List of most watched television broadcasts in America

Super Bowl

Super Bowls account for the 21 most-watched programs in American TV history in terms of total audience.[1]

Most-Watched TV Programs, Total Viewers

  • Super Bowl XLVIII (Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos), 2/2/14; 167 million viewers
  • Super Bowl XLVI (New York Giants vs. New England Patriots), 2/5/12 ; 166.8 million viewers
  • Super Bowl XLVII (Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49er's), 2/3/13 ; 164.1 million viewers [1]; 108.693 million [2]
  • Super Bowl XLV (Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers), 2/6/11 ; 162.9 million
  • Super Bowl XLIV (Indianapolis Colts vs. New Orleans Saints), 2/7/10 ; 153.4 million
  • Super Bowl XLIII (Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers), 2/1/09 ; 151.6 million
  • Super Bowl XLII (New York Giants vs. New England Patriots), 2/3/08 ; 148.3 million

Most watched regular series finales

(sources: Reuters, Variety, Nielsen Media Research, ratings data from USA Today weekly ratings charts)
Rank Series Number of Viewers
(in millions)
Percent of Households/Household Rating Share Date Network
1 M*A*S*H 105.9[2] 60.2% 77% 28 February 1983 CBS
2 Cheers 84.4[2] 45.5% 64%[3] 20 May 1993 NBC
3 Seinfeld 76.3[2] 41.3% 58% 14 May 1998 NBC
4 Friends 52.46[2][4] 29.8% 43% 6 May 2004 NBC
5 The Tonight Show
Starring Johnny Carson
50.0[2] N/A N/A 22 May 1992 NBC
6 The Cosby Show 44.4[2] 28.0% 45% 30 April 1992 NBC
7 All in the Family 40.2[2][5] 26.6% 43% 8 April 1979 CBS
8 Family Ties 36.3 20.8% 35% 14 May 1989 NBC
9 Home Improvement 35.5[6] 21.6%[7] 43%[6] 25 May 1999 ABC
10 Frasier 33.7[4] 16.3% 25% 13 May 2004 NBC
11 Dallas 33.3 22.0% 38% 3 May 1991 CBS
12 Everybody Loves Raymond 32.9[4] 20.2% 29% 16 May 2005 CBS
13 Star Trek: The Next Generation 31.0[8] 17.4% 34% 23 May 1994 Syndication
14 Gunsmoke 30.9[5] N/A N/A 31 March 1975 CBS
15 The Fugitive 30.0[9] 45.9% 72% 29 August 1967 ABC
16 Newhart 29.5 18.7% 29% 21 May 1990 CBS
17 The Golden Girls 27.2 18.9% 38% 9 May 1992 NBC
18 Full House 24.3 14.6% 25% 23 May 1995 ABC
19 St. Elsewhere 22.5[5] 17% 29% 25 May 1988 NBC[10]
20 MacGyver 22.3 13.8% 26% 21 May 1992 ABC
21 Miami Vice 22.2 14.7% 23% 21 May 1989 NBC
22 L.A. Law 22.1 15.9% 27% 19 May 1994 NBC
23 ALF 21.7 13.1% 24% 24 March 1990 NBC
24 Growing Pains 21.1 13.3% 24% 25 April 1992 ABC
25 The Wonder Years 21.0 13.9% 23% 12 May 1993 ABC
26 Quantum Leap 20.6 13.7% 23% 5 May 1993 NBC
27 Who's the Boss? 20.5 12.7% 24% 25 April 1992 ABC
28 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 19.9 13.1% 22% 20 May 1996 NBC
29 Mad About You 19.8 13.6% 20% 24 May 1999 NBC
30 Knots Landing 19.6 13.9% 22% 13 May 1993 CBS
31 Bonanza 19.3[5] ? ? 16 January 1973 NBC
32 Designing Women 18.8 14.2% 22% 24 May 1993 CBS
33 Matlock 18.7 13.2% 20% 7 May 1995 ABC
34 Will & Grace 18.4 11.7% 18% 18 May 2006 NBC
35 The Facts of Life 18.2 13.2% 29% 7 May 1988 NBC
36 Jake and the Fatman 18.1 12.9% 20% 6 May 1992 CBS
37 Major Dad 17.9 12.6% 20% 16 April 1993 CBS
38 Murphy Brown 17.5 12.3% 19% 18 May 1998 CBS
39 Beverly Hills, 90210 16.8 11.9% 21% 17 May 2000 Fox
40 Roseanne 16.6 11.6% 19% 20 May 1997 ABC
41 Murder, She Wrote 16.5 12.3% 21% 19 May 1996 CBS
42 ER 16.4 10.4% 17% 2 April 2009 NBC
43 NYPD Blue 16.1 10.4% 17% 1 March 2005 ABC
44 Miami Vice 16.1 11.0% 21% 28 June 1989 NBC
45 Married... with Children 15.2 10.0% 16% 5 May 1997 Fox
46 In the Heat of the Night 15.0 10.9% 17% 16 May 1995 CBS
47 Kate & Allie 14.9 11.9% 20% 22 May 1989 CBS
48 Dynasty 14.7 10.8% 17% 11 May 1989 ABC
49 The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 14.6 -% -% 6 February 2014 NBC
50 Monday Night Football 14.4[11] 9.2% 16% 26 December 2005 ABC
51 Wings 14.2 10.2% 16% 21 May 1997 NBC
52 JAG 14.0[12] 9.0% 15% 29 April 2005 CBS
53 Mr. Belvedere 13.8 8.5% 16% 8 July 1990 ABC
54 Lost 13.6 7.5% 13% 23 May 2010 ABC
55 Evening Shade 13.5 9.6% 15% 23 May 1994 CBS
56 The King of Queens 13.5 8.8% 13% 14 May 2007 CBS
57 Doogie Howser, M.D. 13.4 9.2% 14% 24 March 1993 ABC
58 Providence 13.3 9.0% 16% 20 December 2002 NBC
59 Life Goes On 13.2 8.9% 17% 23 May 1993 ABC
60 The X-Files 13.2[13] 7.9% 12% 19 May 2002 Fox
61 How I Met Your Mother 13.13 8.6% 13% 31 March 2014 CBS
62 Coach 13.1 9.3% 16% 14 May 1997 ABC
63 Touched by an Angel 12.9[14] 8.9% 15% 27 April 2003 CBS
64 Amen 12.9 8.3% 19% 11 May 1991 NBC
65 Falcon Crest 12.3 9.3% 15% 17 May 1990 CBS
66 Desperate Housewives 11.9 9.0% 14% 13 May 2012 ABC
67 3rd Rock from the Sun 11.9 7.9% 13% 22 May 2001 NBC
68 The Sopranos 11.9 6.5% 11% 10 June 2007 HBO
69 Empty Nest 11.6 8.7% 17% 29 April 1995 NBC
70 Ally McBeal 11.5 7.5% 11% 20 May 2002 Fox
71 Homicide: Life on the Street 11.4 8.4% 15% 21 May 1999 NBC
72 Without a Trace 11.2 7.3% 12% 19 May 2009 CBS
73 The Nanny 11.1 8.1% 14% 12 May 1999 CBS
74 Picket Fences 11.1 8.2% 14% 24 April 1996 CBS
75 The Practice 10.9 7.5% 13% 16 May 2004 ABC
76 Walker, Texas Ranger 10.8 6.8% 13% 19 May 2001 CBS
77 Judging Amy 10.8 7.6% 12% 3 May 2005 CBS
78 Sex and the City 10.6[15] ? ? 22 February 2004 HBO
79 Becker 10.6 7.3% 11% 28 January 2004 CBS
80 Grace Under Fire 10.5 7.4% 11% 17 February 1998 ABC
81 Highway to Heaven 10.5 7.1% 16% 4 August 1989 NBC
82 Melrose Place 10.4 7.3% 12% 24 May 1999 Fox
83 Breaking Bad 10.28 29 September 2013 AMC
84 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman 10.2 6.7% 15% 16 May 1998 CBS
85 Sisters 10.1 7.1% 14% 4 May 1996 NBC
86 The West Wing 10.1 6.2% 10% 14 May 2006 NBC
87 That '70s Show 10.0 6.0% 10% 18 May 2006 Fox
88 Boy Meets World 10.0 6.1% 12% 5 May 2000 ABC
89 Cold Case 10.0 6.4% 11% 2 May 2010 CBS
90 Boston Legal 9.9 6.2% 10% 8 December 2008 ABC
91 Ellen 9.9 7.1% 11% 13 May 1998 ABC
92 Wizards of Waverly Place 9.8[16] 7.1% 11% 6 January 2012 Disney Channel
93 The Closer 9.8 7.1% 11% 13 August 2012 TNT
94 The District 9.7 6.6% 12% 1 May 2004 CBS
95 The Unit 9.6 5.8% 10% 10 May 2009 CBS
96 Monk 9.4[17][18] 5.5% 9% 4 December 2009 USA Network
97 A Different World 9.3 6.6% 14% 8 May 1993 NBC
98 Nash Bridges 9.1 6.3% 12% 4 May 2001 CBS
99 The Pretender 9.0 6.2% 12% 13 May 2000 NBC
100 Third Watch 9.0 6.1% 11% 6 May 2005 NBC
101 24 8.9[19] 5.2% 8% 24 May 2010 Fox
102 Star Trek: Voyager 8.8 5.5% 9% 23 May 2001 UPN
103 House 8.7 5.8% 11% 21 May 2012 Fox
104 NewsRadio 8.6 6.5% 11% 4 May 1999 NBC
105 Moonlighting 8.6 5.7% 10% 14 May 1989 ABC
106 Numb3rs 8.3 5.1% 9% 14 May 2010 CBS
107 Ed 8.2 5.8% 10% 6 February 2004 NBC
108 Caroline in the City 8.1 6.3% 10% 26 April 1999 NBC
109 Las Vegas 8.0 5.0% 9% 15 February 2008 NBC
110 Cosby 7.9 5.2% 10% 28 April 2000 CBS
111 Law & Order 7.8 5.1% 9% 24 May 2010 NBC
112 Drake and Josh 7.8 ? ? 3 August 2007 Nickelodeon
113 Medium 7.8 4.9% 9% 21 January 2011 CBS
114 Malcolm in the Middle 7.5 4.8% 7% 14 May 2006 Fox
115 Chicago Hope 7.5 5.8% 9% 4 May 2000 CBS
116 227 7.5 5.0% 8% 6 May 1990 NBC
117 Dawson's Creek 7.3 4.8% 7% 14 May 2003 WB
118 Profiler 7.2 5.2% 10% 6 May 2000 NBC
119 Brothers & Sisters 7.2[20] 4.9% 8% 8 May 2011 ABC
120 The New Adventures of Old Christine 7.1 4.6% 6% 12 May 2010 CBS
121 The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien 7.1 -% -% 22 Jan 2010 NBC
122 Zoey 101 7.1 3.1% 5% 8 May 2007 Nickelodeon
123 Spin City 6.9 4.8% 7% 30 April 2002 ABC
124 Ghost Whisperer 6.8 4.4% 9% 21 May 2010 CBS
125 Alias 6.7 4.5% 7% 22 May 2006 ABC
126 Dharma & Greg 6.7 4.7% 8% 30 April 2002 ABC
127 The O.C. 6.6 4.5% 6% 22 February 2007 Fox
128 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 6.6 4.5% 5% 2 June 1999 Syndication
129 Diagnosis: Murder 6.6 4.9% 10% 11 May 2001 CBS
130 Party of Five 6.5 4.8% 8% 3 May 2000 Fox
131 Yes, Dear 6.5 4.4% 6% 15 February 2006 CBS
132 Living Single 6.5 4.5% 7% 1 January 1998 Fox
133 Crossing Jordan 6.4 4.3% 7% 16 May 2007 NBC
134 Family Matters 6.4 4.5% 8% 17 July 1998 CBS
135 iCarly 6.4[21] 3.4%[22] 23 November 2012 Nickelodeon
136 Step by Step 6.3 4.3% 8% 26 June 1998 CBS
137 Hannah Montana 6.9 3.5% 5% 16 January 2011 Disney Channel
138 King of the Hill 6.0 3.5% 5% 13 September 2009 Fox
139 My Wife and Kids 5.9 4.2% 7% 17 May 2005 ABC
140 Ugly Betty 5.7 4.2% 7% 15 April 2010 ABC
141 The Office 5.69 3.0% 8% 16 May 2013 NBC
142 Avatar: The Last Airbender 5.6[23] 3.1%[23] ? 19 July 2008 Nickelodeon
143 The Drew Carey Show 5.4 3.7% 7% 8 September 2004 ABC
144 Angel 5.3 3.3% 5% 19 May 2004 WB
145 Buffy the Vampire Slayer 4.9 2.9% 5% 20 May 2003 UPN
146 Gilmore Girls 4.9 3.1% 5% 15 May 2007 CW
147 30 Rock 4.88 1.9% 5% 31 January 2013 NBC
148 My Name Is Earl 4.8 3.2% 6% 14 May 2009 NBC
149 Sister, Sister 4.7 3.3% 6% 23 May 1999 WB
150 George Lopez 4.6 3.1% 5% 8 May 2007 ABC
151 Charmed 4.5 2.8% 5% 21 May 2006 WB
152 Reba 4.4 2.8% 5% 18 February 2007 CW
153 The Parkers 4.4 2.8% 5% 10 May 2004 UPN
154 Heroes 4.4 2.8% 4% 8 February 2010 NBC
155 Chuck 4.3 1.3% 4% 27 January 2012 NBC
156 According to Jim 4.1 2.5% 4% 2 June 2009 ABC
157 Everwood 4.1 2.6% 4% 5 June 2006 WB
158 Joey 4.1[24] 2.5% 4% 8 February 2010 NBC
159 One Life to Live 3.8 2.7% 4% 13 January 2012 ABC
160 Star Trek: Enterprise 3.8 2.2% 4% 13 May 2005 UPN
161 Felicity 3.7 2.6% 4% 22 May 2002 WB
162 Scrubs 3.5 / 5.07 2.3% 4% 17 March 2010 ABC/NBC
163 7th Heaven 3.3 2.1% 4% 13 May 2007 CW
164 Prison Break 3.3 2.0% 4% 15 May 2009 Fox
165 Fringe 3.2[25] 1.9% 3% 18 January 2013 Fox
166 Smallville 3.02[26] 1.8% 3% 13 May 2011 The CW
167 Guiding Light 3.0 2.2% 3% 18 September 2009 CBS
168 WCW Monday Nitro 3.0 2.2% 3% 26 March 2001 TNT
169 Victorious 2.9 2.2% 3% 2 February 2013 Nickelodeon
170 As the World Turns 2.8 2.1% 3% 17 September 2010 CBS
171 Dexter 2.8 N/A N/A 22 September 2013 Showtime
172 Battlestar Galactica 2.4[27] 1.4% 3% 20 March 2009 Syfy
173 Rescue Me 2.3[28] N/A N/A 7 September 2011 FX
174 Stargate SG-1 2.2 N/A N/A 13 March 2007 Sci-Fi Channel
175 Dollhouse 2.1[29] 0.8% 3% 29 January 2010 Fox
176 Veronica Mars 2.1 0.8% 2% 22 May 2007 CW
177 One Tree Hill 2.0 0.9% 3% 4 April 2012 CW
178 Gossip Girl 1.42 0.8% 2% 17 December 2012 CW

The finale is not necessarily a show's most watched episode. 2 examples include: Friends, watched by 52.9 million viewers for a 1996 episode that followed the live NBC telecast of Super Bowl XXX; and Dallas, watched by 83 million to 90 million viewers for the CBS broadcast of the 1980 episode that resolved the internationally popular Who Shot J.R. cliffhanger. 7th Heaven's initial finale was watched by 7.8 million on the WB, but was picked up by the new network The CW, however the show was cancelled after another season and its final episode was watched by 3.3 million people.

M*A*S*H and Cheers finales

The number of viewers for M*A*S*H (105.9 million) and Cheers (84.4 million) are the numbers most commonly reported. M*A*S*H has also been reported at 121.6 million viewers and Cheers has been reported at 93.5 million viewers.[3][30] For M*A*S*H and Cheers, 121.6 million and 93.5 million represent the total audience who watched at least six minutes and the 105.9 million and 84.4 million represent the viewers who watched the average minute.[31] Regular episodes of M*A*S*H were thirty minutes long, but the final episode was two hours and thirty minutes, which reached a peak audience of 125 million by the primetime telecast conclusion of M.A.S.H. series finale.

Most watched U.S. TV series

Nielsen began compiling ratings for television beginning in 1950. Prior to that year, television ratings were compiled by a number of other sources, including C. E. Hooper (which was bought out by Nielsen in February 1950) and Variety.

American Idol holds the record for most consecutive seasons at No. 1, with eight. Note however that American Idol usually airs two episodes a week; for the 2003–2004 season, only the Tuesday show was ranked No. 1, overall American Idol was ranked No. 2 that season. For the show taken as a whole, it was No. 1 for eight consecutive seasons.[32] All in the Family, and The Cosby Show share second place for most consecutive seasons at No. 1, with five each.

These are the programs that finished with the highest average Nielsen rating in each television season:

1950s

Season Show Network
1950–1951 Texaco Star Theater NBC
1951–1952 Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts CBS
1952–1953 I Love Lucy
1953–1954
1954–1955
1956–1957
1955–1956 The $64,000 Question
1957–1958 Gunsmoke
1958–1959
1959–1960

1960s

Season Show Network
1960–1961 Gunsmoke CBS
1961–1962 Wagon Train NBC
1962–1963 The Beverly Hillbillies CBS
1963–1964
1964–1965 Bonanza NBC
1965–1966
1966–1967
1967–1968 The Andy Griffith Show CBS
1968–1969 Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In NBC
1969–1970

1970s

Season Show Network
1970–1971 Marcus Welby, M.D. ABC
1971–1972 All in the Family CBS
1972–1973
1973–1974
1974–1975
1975–1976
1976–1977 Happy Days ABC
1977–1978 Laverne & Shirley
1978–1979
1979–1980 60 Minutes CBS

1980s

Season Show Network
1980–1981 Dallas CBS
1981–1982
1982–1983 60 Minutes
1983–1984 Dallas
1984–1985 Dynasty ABC
1985–1986 The Cosby Show NBC
1986–1987
1987–1988
1988–1989
1989–1990 (tie) The Cosby Show
(tie) Roseanne ABC

1990s

Season Show Network
1990–1991 Cheers NBC
1991–1992 60 Minutes CBS
1992–1993
1993–1994
1994–1995 Seinfeld NBC
1995–1996 ER
1996–1997
1997–1998 Seinfeld
1998–1999 ER
1999–2000 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire ABC

2000s

Season Show Network
2000–2001 Survivor:Australian Outback CBS
2001–2002 Friends NBC
2002–2003 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation CBS
2003–2004 American Idol Fox
2004–2005
2005–2006
2006–2007
2007–2008
2008–2009
2009–2010

2010s

Season Show Network
2010–2011 American Idol Fox
2011–2012 NBC Sunday Night Football NBC [33]
2012–2013 NCIS CBS
2013-2014 NBC Sunday Night Football NBC

References

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  12. ^ Berman, Marc (4 May 2005). "The Programming Insider". Mediaweek. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 2006-10-23. 
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  14. ^ Berman, Marc (30 April 2003). "The Programming Insider". Mediaweek. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 2006-10-23. 
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  16. ^ "Friday Cable Ratings: ‘Wizards of Waverly Place Finale,’ ‘Gold Rush’ Lead + ‘Jessie,’ ‘Smackdown!,’ ‘Merlin’ & More – Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". Tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
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  18. ^ [3] 'Monk' finale sets cable ratings record
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  27. ^ Weprin, Alex. (2009-03-21). ""Battlestar Galactica" Finale Delivers Most Viewers in Three Years."". Broadcasting & Cable. 
  28. ^ Gorman, Bill (8 September 2011). "Wednesday Cable: 'Storage Wars' Dominates; 'Rescue Me' Series Finale, 'GOP Debate,' 'Necessary Roughness' & More". Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
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