A Timeline Of TV's Most Rule-Breaking Moments

For decades, television has been taking risks and breaking rules. Whether it is commenting on social issues or introducing viewers to a whole new way to consume shows, these 39 moments will go down as some of the most memorable in rule-breaking history.

November 1947

A Married Couple Are Shown In Bed Together For The First Time

Though I Love Lucy is widely quoted as the first TV series to break the chastity divide and show a married couple in bed together, that honor actually goes to Mary Kay and Johnny — the first TV sitcom ever, and one that often mirrored the real lives of Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns, much like I Love Lucy mirrored Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

November 1968

Television’s First Interracial Kiss Airs On Star Trek

While the storyline wasn’t the most romantic to ever hit television (they are under mind control when it happens), Captain Kirk and Officer Uhura end up locking lips in this now famous episode — but it almost didn’t happen. The network originally tried to commission different versions of the scene, without the kiss, to avoid potential backlash, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

September 1972

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Addresses The Wage Gap

In this Season 3 episode, “The Good Time News,” Mary finds out the producer who previously held her job — a man — made more money than she does. When she confronts her boss, she learns the truth: She makes less because she is a woman and has no family to support. She fires back that this treatment is categorically unfair and lifts the lid on the wage gap.

November 1972

Bea Arthur’s Maude Gets An Abortion Months Before Roe V. Wade Is Decided

Norman Lear’s series are often praised for their realism and groundbreaking storylines, and Maude was no different. In the two-part episode, called “Maude’s Dilemma,” the character ultimately decides to have an abortion because she cannot afford to support more children, after much deliberation. The series faced protests and thousands of angry letters, but remained a huge moment for women.

September 1977

Fonzie “Jumps the Shark” On Happy Days

In the Season 5 premiere of Happy Days, Fonzie performs an over-the-top stunt on water skis, jumping over a captive shark. The moment was widely criticized since it seemed to undo a previous moment in Fonzie’s character arc, in which he gets hurt doing a motorcycle stunt and decides it was ultimately a stupid risk. The moment became synonymous with struggling TV series attempting a big, often out-of-left-field stunt in order to regain the declining audience’s attention.

December 1977

Elvis Costello Plays “Radio, Radio” In Protest Of Corporate Broadcasting On SNL

Costello pulled a stunt that earned him a reported 10 year ban from Saturday Night Live when he stopped mid-performance on a December 1977 episode. He was only a few bars into “Less Than Zero” when he launched into “Radio, Radio” which takes aim at the issues with live broadcasts of music and the way artists are treated by record labels.

November 1980

350 Million People Worldwide Tune In To Find Out Who Shot J.R. On Dallas

After an infamously drawn-out cliffhanger and eight months of media coverage, Dallas finally revealed the shooter in a TV moment that defined appointment television, broke viewership records, and paved the way for TV dramas that followed.


Courteney Cox Is The First Person To Use The Word “Period” In A National Commercial For Tampax

Though television still has a way to go when it comes to open acceptance of periods — that thing all women tend to get as part of, you know, basic biology — it was a huge moment to hear it spoken out loud on national television.

October 1987

Designing Women Depicts A Character With AIDS

“Killing All the Right People” saw Tony Goldwyn playing a man with AIDS who asks the women to design his funeral. The episode, which delves into the discrimination AIDS patients faced from the medical community, aired only a few months after then-President Ronald Reagan finally acknowledged the AIDS crisis.

October 1990

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Addresses Rampant Discrimination Against People Of Color By Law Enforcement

In this 1990 episode, Carlton and Will get pulled over for “stealing” Uncle Phil’s car because they are two young, black men in an expensive car. The episode delves into the many ways people of color are discriminated against by police, and even shows Carlton, whose life has been touched with financial privilege, learning about the issue for the first time, decades before the topic became a national conversation thanks to Black Lives Matter.