TV’s most powerful moments: 9/11, Katrina, O.J., Nielsen study finds

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The Sept. 11 tragedy was the most powerful event in television history, according to a new study released Wednesday by Sony Electronics and Nielsen.

According to Nielsen's survey of 1,077 American adults, 9/11 was the most "universally impactful" televised moment of the last 50 years, followed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995, the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986 and the death of Osama bin Laden last May.

To measure impact, Nielsen and Sony created a score for each event derived by the number of people who viewed the event live, the number who could recall details about where they were during the occurrence and the number who could remember discussing what happened with others. Those parameters may explain why the surreal, slow-speed chase of Simpson's white Ford Bronco on June 17, 1994, ranked higher on the list than the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the Columbine High School shootings and the 2010 BP oil spill.

It may also be the reason that the endlessly hyped wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 had more influence, according to Nielsen, than the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Here are the top 20 events, according to the survey:

1. Sept. 11 tragedy (2001)
2. Hurricane Katrina (2005)
3. O.J. Simpson verdict (1995)
4. Challenger space shuttle disaster (1986)
5. Death of Osama bin Laden (2011)
6. O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase (1994)
7. Earthquake in Japan (2011)
8. Columbine High School shootings (1999)
9. BP oil spill (2010)
10. Princess Diana's funeral (1997)
11. Death of Whitney Houston (2012)
12. Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein (2006)
13. Barack Obama's acceptance speech (2008)
14. The Royal Wedding (2011)
15. Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1963)
16. Oklahoma City bombing (1995)
17. Bush/Gore election results (2000)
18. L.A. riots (1992)
19. Casey Anthony verdict (2011)
20. Funeral of John F. Kennedy (1963)

Five of the top 20 most powerful moments—bin Laden's killing, the earthquake in Japan, the Casey Anthony verdict, the royal wedding and the death of Whitney Houston—occurred within the last two years, while JFK's assassination and funeral in 1963 were the only televised events from the 1960s. And just one from the 1980s—the Challenger disaster—registered among the 20 most resonating, TV-wise.

The survey was conducted by Nielsen in February. Sony commissioned the study in part to prove that despite the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter, people still watch major news events on television. "The study shows that we still turn to TV to inspire those [social media] discussions," Sony Electronics VP Brian Siegel said. (Loose translation: We should buy more TVs, preferably from Sony.)

[Slideshow: Television's most powerful moments]

It also showed that age and gender play a big role in what we consider must-see TV.

Apart from 9/11, the most highly recalled events among females were the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana, the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and the 2004 finale of "Friends." Among men, the killing of bin Laden and the U.S. hockey team's 1980 Olympic "miracle" were the most powerful television events excluding the 2001 terror attacks.

Among women aged 18-34, the Tiger Woods cheating episode ranked highest in the scandal category, whereas President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky had a greater effect among men in the same age range.

Men over the age of 55, meanwhile, were influenced heavily by the "Thrilla in Manila" bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and Joe Namath's MVP performance in Super Bowl III. But 18-34-year-old men said they were most "impacted" by LeBron James' decision to sign with the Miami Heat.

What TV event most affected you and why? Tell us briefly and specifically in the article's section for comments. The best responses may be highlighted in another story.