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30 Most Talked About Moments from Classic TV

"Sammy's Visit"—All in the Family (1972)

After Sammy Davis Jr. leaves a briefcase in Archie's cab, he visits the Bunker home to retrieve it. While there, he gets an earful of Archie's closed-minded takes on everything. When they pose for a picture, Sammy plants a surprise kiss on Archie as the photo is snapped. This episode was definitely an eyebrow-raiser from start to finish. 

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"The Puerto Rican Day"—Seinfeld (1998)

In this episode of Seinfeld, Jerry and his friends are annoyed that they are stuck in traffic because of a Puerto Rican Day parade. At one point Kramer accidentally sets a Puerto Rican flag on fire then stomps on it to put it out. NBC had protesters and received angry letters because of the flag burning and the stereotypical portrayal of Puerto Ricans.

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Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show (1956)

The first time that Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, cameramen were careful to show him only from the waist up. However, hiding his gyrating hips only made him all the more intriguing. Plus, the audience at home got the message that his dancing was sexy from the screaming women in the live audience.

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"Maude's Dilemma"—Maude (1972)

In season one of Maude, the titular character finds herself pregnant at age 47. This two-part episode covers her decision on whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Though termination was legal in her state of New York, the episode aired a few months before Roe v. Wade made terminating her pregnancy legal throughout the country. In this instance, primetime TV fueled the controversy that America was already talking about.

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"The Bicycle Man"—Diff'rent Strokes (1983)

Anyone that’s seen Diff’rent Strokes would easily call it a wholesome family show, but “The Bicycle Man,” wasn’t as family-friendly as viewers wanted. In this episode, Arnold and Dudley are lured into the back of a bicycle shop where the owner, Mr. Horton, shows the children magazines that are best left hidden. He also encourages the children to do a photoshoot.

What might be most troubling is that Dudley never really seems to recognize what kind of situation he's in.  During the entire runup to the reveal, jokes are still being made—which just seems unsettling. While the episode may have been trying to make a point that it might be the last person you expect to do bad things, it went about it in all the wrong ways.

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"Home"—The X Files (1996)

After a deformed child is found in a shallow grave, Mulder and Scully launch an investigation that leads them to a frighteningly violent family who are all a little too close. This episode was so gross and upsetting to viewers that Fox only aired it once after the premiere. Ask any X-Files fan about the episode, and they will shudder!

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"Just Around the Corner"—The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show pushed boundaries by showing a single professional woman who lived alone and supported herself. In this particularly controversial episode, viewers see Mary coming home in the morning in the same clothes she went out in the night before. Though it was never stated that she had been with a man, the insinuation was nonetheless shocking at the time.

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"I'll See You in Court"—Married...With Children (1989)

In this episode of the classic comedic series, Al and Peg Bundy go to a motel room to have sex, only to find a sex tape of their neighbors! On top of all that, the Bundys are also then secretly taped themselves. All this was too much for the network, and the episode was banned until 2002, well after Married...with Children had been cancelled.

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"Lucy is Enceinte"—I Love Lucy (1952)

The word "pregnant" was considered too vulgar to say on TV during the 50s. So this episode revolves around Lucy trying to tell her husband she is "expecting," all while dancing around the dreaded "P word." Network executives were so concerned about the implication of sex that Lucy and her husband slept in seperate twin beds on the show as well! 

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"The Puppy Episode"—Ellen (1997)

When Ellen came out of the closet on her 90s TV show, she faced backlash from advertisers and religious groups alike. The episode had high ratings, but the show was cancelled the next year after being called "too gay."

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"Conflict"—Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (1983)

During the Cold War, Mr. Rogers broadcast a week's worth of shows intended to help children deal with the idea of nuclear war. While some liked the show tackling such an important issue, others thought the subject matter was too intense for kids. In this controversial episode, King Friday thinks Southwood is gathering parts to make bombs. However, the parts are actually for a bridge, and the two neighborhoods end up having a peace festival.

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"For Every Man, There's Two Women"—Too Close For Comfort (1985)

“For Every Man, There’s Two Women” took a dark turn when Monroe comes home looking disheveled, and it’s revealed that he was assaulted by two women who “had their way with him.” The police are eventually called, but they tell Monroe that pressing charges would be too embarrassing and not worth it.

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Sinead O'Connor on Saturday Night Live (1992)

Irish singer Sinead O'Connor took advantage of live television to protest the Catholic Church. During dress rehearsal, she held up an image of a refugee child as she performed Bob Marley's song "War." However, during the actual performance, she held up a picture of Pope John Paul II while she sang the word "evil." She then yelled, "Fight the real enemy," and tore up the picture. NBC received 4,440 complaint calls because of the incident. 

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"Bored, She Hung Herself"—Hawaii Five-O (1970)

“Bored, She Hung Herself” covered a topic that’s still sensitive today: suicide. The episode is about a yoga instructor who is testing a new “technique,” which involves asphyxiating himself to stop his heartbeat. The couple gets into a fight, where she slaps him, and he slaps her back, knocking her to the floor. After he leaves, she’s found soon after hanging from a noose. The episode only aired once. 

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"Edith's 50th Birthday Party"—All in the Family (1977)

All in the Family was clearly a magnet for controversy during its run. In this episode, while her family is next door planning her birthday party, Edith is held at gunpoint and assaulted. The show was usually funny, and audiences were shocked that this happened to a sweet and beloved character.

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"Pilot"—NYPD Blue (1993)

NYPD Blue caused controversy before it ever aired due to the amount of nudity and adult language in it. However, the controversy helped generate curious viewers for the show, who stuck around for the edginess and because it was such a great series in general.

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"One Beer"—Tiny Toon Adventures (1991)

Kids shows are usually light-hearted, but not “One Beer” from Tiny Toon Adventures. It starts innocent enough, with the characters going over what drinks were in the fridge--until “a cold one” is offered. The characters get drunk and get in a car accident, and these stunts caused the episode to get promptly banned. 

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"The Encounter"—The Twilight Zone (1964)

Originally airing in 1964, “The Encounter” features George Takei before he was a household name thanks to Star Trek. The Twilight Zone was always meant to be creepy and “out-of-this-world,” but “The Encounter” was a little too close to home, as a Japanese-American and a Veteran of WWII fight to kill each other in an attic. It portrayed PTSD from a soldier's point of view, the dehumanization of war, and ethnocentrism toward Japanese people. CBS pulled the episode after being aired once. 

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"Return to Camelot Part 1"—Dallas (1986)

Sometimes producers and creators infuriate fans with their plot lines, and “Return To Camelot, Part I” is an excellent example of this. Rather than being particularly racy, this episode put off fans because it revealed Bobby Ewing’s death from the previous season to be a dream--meaning the ending of Season 8 and the entirety of season 9 was completely negated. 

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"Plato's Stepchildren"—Star Trek (1968)

Sad as it sounds, an interracial kiss was highly controversial in 1968. In this episode of Star Trek, after answering a distress call, the Enterprise crew is overpowered by aliens with telekinetic powers. The aliens, known as"Platonians," make Captain Kirk (a white man) kiss Lieutenant Uhura (a black woman). While the episode may not have been received well at the time, it's now considered an important classic in the series. 

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"Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols"—Bill Grundy's Today Show (1976)

In December of 1976, Queen was set to go on Bill Grundy’s Today show but was forced to cancel at the last minute. In their place, the Sex Pistols took the set and shocked audiences with a barrage of profanity. Grundy seemed to provoke his guests, and the Sex Pistols were more than happy to respond. After it aired, Grundy was promptly suspended by Thames Television for two weeks due to “sloppy journalism.”  

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"Pilot"—Heil Honey, I'm Home! (1990)

It’s impossible to imagine how this television show came to be, but Heil Honey I’m Home! aired in 1990. It was a sitcom that was canceled after a single episode due to obvious reasons: its main character was Hitler. If that wasn’t bad enough, the German dictator and Eva Braun lived next door to a Jewish couple in Berlin. While Hitler and Eva were more-or-less a typical sitcom couple, the network wasn’t having it and pulled it from airing. 

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"The Best Man"—Happy Days (1974)

Episodes like “The Best Man” from Happy Days would be shocking now, but it was especially so in 1974 when it aired. While the writers and producers attempted to address racism as a problem, they made jokes about it and included incredibly racist overtones that would leave modern viewers slack-jawed--including, “we have watermelon all the time” and “white hoods make me nervous.”  

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"Miri"—Star Trek (1966)

“Miri” is another one of Star Trek’s most controversial episodes. In it, the crew finds an Earth-like planet where a band of orphaned children live in fear of disfigured adults named “grups,” who kill and maim them regularly. Even by Star Trek standards, the episode goes above and beyond with controversy, due to its graphic depictions of violence and child abuse.  

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Beach Sketch—Saturday Night Live (1988)

The actors in this sketch—Tom Hanks, Dana Carvey, and Kevin Nealon—said a certain "p" word one too many times in this sketch. Thousands of angry letters were sent in afterward. Another fun fact: This sketch was pulled from the lineup twice before finally airing. 

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"Don't Stop the Carnival"—The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1968)

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is a show that was specifically designed to be a satire of current events, similar to many shows today, but “Don’t Stop the Carnival” took things too far. The song, sung by Harry Belafonte, was set to the backdrop of CBS video at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where violence broke out between demonstrators and police. 

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"Pilot"—Turn On (1969)

Turn-On is one of the biggest flops in TV history. After just 11 minutes, the series was canceled. Yep, that’s right--it got the axe midway through its first episode. The premise was that a computer produced the show and displayed rapid-fire jokes and risqué skits without a laugh track. Viewers didn’t respond well as many got sick or scared from the images that came on screen. 

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"Stevil"—Family Matters (1996)

Family Matters was a great show to sit down and watch with the kids. It’s silly and fun, but “Stevil” changed that. The episode was a special Halloween edition, but it became horrifying as an Urkel look alike doll came to life and threatened to kill people. The laugh track played throughout, but no one was laughing when the dolls tried to steal Urkel’s and Carl’s soul to burn in the fires of hell. 

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Jodie Dallas—Soap (1977)

Soap had a list of controversial episodes, but Jodie Dallas was the character that caused religious organizations to send 32,000 letters of protest to the network before the series even aired. Why? Jodie Dallas was the first regular gay character on American television. However, gay rights activists also mounted several large-scale demonstrations against individual episodes of the series due to Jodie’s stereotypical character portrayal and Danny’s denial of his sexuality. 

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"Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen"—M*A*S*H (1983)

The finale of M*A*S*H was the most watched TV episode in history at the time. However, some fans were upset that their favorite character, Hawkeye Pierce (played by Alan Alda), had a nervous breakdown and was in a mental hospital.

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