Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Top 25 TV Moments

In 1982, the top TV series were 60 Minutes, Dallas and M*A*S*H, cable news was in its infancy and MTV still played music videos. In the years since, seismic changes have altered the broadcast landscape.

USA TODAY's television critic Robert Bianco lists his top 25 TV moments of the past quarter century.

1 9/11 coverage (2001)

The wall-to-wall response to the attacks epitomizes TV’s power to unify us in times of tragedy. From those first images of the planes crashing and the towers falling, to the memorial service at the National Cathedral, it was the most extensive, expensive coverage since JFK’s assassination, a defining crisis for a new age.


2 Fox Network is born(1986)

By breaking up the oligarchy of the Big Three, Fox brought a new, edgier energy to broadcast TV and proved that creativity could flourish on smaller networks. It paved the way for the broadcast and cable expansion that now includes Fox News.

Michael Keating

3 The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986)

What began as a softer, gentler response to tabloid talk shows has grown into a TV powerhouse, hosted by the most influential woman in American media. Authors, stars, politicians: They all bow to the mighty O.

Anthony Neste

4 The Sopranos (1999)

An unsurpassed artistic achievement, this brilliant, violent series delved into the dark flipside of the American dream. Cable’s best, highest-rated show set artistic and financial benchmarks while forcing broadcast to up its game in response.


5 NYPD Blue (1993)

A defiantly, contentiously "R" show in a G-rated network universe, Blue introduced a new level of realism and maturity to TV drama and rescued it from cultural irrelevance. Without Blue, there is no Sopranos.

Vince Bucci, Pool

6 The OJ Trial (1994)

The all-consuming coverage of the "Trial of the Century" began with a serio-comic afternoon chase that solidified the appeal of 24-hour news. From the Bronco to the glove, few news events have worked their way deeper into the popular culture.


7 The Simpsons (1989)

Having launched a thousand catch phrases and products, this hilariously subversive cartoon is on track to become the longest running scripted program in American history.


8 The Cosby Show (1984)

This sitcom-savior sparked 20 years of "Must See TV" dominance while spreading a gentle yet powerful message about inclusion, diversity and the universality of real family values.


9 The Real World (1992)

With this MTV hit and its weekly hot-tub hook-ups, reality got its bare foot in the TV door. Too late to slam it now.

Douglas C. Pizac, AP

10 Johnny Carson’s last show (1992)

Johnny Carson’s exit from The Tonight Show was not just the end of an era, it was the end of late night talk - as in conversation rather than promotion - and the end of Tonight as a launch pad for new talent.

John Zich, USA TODAY

11 Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction (2004)

And the envelope pushes back. Jackson’s Super Bowl breast-baring brought the wrath of the FCC down on the networks, chilling the creative climate considerably. NYPD Blue could not get on the air today, and you have Jackson and Justin Timberlake to thank.

Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

12 Dan Rather steps down (2005)

For over two decades, three men ruled the evening newscasts: Rather at CBS, Peter Jennings at ABC, and Tom Brokaw at NBC. And it all came to an end within a few months, with Brokaw retiring, Jennings dying, and Rather being forced out in a scandal that shook public trust in the news media.


13 thirtysomething (1987)

This carefully observed, critically divisive domestic drama marked the triumph of boomers as a predominant TV force - and the end of the monolithic audience. Never designed to please everyone, it taught the networks how to be happy with the people it pleased.

Frank Ockenfels, AP

14 Dawson’s Creek (1998)

A younger generation finds its muse in a show that did for teens what thirtysomething did for boomers. It spawned an entire genre of smart-talking teen dramas, and made The WB the place to be for the younger crowd.

Fred Prouser, Reuters

15 American Idol (2002)

Long thought dead, variety makes a comeback - creating careers and proving that it is still possible to get adults and children to watch the same show.


16 Seinfeld (1990)

A sitcom about nothing becomes the much-quoted, catchphrase-loaded signature show of the decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Mike Ansell, Reuters

17 Ellen comes out (1997)

Ellen DeGeneres comes out as a character and as a person, and for the first time, openly gay voices are heard on TV. Will & Grace follows, and what was once taboo joins the cultural mainstream.

18 The Apple commercial (1984)

It’s not just the content of this 1984-parody that was influential. It’s where it ran: in the Super Bowl, kicking off a commercial competition that has often provoked more interest then the game itself. Overnight, a new form of entertainment was born.


19 Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown (1992)

Seldom have pop and politics clashed as dramatically, or comically, as when Vice President Quayle attacked this show for letting the unmarried Murphy get pregnant.

Charles Bennett, AP

20 The Jenny Jones Show murder (1995)

Scott Amedure told a surprised Jonathan Schmitz that he had a crush on him. Three days later, Schmitz murdered Amedure in what was the nadir, though unfortunately not the end, of tabloid TV.

21 The Civil War (1990)

A nation rediscovers its history in one of the greatest and best loved documentaries ever. It made stars out of historians and found new, if now much imitated, ways to bring old stories, letters and pictures to life.

Chris Buck, Comedy Central

22 Jon Stewart on The Daily Show (1998)

No program better represents the emergence of "alternative news sources" than The Daily Show under Jon Stewart. Few comics have so firmly put their stamp on the news, and few shows have more adroitly addressed a skeptical audience.

John Duricka, AP

23 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings (1991)

Sex and race combine to transfix a nation that normally ignores Supreme Court confirmation hearings. As an audience draw, only the Iran-Contra hearings came close.

24 Lonesome Dove/War & Remembrance (1989)

The era of the big miniseries reached its peak - and its end - with the longest (the combined War saga) and the best (Dove) the genre had to offer.


25 The M*A*S*H finale (1983)

The Korean war and the series end with an extended finale that draws around 100 million viewers, making it the most watched episode in American series history.

Source: Compiled and written by Robert Bianco, USA TODAY; design by Lori Sloan, USA TODAY; photo research by Kevin Eans, USA TODAY.