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Top Ten Television Moments of My Life


It’s a year since the Reading Rainbow app went live and a month since we’ve been on Kindle Fire. I had no idea when the show began in 1983 that it would stick around for this long. You only get to 30 years one step at a time, and the first step on our mission was to use the radical medium of television to promote literature to kids, no more or no less nefarious an idea than that, and it worked. For me, the next step is to apply that same idea to the new medium of tablet computers because, if you want to reach kids today, that’s where you have to be, on a mobile device. The message is the same, just the medium is different.

PBS was one of those institutions back in the day that you could put your kids in front of it and it wouldn’t matter. You didn’t have to know what the program was, you just knew it was going to be good for your kid, and your kid was going to enjoy it. I think there’s a real need for a PBS-like curator in this new world of digitized content, and I’m going to take a shot at that space with our kids and the Reading Rainbow app and brand and the goods and services we’re developing. It’s our first step to becoming that PBS-like curator for children and their families. And you still absolutely don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, I’d rather you didn’t.

Now, the Top Ten Television Moments of my life. This will be fun!


NUMBER 1 – I’m of an age when the moon landing gave us “One giant leap for mankind.” That’s pretty big. And for the record, I do not believe it was photographed in Stanley Kubrick’s studio. I think they were actually there, I think they had cameras with them, I think they actually documented a real moment on the moon.

NUMBER 2 – The John F. Kennedy assassination and the funeral procession. That was pretty powerful.

NUMBER 3 – The assassination of Martin Luther King and the TV coverage and, I’m sorry, but NUMBER 4 is the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Like funerals, tragedies bring us together. That was part of the experience of the early days of broadcast television. It was a village experience. With the limited offerings, we were all experiencing these moments simultaneously.

So, NUMBER 5 for me is the entire civil rights struggle, all sort of stitched together into a collage. Images of different events: marches, dogs in Selma, AL, kids being escorted into school in the south; all kinds of television images of the civil rights struggle, and its strength, its beauty, and the horror of that struggle in terms of the violence that was inflicted upon people that only wanted to be free.

NUMBER 6 – I’m going right to Roots. At that point in my life, television took on a whole new meaning, and the power of the medium was really revealed to me in eight consecutive nights of TV.

NUMBER 7 – This represents all of those great moments that I have experienced through sport, but it was the Kirk Gibson walk-off home run (in the 1988 World Series) when he played for the Dodgers. This is after he played for the Tigers; he played for the Dodgers. It was a phenomenal walk-off home run. It helped the Dodgers win the Series. This represents all of the San Francisco Giants games I listened to on the radio, all the Oakland A’s games that I watched on TV, all the Super Bowls, all of those great Wide World of Sports moments, all of the sports I watched; it’s sort of all wrapped up in that Kirk Gibson two-run home run.

NUMBER 8 – I’m going with one of those big, globally televised concert events: Live Aid! Around the world! Let’s use the medium for something really radical, right? Let’s feed people. Let’s cure hunger. There’s an idea! That was cool. Live Aid and Farm Aid and all those other concerts that used the medium as a way to galvanize people into social action. That’s a really powerful use.

In later years it’s really hard to get dialed in to a singular event on television. However, I will say that, for me, NUMBER 9 is the coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I remember that entire weekend.  I was in a television studio editing a pilot for a talk show that I shot at Paramount. I was on a small lot here in Los Angeles and I was surrounded by the coverage; I was inundated with the coverage. So impactful that this bright light was gone and the world responded in a unanimous outpouring of grief. And that was powerful. I felt that we were all connected through our experience of that event. Of her death, and of course the funeral and all the press coverage and even that the press was a part of that story. Did they actually do something to cause that car to crash? It was all just a big sort of media juggernaut. It was huge.

NUMBER 10? I’m gonna leave that open. I’m leaving room for something that has the kind of power and impact that the previous nine events have individually and collectively had on my life. I’m holding out hope for one more major thing. And I’m not necessarily hoping for a tragedy, I just want to leave room for the possibility that something else amazing could happen. Say, if aliens were to land and we were to get that on TV. That’d be pretty spectacular, right? Or if all of a sudden Israel and Palestine said, “You know what? Let’s have a beer!” And we got THAT on TV? That would qualify as number ten. It makes you wonder – what could qualify as the Number Ten moment? It would have to be that significant for me. It would have to be big and it would have to be pro-humanity. I think that, at their core, all of these events have an essence of humanity about them. The medium itself is most effective when it’s communicating a human story.

I think we are existing in what will come to be known as a golden age of television. The storytelling that’s going on now in terms of cable (The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Copper, The Walking Dead), we’re going to look back and think, “Wow!,” because there are so many great series with great writing and tremendously talented actors. I just don’t have time to watch all the good TV that’s out there! I haven’t seen a single episode of Homeland. It’s one of Brent Spiner’s favorite shows; Brent Spiner has one of the most discerning television palates of anyone I know. I think in years to come, we will look back on this time in television as a little bubble of storytelling magic.

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  1. EM Slydell says:

    There were no dogs used during the Selma to Montgomery marches. The famous dog images you are referring to, were from Birmingham.

  2. Juan Valdez says:

    1. OJ Car Chase
    2. Rodney King Verdict…because I got my ass kicked by angry Rodney Fans
    3. Monica Lewinsky scandal…who keeps a giz stained dress?
    4. Mike Tyson biting off Holyfield’s ear
    5. Sinead O’conner on SNL – the event… but more so the coverage
    …and 5 others that I can’t add right now because there are so many ties…
    Love the Nerdist…and coffee

  3. Xeroz says:

    I was more of a DiscoveryChannel kid, back when it was actual “Nature & a little Tech” oriented. That early ‘Shark Weeks’ and shows like ‘Beyond 2000’ were highly entertaining and informative.
    The local cable companies only offered PBS inside the city limits where I lived for some reason? And being a rural area there wasn’t much choice of providers. So the only time I ever caught a show was when visiting friends or relatives. But, they did occasionally show a recorded show in school. Those were real treats compared to some of the bores I had for teachers.
    It’s great that some people in Hollywood are willing to be voices for early education, like Mr. Burton has. Please keep up the great work!
    I know the pay probably isn’t that great compared to a major network’s. Just know the good you’ve done and continue to do are priceless, no doubt, to those who’ve been lucky enough to learn the value of reading early in life.

    The moments that probably had the biggest influence on me would have to be when we watched “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 9th grade. That and the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” still resonate me to the core just thinking about them. I’m glad I got to finally see the films that so vividly portrayed the stories we read that year. I think seeing them on film made them just that much more real than they would have been as just pages in a textbook.

    Top notable ‘broadcast’ TV moments (in no particular order):
    1. Discovering “Late Night with Conan O’ Brien” in the early 90’s. (I’m still a big fan)
    2. Beyond2000 – Used to tape every episode. Couldn’t get much nerdier than back then.
    3. Shark Week – The early ones from late 80’s up to the early 2000’s.
    4. SeaQuest – The “Only” kind of TV show someone like Speilberg should be making. Well that and TinyToons/Animaniacs.
    5. Cosmos with Carl Sagan – That kind of stuff is still epic to watch, for me anyway.
    6. (almost forgot) Discovery of the Titanic – It was a pretty epic moment. I remember them showing us a story on this in 5th grade.
    Hopefully the next generation will enjoy great moments like this as well.
    Sorry for the long post, I’ll end it with that.

  4. LJ says:

    It’s crazy that negative things make up half of my list too. I was thinking just other day about watching OJ in the Bronco. I was in elementary school and my best friend was visiting after school.

    I remember that, Waco burning in 93 and the eerie green footage from the Gulf War (scared me shitless). Strangely enough, I think that this is when the TV sign off ended. I would sneak to see the war stuff, which led me to Letterman and Late Late with Tom Snyder (and reruns of “Empty Nest,” which has led me to 20 years of getting about 5 hours of sleep.

    I’m a big fan, Mr. Burton! Great post.

  5. Joe Ruck says:

    First off THANKS LEVAR for posting, been a fan of yours for many years. I grew up on PBS programming like your phenomenal Reading Rainbow, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, The Electric Company (although I must admit it was mostly to see Spiderman, lol) and so on. I must agree with most commenter’s in that 9 11 was indeed one of the most tragic occurrences in our country in recent memory. It felt surreal, like it wasn’t happening, but at the same time it was. I had nightmares of those poor people jumping out of windows to their deaths to escape from being crushed or burned alive. But I digress, some moments that I vividly recall were the assassinations of both Saddam Hussein & Muammar Gaddafi (quite brutal), the murders of B.I.G. & Tupac, the election of Barack Obama as President of the U.S. and many others that I cannot fit here. Not to sound silly but i’m a Puerto Rican US Vet in case anyone makes an assumption on my race, but this is Nerdist, nah it’s cool here, lol

  6. Len Bell says:

    I was born in 71 in Alabama so I missed much of the civil rights movement but the news footage of AIM taking over the BIA bldg and Wounded Knee occupation solidified my consciousness as a First Nation. My other are the Vietnam airlift in 75, the Challenger, the Towers, Tienamen Square, and the Occupy Wall Street protests as well as Live AID.

  7. Scott S says:

    All the civil rights stuff seems like it was such a long time ago. I was born in 77 in the Midwest, and I’m white, so it all wasn’t so important to me, but it seems like the 60’s was a really long time ago, and a lot of Levar’s choices are pretty early in TV’s lifetime, when everyone had three channels, and PBS, and was linked together more than today. It’s an interesting look at someone whose experience is a little outside of mine, but I’m familiar with what he’s talking about.

  8. Carrie says:

    The woman name is Miss Elenor Hawkins. She been doing it since the mid-60s on WCTI News 12.

  9. Carrie says:

    I like LeVar number 10. The TV events of either now or the future. Mandela is not dead yet, but if he does go that’s going be a TV moment of the now. Surprise he mention Live Aid on the list.

    Speaking of TV moments, there’s a hidden moment in TV that should be looked at. Before “Reading Rainbow” there was a show in North Carolina called “Tele-Story Time”. An elderly woman would sit on a wicker chair in front of a TV camera and read children books. Sometimes the camera would take a shot of the pictures in the book. They always aired the show either on 5 or 6 in the morning. Oh by the way the woman is still alive.

    Funny thing, every Halloween using the magic of the camera they always make her invisible. One Halloween she be reading stories headless, another she be reading with no body. Don’t know if the show on Youtube, but if I find one I’ll share with the whole class.

  10. three toes of fury says:

    Top 10 Random Stream o Conscious TV moments (in no particular order):

    1) Assassination of Gumby on SNL
    2) “Im just a Bill” Schoolhouse Rock
    3) Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3d (glasses @ 7-11)
    4) Anything shown on ONTV in the 80’s (watched via decoder box).
    5) MTV exhibit in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
    6) Childbirth in original V (shudder..shudder).
    7) Escape from Gilligans Island
    8) Bambi episode of The Young Ones.

    gonna go serious for the last two….

    9) Childhood discovery of late night PBS….Benny Hill, Doctor Who, Monty Python Flying Circus…..brilliant!
    10) ABC Sunday night movie with our family all hanging out together……..
    this last one brings up a subject i think about alot….with all the advancements in technology, we are in a period of time where we have access to EVERTHING all the time. full seasons of our favorite shows at our fingertips, every movie available in multiple formats, and youtube with just about everything else…and…in the big picture…thats a good (read: great) thing. However there was something pretty special about a time with a few networks and just before vhs hit where you had to wait to see something……i still remember being giddy every year when i saw that Willy Wonka was going to be shown. Hmmm…probably just more nerd-nostalgia-pondering.

    Peace .n. TV


    PS: AHHHH!!! LeVar!!! AHHH!!! thanks for the posting dude!!!

  11. Rick Greene says:

    Two others to consider…(as someone else just mentioned) the attacks of 9/11, specifically the ones on the World Trade Center towers

    The other would be the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.

  12. Stupidheads says:

    It’s questionable that 9/11 and the falling of the World Trade Center didn’t make the list. #10 maybe? For me, this was the #1 spot.

  13. Kristoffer says:

    so it’s really the top 9? =P