Television Academy Reveals Top 75 Most Impactful Television Moments

The 75th Primetime Emmy Awards aired earlier this month on January 15th after a lengthy delay due to the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes. To help celebrate the milestone anniversary, on January 12th the Television Academy revealed a list of the Top 75 Most Impactful Television Moments of all time.

Here’s an explanation how the Television Academy crafted the list:

As part of celebrating the world’s most powerful medium, the Television Academy’s industry members, along with a select group of academic professionals, spent much of 2023 scouring eight decades of television in search of the moments that have made the most impact on viewers, the industry and culture.

A list of more than 300 events that were telecast on the news and via dramatic, comedic and documentary programs over all dayparts were compiled with input from the Academy’s 31 Peer Groups, professionals working in all aspects of television. Academy members and academics were then invited to review and judge this list.

With the postponement of September’s Emmy ceremonies and telecast until January, the tabulated votes and the resulting 75 Most Impactful TV Moments were kept secret – just as the votes for the Emmy Awards – and are now being revealed just before the January 15 telecast.

Chosen were classic moments (from the late 1940s until the 2020s) of TV’s most beloved programs, as well as news events that brought the U.S. and the world together to watch them in real time. Many of the selected televised events influenced politics and shifted the common wisdom about race, LGTBQ+ representation and more.

Only one moment from the 1940s (the debut of Meet the Press) makes the list but it is otherwise not heavily skewed to recent decades the way so many “Best TV Shows of All Time” lists are. Here’s a breakdown by decade:

  • 1940s: 1
  • 1950s: 10
  • 1960s: 12
  • 1970s: 11
  • 1980s: 12
  • 1990s: 13
  • 2000s: 10
  • 2010s: 2
  • 2020s: 4

Arguments certainly can be made for and against some of the moments on the list. One that sticks out to me is an episode of HBO’s The Last of Us from January 2023. That’s far too recent to be included, in my opinion. I also feel Walter Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy should be in the Top 3.

There are several TV shows that show up twice on the list, including M*A*S*H, Sesame Street, The Twilight Zone, The Ed Sullivan Show, Roots, Game of Thrones, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, and All in the Family.

Here’s the Top 10:

News Item
After Apollo 11 landed on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong proclaims “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

News Item
Live coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.

The Ed Sullivan Show
The Beatles performance.

“Part I” Premiere episode where we see the newborn Kunta Kinte being held aloft by his father, an image of freedom and possibility.

News Item
Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy.

News Item
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his iconic “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
“Episode 1065” Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) invites Officer Clemmons (Francois Clemmons) to share a wading pool on a hot day.

“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” B.J. (Mike Farrell) gives Hawkeye (Alan Alda) a ride to his chopper, saying he left a note this time. As the helicopter takes off, Hawkeye sees the word “goodbye” spelled out with rocks.

First music video airs, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by The Buggles

Saturday Night Live
Premiere, hosted by George Carlin.

Check out the full list and hit the comments with your thoughts.

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3 Replies to “Television Academy Reveals Top 75 Most Impactful Television Moments”

  1. I read through the list and, since I didn’t see the majority of the “most Impactful” TV moments, I can’t really say what it was like to view them. It occurred to me that the 1954 televised Army-McCarthy Hearings were important though not on the list, but they happened before I was born, and I’ve never understood why Senator McCarthy and his opinions were ever popular. (There are current politicians whose popularity I don’t understand, so I’m not much of a political expert.)

    When the O.J. Simpson chase was televised I was either reading a book, or maybe watching PBS that night, so I missed it and knew nothing about it until a few days later, at a family gathering people were talking about watching it as entertainment. I kept thinking they were joking, for such an event would have never preempted TV shows. I’ve since learned it really did happen. Was it impactful? It saddens me to think that it might have been.

    Thank you for sharing the Emmy list. It would be interesting to know how they decided what was or wasn’t impactful.

  2. sorry.. the proportion of this list self/ implodes…..WHERE IS ED AMES TOMAHALK appearance on johnny carson???? accoustically the longest sustained laughter taped in the industry????speaking of which i recall blogging elsewhere years ago… Barbara Feldons interview on Merv Griffin.. as agent 99..(( also was up there in sustained laughter endurance.))she wasrelating her outside fashion shoots and revealed the never puts film iih her
    camera..!.. more later.

  3. What is What’s Opera Doc doing on this list(#46)? That was a theatrical cartoon released July 6th 1957. It would not have show up on television until the 1960’s.

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