USA TODAY Ranks Top 25 TV Moments

If you were going to rank the “top” 25 moments in television over the past 25 years, would your list include the show that ushered foul language and nudity into prime time?  Would your list include the first show to routinely feature teenagers getting drunk and “hooking up?”  Would your list include the show known for dropping more f-bombs and body bags in an hour than many series do over an entire season?

You must not be the television critic for USA Today.

In the May 14 edition of the paper, TV reporter Robert Bianco lists his Top 25 TV moments from the past quarter century.  Bianco placed these shows or incidents on the list because they created “seismic changes that altered the broadcast landscape.”  Bianco is right about those “seismic changes” – the entertainment media have ravaged American culture like an earthquake. 

TV programming today is often much coarser, more violent and more sexual than it was 25 years ago.  While Bianco included many brilliant moments in television history, he also listed shows that broke down the barriers for much of today's raunchy programming, which fills the airwaves with continuous assaults on traditional moral values and responsible standards of behavior.

In March the Culture and Media Institute released its National Cultural Values Survey, which revealed that a vast majority of Americans believe the media, both news and entertainment, are contributing to moral decline.  More than half of Bianco's Top 25 TV Moments are the proof in the pudding. They include:

    The Sopranos NYPD Blue The OJ Simpson Trial The Simpsons The Real World Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction in the 2004 Super Bowl Dan Rather leaving CBS News after the falsified report on President Bush Thirtysomething Ellen Degeneres professing to be “gay” on her sitcom Dan Quayle taking Murphy Brown to task for marginalizing the role of fathers An episode of the Jenny Jones tabloid talk show that led to the murder of one of her guests The Daily Show The Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings Dawson's Creek 

These programs and moments are glaring examples of what many Americans think is wrong with television today: 

    Graphic violence and foul language (including the f-bomb) – NYPD Blue, The Sopranos Teen sex no longer considered taboo on television – The Real World, Dawson's Creek Children's disrespect for authority – The Simpsons, The Real World Adult sexuality, adultery, adult themes – Thirtysomething, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, Murphy Brown Voyeurism – The OJ Simpson Trial, Jenny Jones, Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings Homosexuality no longer taboo – Ellen comes out of the closet, The Real World Nudity – NYPD Blue, Janet Jackson's Super Bowl stunt, The Sopranos Bias in the news media – Dan Rather's Memogate scandal, Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearing, The Daily Show 

Bianco also includes a handful of bright spots on his list like The Cosby Show, the news coverage of 9/11, PBS's documentary The Civil War, American Idol, and Johnny Carson's last show.  But the list of positive TV moments pales in comparison to the list of shows that have opened the door ever wider for attacks on personal responsibility, traditional morality and truth. 

Interestingly, in the National Cultural Values Survey, 74 percent of Americans say they think moral values are weaker today than they were 20 years ago.  Two-thirds of those say the media are a major player in that decline.  Bianco's list, which goes back 25 years, points the finger at some of the biggest culprits. 


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer for the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.