on a number of television moments significant to popular culture over the years; Stacker has compiled 100 of these events in rough chronological order, spanning a wide range of television feats. Click on to see which moments in television history still stick with viewers today.
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The 1939 World’s Fair
The inception of the NBC broadcast network involved the 1939 World’s Fair, which was captured on camera to be transmitted around the country. Using state-of-the-art television broadcasting technology for its time, NBC sent signals from mobile broadcasting trucks to a tower on top of the Empire State Building in New York City, sending the image to the earliest television adopters at home.
Television is nationwide by 1951
NBC began the process of linking its stations of different geographic locations together, doing so with the East Coast and the Midwest at the beginning of 1949. When the West Coast was also connected to the rest of the nation in September 1951, nationwide TV was essentially created with shared programming across the country.
First televised NFL championships
In late December 1951, television viewers were first able to watch an NFL championship game on their screens, with the DuMont Network paying $470,000 for the television rights. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cleveland Browns for the title, and viewers from coast-to-coast were able to watch the victory from their homes.
'I Love Lucy' candy factory episode
The 1952 episode of “I Love Lucy” titled “Job Switching” is thought to be one of the most classic episodes in the entire series. The episode has Lucy and her best friend Ethel switching jobs with their significant others, with the women working in a candy factory and comically struggling to keep up with a conveyor belt, all while the men have similar difficulties with housekeeping. It is an episode full of memorable comedy and also tackled gender roles early on in the medium’s life span.
Jerry Lewis holds his first telethon
The very first Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon occurred on March 14, 1952, with filmmaker Jerry Lewis raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The telethon would go on to be held annually until 2014, raising billions of dollars for the research and treatment against muscular dystrophy.
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Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech
While running for the office of vice president, Sen. Richard Nixon gave a 1952 televised speech in which he defended his use of certain funds for personal expenses. The 30-minute speech had Nixon describing his upbringing and justifying his recent actions; the speech is named such because in it, he mentioned his dog named Checkers. It resulted in an outpour of support for Nixon and his candidacy, and it is one of the earliest examples of American politicians utilizing the airwaves to reach out to the voting public.
RCA tests color television
The RCA Corporation made television history in November 1953 by testing its new color system on the air during an episode of NBC’s “Colgate Comedy Hour.” A year later, NBC’s sitcom titled “The Marriage” would be the first color series to air on television.
Miss America becomes a television hallmark
The Miss America pageant of 1954 was the 27th to occur, but it was the first one to be televised. The host of the first telecast was presenter Bob Russell, and ever since Miss America landed on television, the emcee has been seen by organizers to be even more essential. The pageantry would continue on the air every year since then, and Miss America has remained a staple of American television.
Elvis Presley on 'Ed Sullivan'
The titular host of “The Ed Sullivan Show” was initially wary about the prospect of having Elvis Presley on his program, expressing doubts that the rock-and-roll king was “fit for family viewing.” After Presley drew in ratings for Steve Allen’s competing show, Sullivan reconsidered and brought Presely on, despite his “lewd” performing style. When the star appeared in September 1956, 60 million viewers tuned in.
CBS replaces kinescope with videotape
Kinescope used to be the standard format for recording television programs, using motion picture film against a lens focused on the screen of a video monitor. The format eventually became replaced by the videotape in 1956, which was easier and more accessible to record with and cheaper to produce.
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