The 20 Most Powerful Television Moments Of The Past 50 Years
There are some glaring omissions from a recent list of television's "most powerful" moments.
Sony Electronics and Nielsen are out with a survey that purports to discover the 20 most powerful moments in television history, and here they are:
1. Sept. 11 tragedy (2001)
2. Hurricane Katrina (2005)
3. O.J. Simpson verdict (1995)
4. Challenger space shuttle disaster (1986)
5. Death of Osama bin Laden (2011)
6. O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase (1994)
7. Earthquake in Japan (2011)
8. Columbine High School shootings (1999)
9. BP oil spill (2010)
10. Princess Diana’s funeral (1997)
11. Death of Whitney Houston (2012)
12. Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein (2006)
13. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech (2008)
14. The Royal Wedding (2011)
15. Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1963)
16. Oklahoma City bombing (1995)
17. Bush/Gore election results (2000)
18. L.A. riots (1992)
19. Casey Anthony verdict (2011)
20. Funeral of John F. Kennedy (1963)
The first thing that jumps out at me is the fact that seventeen of these twenty events occurred within the last twenty-two years and only two of them, both related to President Kennedy’s assassination, occurred before the 1980s. Partly, of course, this is likely a reflection of the manner in which the survey was conducted:
To measure impact, Nielsen and Sony created a score for each event derived by the number of people who viewed the event live, the number who could recall details about where they were during the occurrence and the number who could remember discussing what happened with others.
That, and the relative age of the respondents, is likely the reason why something like February’s death of Whitney Houston scored higher than the assassination of an American President, why the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton scored higher than the closest election in modern American history, why the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase scored higher than the L.A. Riots, or why the Casey Anthony verdict was even on the list at all. The survey methods seemed predestined to lead to results that would give far more weight to those essentially trivial events than to events that are considered more historically important. It probably also explains why another event connected with the Kennedy Assassination, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, which occurred live on national television, did not even make the list.
There’s one glaring omission from the list, though, that really surprises me. Where is the entry for the coverage of July 20, 1969 when a human being first set foot on the Moon? How do you come up with a list of the most powerful moments of the past 50 years and not include what is arguably one of the most powerful moments of all of human history while including such trivialities as the wedding between the son of two people famous for being famous and a British girl? I don’t know if this is a function of the way the survey was conducted, or simply sad recognition of the fact that people don’t remember that event too well?
For that matter, where’s the coverage of the flight of Apollo 13 in 1970, when the nation waited with bated breath to see if three of our astronauts would even be able to return to Earth alive? That strikes me as more “powerful” than the outcome of a rather uninteresting criminal trial in Florida.
Those major caveats notwithstanding, I suppose I don’t have a problem with most of the list, or at least the Top 5. We will be hard-pressed to find another event that captivates the nation as much as the September 11th attacks did, and the same goes for events like the Challenger disaster, the Hurricane Katrina coverage, and the death of Osama bin Laden. Of course, as we move even further into a world where people are less and less likely to be watching the same things at the same time, it’s possible that we’ll see fewer of these “powerful” moments of television outside of truly earth-shattering breaking news events, which usually end up being tragedies of some kind or natural disasters. Or maybe, the next time we share a “powerful” moment it will be disbursed among many different forms of media. Indeed, the news that Osama bin Laden was dead broke on Twitter long before any of the news networks reported it that Sunday night in May, 2011. Perhaps that’s the future we’re looking at.
Exit question. Other than the Oswald shooting, Apollo 11, and Apollo 13, are there any other omissions from the list that seem surprising?