10. ‘Scandal’ abortion episode: Politics is no longer the genre-to-avoid when it comes to scripted series, but there are still certain topics that broadcast networks tend to avoid. When “Scandal” featured an episode in November in which Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) has an abortion, the surprise wasn’t just that they ventured into territory that few other shows won’t touch, but that the episode didn’t draw the advertiser and affiliate angst that you would expect. Some groups did raise objections, but the episode also drew positive reactions from organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America. It probably reflects the gravitation of broadcast TV to more daring fare in the face of increased competition on other platforms, but TV legend Norman Lear saw it as a sign that “we’re growing up.” The episode came after months in which Planned Parenthood had been hammered by a series of Center for Medical Progress videos purporting to expose the organization for selling fetal tissue for research.
9. Chris Christie’s addiction video: This is not a TV moment per se, but it perhaps underscored how difficult it was for any Republican candidate to break through the dominance of Donald Trump. Christie’s chances are pretty iffy, but he did score one of the year’s most popular viral videos, in a New Hampshire campaign appearance in which he talks about treating addiction as a disease. “Somehow, if it’s heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, ‘They decided it, they’re getting what they deserved,'” Christie said. The video, an outtake from a Huffington Post web series, has been watched more than 8 million times. In a campaign dominated by bluster and poll-hype, it was a reminder that occasionally an unexpected issue can break through, conveyed by a candidate in an unexpected way.
8. Pope Francis greets well-wishers on Capitol Hill: The Pope’s speech before Congress may have been the highlight of his first trip to the United States, but it was what he did afterward that actually was more telling of his popularity beyond Catholicism. After meeting with congressional leaders, including Speaker John Boehner, who would resign the next day, the Pope addressed a crowd gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol. From a balcony and facing the National Mall, the Pope said, “Father of all, bless these. Bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all. And I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way.”
7. President Obama sings “Amazing Grace”: After a racist terrorist opened fire at an African American church in Charleston, S.C. in June, Obama appeared at the service of one of its victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, someone he knew well. What he delivered was a spiritual eulogy that touched on race, grief and forgiveness, with a moment at the end in which he started singing “Amazing Grace,” to be joined in by mourners in the audience. The Charleston shootings inspired a dialogue about the Confederate flag and its symbolism, eventually leading to its banishment from the grounds of South Carolina’s statehouse. But it also was just one of a series of mass shootings that have revived issues of the availability of guns, tragedies that, unfortunately, will most likely be repeated in 2016.
6. Donald Trump’s campaign announcement: After a grand entrance down escalator at the Trump Tower, then came the debut speech. The media initially didn’t take Trump too seriously about his presidential bid — was it real? — but they did take seriously the backlash. Over the coming weeks Trump would lose business deals with the likes of Macys and Univision, and NBC announced it was severing ties, over comments that he made in his campaign debut in which he bemoaned rapists and murderers coming across the U.S.-Mexican border. But his poll numbers went up. The much derided debut of candidate Trump, it turns out, was just the start of a campaign that shook up the presidential race, defied the laws of public humility and discourse and defined the fault lines of 2016.
5. Hillary Clinton as “Val” on “Saturday Night Live”: After repeated attempts at spontaneity, empathy and the personal touch, Clinton finally managed to shake free of the rap that she’s too cooly calculating with the season premiere “Saturday Night Live” skit that poked fun at herself and actually was pretty funny. Time will tell if this was a fleeting moment or a turning point, but the skit helped relieve jittery supporters and signaled a better month for Clinton, which later in October included her appearance before a special House committee on Benghazi, a marathon hearing in which she was in the hot seat for nearly 11 hours, and emerged pretty much unscathed.
4. Bernie Sanders: “I’m sick and tired of hearing about those damn emails”: If Trump had trouble being taken seriously, Sanders had trouble just getting coverage when he first announced his bid for the presidency on the Capitol lawn in late April. But by summer, with hefty fundraising and large crowds, it was clear that Sanders’ campaign had struck a chord, and that it was more than a quixotic bid from the country’s only socialist senator. At the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Sanders scored the best line, when he was asked about his rival Clinton’s use of a private email server. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders said, throwing her a lifeline on an issue that had dogged her campaign, at least in the media’s eyes, from the start. Sanders’ point was that it was media priorities were out of whack with what was actually resonating with the public, with a case in point being his campaign’s unexpectedly strong showing and its laser focus on economic populism.
3. Police force videos: The Nov. 24 release of a video of the 2014 Chicago police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald was only the latest tragedy that put questions of law enforcement use of force and racial profiling front and center. While the video of that shooting was captured by a police dashcam and released by court order, other incidents, like a police crackdown on a pool party in McKinney, Texas, were captured by passersby, giving picture to cable news debate over police brutality. The images undoubtedly helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement, and a broader agenda around an array of other issues including incarceration and immigration.
2. Donald Trump vs. Megyn Kelly: “Mr. Trump,” Megyn Kelly said at the first Republican debate in August, “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.'” “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump interjected, before complaining about his treatment at the gathering and how little time he has for political correctness. That began, in earnest, the Trump campaign’s grievances against the media, Kelly (pictured, above) and Fox News included, invoking a strategy that at once taps in to distrust of journalists and at the same time capitalizes on exposure. It’s certainly not anything new; with a mixture of entertainment and gall, Trump took media love-hate to a new level, enough to dominate news cycle after news cycle.
1. Joseph Biden on Stephen Colbert: When Biden appeared on Stephen Colbert’s third “Late Show,” the main interest was whether he would give any indication of whether he would make a run for the presidency. He didn’t then. But he did give something that few politicians ever do — a very personal reflection on grief following the death of his son Beau earlier in the year. Colbert, still getting in the routine of succeeding David Letterman in the chair, set just the right tone, mixing light humor with his own personal story of grief, the death of his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was a child.
And the most unfortunate political moment…
Donald Trump hosts “Saturday Night Live”: It had its moments. It drew a bigger-then-normal audience. And it certainly didn’t hurt Trump. But the show’s invite of a major presidential candidate to host also was the source of headaches, including protests from immigrant rights and Latino groups, who pointed out that the network that severed ties with Trump in July was inviting him back to a signature show in November, when he was a proven ratings getter. What’s more, NBC was on the hook to Trump’s rivals for equal time, forcing them to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars in free airtime. Trump may continue to be a ratings bonanza, but the “SNL” experience showed that perhaps most of the fun and games should be left to the comics, like the season’s best so far, Larry David as Sanders.