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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

5 Great TV Shows that Changed the World

These iconic programs made us safer, healthier, quippier, and more tuneful.

The Simpsons Transformed How We Talk

University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman wrote in 2005, “The Simpsons has apparently taken over from Shakespeare and the Bible as our culture’s greatest source of
idioms, catchphrases, and sundry other textual allusions.” Liberman’s assertion sounds crazy—at least until you remember there’s a Milhouse quote for every occasion. Even the gatekeeper of language, the Oxford English Dictionary, has found a spot for Homer Simpson’s trademark “D’oh!”

Glee Helped Boost the Record Industry

Fox scored a sleeper hit with the musical series in 2009. But the show’s real impact came between airings. As most of the record industry flailed, the Glee recordings found staggering success on iTunes. By the end of 2011, the cast had sold more than 11 million albums and another 36 million single tracks. Meanwhile, the 2011 concert tour grossed more than $40 million. Lea Michele and her Glee castmates are the fastest act to earn 20 top-40 hits, surpassing even Elvis.

America’s Most Wanted Cleaned Up Our Streets

The show has helped capture over 1,100 fugitives since its debut in 1988.

Sex and the City Encouraged Teens to Communicate

A 2011 Ohio State University study found that undergraduates who viewed an episode of Sex and the
were more than twice as likely to talk to their partners about sexual-health issues. This is especially important considering that, in 2008, a Rand Institute study reported that girls between 12 and 17 who watched the show and other shows with “high sexual content” were more than twice as likely to become pregnant—a ringing endorsement for enforcing the Mature Audience rating.

ER Made Us Healthier

ER did more than make George Clooney a superstar. It also changed the way America ate. In three 2004 episodes, the show focused on the doctors’ orders for a teenager with high blood pressure: exercise, and eat more fruits and vegetables. While the plot sounds humdrum, it scared viewers straight. In 2007, researchers from the University of Southern California’s medical school found that viewers who caught these episodes had started walking or exercising more, eating more fruits and vegetables, or getting their blood pressure checked. How can anyone say watching TV is bad for you?

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