50 Most Shocking TV Moments
by Kim Potts, posted May 20th 2010 6:00AM
Deaths, season finale cliffhangers, scorned housewives, more deaths, reality show twists, lovesick celebrities, still more deaths, provocative kisses and mind blowing series finales ... we've got 'em all in our list of the 50 most shocking moments in TV history.
From Oprah's wagon of weight loss and Sue Hawk's snakes-and-rats speech to a certain couch-jumping action star and the granddaddy of all cliffhangers, take a trip down primetime memory lane and prepare to say, "Whoa!" all over again.
50. The Sin of the Father
'The X-Files' -- 'One Son' (Feb. 14, 1999)
More shocks regarding Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) were to come -- that he had survived and that his father had subjected him to disfiguring experiments, for example -- but none were more jaw-dropping than when his Cigarette Smoking Man papa (William B. Davis) shot him in season 6, after finding out Jeffrey knew what CSM had done to the ex-Mrs. CSM.
49. A Woman Scorned
'Desperate Housewives' -- 'Bang' (Nov. 5, 2006)
While Carolyn Bigsby (guest star Laurie Metcalf) was seeking revenge on her adulterous, grocery store manager hubby, she ended up taking the entire supermarket hostage. Completely unhinged, Carolyn snapped when she heard Lynette's (Felicity Huffman) rival Nora (Kiersten Warren) had tried to steal Lynette's hubby, Tom, and she killed Nora. But the drama wasn't over, nor the hostages released, until Carolyn shot Lynette and was killed herself when a quick-thinking hostage grabbed her gun and turned it on her.
48. Look at the Wagon She's Draggin'
'The Oprah Winfrey Show' -- 'Diet Dreams Come True' (Nov. 5, 1988)
The Big O had starved herself for months, ingesting nothing but liquid protein shakes, to fit into a pair of size 10 Calvin Klein jeans. But sporting the skin-tight jeans wasn't enough proof of her weight-loss success: She came out on stage, wheeling a wagon packed with 67 pounds of globby fat, representing the amount of globby goo she'd dropped from her frame. Despite the display's impact, Oprah later called it a huge mistake. "Two hours after that show, I started eating to celebrate," she said. "Of course, within two days those jeans no longer fit!"
47. Punch Drunk Hate
'Jersey Shore' -- 'Fade to Black' (Dec. 17, 2009)
As preview clips had teased, there were going to be throwdowns on the 'Jersey Shore,' and some of them were going to involve the female cast members. But seeing the short-statured, tall-haired Snooki getting socked in the face by a burly dude in a bar? That was shocking. And so disturbing that, even though MTV had been airing the clip of the punch since the show's Dec. 3, 2009 premiere, the network declined to air it again during the episode that dealt with the situation, and followed the episode with a PSA about violence against women.
46. Sipowicz, You Crack Us Up
'NYPD Blue' -- 'The Final Adjustment' (Nov. 22, 1994)
Amy Brenneman's butt? Okay. Sharon Lawrence? Check. Even David Caruso's ... alright. But no one was prepared for the dumpy derriere of one Det. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) when it was bared for all to see as Sipowicz prepared to take a steamy shower with his girlfriend Sylvia (Lawrence). At least two full on shots of the nekkid Sipowicz not only shocked viewers, but also provided plenty of fodder for Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and, later, 'Family Guy.'
45. "Chloe ... Edgar ..."
'24' -- 'Day 5: 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.' (March 6, 2006)
David Palmer and Michelle Dessler had already died earlier in the season, but neither of those deaths were sadder than the shocking ending met by lovable CTU geek Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi), who was off checking on a fellow employee and just missed making it into the safe room after the office was exposed to the deadly Sentox gas. He said pal Chloe's name as he fell to the ground, leaving Jack Bauer, Chloe and Audrey Raines to helplessly watch him die.
44. Snow Job
'St. Elsewhere' -- 'The Last One' (May 25, 1988)
You can't talk about great series finales without mentioning 'St. Elsewhere,' the NBC medical drama that featured stars like Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon and Howie Mandel, and tackled provocative story lines like AIDS, rape and sex in the morgue. The show's series ender, though, topped all that, as viewers were left with the impression that six seasons of hospital activity were really just the imagination of Dr. Westphall's (Ed Flanders) autistic son, Tommy (Chad Allen), who, in the last scene, is fascinated by a snow globe with a replica of the series' hospital inside.
43. The Family That Drinks Together ...
'Rescue Me' -- 'Drink' (Sept. 1, 2009)
The show's returning for another season, so we're guessing Denis Leary's Tommy Gavin will make it, but it was still a good season-ending cliffhanger, and a shocker of one at that, when Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke) shot Tommy at the bar, and held everyone hostage so they had to let Tommy bleed out. Why? Teddy's wife was killed in a car accident after Tommy had cajoled the whole family (most of them alcoholics) into drinking.
42. Snakes and Rats
'Survivor' -- 'Season Finale' (Aug. 23, 2000)
Sue Hawk didn't win the first season of 'Survivor,' but, while casting her jury vote for who should take home the $1 million prize, she made what remains the most memorable, and one of the most shocking, speeches in reality TV history. Explaining why she was voting for sneaky Richard Hatch, instead of her former friend and ally Kelly Wiglesworth, Hawk said, "This island is full of, pretty much, only two things: snakes and rats. And in the end of Mother Nature, we have Richard the Snake, who knowingly went after prey, and Kelly, who turned into the rat that ran around like rats do on this island ... I believe we owe it to the island spirits we have come to know to let it end in the way that Mother Nature intended: For the snake to eat the rat."
41. Madonna Kissed Two Girls ... And They Liked it
'2003 MTV Music Video Awards' (Aug. 28, 2003)
Missy Elliott won video of the year honors, 50 Cent was named best new artist in a video and Justin Timberlake's Britney Spears-mocking 'Cry Me a River' won multiple VMAs. But what you most likely remember from the 2003 VMAs: That opening number smooch between Madonna and Britney ... and Madonna and Christina Aguilera.
40. Mama of Anarchy
'Sons of Anarchy' -- 'Albification' (Sept. 8, 2009)
We knew nothing good was going to come of "white separatists" Ethan Zobelle (Adam Arkin) and A.J. Weston (Henry Rollins) coming to town, especially as far as SAMCRO was concerned. But the season 2 premiere ended with one of the most brutal, stunning moments in the show's history, as Weston and two of his cronies (and with the help of Zobelle's daughter) kidnapped, beat and raped SAMCRO mama Gemma (the Emmy-deserving Katey Sagal), who still defiantly ignored their demand that she warn SAMCRO from selling guns.
39. Every Rose Has Its Thorn
'The Bachelor' -- 'After the Final Rose: Part One' (March 2, 2009)
In 'The Bachelor' 13th season finale, single dad Jason Mesnick asked Texas sales rep Melissa Rycroft to marry him, and she accepted his ring. But less than an hour later, in the post-finale 'After the Final Rose' special (which, in real world time, was two months after the show was filmed), Mesnick dropped the bombshell that his feelings had changed. Well, his feelings for Rycroft, anyway. He no longer wanted to be with her. But the runner-up, Molly Malaney, the one he'd sent packing? He wanted to start things up with her again, and she was game. And though many who'd been charmed by Mesnick now thought of him as a cad, less than one year later, he and Malaney were married and the ceremony aired on ABC as 'The Bachelor: Jason and Molly's Wedding' in March 2010.
38. Watch That Last Step ...
'L.A. Law' -- 'Good to the Last Drop' (March 21, 1991)
Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur) was certainly not the most well-liked attorney, and she had already been part of a big surprise for viewers when she and enemy Leland McKenzie were revealed to be secret lovers. But no one, most unfortunately, Rosalind herself, could have seen this one coming: She and McKenzie were standing in front of an elevator, chatting and waiting for the elevator doors to open. The bells rang, signaling its arrival, and Rosalind turned and immediately stepped through the doors ... and down an empty elevator shaft, where only her screams signaled that she was on her way to her deadly fate. One of primetime's more twisted deaths, made more so by that (admittedly clever) episode title.
37. The Slap
'The Real World: Seattle' -- 'Irene Calls It Quits' (Sept. 22, 1998)
More than a decade before Snooki's reality world abuse, MTV fans were shocked by the infamous 'Real World' slap, in which Irene, who was leaving the 'RW' house and the show, told her roommate Stephen that she thought he was gay. Offended, Stephen tossed her favorite stuffed animal into the water, then ran down the car she was in, opened the door and slapped her. He nearly got kicked off the show (his roomies voted that he could stay if he attended anger therapy sessions), Irene continued her departure and, flash forward a decade to the 'Real World Awards Bash' in 2008, where Stephen revealed that he's happily engaged ... to a man.
36. The Voice GERD Around the World
'Saturday Night Live' -- 'Jude Law/Ashlee Simpson' (Oct. 23, 2004)
Busted! The only one more shocked than the studio audience and at-home viewers when Ashlee Simpson was caught using a vocal track during her performance on 'SNL'? Simpson herself, who jumped around the stage awkwardly for a few minutes, then exited, stage right even. The singer at first blamed her band for playing the wrong song, then later claimed she'd used a guide track because of her acid reflux.
35. Boob Tube, Indeed
'The Price Is Right' -- (Sept. 14, 1977)
The lesson that should have been noted by all future contestants of 'The Price Is Right': Maybe a tube top isn't the right attire for this show. It sure wasn't for Yolanda Bowsley, who began her run to Contestant's Row after announcer Johnny Olson called her name. Unfortunately, just as she "came on down," so did her tube top, exposing her chest and prompting editors to cover them on screen with a big blue bar. Host Bob Barker's response: "I know you truly love me, but you don't really love me this much, do you?"
34. Strange Bedfellows?
'Thirtysomething' -- 'Strangers' (Nov. 7, 1989)
There were calls of protest to ABC (and a $1.5 million loss of pulled ad dollars), as well as letters of support, for what, despite being a relatively low-key scene that lasted less than two minutes, was also a pivotal one: When artist Russell (David Marshall Grant) and new boyfriend Peter (Peter Frechette) were shown chatting in the afterglow of sex, it was the first time a gay couple had been seen in bed together in primetime. Future tie-in: Grant once again works with 'thirtysomething' star Ken Olin, as both are producers (and Grant a writer) on ABC's 'Brothers & Sisters,' which also prominently features gay characters.
33. Death Notice
'M*A*S*H' -- 'Abyssinia, Henry' (March 18, 1975)
It was no secret that McLean Stevenson was leaving the show, so, though his 4077 colleagues would miss him, they were also happy that Stevenson's Col. Henry Blake had gotten his discharge and was headed home from the war. A going away party and hugs and well wishes sent Blake on his way, but at the end of the episode, Radar (Gary Burghoff) delivered heartbreaking news to the staff in the operating room: "I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel ... Henry Blake's plane ... was shot down ... over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors." Backstory: Producers wanted to capture genuine shock at the news, so the actors were given the script pages that contained Blake's death right before the ending was filmed. And the plot worked: Viewers were so surprised and outraged by the death that they wrote letters to the network, and Stevenson, who was unhappy with his character's demise, made a cameo on an episode of 'The Carol Burnett Show,' where his Col. Blake was floating on a raft, screaming "I'm OK! I'm OK!" The death also sparked a shift in the show's tone, from straight situation comedy to a frequently more serious dramedy.
32. The S-Word Happens
'South Park' -- 'It Hits the Fan' (June 20, 2001)
In a hilarious episode that mocked everything from curse words and the FCC's confusing standards on indecency to 'NYPD Blue' and network censorship, 'South Park' creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker had Cartman and company utter the word "sh*t" more than 160 times, which we know because the counter in the corner of the screen kept track throughout the episode. Most surprising fact: Stone and Parker say Comedy Central didn't agree to air the episode uncensored when they planned on saying the s-word a handful of times. It was only when they went for the hundreds of utterances that the network agreed it was obvious parody and gave the thumbs up to let, well, sh*t unfold unexpurgated.
31. With a Friend Like This ...
'The Wire' -- 'Middle Ground' (Dec. 12, 2004)
Drug business partners (and childhood friends) Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) betray each other in this episode, and it seems pretty clear that only one of them will survive the actions they've taken against each other in the end. Bell is the less bloodthirsty of the two, with his economics classes and desire to turn his business interests legitimate, while Barksdale's main commitment is towards keeping himself in power as Baltimore's top drug man. In this shocking instance, Barksdale wins, turning Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts) and Omar (Michael K. Williams) against Stringer, who they shoot and kill inside the condo development Stringer saw as the beginning of his future as a real estate mogul.
30. Lucy Is Preg ... Uh, With Child
'I Love Lucy' -- 'Lucy Is Enceinte' (Dec. 8, 1952)
It's difficult to imagine now, but in 'I Love Lucy's' day, TV shows weren't even allowed to use the word "pregnant" on air (hence the French word for pregnant being used in the episode title). But Lucille Ball was indeed enceinte in real life (with son Desi Jr.) and on the show, as Lucy, with son Ricky, marking only the second time a TV character had been pregnant on air (the first was Mary Kay Stearns on the 'I Love Lucy'-ish 'Mary Kay and Johnny'). And Lucy's big reveal to TV hubby Ricky (real-life hubby Desi Arnaz): She requested that Ricky sing 'We're Having a Baby' at the club.
29. Valentine's Day Massacre
'ER' -- 'Be Still My Heart' (Feb. 10, 2000)
Med student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) had had her share of problems fitting in at the ER since joining the show in season 5, but, after clashes with Romano, Hathaway and pal Carter (Noah Wyle), finally seemed to be more comfortable by season 6. So, of course, that's when she ran into schizophrenic patient Paul Sobriki (David Krumholtz), whom while in a delusional state, sneaks up behind Lucy -- on Valentine's Day -- and uses a knife meant to cut a Valentine cake to stab Lucy in the chest, neck and abdomen. Sobriki would also attack Carter before he was done, but it was Lucy who died from her wounds, in the next episode, 'All in the Family.'
28. You've Just Been Kanye-d!
'2009 MTV Video Music Awards' (Sept. 13, 2009)
Who wasn't happy that Taylor Swift became the first country artist to win the VMA for Best Female Video? Rapper Kanye West, who jumped on stage, interrupted Swift's acceptance speech, took her microphone and expressed his displeasure that Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies' video didn't win the Moonman. "Yo Tay, I'm really happy for you, and I'mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time." Swift, who was scheduled to perform live just moments later, looked stunned, the crowd booed West and Beyoncé, who won Video of the Year honors later in the show, invited Swift on stage to finish her speech. West, meanwhile, went on 'The Jay Leno Show' to apologize, was called a "jackass" by President Obama and gave us a permanent entry in the pop culture slang dictionary: to get "Kanye-d" is to get interrupted.
27. Two for the Death of One
'Lost' -- 'Two for the Road' (May 3, 2006)
There had already been shocking deaths on 'Lost' -- Boone, Shannon, the poor Oceanic 815 pilot -- but this episode raised the bar, with not just one, but two major characters biting the dust, and at the hand (or more specifically, hand with a gun in it) of another major character. Michael (Harold Perrineau) was being blackmailed by The Others: If he freed Henry Gale (Michael Emerson), they'd release his kidnapped son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley). Michael's plot to spring Henry involved shooting Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez). But just as he pulled the trigger, Libby (Cynthia Watros) walked in, and Michael had to shoot her to cover up shooting Ana Lucia (which in itself was to cover up his release of Henry).
26. A Fowl Ending
'M*A*S*H' -- 'Goodbye, Farewell and Amen' (Feb. 28, 1983)
The 'M*A*S*H' series finale remains the most-watched non-sports event in TV history, and, at 2.5 hours long, it was an event-packed episode. But the most shocking, and heartbreaking, moment came when 4077 doc Hawkeye (Alan Alda) remembered what had led to his earlier nervous breakdown. Hawkeye was riding on a bus full of people when gun-toting enemies were rumored to be in the area, and he initially remembered yelling at a woman to keep a chicken quiet so the enemy would not discover them, prompting the woman to kill the chicken. But when a sobbing Hawkeye finally remembered what had actually happened, the source of his breakdown was clear: The woman had been carrying a baby, and, fearing its crying would lead the enemy to find and kill everyone on the bus, she smothered her child.