Ever since the inception of television, broadcast TV has acted as an unofficial barometer of technological and social progress. As technology moves forward, so does the medium of television, starting from black-and-white to full-on color. Standard definition turns into high definition, which turns into 4K, and analog eventually becomes digital. But there’s a lot more to television than nuts and bolts: namely, an entire range of social stigmas and politics determined by television executives and policed by the FCC.
With television programs piping straight into household living rooms around the world, the images and stories brought to families serve as statements on where society is currently at; a reflection, of sorts. And as society shifts over the decades, so do the television shows reflect these shifts and changes. Taboos are no longer taboos, and television show creators gain some freedom thanks to the TV trailblazers that came before them.
Attitudes toward gender, race, and sexuality have evolved since the television was first introduced to American homes. Standards for profanity and nudity have also loosened to a degree, both on scripted television programs and in all of the ads and commercials aired in between. What seems standard today was all but forbidden in the earlier days of television, with some taboos seeming ridiculous and overprotective from our present-day point of view.
Looking back television’s short by wide-ranging history, Stacker selected 50 significant firsts. Compiled from observations made by many other television critics and historians, the gallery includes firsts in television technology, easing sentiments on certain taboos, and groundbreaking creative decisions that increased representation for certain demographics. These firsts may seem menial today, but many of the moments featured here created uproar, controversy, and debate during times where this content was uncommon on the airwaves.
Read on to see some of the most impactful shows and moments that would forever change television history.