Weird History
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14 Live Television Events That Had Us Glued To Our Screens

Updated October 12, 2021 • 9:08am PDT 12.8k votes 1k voters 15k views14 items

List RulesVote up the live television events that you dropped everything to watch.

Media coverage of events has definitely changed over time, transitioning from much-delayed reporting to instant access to real-time happenings. Regular programming is one thing (penciling in Must-See TV and getting out of bed for Saturday morning cartoons were priorities, to be clear), but live television is a different animal.

Live TV can hit the airwaves suddenly. Coverage of an earthquake or accident tears you away from what you were watching, essentially transporting you to an exciting or tragic event as it actually unfolds. Other live television programs are, more or less, scheduled. Weddings, funerals, and other major life events that involve well-known figures are often broadcast for the world to see. 

Several live television moments stand out, for one reason or another, because they brought the television world to a standstill. Some tragic, some triumphant - but all enthralling. Vote up the ones that had you glued to the television screen, unable to look away. 

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  • Video: YouTube

    When the first airplane flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, many of the morning television shows based in New York City immediately cut to cover the event. As the second plane collided, live coverage was well underway. 

    Continued coverage of the events in New York was soon accompanied by reports from Washington, DC, about the attack on the Pentagon and about the plane that came down in Pennsylvania.

    Onlookers watched as the two towers of the World Trade Center collapsed a few hours later, and stayed in front of their televisions for days as rescue and recovery efforts got underway. 

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    The sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car incident on August 31, 1997, left the world stunned. One week later, her funeral was held in London.

    A procession carrying Diana's coffin traversed a path from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey began around 9 a.m. local time. Television coverage broadcast it around the globe, while thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects.

    Once the procession arrived at Westminster Abbey, Diana's family and friends gathered to attend her service, which started at 11 a.m. and was viewed by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide. 

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    On June 17, 1994, O.J. Simpson crouched down into the back seat of a white Ford Bronco as the driver and owner of the vehicle, Al Cowling, drove down the freeways of Southern California. Simpson had recently become a suspect in the murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.

    The chase lasted about an hour and was captured on video by news helicopters. Live coverage preempted the NBA Finals game that was in progress at the time. It's estimated 95 million people watched the chase. 

    Simpson, who claimed to have a gun, was detained after the Bronco finally stopped at his home around 9 p.m. that night.

    Actress Mara Wilson, who was a child at the time, recalled the aftermath of the chase:

    It became a joke way too quickly. In my hometown (mostly lower-middle-class white, Latino, and Asian), we seemed not to think of the racial implications, just of the media circus. People in L.A. had bumper stickers that said, “I saw the White Bronco,” and kids dressed up as Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran for Halloween. My father worked as an engineer at the local cable affiliate that covered the trial, and my 2-year-old sister would point at the logo on his sweatshirt and say, “Sim-sim trial!”

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    When the space shuttle Challenger launched on January 28, 1986, seven crew members were aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire who'd won the Teachers in Space contest in 1985.

    After nearly a week of weather delays, Challenger lifted off at 11:38 a.m. local time, and 73 seconds later, began to break into pieces. Millions of people watched as the shuttle came apart while hundreds stood helpless on the ground below. 

    None of the crew survived, it took weeks to recover the detritus, and an investigation revealed that technical issues and decision-making errors contributed to the disaster. 

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