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.

41. Tie: Drew Barrymore/Farrah Fawcett/Crispin Glover/Joaquin Phoenix Riveting appearances on Letterman.

42. Survivor, Season 1 A summer surprise and the birth of a hit.

43. The 1989 San Francisco earthquake during the World Series People tuned in to see a ballgame and witnessed a natural disaster. Al Michaels went from calling the game to naming neighborhoods that were on fire. Surreal.


44. The 24 clock New. Different. Stressful.

45. Twin Peaks For a moment, take the dwarf dancing and talking backward. The freakiness of what David Lynch brought to staid broadcast TV made it exponentially more unsettling. People hadn’t seen anything quite like it.

46. Hurricane Katrina When local, state and government inefficiency (and racism) makes New Orleans look like a Third World country, it’s unnerving. Helicopter shots of people holding onto the roofs of their submerged houses was one thing, but the same elevated shot of people dying in the sun was quite another.

47. The Nixon-Kennedy debate Politicians learned what everybody in this town already knew: Makeup and wardrobe choices shouldn’t be left to chance.

48. The Macintosh 1984 computer ad It wasn’t just a great ad, it was a statement. When the woman ran into the room to smash Big Brother, it was Apple upsetting the corporate cart.

49. Moon landing One giant step for  “I can’t believe this is happening.” Suddenly, anything seemed possible.

50. Tie. Michael Johnson running in gold shoes and Michael Phelps swimming for record gold. Two Olympic moments in a history of thousands. The Olympics are tailor-made for TV memories, and Johnson’s astonishing speed and Phelps flying in water symbolize why it’s hard to forget physical achievements.

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