Memorable Events in TV History Yield Surprising Results

by M-Gillies

Princess Diana's funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on September 6, 1997 and was recently ranked as the tenth most memorable event in television history.

In a recent study conducted by Sony Electronics and the Nielsen television research company, the most memorable events in television history over the last 50 years have been ranked, and while it was thought that entertainment events such as the final episode of M*A*S*H*, the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and “Who shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas would rank the highest, it turns out the most memorable moments of television’s history are more news-related stories surrounding tragedy and death.

What had begun as a survey meant to study clues on consumer interests and behaviours, quickly determined that, “television is really the grandmother of all the social devices,” said Brian Siegel, vice-president of television business for Sony.

The study, which was a collaboration between Sony Electronics and the Nielsen television research company was geared to identifying a ranking for TV moments for their impact. For the study, people were asked if they remembered watching them, and also if they recalled where they watched it, who they were with and whether they talked to other people about what they had seen.

What was determined was that “The September 11 tragedy was nearly twice as impactful(sic) as the second-ranked moment, which was the coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Minutes after the first airplane struck New York’s World Trade Center, television networks began covering the events continuously and stayed with them for days,” the Associated Press reported.

The study, based on an online questionnaire of 1,077 adults selected as a scientific sample from among Nielsen’s panel of people, was conducted between February 15-17. However, because of age demographics of those involved in the survey, events like the JFK assassination, President Nixon’s resignation and the moon landing had a lesser impact than the death of Osama Bin Laden. It was also determined that for those who fell in the age demographic of 18-34, that age group selected no event prior to 1980, when they chose the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon.

“What we were trying to measure was perception,” said senior vice-president of Nielsen, Paul Lindstrom to Reuters. “The most significant things, when it comes to television, weren’t the events, but the moments shared with people. Things like watching baseball with my dad, (or) seeing the Olympics together – all those types of things brought emotional memories together.”
However, while results were expected to analyze the pop culture trends in what it was that we as a collective watch, the results proved that news-oriented items that crossed generations has proved to be the most influential TV experience – stories of a communal nature or with widespread relevance were what resonated with viewers, from the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado to the 2010 earthquake in Japan and even former football star O.J. Simpson’s famous car chase by police managed to score in the top 10.

“What’s interesting for me is not what’s on the list, but what’s not on the list,” Siegel said. “There wasn’t entertainment – no Super Bowl, no Friends finale. It was all news and events… memories that are ubiquitous among all of us.”

Rank #01: The World Trade Center attack

Rank #02: The 2005 coverage of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast

Rank #03: The acquittal of OJ Simpson

Rank #04: The Challenger space shuttle explosion of 1986

Rank #05: The death of Osama Bin Laden

Rank #06: O.J. Simpson’s low-speed car chase of 1994

Rank #07: The 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami

Rank #08: The Columbine High School Massacre

Rank #09: The 2010 BP Gulf oil spill

Rank #10: Princess Diana’s Funeral

Rank #11: Whitney Houston’s funeral

Rank #12: Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein

Rank #13: Barack Obama Election night speech

Rank #14: The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

Rank #15: The 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination

Rank #16: Oklahoma City bombing of 1995

Rank #17: The Bush/Gore disputed election in 2000

Rank #18: The 1992 Los Angeles riots, Rodney King beating

Rank #19: Casey Anthony murder trial verdict

Rank #20: JFK’s funeral

Rank #42: The Final episode of M*A*S*H*

Rank #43: The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show

Rank #44: The “Who shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas

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