30 Most Shocking Things That Have Ever Happened on Live TV
See the moments more bonkers than any scripted event.
From award shows to sporting events to news coverage, live TV offers viewers the possibility that—just like in life—anything can happen. And, unsurprisingly, almost everything has. From shocking awards show flubs to crimes happening in real-time, live TV never fails to surprise us.
Luckily, you don’t need to dig deep into the archives to relive these shocking moments. We’ve rounded up the best of the best, from celebrity slip-ups to political events that shaped history. So enjoy—and if you ever find yourself on the other side of the camera, remember: the teleprompter is your friend.
The O.J. Simpson Car Chase
After being asked to surrender to authorities in connection with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J. Simpson—along with former teammate Al Cowlings—led police on a low-speed car chase on the Los Angeles freeway. With Cowlings at the wheel of the infamous white Ford Bronco, and O.J. seated next to him holding a gun to his head, the pair were tailed by police for over two hours and seventy-five miles before surrendering in Simpson’s driveway. According to the Associated Press, almost ninety-five million Americans watched the chase unfold live on TV, making it cable’s highest rated program for the year of 1994.
Faye Dunaway Announces the Wrong Oscar
After mistakenly being handed the wrong envelope, the presenters of the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture—Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty—announced that La La Land would be taking home the prestigious award. Unfortunately, that honor actually belonged to the film Moonlight. Audiences watched in real time as the crew of La La Land accepted their golden statues, only to have them taken back moments later. The whole exchange was so unbelievable that one of La La Land’s producers, Jordan Horowitz, actually had to hold up the placard announcing Moonlight’s win for TV audiences to see. “This is not a joke,” another producer reassured the crowd, “they read the wrong thing.”
Kanye West Says “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”
While it may come as little surprise to his current fans that Kanye West isn’t afraid of speaking his mind, more than a decade ago, the rapper’s penchant for telling it like it is made headlines. During a 2005 telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye first made jaws drop in the middle of an ostensibly scripted segment alongside comedian Mike Myers. West—while staring straight into the camera—said of then-U.S. President George W. Bush that he “doesn’t care about black people.” Moments later, the camera cut to an unfazed Chris Tucker, but not before Myers exhaled an audible gasp, evidently just as taken aback by the moment as the program’s unsuspecting viewers.
The Challenger Space Shuttle Explodes
On January 28, 1986, all eyes were on Cape Canaveral, Florida, as NASA launched the Space Shuttle Challenger. The mission—nationally broadcast on CNN—had received extensive media coverage in the prior months due to the on-board presence of Christa McAuliffe, who would be the first teacher to be sent into space. Hope quickly turned to horror, however, as the ship burst into flames, breaking apart 73 seconds into its flight and leading to the deaths of all seven members on board.
The Collapse of the Second Twin Tower
September 11, 2001, is a day etched into the memory of every American. Apart from the attack’s sheer atrocity, images of the second tower’s collapse were broadcast on live TV in real time for the entire nation to witness.
Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction
The Super Bowl is perennially the most watched television program in America. It was quite a shock, then, when Americans of all ages got a bit more than they bargained for during the halftime performance of 2004’s championship game. At the end of a musical set featuring Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, the former—in what appeared to be a choreographed move—ripped off a part of Jackson’s leather top, revealing her right nipple to audiences everywhere. While the moment lasted altogether under a second, it certainly hasn’t been forgotten in the 14 years since the shocking event occurred.
1989 San Francisco Earthquake
Earthquakes in California aren’t all that rare, but it isn’t everyday that one happens on live television. In the lead-up to the Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between San Francisco and Oakland, announcers Bob Costas and Tim McCarver were in the middle of providing pregame analysis when the television feed suddenly cut out. Eerily, even after audiences had lost picture, McCarver’s voice could be heard saying “we’re having an earthquake.” Both announcers were ultimately unharmed, and the series resumed play shortly afterwards, but at the time audiences couldn’t be faulted for expecting the worst.
The Moon Landing
On July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people across the globe watched as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. According to CNN, the broadcast networks ABC, NBC, and CBS spent a combined $12 million to cover the event, which would ultimately be viewed by an estimated 600 million people worldwide.
After a 51-day armed standoff with the David Koresh-led Branch Davidian cult, FBI agents decided to invade the group’s compound in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993. During a live television broadcast of the siege, the structure housing members of the cult burst into flames. Audiences watched as the building and its inhabitants were engulfed, ultimately leading to the death of seventy-six members, including Koresh. To this day, speculation remains as to who started the blaze seen nationwide.
Dale Earnhardt’s Death
In the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500—NASCAR’s most popular event—star driver Dale Earnhardt was involved in an accident which sent his vehicle into the retaining wall. The 49-year-old driver died on impact in front of a crowd of thousands, with millions more on live TV looking on.
Tom Cruise’s Couch Jumping
In 2005, Tom Cruise was still mostly known for being a successful actor. The stunt he would pull that year in front of a live TV audience on Oprah, however, would change all that. During an interview to promote his upcoming film, War of the Worlds, Cruise gushed about his relationship with new girlfriend Katie Holmes and generally acted like an excited twelve-year-old, including fist-pumping, imaginary bowling, and, most memorably, jumping onto the couch. Oprah herself put it best when she told Cruise—moments prior to his decision to stand on a piece of furniture meant exclusively for sitting—”you are gone.”
Steve Harvey Announces Wrong Miss Universe
Before the Oscars had crowned the wrong winner, Steve Harvey did it first. Hosting the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, Harvey pronounced Miss Colombia the winner to raucous cheers from the audience. It was only after Miss Colombia (Ariadna Gutiérrez) had the crown placed atop her head that the Family Feud host retook the stage, sheepishly announcing that he “has to apologize.” Miss Colombia, it seems, had been the first runner-up, a position Harvey had misread as first overall. (The real winner: Miss Philippines, Pia Wurtzbach.) Fortunately for Harvey, the situation provided excellent content for an episode of his daytime show, when a year later he invited on Miss Colombia herself to receive a formal apology.
Murder of Virginia TV Crew
Newswoman Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward were conducting an interview for a local news station when a former employee unsuspectingly attacked them with a gun. Disturbingly, the whole thing took place on live TV as—with Alison in the middle of a question—loud bangs are suddenly heard, along with Parker’s screams. As Ward drops the camera, the feed becomes a static image of a nearby window, and screams continue to be heard. The feed eventually switches back to a newsroom, with a clearly shaken co-worker saying that she isn’t quite sure what just happened.
Sinead O’Connor Rips up the Pope
In 1992, a young Sinead O’Connor was booked to perform as the musical guest on the October 3rd episode of SNL. For the occasion, she decided to perform a cover of Bob Marley’s “War,” while changing some of its lyrics to reflect the tragedy of abused youth instead of racial inequity. During rehearsals, she had decided hold up a picture of orphaned children at the end of the song to drive home her point. When the live performance came, however, she switched out the image of orphaned children for one of the Pope, subsequently ripping it up in the faces of television audiences everywhere, while exhorting viewers to “fight the real enemy.” In response, the Daily News reported, NBC received over four thousand calls of protest, and O’Connor was banned from the program.
Reporter Confuses Samuel L. Jackson for Laurence Fishburne
During a typical press junket to promote his film Robocop, Samuel L. Jackson was asked by reporter Sam Rubin about his Super Bowl commercial. The problem was, Jackson hadn’t appeared in a Super Bowl commercial that year. Rubin, it seems, had confused Jackson with Laurence Fishburne, and a visibly irritated Jackson was not going to let him forget it. “We don’t all look alike,” Jackson told Rubin, “there’s more than one black guy doing commercials.” Even as Rubin tried to move on, Jackson refused, eventually putting the nail in the coffin by telling Rubin that while he knows he it might be “surprising,” he’s “actually never done a McDonald’s or a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial.”
Wendy Williams Passes Out Dressed as Lady Liberty
For a Halloween edition of her daytime talk show, Wendy Williams dressed up as the Statue of Liberty. That, however, wouldn’t be the only surprise guests were treated to. While announcing an upcoming segment, Williams stopped mid-sentence, her eyes suddenly opened wide and her whole body wobbling violently, before abruptly collapsing on the floor. While viewers initially thought the incident was a Halloween trick, Williams returned after a commercial break to assure them it was not. Due to her costume, she said, she simply overheated. And while paramedics were called to the scene, she ultimately brushed them away and—perhaps most impressively—remained dressed as Lady Liberty for the duration of the broadcast.
News Helicopters Crash While Covering Police Chase
While covering a police pursuit in Phoenix, Arizona, two local television stations’ helicopters crashed into each other, downing both vehicles and killing all members on board. At the time, one of the helicopters was broadcasting live, and viewers heard the pilot ominously cry “oh, geez” as the feed suddenly became blurry and cut out.
Balloon Boy Admits It Was a Hoax
On October 15, 2009, Richard and Mayumi Heene of Fort Collins, Colorado, released a homemade helium-filled balloon into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, as they told police, that balloon also held their six-year-old son, Falcon. After a chase by National Guard helicopters—and a search for a body after none was found in the balloon—it turned out the boy had been hiding in his parent’s attic the entire time. The real twist, however, came out during an interview with Wolf Blitzer when, in response to Blitzer’s asking Falcon why he hadn’t responded to his parents’ calls while they searched for him, the boy turned to his father and said, “You guys said that, um, we did this for show.” Both Richard and Mayumi were sentenced to short prison sentences, along with fines, for their role in the incident.
Poker Tournament Robbed on Air
During live coverage of a 2010 German poker tournament in Berlin, one player was seen—in mid-hand—suddenly looking over his shoulder as the studio audience begins quickly to clear out. Screams of panic, meanwhile, fill the room, eventually leading the players themselves to leave the table. It would later turn out that an armed robbery was occurring on the premises, with the thieves ultimately making out with the tournament’s $1.36 million jackpot. Fortunately, the broadcast resumed later that afternoon with the jackpot replenished, and each of the burglars was apprehended within weeks.
Christine Chubbuck Suicide
Christine Chubbuck was working as a newscaster in Florida when she told her production team that she had to read a newscast before that day’s programming, an unusual request. After covering three national stories and a shooting—the footage of which stalled—cameras came back to Chubbuck, who announced that audiences would then see the first attempted suicide on TV. The 29-year-old subsequently pulled out a gun and shot herself behind the ear. The station announced her hospitalization, and subsequent death, using a script that Chubbuck herself had written in preparation, leaving it on the news desk as she died.
Milli Vanilli Lip-Sync Fail
Fresh of their Grammy for best new artist, Milli Vanilli were performing a live concert on MTV when their track “Girl You Know It’s True,” began to jam, repeating the same words over and over. Panicked, the duo danced for a few moments before quickly running offstage. While the in-house audience at the time didn’t seem to care—or notice—what had happened, the incident revealed that the group was lip syncing, a fact which would later lead to the revelation that the frontmen of the group didn’t actually sing any of the vocals heard on their record. In response, they were stripped of their Grammy, and the band name has lived in infamy ever since.
Rick Perry Forgets Third Agency He Would Eliminate
In a debate leading up to the 2012 presidential primary, then-frontrunner Rick Perry sought to show his cost-cutting credentials by naming three federal agencies he would eliminate should he get the nation’s top job. Unfortunately, after naming just two of them, candidate Perry appeared at a loss for words. While the other politicians on stage shouted out their own recommendations, Perry was asked by the moderator whether or not he could in fact name the third agency. After a bit more fumbling, Perry relented, admitting he could not, and offering his now-infamous response: “oops.”
Randy Johnson Kills a Bird
Randy Johnson was one of the hardest throwing pitchers in baseball. It must have been something of a death wish, then, when a bird flew into one of his fastball’s line of fire. Moments after Johnson released a pitch on March 21, 2001, baseball viewers were treated to a sudden explosion of feathers halfway to home plate as the collision occurred. Sadly, the animal did not survive the incident, and since then fans everywhere have attempted to avoid the urge to make a “fowl ball” pun.
JetBlue 292 Landing
Soon after JetBlue flight 292 took off from Bob Hope airport in Burbank, California, its pilots knew something was wrong. Due to a malfunction, they were unable to retract the landing gear, and informed officials in the local control tower of their situation. Soon afterwards, a decision was made to attempt an emergency landing at LAX airport. In the meantime, however, news crews had gotten word of the situation, and passengers on board watched the coverage on their satellite-equipped televisions as their fates were discussed by news anchors nationwide. The plane eventually landed successfully under the watchful eyes of millions of TV viewers, leaving its passengers unharmed—and leaving an indelible mark on daytime news.
Ashlee Simpson’s SNL Lip Synch Fail
In 2004, Ashlee Simpson was a rising pop star known for songs like “Pieces of Me,” and “Boyfriend,” her fame earning her a spot as the musical guest on an episode of SNL hosted by Jude Law. What caught audiences off-guard, however, was that when her song began, rather than singing, the 20-year-old began doing a dance that can only be described as a “jig” while her vocals played in the background. It appeared the artist had been caught lip-synching and, after a few moments of awkwardness, Simpson ran off stage, with her band continuing to play out the rest of the song. Though she appeared at the end of the show to apologize, blaming the incident on her bandmates, the event—crystallized in public memory—largely signaled the end of her music career.
Zinedine Zidane Head-butts Opponent in World Cup Final
The FIFA World Cup is soccer’s biggest event, and no game is bigger than the final. That made it all the more shocking when, in overtime of the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy, Zinedine Zidane—one of France’s biggest stars—suddenly head-butted an Italian player, dropping the latter to the ground. Zidane, in his final game as a player for his nation, would be ejected for the unprecedented move, and Italy would win in penalty kicks.
Kanye West Interrupts Taylor Swift at the VMAs
During her acceptance speech for MTV’s “Video of the Year,” Taylor Swift had her microphone taken away by a sunglasses-clad Kanye West. He proceeded to tell her that while he was happy for her, and would let her finish, he felt the need to point out that Beyoncé—another nominee—had one of the best music videos, not just of the year, but of all time. After making the announcement, and pointing directly at Beyoncé herself, then seated in the front row, West shrugged and handed the microphone back to Swift, who stood dumbfounded as the audience showered West with jeers. Years later, West would reference the incident in a song, saying his antics had made Swift famous.
Family Interrupts Father’s Very Serious BBC Interview
Robert Kelly, a political science professor and expert on Korean relations, often gives interviews from his apartment in Busan. When he does so, he typically locks the door to his study to keep out any unwanted commotion from his two young children. During one interview with the BBC, however, Kelly forgot to bar the hatch and—while the very serious-looking man discusses South Korean politics—they come bursting into the room, trying to get their father’s attention. Kelly, however, remains facing towards the camera, stone-faced, apologizing for the commotion. Soon thereafter, his wife comes running heroically into the background, snatching away the young ones just as Kelly begins to break a smile.
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were traveling by presidential motorcade through Dallas, Texas. What was supposed to be a celebratory campaign stop in Kennedy’s re-election tour quickly turned to tragedy when the president was struck by gunfire. The incident—covered by television news crews—quickly became one of the most iconic and dissected videos of all time, with theorists to this day still positing their own hypothesis as to what exactly happened that day.
Madonna and Britney Kiss
After opening the 2003 MTV VMAs with a performance alongside Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Madonna took a moment to kiss on-stage to the “ooh’s” and “ah’s” of a sold out Radio City Music Hall. Live coverage, meanwhile, immediately cut to Justin Timberlake—Spears’ then-boyfriend—who appears confused. Afterward, Madonna locked lips with Aguilera too, but cameras were too late to register the whole thing, making the initial kiss the headline. Fifteen years later, the craziest part might be just how crazy the act was considered at the time.