The Most Controversial TV Shows Of All-Time

Person aiming remote control at the TV
Erik Mclean/Unsplash

The amount of shows that have aired in the history of television is a lengthy one, and the ones we know of are the ones that have been picked up by the networks.

There are tons of other ideas that have been pitched that have not seen the light of day and some that have been produced and presented as pilot episodes but eventually scrapped due to a variety of reasons.

The ones that have come to fruition but caused an uproar were mentioned when Redditor Future-Game asked:

"What is the most controversial TV shows of all time?"

Shows pushing the envelope were so risqué. Some aged well over time. Others didn't.

Taboo Topics

"I don't know about all time but the time it aired here in Canada, the original Degrassi High series. They covered so many topics that weren't really covered on mainstream shows back then. Even still somewhat taboo today. And everyone my age watched it and talked about it the next day."

– YEGMusic43

Outing Ellen

"When Ellen Degeneres's character came out as gay on her sitcom, there was a f'king firestorm."

– seanofkelley

Tame Drama

"Believe it or not the comedy SOAP was highly controversial when it premiered in the late 70s. It's done by the same people who did GOLDEN GIRLS. SOAP is so tame by today's standards a ten year old could watch it."

– ComedianRepulsive955

Chappelle's Show.

"I like South Park as an answer, but if we are talking about pushing boundaries, Chappelle's show at least deserves a mention. The Black, White Supremacist alone was wild to see on TV, and it was the first episode of the show to air."

– WaKa_

Reality bites. So did these reality competition shows.

Trash Talk Show

"Jerry springer, what a sh*t show."

– Jok3r609

When Looks Are Everything

"The Swan - a show about generally average, everyday women with low self esteem (due to a variety of factors), receiving plastic surgery and whole makeovers. Every episode would feature two ladies and a "winner" would be decided between them. At the end of the season, all of the winners would be put in a pageant to compete and see who would be dubbed 'The Swan'"

– DungeonFam30

Questionably Racist

"Takeshi's Castle / MXC wasn't exactly controversial at the time, but the production of that show seems awfully exploitative by today's standards (and for the English dub, horribly stereotypical and downright racist at times). We've since watered it down severely with versions like Wipeout, but the real ones know what the lineage of shows like that is."

– plasma_dan

Ultimate Exploitation Of Privacy

"Big Brother. How about we mix the worst people with the most exploitative form of entertainment whilst also casually normalising invasion of privacy."


Just because it was family friendly didn't mean everyone approved.

Representation Matters

"Sesame Street - When this show debuted in 1969, TV channels in the southern US refused to air it because it’s racially mixed group of children playing together was too controversial."

– virago72

Beavis And Butt-Head

"Surprised I haven't seen Beavis and Butt-Head on this list yet. When it came out everyone was freaking out."

– l06ic


"Southpark, we went from outrage at Bart saying "eat my shorts" to Cartman feeding children their parents."

"I mean swearing on TV was less prominent , then Southpark pushed that forward quickly as well, all of a sudden "A**" and "Bullsh*t" were on standard TV."

– nonaestet

Every now and then a show comes out and sends audiences clutching their pearls.

But sometimes, even an episode from a relatively tame TV show can send viewers reeling with topical moments.

Examples of this include the much-hyped same-sex kiss on Melrose Place in the 90s that was ultimately edited to imply the act and the One Tree Hill arc that explored school shootings–which was considered daring and admirable at the time for addressing a malaise that continues plaguing the US today.

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