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Media Moments That Changed History

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong identifies five TV and movie moments that have influenced today’s popular media.

Image: Getty Images

By Paulina Freedman
Winter 2024

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong ’96 has written seven books on pop culture history, including When Women Invented Television, Sex and the City and Us and the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia. Her newest book, So Fetch: The Making of Mean Girls (And Why We’re Still So Obsessed With It), comes out this January. Armstrong identifies five TV and movie moments that have influenced today’s popular media:  


July 3, 1950: The first episode of The Hazel Scott Show airs. 

“[Scott made history as the first Black woman to host her own national, primetime TV show in the U.S.] A glamorous, gifted jazz pianist — she could play two pianos at once — Scott performed regularly on her variety show. But the show was canceled after just a few months, in part because Scott, a tireless civil rights activist, refused to play segregated venues. She also was targeted by the anti-Communist blacklist, which sidelined activists, Black people and Jews in Hollywood.”  


Photo Credit: BETTMANN

September 19, 1970: The Mary Tyler Moore Show premieres. 

“Though technically not the first show about a single woman — Marlo Thomas’ That Girl predated it by four years — Mary was a zeitgeist-defining show. Moore’s character was professional, totally independent, 30 years old and dating but hardly desperate about it. She was emblematic of a new kind of TV woman — one who was single and fabulous.” The Mary Tyler Moore Show cast also included Cloris Leachman ’48, ’14 H as Phyllis Lindstrom. 


Photo Credit: NBC

July 5, 1989: The first episode of Seinfeld airs. 

Seinfeld got off to a quiet start. Its pilot episode aired in the dead of summer on the day after a national holiday, and that should have been it. But one NBC executive, Rick Ludwin, loved the show and fought for it. The series went on to make TV history, spawning scores of catchphrases and amassing an audience of nearly 30 million weekly viewers. It also changed the sitcom format forever, intoducing unlikeable characters, denslely packed plots and a cynical, nihilist streak to what had historically been a light a sunny format.” Seinfeld also starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus ’82, ’07 H as Elaine Benes. 



June 6, 1998: The first episode of Sex and the City airs. 

“No one was sure what an R-rated TV comedy on premium cable would look like, or whether anyone would watch, but Sex and the City quickly became an international sensation by allowing its four main characters — all women — to be unapologetically single, talk as dirty as they wanted and look fantastic enough to make millions of women envy — and emulate — their fictional lives. The series single-handedly changed the way women talked about sex and launched countless trends and product lines.” Cindy Chupack ’87 was a writer and exective producer on the show. 


April 30, 2004: Mean Girls is released.  

Mean Girls was a defining movie for millennials, and the cultural phenomenon caught on with successive generations because of its girl-powered bite, its timeless messages about bullying and cliques, and its endlessly quotable lines written by Tina Fey. It became a building block of internet culture and endures with young audiences today on TikTok.” The movie’s cast included SNL veteran Ana Gasteyer ’89 as Cady Heron’s mom. 

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