At the end of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson's costume -- he did say he'd have her "naked by the end of this song" -- revealing a nipple shield over her right breast. The moment became the most recorded and re-watched moment in TV history, according to TiVo, but then the Nipplegate fall-out began. In addition to FCC fines, live broadcasts were forced to use a 5-second delay, which began a lengthy battle about FCC censorship. But perhaps most importantly, the incident put the phrase "wardrobe malfunction" into the vernacular.
The civil unrest that had been building since the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy came to a head during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago when police busted a legal gathering of 10,000 protesters in Grant Park. The rioting spread quickly throughout the city as TV broadcast images of police fighting with protesters, who famously shouted, "The whole world is watching."
Having previously launched Elvis to stardom, Ed Sullivan sought to re-create that feeling by bringing the Beatles to America. On February 9, 1964, the Fab Four made their American television debut in front of a record-setting television audience of 73 million. By the time the group closed the show with their current hit "I Want to Hold Your Hand," one thing was clear: The British Invasion had begun.
One of the most memorable moments in Saturday Night Live history is about as far from comedy as you can get. When O'Connor was the musical guest in October 1992, she performed an a cappella version of Bob Marley's "War," changing the lyrics to be about child abuse within the Roman Catholic church. At the end of the song, O'Connor pulled out a photo of Pope John Paul II - one that had been hung up in her mother's bedroom since 1978 - and ripped it into pieces. "Fight the real enemy," she declared before walking off stage. By Monday, NBC had received 900 calls, all but seven of them criticizing O'Connor.
After a prolonged investigation into the Watergate scandal and fearing impeachment, Richard Nixon addressed the American public from the Oval Office on Aug. 8, 1974, noting his intention to resign the presidency the following day. He defended his record, but said that he was stepping down for the good of the country. Perhaps even more memorable than his resignation speech is the image of him waving, smiling and flashing the peace sign as he boards the helicopter that flew him out of Washington.
The show might be known for Arsenio's signature fist pumps, but Hall also made history when he was the first African American to have his own late-night talk show in 1989. (He previously had a 13-week gig hosting The Late Show after Joan Rivers' exit.) The show, which ran from 1989 to 1994, attracted a younger audience of all races and featured guests often overlooked by the other late-night programs.
In this battle-of-the-sexes episode, which aired in September 1952, the guys and the girls do exactly what the title indicates after the guys claim that the ladies have it much easier at home. Ricky and Fred flounder through a day of housework while Lucy and Ethel struggle to keep up at a candy factory, which leads to this classic scene. In the end everyone switches back, and the episode validates the work of stay-at-home women, becoming a feminist touchstone in the process.
It's safe to say that there won't be another series finale like M*A*S*H's. In the early VCR days, the anticipation for "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" was so strong that people literally planned their lives around the two-and-a-half-hour finale, which aired on Feb. 28, 1983. According to the New York Times, town meetings were canceled in some cities so people wouldn't miss the episode, while psychologists feared fans would have trouble letting go of the 11-year-old series. The episode garnered 105.97 million viewers, making it the most-watched series finale by a long mile. (Cheers is at No. 2 with 84.4 million.)
In May of 2000, the WB teen soap, already a pop culture fixture, cemented itself in TV history by featuring the first kiss between two men (Kerr Smith and Adam Kauffman) in prime time. While the extremely brief moment seems like no big deal now, at the time the show was forced to film it from across the street just in case Standards and Practices wouldn't allow it to be seen up close.
The '60s were turbulent, but they drew to a close with optimism. Just eight years after President John F. Kennedy promised to send a man to the moon, the Apollo 11 crew landed on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, as nearly half a billion people watched on TV. As Buzz Aldrin poetically said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
We may be desensitized to TV nudity now thanks to cable, but it was a big deal back in the '90s on broadcast. No show pushed the FCC boundaries and had more nudity (not to mention profanity) than the ABC drama, which featured David Caruso's and Dennis Franz's naked butts in the early days, prompting the American Family Association to dub it "soft-core porn." The real controversy came in 2003 when Charlotte Ross bared her behind and partially her front as her character got ready for a shower. The Parents Television Council condemned the show and the FCC slapped the network with a $1.4 million fine. In 2011, the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals dismissed the fine because the FCC's "indecency policy" violated First Amendment rights and was Constitutionally vague.
In November 1956, the legendary crooner became the first African-American man to host a variety show. Originally conceived as a 15-minute segment to showcase music, it was expanded to a half-hour in July 1957. Despite the willingness of such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte and Peggy Lee to work for little or no money to support the show, The Nat King Cole show couldn't land a national sponsor and was canceled in December of 1957. "Madison Avenueis afraid of the dark," Cole later quipped.
The kiss between Capt. Kirk (Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichols) wasn't the first interracial kiss on TV, but it is the most iconic. In the 1968 episode, the entire Enterprise crew fell prey to the telekinetic powers of the Platonians, who forced Kirk and Uhura to kiss. NBC was concerned about the kiss upsetting their Southern affiliates and ordered a second version to be shot in which Kirk and Uhura didn't kiss. Shatner and Nichols deliberately messed up every take of the alternate version, ensuring the kiss made it on the air. Contrary to NBC's fears, Nichols recalls that the episode received a largely positive response.
Just two months after the King of Pop debuted his now iconic dance move in public, Michael Jackson moonwalked for all of America to see when NBC broadcast the Motown music special. Not only is the moment credited for giving Jackson a boost within mainstream pop culture, but it's said to have helped revive interest in Motown's music.
The first televised presidential debate changed the political process. Kennedy came into the debate as a relative unknown, but after America saw the younger, handsome Massachusetts senator standing next to a pale, sweaty Vice President Nixon, he came out of the debate as a contender. (Famously, people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon was the clear winner.) Political campaigns were forever changed.
It's hard to imagine the world without reality television, but in 1992 when the then all-music MTV put seven diverse people in a New York City apartment to film what happens "when people stop being polite and start getting real," it was a completely out-of-the-box idea. While the show has since paved the way franchises like The Real Housewives and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the show also dealt with issues of race, sexual orientation, and perhaps most memorably, a depiction of what it was like to live with AIDS.
In the history of TV kisses, none had more impact than this one. When Davis goes to the Bunkers' to retrieve a briefcase he left in Archie's cab, the patriarch tries to act casual, but can't help but let his bigotry show. Before he leaves, Davis completely shocks Archie by planting a kiss on him while they're taking a photo. The unprecedented smooch was not just groundbreaking for TV, but a sign of the changing times in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. The episode, which aired on a Saturday in February 1972, won an Emmy for directing.
It was already late into the afternoon of Aug. 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. finally stepped to the lectern at the March on Washington, one of the largest political rallies in U.S. history. King began to deliver his prepared speech, but partway through - at the urging of Mahalia Jackson - he began improvising what would become one of the most recognizable speeches in the world. King's words were delivered not only to the 250,000 gathered in front of him, but also broadcast to a huge television and radio audience.