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December 30, 2009

Most Jaw-Dropping Live Television Moments of the Decade

These are the things we saw on live television during the past decade that made us stop and stare. They’re not all good things and they’re not all bad. They’re mostly things that made everyone watching think a collective “WTF?” and everyone who missed them race to YouTube to catch up.

One caveat: there are no deaths on this list. We all know the single most jaw-dropping television of the decade (and it’s a strong contender for most jaw-dropping television of all time), whether we consider the events of that morning to be one protracted “moment” or fill a list of moments from that day. I don’t want it on my list. Similar moments I am omitting include events from the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, the 2001 fatal crash of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, and Hurricane Katrina.

The magic of television is that many of us can experience the same thing at the same time. This feature is also the thing many “highbrow” misanthropes curmudgeonly curse about the platform. But that shared connection is an indelible part of our culture and you’d have to have lived under a rock for the past ten years to have missed the things on my list.

10. Super Bowl XXXVIII Wardrobe Malfunction (2004)
This was a stupid event in a stupid half-time show, but a million mothers had to lunge to cover the eyes of their impressionable babies at the same moment. Whatever that thing Janet Jackson had on her funbag was, it was not fit for the most-watched television programming of the year. FOX got slammed with a $550,000 fine and all the networks trod lightly for a few years, lest the FCC decide to use a heavier hand. And if you doubt the impact this event had on America, NY Times wanker Frank Rich eventually blamed Jackson and Timberlake for the re-election of President Bush. Really.

9. Ms. South Carolina Answers a Question (2007)
I know she was under a lot of pressure, but the Miss Teen USA was not her first pageant. The question was why she thought a fifth of Americans are unable to locate the United States on a world map. Her answer made even dumb blondes cringe.

8. Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino (2004)
Eighty-six years after the team traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the Red Sox came back from three games down to win the American League Championship (against the Yankees!) and then to sweep the Cardinals in the 100th World Series. It made Boston the first city to win the Super Bowl and the World Series in the same year since Pittsburgh in 1979.

7. Governor Mark Sanford and the Argentine Mistress (2009)
Sanford’s June 24, 2009, press conference was his attempt to come clean after his Father’s Day abandonment of his wife and kids to see his South American honey. The problem is that he didn’t just come clean, he decided to share his emotional journey from “innocent friend” to “soul mate.” If you listened real hard you could hear every political consultant in the country—and every person with a healthy interest in their sanity—yell “STOP TALKING” at their televisions. Slu memorialized Sanford’s TMI moment here.

6. Phelps Wins and Wins (2008 )
Michael Phelps qualified to swim in three team and five individual races in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. He won gold in all eight events, breaking the world record for gold medals won in a single Olympics. In his seventh race, he beat Serbian swimmer Milorad Čavić by 1/100 of a second, when Čavić apparently failed to press the wall forcefully enough to trigger the clock. This was jump-out-of-your seat television, especially the final race, a medley relay in which Phelps pulled the team up from behind to give them a half-second edge in the final split.

5. Whoopi Goldberg Knows it Wasn’t Rape-Rape (2009)
Here is an FYI for any far-future alien archeologists who dig through the ruins of our civilization: with the exception of one very confused idiot we kept on television solely for the opportunity to laugh at her, Americans believed that having sex with a 14 year-old who has been drugged into unconsciousness is rape. We also believed that there is something seriously wrong with Whoopi Goldberg’s mind-mind.

4. Giants Beat Patriots (2008 )
It’s funny, the names are the same: Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Bill Belichick, but I seemed to care more almost two years ago. The Pats were ahead 14-10 when Manning moved the Giants 83 yards in under two minutes. He threw the game-winning pass with 35 seconds left on the clock. After the Patriots got the ball back, Brady went for the Hail Mary with 20 seconds to go, but it fell short. Belichick left the field before the clock hit zero.

3. The “I Have a Scream” Speech (2004)
It ended a presidential campaign and sent dogs racing to shield their abused ears. Howard Dean never was able to explain what possessed him to yell like a maniac while delivering his Iowa caucus concession speech on January 19, 2004. A third place finish shouldn’t have ended his bid (McCain finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses in 2008 ), but the combination of the bulging vein in his forehead, his gritted teeth, and that scream snuffed his aspirations for the White House. YEEEAARGH!

2. Northeast Blackout (2003)
I realize that this selection suffers because a great many people actually involved in the event never got to see it on television. But I have never been as astounded at anything as I was by the sight of thousands of New Yorkers walking out of Manhattan. Many of those that stayed took part in what was probably the biggest block party ever. Indigo Girls went on to perform in Central Park, despite the power failure. As usual, most of the other affected areas were largely ignored on national television.

And the most jaw-dropping (non death-related) live television of the decade:


1. The Nets Call Florida for Gore…then Bush…then Neither (2000)
We owe so many staples of contemporary election coverage to this event. Early in the evening of November 7, the networks called Florida for Al Gore. Democrats switched off their televisions thinking they’d won. But around 10pm, the networks put Florida back in the “too close to call” category. Around 2am, Fox News called Florida for George Bush and proclaimed him the winner of the election. Like lemmings, the rest followed…until around 4am when they switched it back to “too close to call.” You know how that one turned out, but let’s all say another thankful prayer that Bush ultimately moved into the White House.

Honorable Mention: Israeli Tank Stuck in the Mud (2006)
We waited and waited for a glimpse of the Moron-in-Chief. Instead, we were treated to a distance shot of a tank that just sat there. It did nothing. And then it did some more nothing. And yet, some Fox News producer thought it would make better television than Ace. [And they were right. -- ace]

Honorable Mention: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rickrolls the Entire Country (2008 )
Sure, a lot of people said “huh?” But if you knew about the meme, Rick Astley’s surprise appearance in the 2008 parade probably left you laughing, crying, or twitching on your living-room floor. Good show, Macy’s.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 11:56 AM

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