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Top 10 Messed Up Things that Happened on 1980s TV

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by George Pacheco They’re the moments which had adults glued to their screens, and children asking their parents a few “very important” questions. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Controversial Things on 1980s TV. For this list, we’re ranking those infamous moments on TV in the 1980s that led to some intense water cooler conversations. Talk shows, movies and “very special” sitcom episodes will all be considered for this list, so get ready to travel back to a decade that may have been “totally awesome,” but also encountered its fair share of controversy. Have an idea you want to see made into a WatchMojo video? Check out our suggest page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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They’re the moments which had adults glued to their screens, and children asking their parents a few “very important” questions. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Controversial Things on 1980s TV.

For this list, we’re ranking those infamous moments on TV in the 1980s that led to some intense water cooler conversations. Talk shows, movies and “very special” sitcom episodes will all be considered for this list, so get ready to travel back to a decade that may have been “totally awesome,” but also encountered its fair share of controversy.

#10: Moldavian Massacre
“Dynasty” (1981-89)


Audiences came to expect outrageous twists on the popular primetime soap opera “Dynasty,” but how would they react to a bit of real world conflict mixed in with all the cheesy drama? Well, on May 15th, 1985, that’s exactly what they got in the fifth season finale: that episode ended in a cliffhanger as terrorists interrupted a wedding taking place in the Moldavian Region of Europe. The lives of nearly the entire cast of characters were in jeopardy as bullets rained down upon everyone in attendance. Everything did work out come season 6, however, as it was revealed that only two supporting characters actually suffered fatal wounds.


#9: Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay
“MTV Video Music Awards” (1989)


Stand-up comedy enjoyed a lucrative and successful boom in the 1980s, thanks in part to the rise of comedy nightclubs and cable television specials raising the profile of up-and-coming comics. One such performer was Andrew Silverstein, a.k.a. Andrew “Dice” Clay, who made a career out of his abrasive and off-color bad boy character, modeled largely after Jerry Lewis’ “Buddy Love” character from “The Nutty Professor.” Not everyone took to Clay’s offensive and often-sexist material, however, with one particularly raunchy performance at the 1989 MTV Music Video Awards earning him a lifetime ban from the network. This ban was eventually repealed in 2011.


#8: Geraldo Rivera Punched in the Nose
“Geraldo” (1987-98)


Tabloid talk shows were a dime a dozen in the 1980s, but the genre was starting to change due in large part to former ABC reporter Geraldo Rivera, who entered the ring with his own show in 1987. Geraldo often invited guests onto his show, like Satanists or members of the KKK, strictly to stir up controversy. One particularly memorable episode on November 3rd, 1988 saw a brawl break out between Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality and John Metzger, director of the White Aryan Resistance Youth. The host received a chair shot to the face and a broken nose during the melee, but refused to press charges. After the incident, the show’s ratings skyrocketed.


#7: It Was All a Dream…
“Dallas” (1978-91)


What does a writer do when one of their most popular characters is killed off at the end of one season, but is hired to come back a year later? Simple: make the entire previous season a dream! If that sounds too incredible to be true, then you haven’t watched the ninth season of “Dallas,” which fans refer to as “The Dream Season.” Yes, turns out Bobby Ewing’s death and the events of the entire ninth season were all dreamed up by Bobby’s wife, Pamela. And how did Pamela – and viewers - find this out? She discovers her thought-to-be-deceased husband Bobby in the shower, washing up as if nothing ever happened!


#6: The Counselor
“Mr. Belvedere” (1985-90)


The late '80s sitcom known as “Mr. Belvedere” was one of the few primetime comedy programs based on a novel; in this case, the Gwen Davenport-penned “Belvedere” from 1947. The show wasn’t afraid of tackling social issues, as evidenced by a couple of controversial episodes from the series’ five-year run, including one entitled “Wesley’s Friend” which deals with misinformation about the AIDS virus. Even more controversial was the episode called “The Counselor,” which deals with the fallout after a counselor attempts to sexually molest the Owens family’s youngest son Wesley while he’s at summer camp. “The Counselor” ends with a PSA telling children what to do if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.


#5: Trash TV
“The Morton Downey, Jr. Show” (1987-89)


We mentioned earlier how the 1980s ushered in a new decade of daytime talk shows that weren’t afraid of pushing the envelope when it came to sensational content. “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” might be the most unapologetically abrasive of them all, thanks to its host and his hyper-confrontational style. Morton Downey Jr. yelled, finger-pointed and chain-smoked on his show, and thought nothing of blowing smoke into the faces of his guests at a moment’s notice. This chaotic carnival atmosphere made Downey very successful in the ratings department, however, as his talk show enjoyed success and infamous notoriety during its two year run.


#4: Nuclear War
“The Day After” (1983)


The 1970s and 80s were a fruitful time for made-for-TV movies, with many television films of the era enjoying classic status even today. One of these was “The Day After,” which received a record 100 million viewers for its debut on November 20th, 1983. The film looked at the possibility of a full-scale nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union with startling realism. According to some sources, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”’s controversial “Conflict” episodes were produced in direct response to the film, explaining issues of violence and the possibility of nuclear war to children who might’ve caught the film with their parents. Whether or not that’s true, this film put people on edge.


#3: Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” Live
“MTV Video Music Awards” (1984)


The idea of an awards show for the then-fledgling cable channel known as MTV was a gamble at the time, but Music Television’s roll of the dice proved lucrative. Credit the performance of a similarly fresh-faced artist known as Madonna, who made TV history right out of the gate. Parents and older viewers lost their minds as the singer rolled around on the floor during her rendition of “Like a Virgin,” while kids soon began mimicking the Material Girl’s classically outlandish fashion sense. The spectacle would cement both MTV and Madonna as two of the most influential forces in popular culture, and no one would forget the performance even decades later.


#2: “The Bicycle Man”
“Diff’rent Strokes” (1978-86)


Sitcoms of the 1980s loved to include a number of “very special episodes” during their runs. “Diff’rent Strokes” was no stranger to this trend, and handled difficult issues with a surprising amount of drama, tension and poignancy. “The Hitchhiker” episode focused on the kidnapping of Arnold and Kimberly Drummond, for example, and “The Bicycle Man” took on child molestation. In this two-part episode, Arnold and his friend Dudley are lured to the apartment of their local cycle storeowner, and are convinced to let him take shirtless Polaroids of them. Fortunately, they eventually alert adults to what’s going on. Creepy and powerful, “The Bicycle Man” remains an infamous ‘80s television moment to this day.

Before we reveal our most controversial moment on '80s television, here are a few shocking honorable mentions!

- Mighty Mouse Does Cocaine
“Mighty Mouse, The New Adventures” (1987-88)

- Joey in Blackface
“Gimme a Break” (1981-87)


#1: “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”
“M*A*S*H” (1972-83)


One episode of ‘80s television can claim to be the most watched television broadcast in American history, a record it held from 1983 until 2010. That episode is the series finale of “M*A*S*H,” a two-and-a-half hour sendoff for the beloved dramedy entitled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” But the episode proved notable for another reason as well: controversially, it tackled series lead Hawkeye Pierce’s battles with PTSD as he prepares to return home from the Korean War. The episode pulls no punches, depicting Hawkeye’s struggle with the demons in his mind, with actor and director Alan Alda’s performing tremendously in the role. Simply stated, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is classic television storytelling at its best and most challenging.

Do you agree with our list? Which ‘80s TV moment do you feel was the most controversial? For more time travelling top 10s published every day, please subscribe to WatchMojo.com!
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