Since its introduction in the 1950s, television has quickly become a ubiquitous part of our lives and popular culture. Through the medium of television, major events can be witnessed, often in real time, by millions of people at once. Whether you adore or despise it, TV is probably a part of your life in some way. Now, with the Internet as such a pervasive force in our world, millions of viewers watch tv online and stream live news and events on a daily basis.
When world-changing events occur, they become powerful cultural moments that enter history through the medium of television. Such events can have a lasting impact on the collective mind and culture. The most significant events in TV history enter our minds and hearts and can change the way we see the world. Here are five moments that are deeply embedded in our cultural psyche thanks to the power of television.
1. The Moon Landing
As a televised event, the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 not only amazed audiences but also forged a new era for mankind. True to Neil Armstrong’s famous quote that the moon landing was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” the moon landing proved that humanity had truly entered the space age. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world were transfixed by the images of the moon and the event was touted as “the greatest show in the history of television.” The wonder and amazement of one of humanity’s greatest achievements was amplified, in this case, by the magic of television.
2. The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”
In 1964, the Beatles were already one of Britain’s most popular bands, but it was time to branch out into the United States. Their goal was lofty: to be among the first big stars to cross over from the U.K. to the U.S. and not the other way around, which was far more common. Once they crossed the Atlantic by plane, their plan was to perform live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and give several concerts throughout the U.S. Thanks to the monumental power of television, their plan was more successful than they could possibly have imagined. Their timing was a factor: Americans had just suffered the assassination of President Kennedy, leaving people hungry for positivity and diversion. The evening the Beatles performed, over 73 million Americans tuned in to “The Ed Sullivan Show,” establishing the event as among the highest-rated shows of all time. No one could have predicted the impact of the Beatles’ show that night. With the help of TV, the Beatles almost instantly made their way into American popular culture, influencing everything from clothing styles to hairstyles and establishing themselves as one of the most popular bands on the planet.
3. Thrilla in Manilla
Two of the world’s top heavyweight boxers, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier battled in this 1975 boxing match. The match highlighted the ability of cable television to stir the masses, and the event was watched by millions across the world. The two boxers had a legendary rivalry, and the drama of their background stories and personalities was magnified immensely by the televised event, which galvanized people to extreme loyalty towards one boxer or the other.
4. The O.J. Simpson Car Chase
Though it took place in Los Angeles, the O.J. Simpson car chase was a real event that took on the auspices of high drama. As police surrounded Simpson, the former football player-turned-actor, with a warrant to arrest him for his possible involvement in a now-famous murder, he fled. A bizarre car chase ensued as Simpson drove away from police in his white Bronco, and it was televised live. The nearly two-hour car chase was captured by over a dozen helicopters as an estimated 95 million Americans tuned in to view the events. The event draws attention to the role of live television in garnering the attention of the masses as real events are broadcast in real time.
5. The Tsunami of 2004
A cataclysmic event that unfortunately claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004 also made waves as an unprecedented television event. As news of the Tsunami spread, live news all over the world began to guess where and when the Tsunami would hit. As the devastating wave hit shores throughout Indonesia, India and Africa, the world watched as footage flooded in. Television captured the world’s response to the catastrophe, from the correspondents on the scenes to post-Tsunami coverage featuring the stories of those affected. Interestingly, the power of the tragic event created a contrast with the regular “entertainment” mode of television as serious disaster-related news dominated the airwaves for weeks.