15 Of The Most Shocking Live TV Moments Ever

·9 min read

1.First, we have to start with the obvious one that recently had its one-year anniversary: the Will Smith Oscars slap.

will smith slapping chris rock
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

As Chris Rock prepared to present the Best Documentary Feature award, he made a joke about Will's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her shaved head. (Pinkett Smith has been open about shaving her head due to alopecia). Will laughed, then got up on stage and slapped Rock, before returning to his seat and shouting "Keep my wife's name out your fucking mouth!"

oh wow, will smith just slapped me and will back at his seat saying, keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth
ABC

Due to the incident, which shocked celebs and viewers alike, Smith (who would go on to win Best Actor for King Richard that same night) was banned from attending Academy events for a decade. He also resigned from the Academy.

will holding up his award
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

You can watch the clip here.

2.Another Oscars mishap happened all the way back in 1974. As David Niven began to introduce Elizabeth Taylor (who was to announce Best Picture) a man named Robert Opel streaked behind him — completely nude.

David ready to announce Elizabeth taylor as a naked man runs on stage behind him
NBC

Niven made a joke about Opel's "shortcomings" that actually made many suspect that the stunt (and ensuing joke) had been planned — though Niven has denied this. Adding fuel to that theory, Opel was not arrested but instead gave an interview for the press.

david saying the only laugh that Opel will get is from stripping off and showing his shortcomings as the audience laughs

Opel's story is actually really tragic, if you'd like to read more about it.

NBC

You can watch the clip here.

3.One more Oscars incident in celebration of Oscars season: when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner. The year was 2017, and the ceremony was just about over when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty took the stage to announce the last and most prestigious award of the night. But due to an envelope mix-up, Dunaway mistakenly announced the winner as La La Land.

the two on stage announcing la la land as the winner
ABC

As Beatty quickly came back to explain, the card in the envelope had read Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land – it was the card for an award Stone had already won earlier in the night. In Beatty's moment of confusion, he tried to show the card to co-presenter Dunaway. Dunaway, only seeing the text La La Land, announced them as the winner. Backstage (and quickly, onstage as well) chaos erupted as the mistake was realized. Moonlight's producers and cast replaced La La Land's, and they made their acceptance speech.

as la la land crew are onstage the envelope for the real winners is shown on camera and the moonlight crew get on stage to accept their award
ABC

You can watch the clip here.

4.In 2015, Steve Harvey also announced the wrong winner in the Miss Universe pageant.

harvey announcing colombia as the winner and then apologizing and announcing miss universe is philipines
Fox

You can watch it all go down here.

5.Like the Oscars, we had the Superbowl not too long ago, and back in 2004, the football match gave us one of the most infamous live snafus of all time: the Janet Jackson nipple flash.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake onstage
CBS

The incident was called an “unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional" wardrobe malfunction, with a representative for Jackson saying that Timberlake was supposed to rip off that part of the top, but that there was supposed to be a bra underneath that instead "collapsed."

justin and janet on stage

Jackson unfortunately faced much more backlash than Timberlake, who was invited back to perform years later.

J. Shearer / WireImage via Getty Images

6.2004 was a big year for live snafus, apparently — not only is it the year of Nipplegate, but it's also the year Ashlee Simpson was famously caught lip-syncing on Saturday Night Live.

Ashlee Simpson on SNL
Dana Edelson / NBCU Photo Bank

When the wrong track began to play (the same one she'd already performed), Simpson did not sing, and instead did a strange dance. She later blamed the band before saying she'd lost her voice due to acid reflux and was ordered by doctors not to sing. The singer's career was definitely affected, though it continued.

Ashlee Simpson on "SNL"
NBC

You can watch the clip here:

7.In another controversial SNL performance, on Halloween night 1981, punk band FEAR performed — and to the shock of producers and viewers at home, they (along with the busload of fans they'd brought in to be their audience) started essentially destroying the stage.

"It's great to be here in New Jersey"
NBC

The band caused a reported $200,000 of damage that night, and the broadcast was cut off before their last song, after one of the fans they brought screamed, "New York sucks!" into the mic.

FEAR onstage

The fans bused in also reportedly threw a pumpkin into the chest of SNL producer Dick Ebersol.

Gary Leonard/Corbis via Getty Images

You can watch the performance here.

8.The Replacements were also banned from SNL after Paul Westerberg accidentally dropped an f-bomb and Bob Stinson did a somersault that exposed his bare butt.

The Replacements onstage
NBC

You can watch the video here.

9.But perhaps the most infamous SNL performance was when Sinead O'Connor performed. Last minute, O'Connor had requested to perform Bob Marley’s “War" a capella instead of “Scarlet Ribbons" as her second number. She also asked for there to only be one camera, and for it to be a close-up of her, so she could hold up a photo of a hungry child and impart on the audience a message about protecting kids from child abuse*. Instead, during the live broadcast, O'Connor held up a photo of Pope John Paul II, said "fight the real enemy," and tore up the photo (to protest child abuse in the Catholic church) before leaving the stage.

sinead ripping the photo as she says, fight the real enemy

*This is contested; Lorne Michaels says it was a photo of a war refugee child from Bosnia, and O'Connor's memoir describes the photo as being of a Brazilian child victim of police violence.

NBC

O'Connor's reputation never truly recovered, and the performance was even mocked on future SNL episodes — but some thought it brave, especially in a modern lens, and Lorne Michaels seemingly has at least a little admiration for the act, though it was reported afterward that NBC banned her from the show.

sinead singing on stage
MARIA BASTONE/AFP via Getty Images

You can watch the clip here.

10.One last SNL one...when cast member Charles Rocket accidentally let the f-word slip in a Dallas-themed sketch in the 11th episode of Season 6. The moment became even more famous in retrospect; Rocket was fired for the slip-up, and almost the entire rest of the cast followed when the season ended early two episodes later due to a writer's strike.

charles with the cast saying, i'd like to know who fucking did it

Notably, one of the only cast members not fired was Eddie Murphy, who you can see looking shocked in the above image.

NBC

Watch the clip here.

11.One-time competitor of SNL, the live sketch show, Fridays, aired briefly during the 1980s. In one skit, starring Andy Kaufman and Michael Richards, Kaufman repeatedly broke character and messed up on his lines. This led to an all-out brawl between Kaufman and Richards.

someone getting handed cue cards during the scene then back and forth arguing before someone calls for a commercial break and crew rush in to break up a fight
ABC

It later came out that the incident had been staged by Kaufman, but audiences certainly did not know that, and neither did the crew members who ran onstage and tried to break up the brawl. The stunt worked, with Fridays co-creator John Moffitt saying it was responsible for getting the show renewed for another season.

the cast of the show
ABC / courtesy Everett Collection

You can watch the clip here.

12.Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention in this post the moment that started the Taylor Swift Kanye West feud: when Kanye interrupted Swift's acceptance speech for Best Video by a Female Artist at the VMAs to say that Beyoncé should've won instead.

Kanye taking the mic from taylor and beyonce in the crowd mouthing no kanye
MTV

Celebrities, including Beyoncé, reacted with shock, and much of the audience booed. Later in the night, Beyoncé invited Taylor onstage to "have her moment" after Bey won Video of the Year.

taylor on stage with beyonce
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic via Getty Images

You can watch the video here.

13.Another iconic VMAs moment was Britney Spears and Madonna kissing onstage. While it may seem tame by modern standards, back in 2003 the two heterosexual pop music icons locking lips unexpectedly on live TV dominated the news circuit for a long time and cemented itself as an iconic pop culture moment.

madonna and britney kissing
Chris Polk / FilmMagic via Getty Images

Madonna also kissed Christina Aguilera moments later (the camera panned to JT and missed this) — though apparently, it was supposed to be J.Lo, who couldn't make it due to her filming a movie at the time. Apparently, Pink and Gwen Stefani were also asked to be involved.

madonna kissing christina
Scott Gries / Getty Images / Via Scott Gries/Getty Images)

You can watch the performance here.

14.Speaking of awards shows...while performing in conjunction with Rock of Ages at the 2009 Tony Awards, some viewers were shocked to notice Bret Michaels get hit by a piece of falling scenery.

Bret Michaels onstage
CBS

It at first appeared Michaels was fine, with host Neil Patrick Harris joking that Michaels brought "a whole new meaning to headbanging." However, the story became more dramatic with time — ten months later, Micheals nearly died from a brain hemorrhage he said was related to the incident.

michaels singing on stage

He actually sued the Tony's for this — a Tonys spokeswoman said he missed his mark, but they ended up settling with Michaels out of court.

Kevin Mazur / WireImage for Tony Awards

You can watch the clip here.

15.Finally, let's end with one where the celebrity wasn't so lucky. Tommy Cooper was a Welsh comedian and magician who died on live TV while performing on the British variety show Live from Her Majesty's. Cooper suffered a heart attack moments after he began a segment, but the audience, believing it was simply a part of the sketch, just laughed as he died.

tommy speaking into a mic

I'm not going to link the scene because it's very sad, but the above still is from him speaking moments before an assistant came out to help him put on his coat for the sketch — directly after which he fell back.

ITV

The show's host, Jimmy Tarbuck, realized what was happening and had the show cut to commercial. The show continued (none of the performers knew that Cooper was dead, only that he was not feeling well, and Tarbuck was told he was alright so that he'd be able to finish hosting the show) while attempts were made to save Cooper. Cooper was brought to the hospital and pronounced dead.

closeup of tommy
Peter Bolton/TV Times via Getty Images

If you've ever spotted something wild, awkward, or unplanned on live TV, we want to hear about it — let us know in the comments below.