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List of most watched television broadcasts in the United States

The following is a list of most watched television broadcasts in the United States based on average viewership of the broadcasts by Nielsen. The Super Bowl has frequently been the most watched American television broadcast of the year. Super Bowl XLIX is currently the most watched U.S. television broadcast with 114.4 million viewers.[1]

Contents

Most watched broadcasts by average viewershipEdit

The following is the list of the most watched television broadcasts in the United States by average viewership according to Nielsen.

No. Show Viewership Date Network
1 Super Bowl XLIX 114,442,000[2] February 1, 2015 NBC
2 Super Bowl XLVIII 112,191,000[2] February 2, 2014 Fox
3 Super Bowl 50 111,864,000[2] February 7, 2016 CBS
4 Super Bowl XLVI 111,346,000[2] February 5, 2012 NBC
5 Super Bowl LI 111,319,000[2] February 5, 2017 Fox
6 Super Bowl XLV 111,041,000[2] February 6, 2011 Fox
7 Super Bowl XLVII 108,693,000[2] February 3, 2013 CBS
8 Super Bowl XLIV 106,476,000[2] February 7, 2010 CBS
9 M*A*S*H ("Goodbye, Farewell and Amen") 105,970,000[3] February 28, 1983 CBS
10 Super Bowl LII 103,471,000[2] February 4, 2018 NBC
11 Super Bowl XLIII 98,732,000[2] February 1, 2009 NBC
12 Super Bowl LIII 98,190,000[4] February 3, 2019 CBS
13 Super Bowl XLII 97,448,000[2] February 3, 2008 Fox
14 Super Bowl XXX 94,080,000[2] January 28, 1996 NBC
15 Super Bowl XLI 93,184,000[2] February 4, 2007 CBS
16 Super Bowl XX 92,570,000[2] January 26, 1986 NBC
17 Super Bowl XXVII 90,990,000[2] January 31, 1993 NBC
18 Super Bowl XL 90,745,000[2] February 5, 2006 ABC
19 Super Bowl XXVIII 90,000,000[2] January 30, 1994 NBC
Super Bowl XXXII 90,000,000[2] January 25, 1998 NBC

Note
There have been television audiences this large or larger for certain news events, but those totals include coverage on multiple networks and total viewership. For example, 125 to 150 million viewers watched the first moon landing on July 20, 1969; CBS had the largest share of those viewers with 57 million.[5][failed verification] Richard Nixon's resignation speech on August 9, 1974 attracted 128 million viewers. 118 million viewers watched the start of the "Operation Desert Storm" military attack on Iraq on January 17, 1991. 95 million viewers watched the police highway pursuit of O. J. Simpson on June 17, 1994.

Most watched television broadcasts by yearEdit

2019Edit

2018Edit

The following is a list of the ten most watched TV broadcasts in the United States in 2018 according to Nielsen.[6]

     Indicates broadcast unrelated to sports.

No. Show Viewership
(in millions)
Date Network(s)
1 Super Bowl LII 103.4 February 4, 2018 NBC
2 2018 State of the Union Address 45.6 January 30, 2018 Various
3 Jaguars vs. Patriots 44.1 January 21, 2018 CBS
4 Vikings vs. Eagles 42.3 January 21, 2018 Fox
5 Saints vs. Vikings 35.6 January 14, 2018 Fox
6 Jaguars vs. Steelers 31.4 January 14, 2018 CBS
7 Panthers vs. Saints 31.1 January 7, 2018 Fox
8 Redskins vs. Cowboys 30.5 November 22, 2018 Fox
9 Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle 29.2 May 19, 2018 Various
10 Crimson Tide vs. Bulldogs 28.4 January 8, 2018 ESPN

2017Edit

The following is a list of the ten most watched TV broadcasts in the United States in 2017 according to Nielsen.[7]

     Indicates broadcast unrelated to sports.

No. Show Viewership
(in millions)
Date Network(s)
1 Super Bowl LI 111.3 February 5, 2017 Fox
2 Packers vs. Cowboys 48.5 January 15, 2017 Fox
3 Steelers vs. Patriots 48.0 January 22, 2017 CBS
4 Donald Trump Congressional Address 47.7 February 28, 2017 Various
5 Packers vs. Falcons 46.3 January 22, 2017 Fox
6 Giants vs. Packers 39.3 January 8, 2017 Fox
7 Steelers vs. Chiefs 37.1 January 15, 2017 NBC
8 89th Academy Awards 32.9 February 26, 2017 ABC
9 Inauguration of Donald Trump 30.6 January 20, 2017 Various
10 Dolphins vs. Steelers 29.9 January 8, 2017 CBS

2016Edit

The following is a list of the ten most watched TV broadcasts in the United States in 2016 according to Nielsen.[8][9][10][11][12][13]

     Indicates broadcast unrelated to the 2016 election.

No. Show Viewership
(in millions)
Date Network(s)
1 Super Bowl 50 111.9 February 7, 2016 CBS
2 First presidential debate 84.0 September 26, 2016 Various
3 Third presidential debate 71.6 October 19, 2016 Various
4 Super Bowl 50 post-game show 70.0 February 7, 2016 CBS
5 Second presidential debate 66.5 October 9, 2016 Various
6 World Series Game 7: Cubs vs. Indians 40.5 November 2, 2016 Fox
7 Vice presidential debate 37.0 October 4, 2016 Various
8 Redskins vs. Cowboys 35.1 November 24, 2016 Fox
9 Donald Trump RNC acceptance speech 34.9 July 21, 2016 Various
10 88th Academy Awards 34.4 February 28, 2016 ABC

2015Edit

The following is a list of the ten most watched TV broadcasts in the United States in 2015 according to Nielsen.[14]

     Indicates broadcast unrelated to sports.

No. Show Viewership
(in millions)
Date Network
1 Super Bowl XLIX 115.2 February 1, 2015 NBC
2 Super Bowl XLIX post-game show 73.2 February 1, 2015 NBC
3 Colts vs. Patriots 42.3 January 18, 2015 CBS
4 87th Academy Awards 37.2 February 22, 2015 ABC
5 College Football Playoff National Championship 33.7 January 12, 2015 ESPN
6 Lions vs. Cowboys post-game show 33.1 January 4, 2015 Fox
7 Panthers vs. Seahawks 31.1 January 10, 2015 Fox
8 The Blacklist ("Luther Braxton", Super Bowl XLIX lead-out) 30.5 February 1, 2015 NBC
9 Colts vs. Broncos post-game show 28.6 January 11, 2015 CBS
10 Alabama vs. Ohio State 28.5 January 1, 2015 ESPN

Most watched television seriesEdit

Most watched by yearEdit

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 (also its total), with eight. Note however that American Idol usually airs two episodes a week; for the 2005-2006 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 six consecutive seasons.[15] All in the Family, and The Cosby Show share second place for most consecutive (and total) seasons at No. 1, with five each. Counting in for total seasons at No. 1, 60 Minutes also holds a share of a three-way second place, and is the first (and currently only) U.S. primetime television show to lead the annual Nielsen ratings in at least 3 separate decades - 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Season Live Live + 3 DVR Live + 7 DVR
Show Network Households
(in millions)
Viewers
(in millions)
Show Network Viewers
(in millions)
Show Network Viewers
(in millions)
1950s
1950–1951 Texaco Star Theatre NBC 6.28[16] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1951–1952 Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts CBS 8.23[17] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1952–1953 I Love Lucy 13.73[18] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1953–1954 15.29[19] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1954–1955 15.14[20] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1955–1956 The $64,000 Question 16.58[21] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1956–1957 I Love Lucy 17.00[22] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1957–1958 Gunsmoke 18.07[23] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1958–1959 17.40[24] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1959–1960 18.44[25] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1960s
1960–1961 Gunsmoke CBS 17.61[26] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1961–1962 Wagon Train NBC 15.59[27] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1962–1963 The Beverly Hillbillies CBS 18.11[28] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1963–1964 20.18[29] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1964–1965 Bonanza NBC 19.13[30] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1965–1966 17.12[31] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1966–1967 16.04[32] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1967–1968 The Andy Griffith Show CBS 15.64[33] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1968–1969 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In NBC 18.52[34] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1969–1970 15.39[35] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1970s
1970–1971 Marcus Welby, M.D. ABC 17.79[36] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1971–1972 All in the Family CBS 21.11[37] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1972–1973 21.58[38] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1973–1974 20.65[39] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1974–1975 20.69[40] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1975–1976 20.95[41] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1976–1977 Happy Days ABC 22.43[42] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1977–1978 Laverne & Shirley 23.04[43] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1978–1979 22.72[44] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1979–1980 60 Minutes CBS 21.67[45] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1980s
1980–1981 Dallas CBS 27.57[46] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1981–1982 23.15[47] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1982–1983 60 Minutes 21.24[48] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1983–1984 Dallas 21.54[49] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1984–1985 Dynasty ABC 21.23[50] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1985–1986 The Cosby Show NBC 28.95[51] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1986–1987 30.50[52] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1987–1988 Unknown Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1988–1989 23.14[53] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1989–1990 21.28[54] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Roseanne ABC Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1990s
1990–1991 Cheers NBC 19.83[55] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1991–1992 60 Minutes CBS 20.17[56] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1992–1993 20.39[57] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1993–1994 19.69[58] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1994–1995 Seinfeld NBC 19.65[59] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1995–1996 ER 21.10[60] Unknown N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1996–1997 20.56[61] 30.79[62] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1997–1998 Seinfeld 21.27[63] 34.10[64] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1998–1999 ER 17.69[65] 25.40[66] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1999–2000 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Tues) ABC Unknown 28.53[67] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2000s
2000–2001 Survivor CBS Unknown 29.80[68] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2001–2002 Friends NBC Unknown 24.50[69] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2002–2003 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation CBS Unknown 26.12[70] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2003–2004 American Idol (Tues) Fox Unknown 25.73[71] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2004–2005 Unknown 27.32[72] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2005–2006 Unknown 31.17[73] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2006–2007 American Idol (Wed) Unknown 30.58[74] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2007–2008 American Idol (Tues) Unknown 28.80[75] N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2008–2009 American Idol (Wed) Unknown 25.53[76] N/A N/A N/A American Idol (Wed) Fox 26.88[76]
2009–2010 American Idol (Tues) Unknown 22.97[77] N/A N/A N/A American Idol (Tues) 24.71[78]
2010s
2010–2011 American Idol (Wed) Fox Unknown 23.95[79] N/A N/A N/A American Idol (Wed) Fox 26.20[79]
2011–2012 NBC Sunday Night Football NBC Unknown Unknown N/A N/A N/A NBC Sunday Night Football NBC 20.74[80]
2012–2013 Unknown Unknown N/A N/A N/A NCIS[a] CBS 21.34[82]
2013–2014 Unknown 21.42[83] N/A N/A N/A The Big Bang Theory 23.10[83]
2014–2015 Unknown 20.69[84] N/A N/A N/A NBC Sunday Night Football NBC 20.81[84]
2015–2016 Unknown 21.30[85] NBC Sunday Night Football NBC 21.38[86] 21.39[87]
2016–2017 Unknown 19.63[88] 19.73[89] 19.75[90]
2017–2018 Unknown 17.58[91] Roseanne ABC 18.21[92] Roseanne ABC 19.96[93]
2018–2019 Unknown 18.80[94] NBC Sunday Night Football NBC 18.92[94] NBC Sunday Night Football NBC 18.94[95]
Notes
  1. ^ NBC Sunday Night Football aired three broadcasts before the official start of television season which are not counted in the rankings. If these broadcasts were counted, NBC Sunday Night Football would average 21.44 million viewers—more than NCIS.[81]

Most watched series finalesEdit

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.[96][97] 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.[98] Regular episodes of M*A*S*H were thirty minutes long, but the final episode was a television movie of running length of two hours and thirty minutes, which reached a peak audience of 125 million by the primetime telecast conclusion of the 1983 M*A*S*H series finale.

When TV miniseries are taken into the Nielsen tallies, ABC's Roots posted the second most watched series finale in U.S. history, watched on 30 January 1977, by 100 million viewers (51.1% of American households and more than 71% of the total U.S. television viewers that year), but attracted the largest viewership for any type of primetime television series in U.S. history – a record currently standing at between 130 million and 140 million.[99][100]

The M*A*S*H finale was notorious in that after the episode finished, water flow in New York City increased by 6.7 million gallons, representing about 1 million people using the bathroom. While contributing to the CD-ROM computer game Blast from the Past, in association with TV Land, Loretta Swit commented on the event, stating she thought it was due to the fact viewers stayed glued to the screens for the whole show, and then rushed to the facilities. The 2004 finale of Friends had overtaken the record of Seinfeld in 1998 since in its last 6 minutes were seen by almost 80 million people, but viewership remained at 65.9 million because it was the audience for most of the episode. Part one of the Friends finale had 52.47 million viewers and part 2 had 65.9 million viewers and both parts were broadcast on May 6, 2004 on NBC from 21:00 to 22:06.[101]

Series[a] Viewership
(in millions)
Household rating Share Date Network
M*A*S*H 105.9[98] 60.2%[98] 77%[98] February 28, 1983[98] CBS[98]
Roots 100.0[102] 51.1% 71% Jan 30, 1977 ABC
Cheers 84.4[103] 45.5% 64%[96] May 20, 1993 NBC
The Fugitive 78.0[104] 45.9% 72% Aug 29, 1967 ABC
Seinfeld 76.3[103] 41.3% 58% May 14, 1998 NBC
Friends 52.5[105] 29.8% 43%[106] May 6, 2004 NBC
Magnum, P.I. 50.7 32.0% 48% May 1, 1988 CBS
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 50.0[103] 30.0% 46% May 22, 1992 NBC
The Cosby Show 44.4[103] 28.0% 45% April 30, 1992 NBC
All in the Family 40.2[103][107] 26.6% 43% April 8, 1979 CBS
Family Ties 36.3 20.8% 35% May 14, 1989 NBC
Home Improvement 35.5[108] 21.6%[109] 43%[108] May 25, 1999 ABC
Frasier 33.7[110] 16.3% 25% May 13, 2004 NBC
Dallas 33.3 22.0% 38% May 3, 1991 CBS
Everybody Loves Raymond 32.9[110] 20.2% 29% May 16, 2005 CBS
Star Trek: The Next Generation 31.0[111] 17.4% 34% May 23, 1994 Syndication
Gunsmoke 30.9[107] N/A N/A March 31, 1975 CBS
Happy Days 30.5 20.5% 31% September 24, 1984 ABC
Newhart 29.5[112] 18.7% 29% May 21, 1990 CBS
The Golden Girls 27.2 18.9% 38% May 9, 1992 NBC
Notes
  1. ^ Bold text indicates the series was revived.

Most watched series episode of the decadeEdit

This table lists the most watched overall television episode for every decade in the United States, as tallied by the Nielsen Media Research since the 1950–1951 television season. The audience share category of the Nielsen ratings only began in the 1959–1960 television season, and that all the Nielsen ratings for U.S. telecasts starting 2003 were adjusted from the 2008–09 season to incorporate both the standard live primetime and time-shifted or delayed DVR viewership figures (based on the telecast's final 5-minute standard run) in the United States only (from the dates of their original series finale runs).

Decade Title Episode Viewers
(in millions)
Household
share
Audience
share
Date Network
1950s The Ed Sullivan Show Special guesting of Elvis Presley 60.71 43.7% 82.6% 9 Sep 1956 CBS
1960s The Fugitive "The Judgment" Part 2 78.02 45.9% 72% 29 Aug 1967 ABC
1970s Roots (miniseries) "Part VIII" 100.0[102] 51.1% 71% 30 Jan 1977 ABC
1980s M*A*S*H "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" 125.02[102] 60.2% 77% 28 Feb 1983 CBS
1990s Cheers "One for the Road" 93.51[103] 51.7% 72%[96] 20 May 1993 NBC
2000s Friends "The Last One" 52.5[113] 40.2% 62% 6 May 2004 NBC
2010s Undercover Boss "Waste Management, Inc" (Series Premiere) 42.3 29.4% 36% 7 Feb 2010 CBS

See alsoEdit

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