NEW YORK (AP) — The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack is by far the most memorable moment shared by television viewers during the past 50 years, a study released on Wednesday concluded.
The only thing that came close was President John F. Kennedy's assassination and its aftermath in 1963, but that was only for the people aged 55 and over who experienced those events as they happened instead of replayed as an historical artifact.
Sony Electronics and the Nielsen television research company collaborated on the survey. They ranked TV moments for their impact not just by asking people if they remembered watching them, but if they recalled where they watched it, who they were with and whether they talked to other people about what they had seen.
By that measure, the Sept. 11 tragedy was nearly twice as impactful as the second-ranked moment, which was the coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Minutes after the first airplane struck New York's World Trade Center on a late summer morning, television networks began covering the events continuously and stayed with them for days.
The other biggest TV events, in order, were the 1995 verdict in O.J. Simpson's murder trial, the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986 and the death of Osama bin Laden last year, the survey found.
Sony was interested in the study for clues on consumer interests and behaviors and found “that television is really the grandmother of all the social devices,” said Brian Siegel, vice president of television business for the company.
Going into the study, Siegel said he had anticipated that entertainment events like the final episode of “M-A-S-H” (ranked No. 42), the Beatles' appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (No. 43) and the “Who shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas” (No. 44) would rank higher. Instead, television coverage of news events made the biggest difference in viewers' lives.
The Super Bowl is annually the most-watched TV event, with this year's game between the N.Y. Giants and New England Patriots setting an all-time record with 111 million viewers. The memories don't seem to linger, however: the top-ranked Super Bowl Sunday event in Sony's study came in 2004 and had nothing to do with football. It was Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction (No. 26).
AT A GLANCE
TV's most memorable moments
The most impactful television events of the last 50 years, as measured in a survey conducted by Nielsen and Sony Electronics. The rankings are based on a questionnaire of consumers about events they had watched, if they remember where they were and if they discussed the events with others.
2. Hurricane Katrina (2005).
3. The O.J. Simpson verdict (1995).
4. The Challenger space shuttle explodes (1986).
5. Death of Osama bin Laden (2011).
6. The O.J. Simpson White Bronco chase (1994).
7. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami (2011).
8. Columbine school shooting (1999).
9. BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico (2010).
10. Princess Diana's funeral (1997).
11. Death of Whitney Houston (2012).
12. Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein (2006).
13. Barack Obama Election Night speech (2008)
14. Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (2011).
15. John F. Kennedy assassination (1963).
16. Oklahoma City bombing (1995).
17. Bush/Gore disputed election (2000).
18. Los Angeles riots, Rodney King beating (1992).
19. Casey Anthony murder trial verdict (2011).
20. John F. Kennedy funeral (1963).