Here Are 29 Iconic TV Episodes That Changed Television Forever

Nowadays, it’s common for late-night shows or series to address topics such as sex or real-life issues like homophobia and abortion. Such issues were considered taboo before the turn of the century, but you’d be surprised to know that many scriptwriters and directors chose to take the risk and address them in some way. Here we have a list of the top 29 TV episodes that left their mark in TV history, mainly for having addressed those topics that had always been invisibilized on the screen. You won’t believe #25, #13 and #7!

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#29. Maude’s Dilemma From Maude

Women are fighting for the legalization of abortion throughout the world and many shows of this last decade have addressed the issue. However, this topic was off-limits back in the 70s. Therefore, the audience was taken by surprise when one of the female characters in Maude began to consider having an abortion.

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For those of you who’ve never heard about the show, Maude followed the steps of a young, liberal, and independent woman named Maude Findlay (played by Bea Arthur). In the episode named Maude’s Dilemma, she had to make a difficult decision after finding out she was pregnant at the age of 47. In that episode, Maude chose to be frank with her husband, telling him she wanted to have an abortion and suggested him to have a vasectomy. Definitely, this was something you didn’t see every day on TV back then!

#28. Home From The X-Files

I don’t know about you, but I was such a big fan of Home that I get goosebumps every time I hear the opening song!. The show followed the adventures of agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as the resolved strange, supernatural events.

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Most of the episodes were super scary and creepy, but there was this one episode that took things to the next level. Home was the show’s only MA- rated episode,  mainly because of its incredibly high levels of violence. The episode also dealt with taboos like incest and abuse. Even the cast found the episode a bit disturbing, so much so that Fox chose never to re-air it.

#27. I’ll See You In Court From Married… With Children

From Arrested Development to Modern Family, there are plenty of shows that focus on the lives of dysfunctional families. However, in the 20th century, most comedy shows like The Brady Bunch or Full House followed the adventures of happy and united families that would always stick together no matter what. This wasn’t the case of Married… With Children, though.

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The Bundys were not exactly a loving and caring family. Al Bundy hated his job, his wife was lazy and their children were little brats. However, one episode took things way too far, to the point that it wasn’t aired until many years later. In the episode I’ll See You In Court, the Bundys discover a sex tape in a motel with their neighbors and decide to get intimate themselves. Little did they know they were secretly recorded, which is why they end up suing the motel.

#26. Conflict From Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Back in the ’80s, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of the most popular and beloved comedy shows and there wasn’t a single family who didn’t enjoy watching it together. Every single chapter began with Mister Rogers shouting out to the audience “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood!”, and the rest of the episode dealt with his and his family’s adventures. But considering the plot was usually quite trivial, it came as a shock when they bean dealing with adult issues not so suitable for children.

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During the peak of the Cold War, the risk of a nuclear war between the USSR and the USA was all newscasts and newspapers talked about. However, nobody would ever expect this issue to be mentioned in a family show. In the episode Conflict, Rogers talks with his children about the arms race and explains what to do in case a nuclear bomb hits their city.

#25. The Pilot From NYPD Blue

Crime dramas and detective shows have definitely ruled TV during this past decade, especially after series like True Detective, Homeland, and American Crime Story, among others. All these shows have NYPD Blue to thank, as this was one of the first hit shows in the genre. Back in the ’90s, everyone was a huge fan of this cop drama.

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The show’s pilot sure sparked some controversy, since gory scenes involving murders weren’t so common back in the early 90s. Therefore, when the pilot was aired in 1993, part of the audience was shocked by the levels of explicit violence, swearing, and nudity shown onscreen. But despite the controversy, the ratings rocketed and the show’s first season was a major success, just as the rest of the show.

#24. Made In America From The Sopranos

Is there any doubt that the crime drama series The Sopranos is one of the best shows of all time? It was one of the first American mafia dramas to ever be made, and people couldn’t help but emphasize with lead character Tony and his family. Oh, and I’m pretty sure you all remember the final chapter of season 6, am I wrong?

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The season finale, titled Made in America, ended in the most nerve-wracking way. Tony is eating dinner and listening to the radio when a mysterious man suddenly comes out of the bathroom. Tony looks up, and… the end! I know what you’re thinking: what’s so special about that? Well, you should know that ambiguous endings weren’t a thing back in the 90s. In fact, The Sopranos was one of the first TV dramas to resort to this, as well as one of the first series to take long breaks from season to season.

#23. Trapped In The Closet From South Park

If you’re a fan of black humor and blunt sarcasm, then South Park is the show for you! It’s needless to say that you can’t expect any politeness or political correctness from this animated show, but in one of the episodes, they really pushed their black comedy too far!

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In the episode titled Trapped In The Closet, American actor Tom Cruise appears and he’s depicted as an unconditional follower of Scientology, the religion he professes in real-life. They really made fun of Scientologists in general and Cruise in particular, so much so that Cruise refused to promote his latest film Mission Impossible III unless the company no longer aired that episode. Also, one of the show’s cast members, Isaac Hayes, left the show, being a Scientologist himself.

#22. Baelor From Game Of Thrones

If there’s something we should have learned from Game of Thrones, it’s that we should never fall in love with any of its characters, cause they’re all killed so quickly! Spoilers alert! We’re all still devastated after the unexpected events of the season finale, right?

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Obviously, I’m referring to Ned Stark’s unexpected death in the last chapter of the season, Baelor. According to many critics, GoT trained the audience to always expect the unexpected, and this is why many consider that the show left its mark on TV history.

#21. Lucy Is Enceinte From I Love Lucy

Did you know that in the ’50s the word “pregnant” – or any situation related to pregnancy, including the insinuation of sex – was prohibited on TV? Although it’s hard to believe it, actresses couldn’t be pregnant on TV… at least not until I Love Lucy hit the screen.

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The creator and lead actress of the show Lucille Ball got pregnant with her husband and co-star Desi Arnaz, and she decided to feature her pregnancy in the show too. While CBS finally allowed Lucy to feature her pregnancy, they didn’t let her say the word pregnant per se, so when she announces her pregnancy, she uses the phrase “we’re expecting“. That’s also the reason why the episode was called Lucy Is Enceinte instead of “Lucy Is Pregnant”.

#20. You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato From Murphy Brown

Before the turn of the century, family TV shows always featured heterosexual married couples with children, and there was no room for any alternative family configurations. Therefore, the world was shook when the lead character of the CBS sitcom Murphy Brown chose to become a single mother.

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The scandal was such, that in 1992, the Vice President of America said that the lead character Murphy Brown – played by Candice Bergen – was a bad influence on the audience, as it deviated the ordinary people from traditional values. The premiere of the fifth season, titled You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato was meant as a response to the vice-president’s words.

#19. The Judgment From The Fugitive

Nowadays, season finales are extremely important and people are always dying to find out how their favorite shows will end. However, back in the 60s and 70s, the audience and the scriptwriters gave way less importance to TV show finales.

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In fact, more often than not, TV shows wouldn’t end at all, as most were usually canceled abruptly. In 1967, the TV drama The Fugitive became one of the first shows in history to come up with a proper finale. In the episode The Judgement, the final confrontation between lead characters Richard Kimble and the One-Armed Man takes place, giving a resolution to the plot.

#18. Plato’s Stepchildren From Star Trek

We all know that racism continues to be a major issue in our society. In the past, it was common to see racist protests in schools, jobs or public places, and racial marriages were frowned upon in many parts of the country. But did you know that TV scriptwriters weren’t allowed to include interracial couples in their stories?

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Therefore, when the famous sci-fi show Star Trek featured an interracial kiss in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, many fans went mad. Not only was the audience outraged, but so was the network, so Gene Roddenberry had to come up with a second version, just in case the original one ended up being censored. After a long struggle, the network loosened up and the original version was aired.

#17. Sammy’s Visit From All In The Family

In 1971, the comedy-drama series All In The Family was released, and it revolved around a working-class man named Archie Bunker, his family, and the daily problems they faced. Archie was always portrayed as a racist, but in the episode titled Sammy’s Visit, he received an important life lesson.

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In season 2, Bunker was visited by Sammy Davis Jr., but while he had actually shown up to pick up his suitcase, they end up having a long talk about critical issues like prejudices and racism. Not only did the episode address controversial issues, but it also ended with Davis kissing Archie on the cheek, and such displays of affection among men were definitely not common back in the days.

#16. Abyssinia, Henry From M*A*S*H

The comedy-drama TV series M*A*S*H went around the staff of a military hospital who struggle to survive the tragedies of the Korean War with laughter and joy. Starring actors like Alan Alda and Loretta Swit, the series is considered the pioneer of the medical-drama subgenre, which paved the way for later successes such as Scrubs, E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy

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In the final episode of season 3, something unexpected happened and represented a turning point in the story. The group received a message that said that Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake’s plane had been shot down and there were no survivors. Imagine the reactions of McLean Stevenson‘s fans! This was one of the first times that a lead character was written off a show after being killed.

#15. A House Divided From Dallas

Remember the famous Simpsons episode, Who Shot Mr. Burns? Well, back in the ’80s, the question that ran through everyone’s head was “Who shot J.R”?  In the final episode of the third season of the hit series Dallas, J.R. Knight was shot… but by whom?

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The producers chose to film all the cast members shooting the gun in order to confuse the audience and hide the truth. Cliffhangers were seldom used as a resource, so this episode transformed the structure of drama shows for good. If you were left with the intrigue, the mystery is unveiled in the episode Who Done It.

#14. The Last One From St. Elsewhere

From 1982 to 1988, watching the acclaimed TV hospital drama St. Elsewhere was a daily ritual that almost every American family went through before going to bed. If we were raised in the 70s or 80s, we all remember the lives and misadventures of our favorite group of doctors, since there weren’t many other medical dramas back then. In the series’ finale, the producers took the risk and did something that the audience never imagined!

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In one of the last scenes of the episode, the exterior of the hospital is shown, and then the show cuts to a little kid’s home. A boy is shown holding a snowglobe of the hospital, suggesting that the whole story had been based on Tommy’s thoughts. Some fans were amazed while others were infuriated, but what we can’t deny is that this episode opened the possibility of coming up with less conventional endings.

#13. Episode 2 From Twin Peaks

What can we say about David Lynch’s signature series Twin Peaks that hasn’t been said? This soap-opera mystery-drama is most famous for its intriguing characters and countless murders, and the truth is that there had never been anything like this on TV before. All this whirlwind of events took place in the calm and cold town of Twin Peaks.

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Episode 2 is not actually the second, but the third one of the show. In that episode, we saw how the FBI agent enters the abominable carpeted red room and talks to The Man From Another Place, who is facing backward. This episode was so confusing and surreal that it may be considered as a turning point in TV history, as it changed the level of oddness that the audience was willing to accept from a show.

#12. The Chinese Restaurant From Seinfeld

Some TV shows captivate the audience with its mysterious plots, others with its striking locations and sceneries… but what about Seinfeld? How did this groundbreaking sitcom captivate its fans? Critics always teased that the show was actually about nothing, and here’s an example.

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In the episode The Chinese Restaurant, literally nothing happens, as all the group of friends does is sit in a table and wait for the waiter to come and take their order. The characters never leave that spot and there’s not really a storyline, not even a scene break! In fact, the actors pretty much improvised most of their lines. This was considered a novelty and influenced future sitcoms such as Friends or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

#11. The Puppy Episode In Ellen

Nowadays, Ellen DeGeneres is not only one of the most beloved comedians but also one of the most famous activists from the LGBTQI+ movement. Back in the ’90s, DeGeneres was paving her way towards fame and starred in a series called Ellen. However, she was not happy with the directorial work, and that’s why she decided to demand some changes to be made in season 4.

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It appears to be that the production crew told Ellen that her character was meant to adopt a puppy, but she felt that the plotline was getting way too trivial. Therefore, Ellen suggested her character to come out as a lesbian, just as she had done in real life. Producer Michael Eisner agreed, and that’s how The Puppy Episode left its mark in TV history. Homosexuality had been a taboo up till then, and the episode triggered a lot of fuss.

#10. Once More, With Feeling From Buffy The Vampire Slayer

We have to say that making a special musical episode for an adventure and mystery series was something really risky, but luckily for Joss Whedon, it worked out perfectly. Inspired by the success of the musical-comedy show Cop Rock, Whedon came up with the musical episode Once More, With Feeling, written for the 6th season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. 

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Not only was this one of the fans’ favorite episodes, but it was also regarded as an inspiration to modern series like Glee. However, it was not all a bed of roses for Whedon, as the cast members were initially reluctant to film this episode.

Joss and his wife Kai, they don’t sing very well. And they don’t play piano very well. The songs sounded really cheesy and horrible… We were saying, ‘Joss, you’re ruining our careers”, actor James Marsters said.

#9. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell From Roseanne

Going back to the history of the LGBTQIA+ movement, it’s widely known that back in the 90s (or before that) many actors, actresses, and singers didn’t have the freedom of telling the audience that they were gay. Luckily, times have changed and we live in a much freer and diverse world. Now, let’s see how the famous TV series Roseanne addressed this issue, in a time where sexual diversity was still a taboo on TV.

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In the episode Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the group of girls go to a gay club with a friend (Sandra Bernhard) and their friend’s girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway). Can you imagine the reaction of the ABC producers when Hemingway kissed Roseanne on screen? At first, they tried to remove that scene but the cast warned them they would move to another network if they did that.

#8. The Pilot From Lost

There are many reasons why Lost should be considered as one of the best TV series of all time. First, it was set in a paradisiac site, it reunited actors and actresses from different parts of the world, and some of them rose to stardom thanks to the show. Also, it had the most expensive TV pilot until that day!

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The pilot is absolutely thrilling, and from the first minute, you can tell that the story will not disappoint you. Even though the series’ finale was highly controversial, we can’t deny that this mystery-drama survival show is a must-watch. Are you ready for some action? Watch the show and grab on!

#7. Subway From Homicide: Life On The Street

Set in Baltimore, Homicide was a crime-drama show about a group of detectives who had to investigate the most violent crimes that ever happened in the town. The series was famous for being more realistic than most cop dramas of that time, and that’s why fans loved it.

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In the episode titled Subway, John Lange (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) is stuck in the middle of a subway crash and knows he’ll die if he moves. Luckily, Andre Braugher, who plays a fellow cop, was there to help him. The episode was so intense and heartbreaking that it served as an inspiration to future cop shows. In fact, the creator of Breaking Bad Vince Gilligan said that his series wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this one episode.

#6. Showdown From Cheers

The TV Show Cheers was released in 1982 and went around the lives of a group of regulars of the Boston Bar Cheers and their daily problems and struggles. Most of the series takes place in the bar, where the characters either chat, drink, or work.

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In the final episode of the first season, everyone was wondering whether Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and delicate Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) were going to finally hook up! In the last scene, Malone asks her: “Are you as turned on as I am?” and she answers “More”, and… the end! Critics agree on the fact that this episode was the first time a cliffhanger was used in a sitcom, a resource later used in shows like Friends or Frasier.

#5. Atomic Shakespeare From Moonlighting

Moonlighting was about a former model and nerdy detective who ran a private detective agency. Starring Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd, every episode was full of bizarre moments and witty banters, making this series unique in the genre.

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In the episode Atomic Shakespeare, a young boy is watching Moonlighting when her mother reminds him he has to do his homework about Shakespeare’s novel The Taming Of The Shrew. Suddenly, the episode turns into a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s novel. The characters of the show appear dressed in 15th-century clothing, but they talk like their normal selves. The scriptwriters definitely took the risk with this gimmick, but it worked out to perfection!

#4. Turkeys Away From WKRP In Cincinnati

Sitcoms are all about comedy, so fans never expect them to get too violent or gory. However, the famous comedy show WKRP In Cincinnati took their fans by surprise with the episode Turkeys Away. Do you remember what happened in this episode?

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The episode was meant to be another ordinary Thanksgiving special, but it turned out to be something a bit more sinister, to say the least. In the middle of a Thanksgiving parade, people start throwing turkeys from a helicopter and explode in the air. This was as violent as it was bizarre, and to everyone’s surprise, the episode was a whopping success!

#3. The Threat From Dynasty

If you’re a major fan of teenage dramas like Gossip Girl or Why Women Kill, then you should definitely thank the 80s drama and romance show Dynasty. Starring John Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins, the series is considered a pioneer in the teen drama subgenre.

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In the episode The Threat, tension arises when a scandalous newspaper headline says that Congressman McVane was involved in a relationship with a young woman in Washington. In only one episode, topics like custody battles, sexual orientation revelations, love triangles, and surprise pregnancies are brought up.

#2. Bowling From Malcolm In The Middle

Nowadays, it’s common for TV shows to come up with innovative structures and formats, but back in the 90s, the plotlines were way more conventional. Luckily, the episode from Malcolm in the Middle titled Bowling helped tackle down the traditional norms that stipulated how a TV series had to be filmed and written.

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In this original episode, Malcolm’s parents have to decide who will take Malcolm and Reese to a bowling party and who will stay at home with Dewey. What’s most incredible is that we see the episode in a split-screen that was edited with a technical panache. Now, are you ready for our #1?

#1. Jurassic Bark From Futurama

I bet you didn’t expect an animated show to lead our list! From the same creator of The Simpsons, Futurama is a comedy-sci-fi series and one of the first animated shows for adultsThe show revolves around the lives of Fry and his futuristic friends, and it’s all about the ironic jokes and bizarre situations. But to everyone’s surprise, Jurassic Bark made us cry our eyes out.

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This touching episode starts with Fry finding the intact fossilized remains of his pet dog, and in a flashback, we are shown how the dog had actually died in the cold while waiting for Fry at his doorsteps. Nobody expected this dramatic twist, and this resource was then used in many animated shows like Bojack Horseman.

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