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The 20 TV moments that had the biggest impact on Americans

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There’s nothing more American than gathering around a 55-inch plasma HDTV.

On Wednesday Sony Electronics, in conjunction with media research powerhouse Nielsen Research, unveiled the results of a survey which identified the top 20 television moments in collective American TV consciousness.

The most impactful television moment was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, followed by the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the OJ Simpson verdict in 1995, the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, and the death of Osama Bin Laden last year.

But while terrorism, war, death and disaster topped the list, happier, lighter stories such as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton also found their way into the Top 20 too.

There were also some surprises.

The funerals for Princess Diana and JFK, as well as the sudden death of Whitney Houston, made the cut, yet the highly-publicized passing of Michael Jackson (or any other key entertainment industry figure) did not. For Paul Lindstrom, Senior Vice President of Custom Research at Nielsen, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of the Casey Anthony murder trial verdict at the number twenty spot.

“Casey Anthony seems like a more fleeting sensational moment.  I think it speaks to both the recency of the event, so that virtually all of the measured population had the opportunity to see it, and the ability of the news media to focus the country at a single moment in time,” he explained. 

Brian Siegel, Vice President of Television at Sony Electronics was shocked that the lunar landing in 1969 didn’t make it.

“Although I was surprised some older moments didn’t rise to the top, it’s interesting to see which moments did bring people together across generations,” he continued. “I can think of each of these top moments and imagine families and friends sitting in front of the television, experiencing them together.”

The study took into account three important elements – the number of people who viewed the event live as it was happening, the number of people who knew exactly where and with whom they were with when they viewed it, and the number of people who discussed the event with others. The survey also found that highly-recalled moments among women included the 2011 Royal Wedding and the final episode of “Friends” in 2004, whereas American sports and military victories ranked the highest among male audiences.

And despite the emergence of the Internet and the notion that these days, everyone turns to Twitter, YouTube and their Smart Phone browser for the news and entertainment, Lindstrom says the television – however simple or smartly-designed it may be – is here to stay.

“The proliferation of devices for viewing video has given consumers tremendous opportunity for choice in what they view and when. However, these devices are really for personal viewing,” he added. “What we heard from consumers about their most significant memories about television tended to fall in the area of shared viewing.  It was ‘sitting on my grandfather’s knee,’ or ‘watching baseball with my father,’ or shows that were watched as a family as a way of connecting between parents and children.”

The Top 20

1.       September 11th tragedy (2001)

2.       Hurricane Katrina – the levees break (2005)

3.       The OJ Simpson verdict (1995)

4.       The Challenger space shuttle disaster (1986)

5.       Death of Osama Bin Laden (2011)

6.       The white Bronco high-speed chase (1994)

7.       The Earthquake in Japan (2011)

8.       Columbine school shooting (1999)

9.       Oil spill in the Gulf (2010)

10.   Princess Diana’s funeral (1997)

11.   News coverage of the death of Whitney Houston (2012)

12.   Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein (2006)

13.   Barack Obama acceptance speech (2008)

14.   Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (2011)

15.   Assassination of JFK (1963)

16.   Oklahoma City bombing (1995)

17.   Bush/Gore election debacle (2000)

18.   Los Angeles riots, Rodney King beating (1992)

19.   The Casey Anthony murder trial verdict (2011)

20.   The funeral of JFK (1963)

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