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TV's Greatest Surprises

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In June 2010, the Paley Center for Media put on a special listing television's top 30 greatest surprises, spanning genres from comedy to drama to reality. The number one spot caused quite a bit of debate. Hosted by Jeff Probst.

Since most of these are twist endings, be aware of UNMARKED SPOILERS.

  • 30. Kris Allen beats Adam Lambert on American Idol Season 9, leaving Simon Cowell seated and speechless.
  • 29. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.
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  • 28. Newhart finale is a dream from The Bob Newhart Show.
  • 27. Ellen DeGeneres’ character comes out as gay on Ellen.
  • 26. Bobby James Ewing comes back to Dallas, and the producers say the previous season was All Just a Dream.
  • 25. Susan dies on Seinfeld.
  • 24. Lucy Ricardo and an Italian lady fight while crushing grapes on I Love Lucy.
  • 23. The All in the Family premiere.
  • 22. The Twilight Zone surgery twist episode.
  • 21. The John Doe mystery patient on Grey's Anatomy turns out to be George.
  • 20. Chandler and Monica’s surprise relationship on Friends.
  • 19. Rob Petrie (white) wonders whether he received the correct child from the hospital, and invites the Peters (who turn out to be African-American) over to sort it out on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • 18. Retired Johnny Carson almost reads top 10 list on The Late Show with David Letterman, but walks away as crowd continues cheering.
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  • 17. Col. Blake’s plane is shot down on M*A*S*H.
  • 16. Jonny Fairplay lies about his "dead” grandmother on Survivor: Pearl Islands.
  • 15. Michael hits Meredith with his car on The Office (US).
  • 14. Sam reveals his hairpiece on Cheers.
  • 13. Janice shoots Richie after he hits her on The Sopranos.
  • 12. Joseph curses out and physically challenges Chef Ramsay on Hell's Kitchen Season 6.
  • 11. Omar is shot by a 12-year-old boy on The Wire.
  • 10. Future President Bill Clinton plays saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show.
  • 9. Marie drives her car through the wall on Everybody Loves Raymond.
  • 8. A burning helicopter kills Dr. Romano on ER.
  • 7. Pregnant Texan Jessica Robinson wins the first million dollars on Deal or No Deal.
  • 6. Rosalind Shays falls down an elevator shaft on L.A. Law.
  • 5. John Carpenter uses a Lifeline to call his father and announce that he’s about to win the million dollars on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
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  • 4. Mark Harmon’s secret service agent is killed in a convenience store robbery on The West Wing.
  • 3. Marie Osmond faints on live TV after the Samba on Dancing with the Stars.
  • 2. Agent Todd is shot in the head after taking a bullet for Gibbs on NCIS.
  • 1. Sept. 13, 2004, on The Oprah Winfrey Show: Oprah gives each of her 276 audience members a car, with the total value in excess of $7 million.
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