6 Cringeworthy Live TV Blunders

1950's era TV news anchor reading the news

In honour of the antics of a passionate Rabbitohs supporter on TV earlier in the week, Vizeum Sydney’s digital director Jane Clinch takes a look at some of the most memorable live TV gaffes from the past few years.

Jane Clinch
Posted by Jane Clinch

Ah the perils of live TV. Whilst there are constantly live moments being captured and broadcast, when it comes to the unexpected, for networks it can be a PR or legal disaster. For viewers, it’s often comedy gold, or for the more conservative, a source of extreme outrage.

By now you have no doubt seen the footage of Tom Steinfort reporting in front of a crowd of South Sydney supporters during Monday’s 6pm Channel Nine news bulletin when a man in the background pulled down his shorts, in a naked, hip thrusting salute to his beloved Rabbitohs.

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In honour of these antics let’s take a look back at some memorable live media gaffes over the past few years. Enjoy!

1. Nipplegate

The infamous 2004 Superbowl halftime show, where Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction revealed her breast during a performance with Justin Timberlake. Conservative America was outraged. The incident led to a five-second TV delay for all future performances and some career affecting backlash for Jackson. Apparently the move was supposed to reveal Jackson’s red lace bra, though the lace undergarment was accidentally removed along with the outer layer. Watching it closely, it still seems pretty staged to me

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2. Jennifer Hawkins loses her skirt

In 2004 during a televised fashion parade at Westfield Miranda, Australia’s very own Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins had her own wardrobe malfunction. After accidentally standing on her skirt, the whole thing falls to the ground as Jenn hurriedly tries to cover her behind as she rushes off stage. It was criticised as a stunt, though Jenn still maintains it was nothing more than a devastatingly, embarrassing accident.

3. Sarah Murdoch’s winner reveal blunder

It’s not always about showing a bit too much skin, sometimes words alone are enough to do the damage. Who could forget Australia’s Next Top Model host Sarah Murdoch mistakenly announcing the wrong name during the 2010 season finale. Awkward! This mistake led to Kelsey (the first winner announced, though not actual winner) receiving an overseas trip and her own $25,000 cash prize.

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4. Miss Teen USA

The many pageants of America, the gift that keeps on giving. Let’s revisit the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant, when the South Carolina contestant answered the question “recent polls show one fifth of Americans can’t locate The US on a world map, why do you think this is?”

Where to start, so many gems… US Americans are unable to do so because, well some people just don’t have maps for one. Somehow South Africa and Iraq get a mention, though it’s not clear why. Oh no wait, it’s because US Americans should help with their education. Even though they can’t find their own country on a map.

Don’t skip any of it, watch the whole 0.48 seconds. And feel better about yourself.

5. Karl Stefanovic hosts Today drunk (allegedly)

And now returning to our own backyard. Let’s revisit the Today Show the morning after the 2009 Logies, when host Karl Stefanovic, showed up to work still drunk from the night before. And look, many have probably been there before, just not on live TV.

There are a number of these videos on YouTube, I’ll just share the first one, but I’m not sure what is funnier, Karl’s random gems of input or his co-hosts reactions and their efforts to try and keep the show going.

(Skip to 4:02 to watch Karl slur a little on a “big word” or to 4:25 to watch Stevie the weatherman struggling himself and Karl sympathising)

6. Merlin’s Eviction Protest

In 2004, Big Brother housemate and evictee Merlin Luck, used his eviction segment to tape his mouth in mute protest, with a sign that said “Free Th(e) Refugees” referencing the mandatory-detention issue of the time.

This act no doubt sent producers into a spin and left host Gretel Killeen trying to fill time on air with a housemate that wouldn’t speak. It also left Big Brother a little embarrassed, given that Merlin managed to sneak in (and out) his protest props undetected.

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For advertisers and agencies these moments can be the source of great tactical messages, or create unwanted association with an event that they never would have anticipated. Although the risks associated with live programming are the same as with a number of other media channels, not just TV.

And whilst blame is not generally placed on the brands advertising around these moments, consumers can often put pressure on brands that remain in association with networks or programs afterwards. It is in a brand’s reaction to these moments that they can win or lose audience favour. It is the reaction that is the opportunity, and that is very dependent on each specific moment or blunder, whether involving scandal, nudity, political messaging or just a silly mistake.

Whether positive or negative, it is clear in all these instances the speed and scale moments like these are amplified. It’s not just the live TV audiences that are exposed, but the unlimited scale of the online audience. Thank you internet for giving us the ability to relive these eventful and hilarious moments. Though no doubt for those involved it’s something they just want to forget.