The Eichmann Show is a new drama about one of the most iconic television moments of all time. In 1961, the trial of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann was covertly videotaped then broadcast in nearly 30 countries, exposing the wider world to the extent of The Third Reich’s evil.
TV producer Milton Fruchtman (Martin “Bilbo Baggins” Freeman) comes complete with an acceptable German accent and a partner in the form of blacklisted film director Leo Hurwitz (our own Anthony LaPaglia).
To celebrate the fact that TV can often put a fair fraction of our earth on pause, here are 10 of the hugest moments in the medium’s relatively short past.
(Note: As there’s no official world tally when it comes to ratings, many figures are merely estimates estimated by, well, estimators.)
1. The entirely real moon landing of July 1969
I’ve only recently discovered that the Apollo II moon landing wasn’t a discarded Stanley Kubrick short but a genuine document of human beings flying to another bloody planet and chilling on its surface. The event is said to have attracted over 500,000 pairs of eyes from all nations, which was a record-breaking figure at the time.
2. The wedding of Charles and Diana, 1981
750 million global viewers are said to have tuned in to this tying of the royal knot. A fair cut of this cohort must have come from the UK, as the whole kingdom earned a day off purely to celebrate the extravagant nuptials. It’s also Australia's second-most watched moment of all time, only second to...
3. The funeral of Diana, Prince of Wales, 1997
There’s something macabre about Diana’s funeral attracting more eyes than her wedding, but I’m going to put it down to the fact that more people were watching television by this time. Either way, Di’s goodbye ensnared over 2 billion viewers. Though once again, these are - say it with me - estimates.
4. Michael Jackson’s memorial service
The farewell to the King of Pop proved that his kingdom was larger than most overpopulated nations. Not only was the ceremony played in cinemas across the US, but aired everywhere from Barcelona to Tallinn, (including at Melbourne’s Federation Square - at 3am, of course).
Estimators believe that 2.5 billion human beings tuned in to ‘Remember the Time’ from the comfort of their living rooms. Factoring in online streaming, and the ceremony is rumoured to be the most televised broadcast of all time (see number 7 for a counter-claim).
5. M*A*S*H finale, 1983
“Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” was a heartfelt movie-length finale to the comedy phenomenon that ran for 11 seasons. For the 27 years after it aired, the episode retained the title of most watched television show in US history (105.9 million viewers), only to receive a right tackle from one of those Superbowling contests (106 million). 0.1 million aside, and the episode remains the most watched television finale of all time, ahead of the next three in line - Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends.
6. Roots, 1977
The original six-part mini-blockbuster remains unrivaled today, tracing African heritage from fleeing to Maryland during colonial times through to the shifting tides of post-civil war. Its buzz led to roughly 80% of American households tuning in to at least one episode. It’s even the 10th most watch show in Australian history, which almost compensates for the other nine on our list.
All 4 episodes of Roots are available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first right here:
7. The Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, 2008
So, apparently the estimators use a fairly unreliable method of ratings collation when it comes to the Olympics, but the Chinese curtain raiser is often referred to as grabbing 15% of the world’s population. That sounds impressive until you realise it’s a fancy way of saying 1.25 billion, far lower than above entries.
Granted, various respectable media outlets have claimed 2 billion, 3 billion, and, by many, 4 billion viewers watched the event-coordinators' wet dream.
8. The OJ Simpson trial, 1995
Cuba Goo- sorry, OJ Simpson makes the list, and tragically, not thanks to a Naked Gun rerun.
Yes, everybody’s favourite acquitted running back and his alleged-post-double-murder Gran Turismo treatment of LA’s streets was a voyeur’s fantasy. We all know how this story ends, but the trial attracted 100 million US viewers, not to mention those glued to screens around the world. Unfortunately, those additional figures are not available, which I’ve heard is directly related to the OJ-related conspiracy.
9. Rescue of Chilean miners, 2010
The billion-plus that tuned into this horrible tale with a happy ending encompass both television and online viewers.
Whether or not the figure is accurate is immaterial - the event captured the world’s attention and sympathy, even more so in surrounding nations, and the eventual rescue filled me with love for the collective human spirit. A sentiment which lasted a good hour and a bit.
10. Here Come the Habibs, 2016
Watch The Eichmann Show on Wednesday, 10 August at 8:30pm (AEST) on SBS. After it broadcasts, watch it on SBS On Demand.