First TV show that included texting
August 24, 2010 9:54 AM   Subscribe

What was the first instance of two characters on a TV show sending or receiving a text message on TV?

My husband and I are really curious as to which TV show was the first to show two characters texting each other. We've tried Googling for this piece of trivia with no luck. He thinks it's probably The OC or something similar; I suspect there was an earlier instance. I figure if someone knows of a texting on a show and none of us can think of an earlier instance, that's probably it.

Please include, if possible:
* name of show
* episode title or number
* which characters were texting

An approximate airdate would be nice, too. Thanks!
posted by TsuKata to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The second season of The Wire had texting and aired in 2003 (same year as the first season of The OC). A quick look at IMDB makes me think it was episode 10 - "Storm Warnings," which originally aired on 8/10/03.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2010

My guess would by The X-Files, since Mulder and Scully used their cell phones all the time in the earlyish days to cell phones. Some Googling confirms that text messages were indeed sent on The X-Files, although I couldn't say another show didn't do it first or when exactly it was.
posted by ORthey at 10:48 AM on August 24, 2010

Are we only talking about US TV shows? Because given the late adoption of texting in the US compared to elsewhere, I would guess that it would have showed up somewhere else first.

As for actually answering the question: I got nothing.
posted by mskyle at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

SMS as a communication standard was adopted in 1985. So don't bother looking back further than that, unless you want to get into Dick Tracy Watch Silliness.
posted by jrishel at 10:58 AM on August 24, 2010

Text messaging was commonplace in Europe by the late 90s so that would be where I'd look first. I don't know much about text messaging adoption in Asia, so Japan and South Korea may also have been first.
posted by Kattullus at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2010

I'm going to assume you're looking for a US reference. The episode "First Date" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on February 11, 2003:

Willow: It's a text message. Oh, it's from Xander. It's one of our signals.

The show Alias, which started in 2001, featured heavy sponsorship/product placement by Nokia. I wouldn't be surprised if it featured texting before 2003 but I can't find a cite.
posted by bcwinters at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: One X-Files example, according to a poster on IMDB the first example on that show. Episode 8x16, from April 8th, 2001:
(SCULLY's phone beeps. She looks at the display.)

SCULLY: I don't know if this is going to make you feel any better.

(She shows SKINNER her phone. The message reads: "Where is everybody? Come on down. Mulder.")
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on August 24, 2010

Gilmore Girls, Season 2, Episode 3 ("Red Light on the Wedding Night"), original airdate 2001/10/16
Emily catches Rory doing a product placing IM to CuteDean at the table. Lorelai looks down and grabs her purse. "Oh, no. Not you, too," Miss Patty moans.
Back in 2001, I guess IM-ing was still more common than texting.
posted by mhum at 11:41 AM on August 24, 2010

I know you said TV show, but if you are actually looking for the first TV instance ever, it would more likely be a phone commercial. I bet if you can track down the first to feature text messaging, a cultural reference in a TV show would soon follow.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2010

Good find, smackfu. I wonder if the terminology of "texting"/"text message" had been cemented yet in 2001? This NY Times article from 2000 felt the need to define "texting". So, if the terminology (at least in the US) hadn't been standardized yet, we'll need to be a little more creative in our Googling.
posted by mhum at 11:54 AM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: According to the website of the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations agency for information and communication technology issues, the first TV programme to use text messaging in a storyline was Eastenders (a UK soap opera), in 2000.

Given that there's no exact date of transmission or other details, I'd be skeptical as to how accurate this is.
posted by tapeguy at 12:03 PM on August 24, 2010

I'd be surprised if it wasn't a soap...but texting became a part of daily life so quickly that it's hard to remember the first time it was shown.
posted by mippy at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

SMS as a communication standard was adopted in 1985.

Oooh, this will be really off-base, but I'm hoping Murder, She Wrote had texting in an episode. I say that because they have a surprising amount of "technology" in the show, seeming to focus on one piece of new or futuristic technology per episode (at least in the first season, 1984-1985), including (small/easily portable?) metal detectors (not exactly new in 1984, but they made a big deal about it), full-sized cars driven by remote control, and even cell phones, if I recall correctly. The show ran until 1996, so it's doubtful that "texting" would be the term used, but it's possible.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on August 24, 2010

Fastlane episode 1.03, "Gone Native", originally aired on 30 Oct 2002.

Van and Deaq are stuck under a bed whilst some other characters are having sex, so they communicate to each other through text messaging, or what appears to be text messaging except it has IM handles on the screen. I'm not sure if this is just the producers explaining text messaging to an unfamilar audience or it's some kind of IM cellular device. Perhaps an American will recognise it.

Amazingly, I found a clip of the scene on youtube. (NSFW sound.) Thanks, internet!
posted by Georgina at 5:34 PM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify: We're mainly interested in US shows (as many of you guessed), though knowing the first international TV show would be interesting too. US shows are more in our frame of reference for timing, and apologies for my lack of worldliness in not clarifying that up front!

Also, this is looking for a TV show, not a commercial. We were debating about how far back it became a plot device, specifically showing someone a text (as in the X-Files example) to further the plot. But someone citing receiving a text or an SMS in a show would work, too.

So far, it seems like the X-Files is winning as first reference. :) At the very least, that beats my husband's guess of The OC. But, I'm going to keep the thread open a bit longer just in case anyone comes up with or finds an older show. Thanks to everyone who has answered so far!
posted by TsuKata at 7:59 PM on August 24, 2010

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