The 80 Greatest Moments in TV History


From Johnny Carson’s farewell to 'Soul Train,' Tim Goodman looks at the best of television’s past for THR’s 80th anniversary issue.

21. John Lennon’s death Like JFK’s assassination, people remember where they were. But hearing the news from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football only added to the unexpected nature of the tragedy.

22. Seinfeld finale Before you scoff: It was the first time many viewers considered that their beloved characters were,in fact, unlikable and mean. Later, Curb Your Enthusiasm would make this more obvious, but the Seinfeld finale was like the reveal of a ruse on the country: You’ve been loving cruel people. And this is what happens to them.    


23. M*A*S*H finale If 106 million people watch you say goodbye, a record not topped until the 2010 Super Bowl, then they really loved you.

24. The walking and talking on Hill Street Blues Bodies in random motion, conversations lost or interrupted. It helped usher in a realness to television.

25. Roots A perfect example of television being our nation’s shared cultural experience.

26. Challenger explosion Like most shocking visuals, you just couldn’t believe. In this instance, there was confusion and doubt. And then no doubt.

27. Bill Clinton playing saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show It looked awfully strange and just a tad impolitic, but it worked out just swell. And protocol was never the same.

28. Hugh Grant’s mea culpa on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno He wasn’t the first star to embarrass himself, and he hasn’t been the last. But this was spin control meets insatiable celebrity gossip in the middle of a late-night talk-show race.

29. Sesame Street No, not the Katy Perry moment but hundreds of others, to be sure. One? The Richard Pryor alphabet. Another: Bert and Ernie go fishing. Ah, so many.

30. Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler on Late Night With David Letterman Performance art at its finest. You could pick just about any Kaufman “hoax” and appreciate its bracing nerve.

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