Changing the Channels: Landmark Moments in TV History

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Greetings friends and enemies alike! Thank you for once again feasting your eyes on yet another addition in the Trove blog series, which Peter Travers of Rolling Stone has called “a revelation” and the ghost of Roger Ebert has acclaimed as “so good I could die all over again.”

This week we’re doing something a little different and doing a sequel blog of sorts. Not a blog about sequels (that comes later) but a blog which is a sequel to last week’s blog. Last week, we examined game changing moments in film history (but “Jaws” still sucks), and this week we turn our attention to the small screen -- television! We’ve got a lot to talk about, so let’s go ahead and cut the chit-chat and start with a moment where four of my favorite individuals in the entire history of the world introduced themselves to America. And they earned it, it was a hard day’s night … and they were working … like dogs …

Pop Pop It’s Showtime: Elvis and The Beatles Crash The Ed Sullivan Show (Respectively)

Elvis did it in 1956, and my BOYS The Beatles (greatest band of all time) did it in 1964, as The Ed Sullivan Show saw itself as the recipient of two of the biggest viewing audiences in television history. 60 million people tuned in to watch Elvis, while 73 million did so for The Beatles. While some may argue these are more musical landmark moments than television ones, the fact of the matter is that these were landmark moments for American culture as a whole, and TV proved to be the conduit for it.

Plus, The Beatles are awesome.

The Crook vs. Camelot: Nixon vs. Kennedy, First Televised Debate

Before we had Al Gore with his lockbox, Marco Rubio diving off screen to get a drink of water, and Trump and Hillary each doing their very best to lose the 2016 election, there once was a time where we actually didn’t get the pleasure of watching our politicians verbally harass one another/shmooze on our tellys. That all changed in 1960, as Richard Nixon, America’s own Darth Sidious (a Darth Sidious that was a master of foreign policy, though) and JFK, America’s Luke Skywalker, faced off on television in America’s inaugural presidential debate. Suffice it to say, JFK’s charisma dunked on Nixon’s grouchiness the likes of which can onlycompare to Shaq shattering backboards. Total pwnage.

A New Frontier: Kirk and Uhura Kiss on “Star Trek,” American TV’s First Interracial Kiss

 The ... the passion ...

The ... the passion ...

Alright, so some will debate me on this and say Sammy Davis Jr. and Nancy Sinatra beat the “Star Trek” duo by a year and kissed in 1967, but that looked like a kiss on the cheek to me, am I wrong? Will Shatner and Nichelle Nichols in 1968 was the first full-on, no mistaking, interracial wet one, and absolutely blew up the airwaves when it went down. Although they were encouraged by NBC to not actually kiss or change the script, Nichols and Shatner insisted that nothing changed, and actually kissed successfully the first take and intentionally sabotaged subsequent ones to make sure the kiss got on air. With how brutal a year 1968 was, this was a ballsy, bold move.

I’m Floating in a Most Peculiar Way: The Moon Landing

So … yeah … this is kind of a big one. This wasn’t just the most watched television event in American history, at an insane 125 million people, but one of the most watched things in world history, with half a billion people watching worldwide. Never mind the fact it was a giant … leap for mankind (sorry) and a source of major pride for Americans caught in the heated space race. Now if you’re reading this and want to say “But Stanley Kubrick filmed it!” please drive over to 321 W Hill St Suite 2A, Decatur, GA, 30030 so I can help you in pulling your head out of your anus. That’s all I have to say about that.

We Are Family: “All in the Family” Pushes Boundaries

The 1970s sitcom “All in the Family,” in case you’ve never heard of it, is one of the most influential and groundbreaking shows in the history of television thanks to its willingness to address any and all social issues. Thanks to the show’s creation of television’s most legendary bigot, Archie Bunker, the creators were able to tackle a series of social issues as the world slowly but surely progressed around Archie, highlighted by some moments that, on airing, immediately proved to be game changers. Whether it was addressing the likes of abortion, impotence, giving us television’s first outright gay character, or having Sammy Davis Jr lay one on Archie in 1972 (in what may be a kiss bigger than the “Star Trek” one), “All in the Family” is the archetype for most modern sitcoms.

Rate Me, My Friend: “Roots,” “Dallas,” and “MASH” Demolish Ratings Records

 MASH says "toodle-oo"

MASH says "toodle-oo"

Between the above three shows, US television ratings records were set that simply may never be broken for like … ever. “Roots,” the 1977 miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s novel about a slave and his descendants, had literally half of all of America tune in at one point, which is just absolutely unheard of. “Dallas,” meanwhile, had roughly 76% of US television viewing audiences tune in to hear the answer to the question “Who Shot JR?” in 1980(Spoiler alert; JR actually didn’t get shot, he crashed in a plane on a deserted island with polar bears, which led to “Lost”). Finally, the finale of MASH in 1983 had ratings that rivaled the freaking moon landing, with approximately 125 million people tuning in for that as well. GO DO SOMETHING PEOPLE.

Big Brother’s Watching You … and the Super Bowl: Ridley Scott’s “1984” Commercial

As the Marcus Allen-led Los Angeles Raiders pulled off one of the most shocking and severe upsets in Super Bowl history over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, audiences were greeted with a welcomed respite. An intense respite, yes, but a respite nevertheless, as famed scifi director Ridley Scott floored audiences with what still stands as one of the greatest commercials of all time. Scott mixed his scifi tendencies with themes from George Orwell’s classic novel “1984” to announce the arrival of Apple’s new Macintosh. Talk about another giant leap for mankind.

Hall of Fame: Arsenio Hall Becomes First Black Late Night Talk Show Host

In a world where Johnny Carson had dominated the late night airwaves for almost thirty years and youngster David Letterman was on the rise, another late night talk show host bagged himself a late night gig in 1989; comedian Arsenio Hall. On top of the fact that he had really only been active in the industry for five years or so, what made this even more of a momentous occasion was that he’s a black man. The show unfortunately suffered a decline in ratings and was cancelled five years later, but the fact that the show even existed was a feat in and of itself.

Peaks and Not So Many Valleys: “Twin Peaks” Premieres

Before the year 1990, there were obviously some good television dramas, but they were mostly procedural crime dramas, i.e. “Hillstreet Blues” and “Hawaii Five-O.” But the landscape totally changed when David Lynch and Mark Frost premiered their supernatural soap crime drama “Twin Peaks.” Sure, it had some crime elements in it to get viewers comfortable (the whole show centers on solving the murder of who killed the town’s homecoming queen, Laura Palmer), but once it had viewers hooked it proceeded to go completely bonkers. In its two year run (three if you count its FANTASTIC reboot season last year), the show played host to some truly bizarre characters and happenings; a demon named Killer BOB, a dancing midget, an alternate reality called "The Black Lodge", people talking backwards and forwards simultaneously, llamas, talking birds, and doppelgangers all made appearances on the show. A surreal, truly unique experience, “Twin Peaks” pretty much paved the way for the golden age of television, and showed what one could accomplish in the medium.

 Just a run of the mill day in The Black Lodge in "Twin Peaks."

Just a run of the mill day in The Black Lodge in "Twin Peaks."

A Whole New World: “Real World” Premieres

Chances are if you’re a human being you probably heard about the wretched two hour time slot creatively barren wasteland that was “The Bachelor” season finale that was last week. You undoubtedly have also probably heard of “The Real Housewives of [Place 1% County Here],” or basically any garbage reality TV show. You can thank all of that to the premiere of MTV’s “Real World,” where seven or eight young adults are forced to live together and deal with each other for … a hot minute. While it may not have been the absolute opus of quality television, when it aired in 1992 it spawned the fervor that would be reality television, and making it must-see TV.

The Run of His Life: The Police Pursuit of OJ Simpson

If you haven’t heard about this one you either have been living under a rock or were quite literally born yesterday, as a “lost confession” of OJ’s was just aired on CBS last weekend. The unbelievable story of Heisman Trophy winner turned NFL MVP turned suspected (and, let’s face it, probable) murderer has been a hot topic lately thanks to the documentary “OJ: Made in America” and FX’s hit miniseries “American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson.” And it all started with a car chase that aired on every TV you can freaking imagine, even interrupting feed to an NBA Finals game. Almost 67% of America tuned in at one point, and were so invested that Dominos actually had record pizza sales that day. Rarely has one TV event been so dominant.

When There’s A Will, There’s A Way: “Will and Grace,” First Homosexual Main Characters in a TV Show

By the year 1998, we had progressed leaps and bounds from the first gay character appearing on  “All in the Family” in 1971, with homosexual characters becoming more and more prominent in television. That all came to a head with the premiere of “Will and Grace,” with one of the two titular characters being a gay man. It was a huge move by NBC (that same network that so vehemently fought the Uhura/Kirk kiss 30 years earlier, hurray for progress!). With Eric McCormack and Sean Hayes’ characters playing such pivotal roles in the show, it proved to be both a television phenomenon and a major breakthrough for the LGBTQ community. Vice President Joe Biden actually once said “‘Will and Grace’ did more to help educate the American public on the LGBTQ community than anything anybody else has done so far.” Not bad for a TV sitcom, huh?

So there we go guys! Once again I have been the Gandalf to your Fellowship of the Ring, and guided you through the world … of visual medium knowledge. While some of these factoids may seem like old news that doesn’t really matter, it’s important to remember that everything you watch on the television medium today is the way it is because of these changes. Wow, I’m … so profound. If you guys are looking for more profundity, feel free to hop on our website and check out our other blogs! Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!